Americans making the difference for Montreal

1 Comment
Gionta.jpg

Montreal is a town rich in French and Canadian history,
one that is also directly tied to their beloved hockey team.
French-Canadian players are embraced as local heroes and team always has
a distinct Quebec flavor among the players.

This is a town that is obsessed with its Canadiens and
the region’s patriotic spirit is fueled by the success of their hockey
team. After all, the Habs represent the next chance for the Stanley Cup
to return to Canada — although I have a feeling there are some Canadian
hockey fans that wouldn’t mind seeing that drought stay alive another
year.

One thing that is great about this team, this deeply
historical and locally flavored hockey franchise, is how three
American-born players are proving to be the difference this postseason.

It’s tough to say if Jaroslav Halak or Michael
Cammalleri is the MVP of this team so far, but the trio of Scott Gomez,
Brian Gionta and Hal Gill have been just as important to the Habs’
success against the Penguins and the Capitals

Gomez, who has just one goal but is leading the team in
assists, has provided the edge on the forecheck and the hardworking
example that the team hoped to get when they acquired him. While he has
been under intense scrutiny and criticism this past season for not
living up to his lofty contract, he’s turned it on in the playoffs and
made a difference when it was needed most.

For Brian Gionta, the second-leading scorer for the Habs
in the playoffs, he’s relocated his scoring touch at exactly the right
time. He’s tied with Cammalleri for the team lead in power play scores
and has proven just how valuable a veteran goal scorer can be in the
postseason. More importantly, he knows what it takes to be successful in
the playoffs after seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils.

Yet it’s Hal Gill, fresh off a Stanley Cup win last
season with the Penguins, that’s perhaps made the biggest difference for
the Habs. It’s not what he’s done on the scoreboard that’s been
important, it’s been his leadership and play on defense. Gill has been
instrumental in the shutdown of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin,
frustrating the world’s best players on their way to early playoff
exits.

There’s no doubt that Montreal is proud of their local
heroes but it’s these three Americans can be thanked for helping get the
Habs to this point. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, however, national
allegiances are put aside and only the logo on the front of the jersey
matters.

Trade talk: Who Oilers might deal, Eric Staal in limbo

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal (12) celebrates his second-period goal with teammates, including his brother Jordan Staal, second from left, during an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. The Penguins won 5-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP
Leave a comment

As has often been the case, some big trades have already happened before the hype-soaked Feb. 29 deadline, but there’s plenty of speculation regarding what might happen next.

TSN’s Insider Trading segment is always a must-watch, so check it out right here.

To reiterate, the video’s worth watching in full, but here are some highlights:

  • The Edmonton Oilers shine as one of the most obvious “sellers.” Teddy Purcell could be a nice supplementary piece, yet Pierre LeBrun rightly points to Justin Schultz as the most interesting name.

He’s really received just about every chance you can ask for in Edmonton, but LeBrun notes that his confidence is “shot.” Schultz is a pricey guy to take on thanks to his qualifying rights; still, some team might believe that they can make that reclamation project work.

  • Andrew Ladd seems to be in limbo with the Winnipeg Jets, as it sounds like there’s the possibility of an extension or a trade.
  • Eric Staal‘s situation is murky, too. Bob McKenzie points out that Staal has control of his situation with no-trade/no-movement clauses, so he can dictate his future with (or without) the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • An interesting opinion raised by LeBrun: Mikkel Boedker‘s maybe the No. 1 rental forward.

Darren Dreger reports that Boedker is looking for a six-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit (which would be $33 million), whether that comes from the Arizona Coyotes or someone else.

***

Again, watch the full video, as a lot of names and teams are discussed. Plenty of things can happen, but we’ll ultimately need to wait and see.

Brian Elliott’s been steady for up-and-down Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) lunges to make a save against the Nashville Predators during the first period Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Sanford Myers)
AP
Leave a comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) Brian Elliott is on a roll. Too bad the St. Louis Blues have little to show for it.

During a prolonged scoring slump, the veteran goalie’s play has bordered on spectacular. He has seized the opportunity since Jake Allen was sidelined by a knee injury in early January.

The 30-year-old Elliott has allowed one or fewer goals in regulation and overtime in five of his last seven starts, a run that has put him among the NHL’s best with a 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage on the season.

“Fantastic,” captain David Backes said after Elliott’s latest standout effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. “You can’t complain about our goaltending, that’s for dang sure.”

“Our goalie was our best player again. Played great,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The rest of the team is in the doldrums, and the bottom line is the Blues have lost four of six. The Blues have scored no more than one goal in five of their last six.

Hitchcock said the offense didn’t work nearly hard enough to sustain chances against the Jets, then put his players through a rigorous workout the next day to drive home the point. The defense is adjusting to expanded roles without Alex Pietrangelo, who is among the league leaders in minutes played but will be sidelined at least three weeks with a right knee injury.

Elliott describes Pietrangelo as the type of player who “stick handles in a phone booth” to get the puck out of the zone.

“Umm, we have some work to do,” Hitchcock said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Elliott has thrived with a heavy work load and is set to make his 13th consecutive start on Friday at Florida. Last year, Elliott was an All-Star.

“It’s fun, it’s awesome,” Elliott said. “It’s why you play, to play the game and not to watch.”

Before relieving Allen on Jan. 8 in the second period at Anaheim, Elliott had played just three games in the previous 14. There was no question who was No. 1.

Whenever Allen returns, it’s liable to be more of a job share.

“You try not to think about the past and the future, you just focus on the present,” Elliott said. “I don’t really look at the stats, I just keep trying to be the rock back there for the guys.”

The last week or so, the 25-year-old Allen has been jumping into the latter stages of practices. Hitchcock said there’ll be something to talk about when he’s a full participant.

The team is hoping injecting Jaden Schwartz will help revive the offense. The speedy forward was third on the team with 63 points last season but has played just seven games this season and is coming off a 49-game layoff from a broken left ankle heading into Friday’s game.

“It doesn’t matter how many goals we score, you want to keep as many as you can out of your own net,” Allen said. “Obviously, we haven’t had a good amount of goals the last few games but we’re still coming out with some points.”

Despite the scoring drought, the Blues have kept themselves in the vanguard, picking up at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games. Nine of them have been decided by a single goal.

“Good teams get through tough situations,” Elliott said. “When things start clicking we’re going to be a dangerous team.”

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

Ryan Murray
Leave a comment

Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.