NHL Playoffs, Flyers vs. Canadiens, Game 4: Both teams enjoy big home ice advantage

classichabs.jpgIn Philadelphia, they have those heart-clogging cheesesteaks, the vague yet ever-present threat of batteries/vandalism and the undeniable “spirit” of potential hooliganism. Meanwhile, Montreal provides poutine, an outrageously raucous crowd, the ghosts* of Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Jean Beliveau alongside their well-known tendency to riot after games. Both crowds are prone to chant “Ole!” although one side (Montreal) does it out of tradition while the other (Philadelphia) does it out of profound sarcasm.

* – Look, I know that those players named as “ghosts” are actually still alive, but in my eyes an athlete goes on to an after-life once he or she retires. So, yes, by that logic Mario Lemieux is Jesus, Michael Jordan is Lazarus and Brett Favre is … Abe Vigoda.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that – at least so far – this Habs-Flyers series is one in which the home team simply dominates.

Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 4

Flyers lead series 2-1

Live on NBC at 3PM ET

The results for each team home vs. the road so far are staggering. Just look at the overall series score: the home team pummeled its guests 14-1 in the series’ first three matches.

Chris Pronger was a physical force in Philadelphia, living up to his Broadstreet Bully reputation by getting in the heads of the “petite” Montreal forwards. It’s hard to wonder whether or not Pronger is in his own head in Montreal, though, as he went -3 in Game 3 and made an epic turnover that was to blame for the game-winner.

According to Dan Carcillo, the Canadiens might even be more willing to trash talk and goad the Flyers at home rather than in the City of Brotherly Love. Here’s a choice line from the AP preview from the rarely-shy Carcillo.

Carcillo then called Cammalleri “a homer,” noting that the Canadiens never tried anything like that during the Flyers’ two home wins at the start of the series. With a smile, he added that the last time anyone stuck their tongue out at him was “probably a girl – a pretty one, too.”

Well, OK then, Dan.

As I mentioned in an earlier preview, it’s been a while since Jaroslav Halak stole a game so perhaps that home crowd could will him to embody Patrick Roy or Dryden once again. I cannot help but wonder whether those “Leigh-ton” chants rattle the Flyers goalie a bit (even if they lack the slightest hint of creativity). Put that thought in the anthology titled “Questions athletes will never answer honestly.”

Regardless, the Flyers could make this series go from “homer” to “endangered” with one simple win on the road. There should be no doubt that Philadelphia will play with more urgency tonight, but Halak seems to grow stronger as the stage gets bigger.

Ultimately, team that wins this series might just be the one that doesn’t depend on home cooking.

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    Washington is ‘basically destroying everyone right now’

    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals (c) celebrates his goal at 15:45 of the first period against the New York Islanders and is joined by Nicklas Backstrom #19 (l) and T.J. Oshie #77 (r)at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher didn’t mince words analyzing tonight’s opponent, the visiting Washington Capitals.

    “They’re basically destroying everyone right now,” Boucher said on Tuesday morning, per TSN 1200.

    And, well, he’s right.

    With Monday’s 6-1 blowout of Carolina, the Caps extended their consecutive points streak to 14 games — the second-longest in franchise history. Washington is 12-0-2 during the streak and has scored at least four goals in eight consecutive games, and one of those losses came in overtime of a thrilling 8-7 tilt against the Penguins.

    The streak looks even better in graph form:

    caps

    Unsurprisingly, the Caps have dotted the NHL’s weekly three stars announcements throughout January. Braden Holtby earned third star honors back on the 9th, Nicklas Backstrom netted first star on the 16th and, yesterday, T.J. Oshie scored third star of the week.

    Those awards underscore the story in Washington — everybody is contributing across, the board.

    Like last night, when Dmitry Orlov‘s rare two-goal effort helped the Caps past the ‘Canes. Or the game prior, when Matt Niskanen‘s three-assist performance pushed Washington over Dallas.

    The Caps are a dangerous club at the moment. Even the players are willing to acknowledge it.

    “We got all four lines rolling and with our depth and our ability when every line’s going, we’re tough to stop,” Oshie said, per ESPN. “Things are going well right now.”

    Poor goaltending, lack of finish to blame for Kings’ latest loss

    Los Angeles Kings goalie Jeff Zatkoff, left, looks at New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello after Zuccarellos scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in New York. The Rangers won 3-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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    It was the story of the Los Angeles Kings’ season last night in New York:

    — Lots of shots, but not enough goals.

