Bruins seeking payback could be nightmare for NHL

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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
of NECN.com
):

“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
uneasy.

“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.

Boeser channels Bure, leads NHL rookie scoring

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Brock Boeser has no intentions of letting Clayton Keller or Mathew Barzal walk away with the Calder Trophy.

Boeser, 20, has been lights out over the past four games for the Vancouver Canucks, scoring six times during his current four-game goal-scoring streak (he also has points in five straight) as Keller’s stock has cooled.

The Arizona Coyotes 19-year-old rookie has failed to score in each of his past eight games after a blistering start that saw him score 11 times in 16 contests.

Keller’s slump has allowed Boeser to grab hold of the rookie scoring lead, which he did on Wednesday, scoring twice — the second time he’s done so in as many games — in a 5-2 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s now one point ahead of Keller and Barzal, the latter of which is heating up as well with points in his past four games.

As you can see by the above video, Boeser’s release puts his name on a pedestal with few others in the NHL. The Athletic’s Justin Bourne wrote glowingly of Boeser’s shot ability on Wednesday.

Don’t see the Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine in that shot? Here’s more proof:

Boeser’s scoring prowess has him in the conversation with another talented Russian in Pavel Bure.

Bure, who won the Calder Trophy in 1992, scored 34 times for the Canucks that season. Boeser is on pace to hit the 40-goal mark, which would smash that record.

Boeser is the first rookie to score in four consecutive games this season. According to the NHL, only one rookie in Canucks franchise history has scored in more than four consecutive team games – Dennis Ververgaert had a six-game goal streak in 1973-74.

Boeser is scoring on nearly 21 percent of his shots, and while TSN’s Scott Cullen points out that that number isn’t likely to hold, his 2.8 shots per game are still very much conducive to goal scoring.

And winning. Boeser has three game-winning goals for the Canucks, who are 11-8-3 this season, two points out of first place in the Pacific Division in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck


Free falling: Flyers lose sixth straight as growing pains emerge

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The Philadelphia Flyers feel they are right there, which is an interesting statement from a team that’s lost six straight and eight of their past 10.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves in times of trouble.

The Flyers did fair better on Wednesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Islanders, which prompted goaltender Brian Elliott to make the declaration that his team just needs to turn the corner.

It’s tough to turn when you’re falling backwards, however.

Indeed, finding positives when few appear to be in sight in a skid like the Flyers are in is a tough ask in the City of Brotherly Love. Flyers fans have had to come to terms with a few things this season.

It must pain fans to see Brayden Schenn lighting the lamp over and over again in St. Louis. Schenn was traded to the Blues in the offseason. The return looked half decent for a team looking to rebuild with a youth movement.

The Blues gave up two first-round picks for Schenn along with Jori Lehtera. And while it remains to be seen what the Flyers gain from the trade in future drafts, Lehtera has been an utter disappointment, one magnified many times more by Schenn’s incredible start.

Lehtera was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, the second time in his past four games he’s watched rather than played. He’s sitting on two assists this season in 14 games. Schenn, by comparison, 10 goals and 30 points, including 19 in his past eight games.

It hasn’t been all Lehtera’s fault. Oh, no.

The Flyers penalty kill has been atrocious. They rank 28th in the league at 75 percent and have allowed seven goals in their past 13 kills over the past three games.

Andrew MacDonald can’t return soon enough, especially after one of their better penalty killers tried to behead a man last week.

Scoring could be better as well.

Claude Giroux has gone six games without a goal, this after scoring nine times in his first 16 games. Jordan Weal has just one goal in his past 18 games and was bumped to the fourth line on Wednesday. And ever since he 17 times in 64 games two years ago, Shayne Gostisbehere has only eight goals in his past 95 games and none in his past 13.

Ivan Provorov has been a godsend for the Flyers on defence (and Travis Sanheim is starting to blossom), but Gostisbehere’s offensive prowess from the backend would be a welcomed addition again.

But the real reason for the Flyers struggles this season might just be something they can’t control: youth.

The Flyers iced 11 players under 25 years of age on Wednesday night. Their top defenseman, Provorov, is 20 years old. Their second line centre, Nolan Patrick, is 19.

