NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

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Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 7, 2010
Live on NBC

It’s a battle of the new versus the old this week on NBC, as the Detroit Red Wings travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. Detroit has long stood on top of the Western Conference and have not lost a division title since the 1999-2000 season. This year, it appears that not only will Chicago finally overtake the Red Wings for tops in the division, but Detroit may face the possibility of not making the playoffs.

Just two points back of #1 seed San Jose, the Hawks are hoping to get back into top playing form after weeks of just barely finding ways to win. The young and speedy team has the talent to overcome most mistakes now, but when the pressure is on in the playoffs they’ll need to play much better hockey in order to get to their ultimate goal.

On the other side, an older and injury-plagued Detroit team found itself mired in the dredges at the bottom of the conference before a wild January pushed them back up the standings. Yet some stumbles heading into the break put their playoff chances in doubt, and while a nice win on the first game back from the Olympics pushed them into 8th spot Wednesday’s shellacking at the hands of Vancouver cast questions once again on Detroit’s chances.

After the jump, we take a look at the season series so far, tease the major storylines of the game, and examine what the local press are saying about these two teams.


Huet.jpgAs the Blackhawks have rebuilt over the past few years, the Red Wings have not only owned the division but the season series against Chicago as well. This season, just as with the overall standings, the roles have been reversed.

Chicago is 3-1-0 against Detroit this season (one win coming in a shootout), including back to back 3-0 shutouts of the Wings in a home and home series in December. Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks are scoring at a much higher clip than Detroit (3.20 goals/game to 2.59).

Yet Detroit and Chicago are nearly neck and neck on the power play, with Chicago 7th in the NHL (19.7%) and Detroit 10th (19.1%). The difference in special teams comes on the penalty kill where Chicago is near the top of the pack while Detroit sits at 15th.

It would seem that Detroit has the best chance to keep up with the more talented teams in the NHL when they are given time on special teams, as their 5-on-5 goals against ratio (0.88) is 25th in the league. The key to beating Detroit then, is to stay out of the penalty box and force them to play at even strength, where they are far from their best.

Before these two teams face off on Sunday, they’ll both play tonight. Chicago will take on Vancouver, where they hope to get back on track as they start the run to the playoffs. The Hawks won on Wednesday night yet allowed two goals on 14 shots, giving more credence to the main issue surrounding this team: the goaltending. But nothing is going to change now.

“This is our team now and we know nothing is going to
change,” Toews said. “We’re happy about that and we can get comfortable
and concentrate on the last 20 games.”

While the goaltending of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi
was under the microscope leading up to the trade deadline, the Hawks’
all-around team defensive play has slipped in the last month.

“Our goaltenders are the ones taking the heat, but we
need to play better in front of them,” Toews said.

“Our goaltending has been fine,” Quenneville said.
“We’ve given up more goals over this recent stretch and I think
collectively we should all feel some responsibility to improve that
area. It’s something we’re going to stress going into now and through
the stretch run.”

On the other side, the Red Wings are not giving any excuses for the rough season so far.

“For a
long time this year we had so many injuries that we just battled to
stay alive,” he said. “We don’t now. There’s no reason for us not to be
a good hockey club. So will and determination, leadership and coaching,
all these things, you look at them and you can’t give them a very good
mark.”

Perhaps they thought everything would be fine and back to
normal after the Olympic break, when virtually everyone was healthy.

“I
hope
that’s not the case,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We can’t have it that
way. You can’t just look at the guy sitting next to you and (think),
‘Now he’s back, he’s going to do it all.’ We have to look ourselves in
the mirror and do whatever you can to help this team win. We all have
to play at our highest level to be able to pull this through.”

It looked as if the Red Wings were back on track on Monday night with a big win over Colorado, but the bad loss to Vancouver has put the pressure right back on. With teams in the West grouped so tightly towards the bottom of the standings (Detroit has just a 2 point lead on 13th place Minnesota) every win becomes much more important.

NBC Star Cam – Follow Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk with NBC’s Star Cam. Head on over to NBC Sports during the game to follow your favorite stars through out the game.

