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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Jaromir Jagr’s open to many things, but not retirement or a tryout

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Yes, Jaromir Jagr is 45-years-old. He’ll turn 46 in February.

So, yes, even for a fitness freak like Jagr, it’s likely that he’d probably not be the best fit for a team that plays at a frenetic pace. To get the most out of the living legend, a team would have to provide a nurturing environment. There are also questions about what sort of role he’d accept and how much money he’d settle for.

Even with all of those disclaimers under consideration, it’s maddening that we’re in late September and Jagr continues to put out semi-sarcastic cry for help videos.

So, what’s the latest on Jagr, then?

Well, to some extent, it’s useful to consider the process of elimination.

Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports that Jagr is open-minded about the KHL, though the NHL is first choice. Jagr acknowledged that participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics would be a draw in the process.

One thing he isn’t open to: a PTO with an NHL team.

While there’s actually some logic to a tryout – teams might want to see how well he can move/what kind of immediate chemistry Jagr could find – it does seem a little … demeaning to a first-ballot Hall of Famer who, frankly, is still producing solid numbers.

Eronko reports that Jagr said he’s talking to three-to-four teams, while Pierre LeBrun reports that two-to-three NHL teams are speaking with Jagr’s reps in the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading.

(Hey, both could be correct if Jagr’s including KHL suitors in his estimate.)

LeBrun also notes the idea Jagr is ruling out, beyond a PTO: retirement.

Jagr doesn’t want to hang up his skates, even if it means not playing in the NHL, which would bum out a slew of hockey fans (raises hand).

Naturally, there are creative “have your cake and eat it too” scenarios. Perhaps Jagr could sign a KHL contract with an NHL out clause of some kind, playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and then ink a deal with a contender who a) he wants to play for and b) is now convinced he still “has it?”

There are plenty of possibilities, and many of them are fun to think about.

Jagr needing to try out for a team – or worse, retire – is not so fun to think about.

Flyers experiment with Claude Giroux at LW, Sean Couturier as his center

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Last season, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice at the same time during even-strength situations for just a bit more than five minutes. Depending upon how a Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season experiment goes, they could line up together a whole lot more often.

Of course, if you missed this post’s headline, you might be asking: “But how? They’re both centers.”

Well, under this experiment, Giroux would move to left wing, Couturier would play center, and Jakub Voracek would assume his familiar role at RW.

Giroux came into the NHL primarily as a right-winger before moving to center, so he’s clearly versatile enough to theoretically work out on a wing. It also might allow the Flyers to try to duplicate some of their mad science from the power play to even-strength, as that’s often the role he finds himself in on that locomotive of a man-advantage unit.

As Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post reports, Giroux doesn’t seem against it, really.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I’m against it or I’m not happy with it. If it makes the team better, we have a lot of centermen and I’m up for it for sure.”

Giroux is right. The Flyers have a glut of pivots, especially if head coach Dave Hakstol views additions Nolan Patrick and Jori Lehtera (or fairly recent addition Valtteri Filppula) as better fits down the middle.

NHL.com’s Bill Meltzer reports that Hakstol is impressed by Giroux’s willingness to move around as need be.

“When your captain is as selfless as ‘G’ is, he [goes] all in,” Hakstol said. “Whatever the role is, he’s going to attack it… It’s early, but he’s had a very high-level camp.”

Giroux’s been, at times, a bit more dependent on the PP to get his numbers. In 2016-17, five of his 14 goals and 26 of his assists (31 of 58 points) came on the power play.

Perhaps Couturier could do the “dirty work” associated with a center while two gifted wingers exploit their chemistry and get to have the fun? It’s the sort of hypothesis that can make sense in a hockey laboratory, and it would be entertaining to see if it works out in reality.

Assuming such a scientific method even makes it to October.

Brad Marchand: NHL crackdown on face-off cheating is ‘absolute joke’

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Earlier today, PHT’s own Cam Tucker discussed the early returns on the NHL’s plan to increase penalties for slashing and to cut down on cheating during face-offs.

(The video above this post’s headline provides a helpful primer on how officials plan on policing draws.)

So far, the face-off tweaks have one especially vocal critic in Boston Bruins agitator-star Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand said. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

Gotta love the line “Basically you have to be a statue.”

Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu backed up Marchand in the “we can’t play all year like that” stance, asserting that he doubts a penalty like that would get whistled during a high-stakes game, as Sportsnet noted.

Here’s another perspective, via Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan.

Now, the new face-off rule might not have that huge of a direct impact on Marchand’s daily hockey life.

In 2016-17, Marchand went 13-23 in the dot.

It may, however, affect his fantastic center, Patrice Bergeron. The dynamic two-way center has been one of the best volume winners of draws over the years. Smarts, strength, studying tape and other factors go into winning as many as 60-percent of one’s face-offs, yet Bergeron and other top centers know how to “bend the rules,” too.

As much as analytics-minded people grumble about excessive attention being paid to face-offs, they’re events that can set up rare opportunities for set plays and other advantageous moments.

One can imagine that Marchand wouldn’t be pumped about the idea that, maybe, Bergeron’s dominance in the circle could be blunted, even ever-so-slightly or briefly.

Naturally, potential self-interest doesn’t disqualify Marchand and others from being correct.

At the same time, this is the pre-season, an opportunity for the NHL to work out its own kinks, which in this case means trying to manage rule tweaks while not disrupting the flow of games. Marchand is merely the loudest to say that … it sounds like the league might have some work to do.

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.