These are the growing pains of a team getting younger, and it could get worse yet before it gets better.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

While Turris continues to roll, Duchene still stuck in first gear

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Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, sometimes it isn’t.

The two focal points of the biggest trade this season so far in the National Hockey League find themselves on opposite sides of the old expression.

On the ‘grass isn’t’ side, we find Matt Duchene, now an Ottawa Senators player after getting shipped to Canada’s capital from the Colorado Avalanche in a three-team deal (that also included the Nashville Predators, but more on that in a moment) earlier this month.

Duchene, unhappy in the Colorado Rockies, has now gone six games without a point in his new threads.

On the ‘greener side,’ we find Kyle Turris, now a member of the Nashville Predators, who was shipped out of Canada’s capital after contract negotiations between his former team, the Senators, “did not see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Unlike Duchene, (his trade partner?) Turris has found new life in Music City. In six games, Turris has two goals and three assists and scored this five-hole goal on Wednesday to help the Predators get past the struggling Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the shootout.

Turris’ arrival on the Predators’ second line has been of great assistance to 21-year-old forward Kevin Fiala as well.

Fiala has six points, including two multi-point outings, since Turris arrived on Nov. 5 and is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie season point total of 16 last year with two goals and 11 assists in 20 games this season.

It was no secret the Senators wanted Duchene, badly, in the days leading up to the deal that finally got done. Turris and the Sens couldn’t reach an agreement on an extension and thus the 28-year-old became expendable. The results thus far, at least on the scoresheet, haven’t matched the steep price required to get Duchene.

But it’s not all bad. Some consolation for Sens fans:

And it’s not to say results won’t come.

Duchene has 23 shots in those six games. There would be more concern if he wasn’t getting chances.

An immediate winner in any high-profile swap is always hotly debated. Turris has had a strong start in Nashville, but he went to a team that is a few months removed from being in the Stanley Cup Finals and are looking like strong contenders once again.

Duchene is a highly-skilled player who scored 30 goals two years ago. The chemistry with Bobby Ryan just hasn’t blossomed just yet. Give it time.

The thing about trades is this: a clear-cut winner is often never determined a few weeks after the deal is made.

Duchene summed it up rather succinctly on Tuesday in the Ottawa Sun:

“I’ve said it many times, a season is full of peaks and valleys and 10 games from now, we could be having a totally different conversation.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Golden Knights can’t stop, won’t stop

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There may not be a more intriguing story in the NHL this year than what is going on in Sin City.

Defying all the odds, the Vegas Golden Knights — a team comprised of spare parts that general manager George McPhee picked out of a discard bin this past summer — sit on top of the Pacific Division at Thanksgiving after a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

The league-wide off day due to the holiday should give you enough time to come to the realization that yes, indeed, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Instead, the NHL has a brand new team that continues to re-write hockey history.

The Golden Knights matched an NHL record for most wins by a team through the first 20 games of its inaugural season on Wednesday, moving to 13-6-1 on the year.

They became the first expansion team to start a season 3-0-0 and first to win their first six of seven back in October. On Nov. 4, they tied a league record for shortest number of games played to achieve nine wins an inaugural season and continue to do things no other expansion team has done.

How a team full of players not good enough to be protected prior to the expansion draft is doing so well is anyone’s guess.

Chip on their collective shoulders? Perhaps. A little Las Vegas magic? Quite possible.

What is certain is that the Golden Knights have little trouble scoring. And scoring helps with winning.

James Neal, a former 40-goal man, leads the way with 11 goals. Only Filip Forsberg on the Nashville Predators, Neal’s former team, has as many. William Karlsson is second with 10. No one on his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, has reached double digits yet.

David Perron, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Erik Haula aren’t far behind with six goals apiece, and Vegas is eighth in expected goals for percentage.

The math adds up to show the Golden Knights tied for fourth in goals for with 72. They’re also in the top third when it comes to least goals against, a remarkable feat given that they’ve had to dig deep — really deep — into their stable of goaltenders thanks to injury.

Furthermore, If the playoffs were determined by possession metrics and began tomorrow, the Golden Knights would be one of the 16 headed to the promised land.

Maybe Vegas just likes to win. And really, what do they have to lose?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck