Ovechkin's struggles just one part of Capitals' frustration

4 Comments

Ovechkinski.jpgElliotte Friedman of CBCSports and Hockey Night in Canada
has a great article up today
on the Washington Capitals. He looks
ahead at what needs to change for the Washington Capitals as they take
the throne from the San Jose Sharks as playoff disappointments, and it’s
tough to argue with his suggestions.

He makes a great point that
while some were instantly calling for a coaching change, it’s smart of
GM George McPhee to state publicly that he stands behind Bruce Boudreau.
That’s not to say changes aren’t coming, but firing the coach in the
days after a painful playoff loss just reeks of desperation.

There’s
no doubt that the Capitals were outcoached at times by the Canadiens,
especially as it became obvious that the Capitals had trouble adjusting
to the system the Habs were rolling with. But what about the other parts
of the team that frustrated fans the most? So what did Elliotte have to
say?

On Alex Ovechkin, he says that the superstar needs to take a
page from the book of Sidney Crosby and adjust his approach to the game
as the league catches up to him. He has some damning quotes by Canadiens
players, as they say that Ovechkin became increasingly easy to defend:

“Generally,
you know what’s coming,” Gorges said. “When he comes in on
the off-wing, he’ll try to step to the middle and shoot through you. You
can bait him into that.”

“If you do go to the middle, he will
try to go to the outside,” Gill added.

Sidney Crosby
took the next step by learning to score more himself. As some coaches
observed the Ovechkin was crippling the Capitals power play by keeping
the puck too much, perhaps #8 can take the next step himself by learning
to be more of a playmaker than a finisher. He has some incredibly
talented teammates at his disposal, and as Ovechkin became increasingly
frustrated he became intent on trying to win himself.

Friedman
goes on to say that Mike Green needs to drown out his detractors and
just go back to playing the hockey that made him so good to start with.
Forget about the Norris Trophy debates, just be yourself. He also covers
how the Capitals are perhaps too much of a finesse team, a style that’s
not exactly conducive to postseason success and attacks the notion that
perhaps the approach that works for the Caps in the regular season
won’t work in the playoffs.

After all, it’s tough to argue with
R.J. Umberger after that first round disappointment.

Finally,
Friedman takes on a very interesting aspect of this ‘mess’ that we’ve
hinted at as it became apparent that the Capitals were starting to
struggle: Alex Ovechkin didn’t look like he was having fun anymore.

I
call it the Tony Romo syndrome. Someone who was known for his exuberant
style and his love for the game allows criticism and doubts about his
ability to carry his team in the playoffs affect his love of the game.
Ovechkin was frustrated, far from his joyous self and according to
Friedman there’s talk he’s let all the public criticisms get to him.

The
Capitals are still an incredibly talented team and have a formula that
could be successful if tweaked in the right places. More importantly,
they need Alex Ovechkin to get back to being as good as we all know he
can be.

B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
AP
1 Comment

Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

“I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

“There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

But others might not be all that shocked.

Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

Oilers ‘owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time’: Chiarelli

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

The more Peter Chiarelli talks, the more anticipation grows for a big trade.

The Oilers’ general manager spoke to Sportsnet yesterday at the Memorial Cup, where he was asked once again about the possibility of dealing the fourth overall draft pick for some NHL-ready help.

“Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options,” said Chiarelli. “There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal. We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

The number one area that the Oilers need to upgrade is the defense. So if, for example, a player like Tyson Barrie were made available by the Colorado Avalanche, Chiarelli would no doubt be interested. Ditto for Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or whoever else could be in play this offseason.

It won’t be easy, but if Chiarelli can add a capable, young top-4 defenseman (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL) and perhaps a veteran too, all of a sudden things look a lot more promising on the back end. Remember that Darnell Nurse is still only 21, Oscar Klefbom just 22. And even if the Oilers move down in the draft, they could still add another d-man to a mix that also includes youngsters Brandon Davidson, Adam Clendening, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle.

If, on the other hand, Chiarelli fails to upgrade the defense, then the Oilers may struggle once again next season.

Hence, the urgency to get something done now, for a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff excitement in a decade.

After so much losing, there’s no selling patience anymore in Edmonton.

Related‘There’s a real legitimate chance’ that Oilers trade fourth overall pick

People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
Getty
9 Comments

The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.

Back to Matt: Facing elimination, Pens will start Murray

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Matt Murray #30 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
16 Comments

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a goalie change coming in the conference final.

On Tuesday, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Matt Murray would be back in goal for tonight’s decisive Game 6 in Tampa Bay — this after Sullivan opted to park Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5.

Technically speaking, Murray’s been parked since the second period of Game 4. That, of course, was the one in which he allowed four goals on 30 shots, paving the way for Fleury to enter the third with Pittsburgh down 4-0.

And that’s when things changed.

The goalie switch seemed to spark the Pens, who scored three times in the final frame to make things interesting. While that was going on, Fleury looked sharp — though not especially busy — stopping all seven shots faced, as his mates nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

The decision was then made to start Fleury on Saturday night.

He played to mixed reviews in a 4-3 OT loss, making just 21 saves (for an .840 percentage) while appearing shaky on a number of occasions. Though he could hardly be blamed for the game-winning goal — replays showed that Jason Garrison‘s point shot deflected off Tyler Johnson‘s behind — Fleury just didn’t look right, which isn’t a shock.

It was his first start since suffering a concussion on Mar. 31.

As mentioned above, goalie changes have been a predominant storyline among the final four playoff teams. St. Louis has started both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and the Bolts were forced to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop got hurt in the series opener.

In that light, Sullivan’s questionable decision to start Fleury in Game 5 is somewhat mitigated because, hey, other teams are having goalie issues too.

It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh’s situation in goal probably has much to do with its situation on defense. There’s little coincidence the club has conceded eight goals over the last two games with Trevor Daley (broken ankle) almost entirely out of action, Olli Maata being thrown into action and Kris Letang shouldering gigantic minutes — including a whopping 31:38 in Game 4.

Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise