Bruins seeking payback could be nightmare for NHL


Bruins.jpgTonight’s game between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh
Penguins will be a defining moment in the history of the NHL. With Matt
Cooke facing absolutely zero punishment for his blind-side hit on Marc
Savard that left the Boston forward out for the season with a
concussion, the Bruins could be out for blood as they seek retribution.

There’s no doubt that Matt Cooke will be a targeted man. The Bruins
will be looking to make him pay each time he touches the puck. But it’s
not just Cooke that is in danger; the Penguins’ top players have big
targets on their backs as well. Says P.J. Stock, former Boston Bruins
tough guys (courtesy

“It’s so easy to just go after the other team’s tough guy . . . and
think the score is settled. It’s not, though. The Bruins are missing
one of their star players. They now have to talk to [Evgeni] Malkin . .
. They have to talk to Crosby. They have to get in the head of
[Sergei] Gonchar. They have to try to make those guys feel somewhat

“The last thing I’d ever want to do is tell someone to
invoke some sort of physical treatment to Crosby. But, unfortunately,
the way the game’s going, if [the NHL is] not going to fix any of this,
the only way to make a guy who was running around feel a little bad
about himself is to [threaten to] hurt one of his team’s star players. I
wouldn’t do anything to Crosby, but in the warmup I’d let Crosby
[know] that we’re coming for him. And then when Matt gets out there, I
think Matt [has to] own up. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Cooke
fought in his first or second shift. He’s a tough kid, and he can hold
his own.”

Stock also mentions that the instigator rule originally prevented the
Bruins from instantly retaliating and making Cooke pay in the original
game. He also doesn’t seem to be actively promoting the targeting of the
Penguins’ top players, but if it’s his mind you know it’s in the heads
of the Boston players as well.

This is exactly what the NHL is
hoping to avoid. Colin Campbell is actually going to be in attendance at
tonight’s game, as the league hopes his presence will help maintain
some measure of order and discipline. The last time this sort of game
was played, where a team seemed to be ready for violent retribution,
Steve Moore was left with a broken neck and hockey has been trying to
recover ever since.

The Vancouver Canucks – Colorado Avalanche
game of March 8, 2004 — in which season-long suspensions, criminal
charges and life-long injuries were the result of payback — would
hopefully be the motivation for both teams to at least contain
themselves for outright headhunting.

This is also the absolute
worst scenario the NHL could have faced, just weeks after the Olympics.
Says Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail:

Hockey came out of the Vancouver Winter Games with a golden glow – not
just in the medals won by the Canadian men and women, but in the
surprising show by the Americans (silver in men’s and women’s hockey)
and the astonishing skill level showed by all players in a tournament in
which there had not been a single fight.

That glow lasted about as long as a firefly’s thanks to Cooke’s vicious
hit on an unsuspecting Savard and the now-familiar image of a stretcher
being pulled out onto the ice through the Zamboni doors.

The best thing that can happen from this game is the Boston Bruins
somehow manage to keep their heads, and get payback on the Penguins not
by taking out their top players with illegal or dangerous hits but by
getting some much-needed points with a big win.

I’m not saying the Bruins should not be looking for payback at all.
In fact, I fully expect a fight with Matt Cooke in most likely in his
first shift. The Bruins should also make it clear they are not exactly
happy with the situation, but with clean and hard hits that don’t leave a
question as to whether they were illegal or not. And as much as this
could be an ‘eye for an eye’ game, going out to injure another player
just to get retribution for Savard.

The NHL is facing a seminal moment this season, and it’s unfortunate
we’ve come to this. Yet the absolute worst thing that can happen tonight
is for the Bruins to try and clearly take out or hurt any of the
Penguins players. I understand that i the past this might have been
fine, and that hockey is a sport where payback is possible — and
expected — if the NHL fails to do what is right. Yet for a sport that
is already teetering on the precipice of a PR nightmare, there is fine
line that is going to be walked tonight.

There is a way for the Boston Bruins to get their retribution, but
that’s not with dangerous or openly vicious hits. Beat them on the
scoreboard, show Matt Cooke his hit will not go unpunished. But do not
cross that line.

Alzner: Capitals’ playoff letdown is ‘deep somewhere in our heads’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals after the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The mood is a “little sour” in the Washington Capitals locker room right now, and the discomfort goes deeper than losing back-to-back games for the first time in more than a year.

With it being early in 2016-17, maybe the Capitals aren’t totally over falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins after a resounding run to the Presidents’ Trophy.

“Last year, we were just so hungry all over the ice, and that’s why we had so much success. We just haven’t been as hungry right now,” Karl Alzner said, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t know if it’s because deep somewhere in our heads, we did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us, so maybe it’s just taking some time to build back up and as the season goes on, we get better. I don’t feel that in the front of my head, but maybe deep in the back, that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re better than how we’ve been playing.”

Credit Alzner for his candor, because that’s a remarkable admission of vulnerability.

Buying in

Not every member of the Capitals look at a few bumps in the road as a bad thing. Braden Holtby told the Washington Post that “a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team,” and considering the rigors of an 82-game season, he’s likely correct.

As CSN Mid Atlantic notes, Barry Trotz understands the peaks and valleys of a lengthy campaign … but he still expects his players to buy-in.

“We’ve got the right elements to do what we can do. But there has to be a level of everybody [being] all in. You can’t be half in,” Trotz said. ” … You can’t let your foot off the gas in this league or you find yourself in a hole sometimes.”

Climbing that mountain once again

One can relate to the Capitals’ troubles in a way.

A negative type might feel a bit like Sisyphus here, wondering if it’s worth it to roll that boulder up a hill all over again after that playoff loss pushed them down. “We did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us,” as Alzner said.

Maybe the Capitals are over-thinking this a bit.

They have a few days off to ruminate on things, but the compressed three-game road trip coming up might be valuable in demanding all of their thoughts.

It’s tougher to find time for an existential crisis when you face three away contests in Western Canada during just four days. From the sound of things, it might be the perfect type of challenge for this group.

Like all this scoring? Better enjoy it while it lasts

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Just because Wayne Gretzky laced up his skates in an alumni game over the weekend doesn’t mean the NHL is back to the 1980s.

It just feels like it.

Goals are coming fast and furious through the first two weeks of the season, with scoring at a pace that hasn’t been seen in over a decade. Players are scoring an average of 5.98 goals a game, a far cry from the offense-happy days of Gretzky but an increase so far from every other year since 2005-06 when new rules were designed to boost scoring.

An influx of young players, the preseason World Cup of Hockey and more backup goaltenders playing because of injuries have kept red lights flashing around the league.

“Overall, the game is going younger, faster, more skill, so I think everything kind of combines and goes into it,” Arizona Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata said. “I think the penalties are called more now than late in the season last year. That’s normal, so you probably have more power-play goals. And you have all the guys who played at the World Cup, they’re in their midseason form already where normally it would take them a couple games to get going.”

The NHL, hoping to keep its fans entertained, has tried many things to get scoring up, from shrinking goaltending equipment to adopting 3-on-3 overtime. Yet goals have hovered around 5.3 per game over the past five years.

The jump early this season has as much to do with young talent like Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews as anything else.

McDavid and Matthews lead a wave of 16 teenagers in the NHL right now, players who dazzle with flashy moves and who sometimes aren’t afraid to take a risk and maybe turn the puck over. As hockey trends more toward speed and skill, the game becomes more unpredictable and coaches gain more gray hair.

“You have more skill players in the league, too, so they’re not as conscious with puck management,” Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “You talk to the coaches probably around the league that might be as much as anything, and (players are) finding the back of the net on those.”

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett joked that it’s a Team North America mentality, referencing the 23-and-under World Cup group that thrived playing end-to-end, fast-paced games and scored at a blistering pace. Beyond just Team North America, the World Cup got many of the league’s elite up to speed to start the year, and Philadelphia forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare believes he and the other 168 players who took part are already in December form.

“It definitely helps,” Flyers teammate Sean Couturier said. “I think guys have been in game situations at such a high pace, high level for a month and a half before the season actually started.”

Eight of the top nine scorers so far this season played in the World Cup, and surprise standout Richard Panik benefited from so many Chicago Blackhawks players being away by making the most of extra ice time in preseason. The Blackhawks are also doing their part to contribute to the goal fest by allowing a league-high 14 of the 138 power-play goals scored through Wednesday.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters thinks power-play units are ahead of penalty kills and that five-on-five play is “looser” than usual.