Sunday on Pro Hockey Talk:

  • Have the Detroit Red Wings missed their window at another Cup win?
  • Will the Blackhawks’ goaltending situation keep them from getting to the Stanley Cup finals?
  • Injury updates for both teams
  • News and opinion from around NBC Sports
  • A live in-game chat with Brandon Worley and James O’Brien

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The Buzzer: Auston Matthews’ late-game heroics; Pens move into top spot in Metropolitan

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Players of the Night:

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Giroux notched a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win over the New York Rangers. The goal was the 200th of his career. He’s been incredible this year. The Flyers forward is up to 69 points in 59 games, which puts him on pace to score 96 points. Giroux now has four multi-point performances in his last six outings.

Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers: Like his teammate Giroux, Konecny also picked up a goal and two assists. He’s now accumulated 18 points in 15 games. Konecny is currently riding a four-game point streak.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Even though the Oilers are struggling this season, McDavid has found a way to remain productive. His hat trick in Sunday’s tilt against the Avalanche was his third of the season. After scoring 100 points last year, he’s on pace to hit 98 right now.

Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Guentzel’s three-point night helped propel the Penguins to victory against the Blue Jackets. Guentzel now has five points in his last four games.

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks: Pavelski had a three-point night of his own against the Dallas Stars. If you scroll a little lower, you’ll see his spin-o-rama goal. The veteran isn’t having his best season, but he’s managed to pick up nine points in his last six games.

Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are an offensive machine that not many teams can stop right now. Connor picked up a pair of goals against the Panthers, which means he’s already scored 19 times in his first full NHL season.

Highlights of the Night:

Taylor Hall comes up clutch against the Hurricanes:

If you like spinning backhanders, Joe Pavelski has you covered:

How about this save from Semyon Varlamov:

The hand-eye coordination from Evgenii Dadonov is pretty ridiculous:

Sometimes it takes two to keep the puck out of the net:

Connor Hellebuyck made a sweet save of his own against the Panthers:

Factoids of the Night:

Auston Matthews‘ late-game heroics against Detroit:

The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions are in top spot in the Metropolitan Division:

Hall is en fuego:

Scores:

Flyers 7, Rangers 4

Oilers 4, Avalanche 2

Devils 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT)

Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 2

Maple Leafs 3, Red Wings 2

Sharks 5, Stars 2

Jets 7, Panthers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Golden Knights don’t want to focus on big picture

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Vegas Golden Knights have done an excellent job of not looking too far ahead in their inaugural season.

It has served them well during their amazing run as an expansion team, all the way to the top of the NHL standings.

After Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Golden Knights lead the NHL with 82 points.

According to the league, Vegas is the first expansion team in its inaugural season to hold the outright lead in the standings this late into a season – 58 games played – besting the 1967-68 Kings, who led the league through 19 games on Nov. 24, 1967.

But as veteran goalkeeper and three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury said, there is a point in the season every team is either trying to get into the playoffs or stay positioned where they are for the postseason.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” Fleury said. “We are aware where we are, but we can’t just sit back. We have to keep chasing those points night after night.”

The cliche of “one game at a time” has transitioned into playing with a sense of urgency with seven weeks left in the regular season.

Four games into a seven-game homestand, Vegas has won three straight since losing to Philadelphia on Feb. 11. The Golden Knights responded with wins over Chicago, Edmonton, and the Canadiens, outscoring the three by a combined 15-6.

“We’re in a good spot right now, we’re happy where we are, but we’re a team that’s always going to have something to prove,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said.

“I think everyone probably watches the standings, a little more closer in the West than the East. It’s one thing about having a lot of points early and being in first place in the West.

“It’s a little different with this group, we all have something to prove still. We’re an expansion team, no one ever thought we’d be here, where we are right now.”

Nevertheless, McNabb said coach Gerard Gallant has done a good job of keeping his players focused, ensuring they’re performing their best each game.

“The whole point of taking it day by day is you’re not focused on the big picture and I feel like that’s a good approach for our team to have,” defenseman Shea Theodore said.

