NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Capitals

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Ovi.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 14, 2010
Live on NBC

Join us for a live chat during today’s game!

I’ve had this game marked down on the calendar all season long. A showdown between
two teams that hope to be facing each other in just a few short months
to play for the Stanley Cup. The questions for both teams, however, is
if they have the ability to overcome the weaknesses they share.

The
Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks feels like it
would a game on the verge of insanity. The speed of both teams, the
unbelievable skill and talent level of the forwards and the defensemen,
combined with questionable goaltending on both sides will combine for an
offensive explosion the likes of which the NHL has never seen before.

The Capitals are
the league’s highest scoring team and it’s scary how much better they are at scoring than any other team. At 3.88 goals
per game their firepower is able to overcome middle of the road
goaltending and a defensive corps that is, let’s face it, not all that
great defensively. Washington has flaws, and we’ve seen those flaws be
exposed in the past week in a loss against the Dallas Stars. It’s not an
absolutely overwhelming concern, since the Capitals have an incredible
.739 winning percentage, even with some defense and goaltending that is
just ‘okay’.

On the other side of the faceoff circle is a team that is
struggling to find any answer for its woes in net, and they need that
answer soon. Both Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have struggled the past
few weeks and it’s raised serious doubts on whether the Chicago
Blackhawks have the ability to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Their
offense, while potent, is not as balanced or explosive as Washington —
which is hard to believe — and the goaltending is downright
astoundingly bad at times.

The Blackhawks are a team that allows
an absurdly low amount of shots, and while the goals-against average is
indeed great we’ve seen the past week what happens when these
goaltenders are putting under pressure. The Washington Capitals have the
ability to absolutely pepper the net (witness their 52 shots on goal on
Monday night) and I shudder to think what would happen if the Chicago
defense allows such a rubber fest. It could be 10-2 before we’ve all had
a chance to get another drink.

That’s not to say that it’s
hopeless for the Blackhawks and I don’t want Chicago fans to think that’s what I’m saying. Yet even the most diehard Blackhawks fan has to be
scared stiff of the possibility of taking on Alex Ovechkin and company
with the goaltending they have in place now.

The visual that comes
to mind is one of valiant knights that have taken their spots outside
the castle, fending off wave after wave of attackers, doing their best
to protect the vulnerable princess that cowers inside.

Can Patrick
Kane and his Chicago brethren not only protect the weakened castle but
also mount a considerable counterattack? The defense on the other side
is vulnerable as well; there’s going to be opportunities to take
advantage and exploit those weaknesses.

Sunday’s game should be a
mighty tilt between NHL powerhouses that hopefully is a preview of what
could be the most exciting Stanley Cup finals since…well, last year.
The big challenge for both teams is going to be just getting there.

NBC
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:

Is this year the best chance for Alex Ovechkin to win a Stanley Cup?
How have the Capitals and Blackhawks become league powers in just a few
years?
We’ll break down all of the news from this week’s GM meetings.
Injury updates for both teams.
News and opinion from around NBC Sports.
A live in-game chat with Brandon Worley and James O’Brien.

Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

jaredbednaravalanche
via Colorado Avalanche
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Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

(If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

(Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

(There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

Waning workhorses

In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

If Price falters

The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

  • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

  • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
  • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

***

Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

 

Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.

With Lehner injured, Enroth will be in Sweden’s goalie mix at World Cup

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 04: Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres and Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators warm up to play at First Niagara Center on October 4, 2013 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Sweden has selected Jhonas Enroth to replace injured goaltender Robin Lehner on its World Cup of Hockey roster.

Lehner was bothered by an ankle injury last season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Lehner had not recovered 100 percent.

Enroth, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden’s roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game.

Enroth started for Sweden at the 2015 world hockey championship.

The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.