Loose play plus a lot of backup goaltenders in the nets is a recipe for offense. Through 97 games, 61 different goalies have started at least once, compared with 85 in 1,230 games last season.

That’s in part a product of injuries to starters like the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick, Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and Arizona’s Mike Smith and also the compressed schedule forced because of the World Cup. Each team will have a five-day “bye week” in January or February.

“I’m sure because we have a lot of back to backs and we have the bye week – the games are probably compressed a little bit more together than it’s been in the last (few) years,” Capitals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer said. “If you’re good and play good and get the right numbers and win the games, I’m sure (backups) will get a few more starts.”

Backups will continue to play, but many around the NHL expect production to slide back to normal as the season wears on. So enjoy the throwback scoring while it lasts.

“I think things will tighten up as we go,” Peters said. “But it’s been enjoyable for the fans.”

Bolts ready to renew ‘budding rivalry’ with Habs

Torrey Mitchell, Ben Bishop
Leave a comment

The Canadiens know at the end of the year they’ll probably be jockeying with the Lightning for playoff positioning and, quite possibly, facing them in the postseason.

The Lightning know it, too.

Which is why tonight’s game has a certain amount of importance to it — yes, even though it’s just two weeks into the regular season.

“Montreal has a really good team,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said, per the club website. “Last year was just a speedbump year for them. Marc [Bergevin, GM] has done a great job in retooling the whole team and Mike [Therrien, head coach] does a helluva job behind the bench.

“When teams play each other a couple times in the playoffs, there’s a budding rivalry. We missed each other last year, but I have a feeling the way things are going, we’re probably going to meet up again at some point.”

In 2014, the Bolts were swept by Montreal in the opening playoff round. A year later, Tampa Bay flipped the script by defeating the Habs in the second round, en route to the Stanley Cup Final.

As Cooper mentioned, last year was something of an aberration in Montreal. The Habs are certainly proving as much with their play to start this year.

At 6-0-1, they’re the NHL’s lone undefeated team in regulation. They currently sit first in the league in goals against, fourth in goals for, seventh on the penalty kill and 15th on the power play.

The man advantage is, obviously, the only unit not at or near the top of the league. But Shea Weber‘s play has certainly made the PP more formidable — two goals and an assist with the man advantage thus far — and the group has found the back of the net in five of the last six games.

Speaking of the power play, let’s discuss the Lightning for a moment.

Tampa Bay has been annihilating opponents with the man advantage lately. The league’s third-best PP — clicking at a 30 percent success rate — has scored four times in the last two games. Jonathan Drouin is the leading power play scorer, with three points, but all the usual suspects are chipping in as well: Steve Stamkos, Alex Killorn Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.

The Lightning are neck-and-neck with the Habs in the standings as well. They’re 5-1-0 to start the year, and are coming off consecutive wins over the Senators and Leafs.

So yeah. Tonight’s game should be a good one.

With Lindholm signed, Ducks GM hopes to keep team together

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 24:  Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks speaks after being named NHL General Manager of the Year during the 2014 NHL Awards at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas on June 24, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Just because they got Hampus Lindholm signed doesn’t mean the Anaheim Ducks need to make a trade right away.

First of all, the 22-year-old defenseman won’t be able to play until he gets a work visa, and that could take a week or two.

Secondly, even when he’s back in the lineup, Simon Despres (who’s got a suspected concussion, which is a “very sensitive issue”) and Nate Thompson (who ruptured his Achilles and may not be back before the trade deadline) will not be.

And with Despres and Thompson on LTIR, GM Bob Murray has some wiggle room, at least for now.

“I wanted to give this group another shot, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it that way,” Murray told reporters on a conference call, adding that he was thankful for owners who’ve allowed him to spend to the cap.

Which brings us to Cam Fowler. Here’s what the O.C. Register had to say about him:

Cam Fowler has long been seen as a potential cap casualty once Lindholm signed, but the Ducks do not want to trade him, given Fowler’s ability and meaning to the team. Fowler, who’s off to a hot start with three goals and four assists in eight games, has two years left on his deal at $4 million per season.

The Ducks have gone 3-0-1 since dropping their first four to start the season. Their next game is Friday at home to Columbus.

Related: Fowler surprised he wasn’t traded at draft