“You can’t look too far ahead, it’s just kind of how we’re rolling and we’re doing a good job with that. I feel like we’ve done a good job of showing the league we’re for real.”

Even team owner Bill Foley has gotten in on the act of not looking too far ahead. After Saturday night’s win, Foley expressed concern over Theodore’s recent throat infection that kept him out of the lineup, he spoke about Pierre-Edouard Bellemare getting injured during the game and said while he is happy with his team’s success it’s important not to become complacent.

“But it is fun, it’s great,” Foley said. “One thing we did when we did the expansion draft, it was a lot of hard work, and we put a lot of planning into it. We had five mock draft sessions in the expansion draft. We knew other teams as well or better than they knew themselves. So, we knew what we were getting. And (general manager) George (McPhee) did a phenomenal job in making some key deals. The result is what we have.

“We have guys that have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and they want to play hard, and they really play hard against their former teams.”

With Saturday’s win over one of the NHL’s Original Six teams, Vegas improved to 22-4-2 at T-Mobile Arena, matching the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers (22-12-6) for the most home wins by a team in its first season.

It doesn’t get any easier for Vegas, which is 14-1-1 against Pacific Division teams, and faces key games this upcoming week against Anaheim on Monday, Calgary on Wednesday and Vancouver on Friday.

“The schedule is going to be tough with a lot of games coming up,” Fleury said. “We gotta find a way to be consistent all those nights and keep fighting. We still gotta focus playing one game at a time. You don’t want to think too far down the road. Every game is important.”

Veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland agreed.

“We’ve been doing a good job all year of taking it one game at a time and treating every game as a must win. It’s a tight division, it’s a tight conference and we just have to take it one game at a time.

“Come April 8, we can maybe gear up from there, but from now `til then it’s one game at time and get ready for the next one.”

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Should Zach Hyman’s goal on Petr Mrazek have counted?

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There may or may not have been a controversial call in Sunday’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the score tied at zero in the first period, Zach Hyman appeared to have opened the scoring for the Leafs, but the goal was waved off because Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek‘s mask came off.

As you can tell from the video below, Auston Matthews‘ shot catches Mrazek in the mask. Right before Hyman buries the buck into the net, Mrazek shakes his mask off because a strap snapped out of place. It’s definitely not an easy call to make in the moment.

Take a look for yourself:

Here’s what rule 9.6 of the NHL rulebook says about these kind of plays:

When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game. 

It’s clear that Mrazek removed his helmet intentionally, but he only did so because at least one of the straps snapped off. Also, the referee could have blown the play dead because he assumed that one of the two Red Wings in the slot would take control of the puck. Instead, both Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi whiffed on it.

But according to the rule, the play can only be stopped if the opposing team doesn’t have an immediate or impending scoring opportunity. Was Hyman’s chance an immediate or impending scoring opportunity? It sure looks like it, but that’s at the official’s discretion.

There’s a bit of a grey zone with this rule, so it’s hard to say if the referee applied the rule correctly or not.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Connor McDavid spoils Nathan MacKinnon’s return

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Sunday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche was supposed to be all about Nathan MacKinnon‘s return to the lineup, but Connor McDavid had other ideas.

The Oilers might be struggling, but McDavid had some individual success this month. On Sunday, the Oilers captain picked up his second hat trick of the month in Edmonton’s 4-2 win over Colorado.

In eight games this month, the 21-year-old has accumulated an impressive 11 goals.

Here’s his first tally of the game:

McDavid finished the game with a plus-3 rating, five shots on goal and a huge save in 19:52 of ice time. That’s right, a huge save. With the Avs leading 1-0 in the first period, McDavid prevented the opposition from going up by two.

His second tally tied the game at two, while his hat-trick goal was scored into an empty-net.

According to NHL Public Relations, He’s the first Oiler to score three hat tricks in a season since Petr Klima in 1990-91.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon returned the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. He had a minus-2 rating, four shots on goal and one hit in 22:20 of ice time. Only Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen had more ice time among Avalanche forward.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.