    — Not many shots against, but too many goals allowed.

    The Kings fell 3-2 to Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers despite winning the shot clock by a huge margin: 38-17.

    “I think we had a lot of opportunities. You’ve got to finish,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “At the end of the day, we need better goaltending in there.”

    Jeff Zatkoff was between the pipes for the Kings. His record fell to 2-7-1 with an .881 save percentage. So expect to see Peter Budaj tonight in New Jersey, and probably Thursday in Carolina, too.

    The Kings (22-21-4) have lost four straight and sit three points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot. The Flames also lost last night, and so did the team immediately below the Kings, the Winnipeg Jets. That was the good news for Sutter’s crew.

    But with Jonathan Quick not expected back until March, it’ll be up to Budaj and Zatkoff to give the Kings the goaltending they need to get back into a playoff spot. And that’s a big ask for two guys who’ve played more AHL games than NHL games over the last few years.

    As far as the offense is concerned, the Kings badly need more from Anze Kopitar, who only has four goals in 41 games. After all, Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury) did not make the trip, and Jeff Carter can’t be asked to score every night. Carter (25 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals.

    “We probably out-chanced them, what, five-to-one tonight? It’s the percentages,” said Sutter. “So the percentages are that you score on a percentage of those chances. The other team’s scoring on not-percentage chances, put it that way.”

     

    No hearings scheduled after wild Flames-Leafs game

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    None of the combatants from Monday’s incident-filled Toronto-Calgary game will face disciplinary hearings, an NHL spokesman confirmed this morning.

    The two sides combined for 16 minor penalties across a nasty, chippy affair that included:

    — Leafs forward Leo Komarov catching Johnny Gaudreau with a huge bodycheck.

    — Flames captain Mark Gioradano quickly jumping Komarov in retaliation.

    — A pair of Calgary youngsters, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, accused of slew-footing.

    The incident that drew the most attention was Komarov’s hit on Gaudreau. The diminutive Calgary winger looked to be in trouble after the check — requiring assistance off the ice — but went through concussion protocol and was cleared to return a short while after.

    Komarov’s hit was deemed legal, and he didn’t receive a penalty on the play.

    “I feel fine,” Gaudreau told the Calgary Herald following the game. “It’s part of hockey, you’re going to get hit every once in a while and with the concussion-test stuff, they want to make sure you’re alright.

    “So I had to go in there and do that, and it was fine.”

     

     

    NHL on NBCSN: Pens look to push winning streak to five games against slumping Blues

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

    Things are going well for the Penguins right now. They’ve rattled off four straight wins over Washington, Montreal, Carolina and Boston and in each of those victories, they managed to score at least four goals.

    Everyone knows Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have been terrific when healthy, but others, like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz have also been key contributors for their team.

    Sheary in particular had a terrific week, as he was named the NHL’s First Star for his performance last week. The 24-year-old has played a good chunk of the season on a line with Crosby, and he’s already up to 17 goals and 17 assists in 39 games in 2016-17.

    “It’s going better than I expected at this point,” Sheary said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things, the way we’re playing as a team and the way our line’s playing. I think it’s just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don’t last, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

    Sheary managed to put up six goals and three assists in just four contests last week, and on Sunday, the line of Crosby, Rust and Sheary combined to score nine points in a 5-1 win over the Bruins.

    “I think his game is just growing by the day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He obviously has some nice chemistry with the line he’s on right now. He’s got pretty good chemistry with Sid in particular. That line has been really good for us. I think his confidence might be at an all-time high, which is helping him.”

    If the Penguins are riding high, the Blues are on the other end of the spectrum.

    Scoring hasn’t been an issue for them. They’ve scored three goals or more in four of their last five contests, but keeping the puck out of their net has been the big problem.

    St. Louis comes into this game having dropped three games in a row. Although goaltending hasn’t been their only issue, Jake Allen‘s struggles are a big reason why they’ve been slumping of late.

    “I take a lot of blame, I deserve it, no excuses,” the Blues goalie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have no problem with taking the heat. You get more of the brunt of it as a goalie, the last line of defense, but in this situation I have no problem with it. I should be the backbone of this team and I haven’t been. A lot of it falls on my shoulders, letting the guys down in many situations, not giving them a chance to win.”

    After Allen allowed four goals on 10 shots in a loss to Washington, the team decided he needed to stay behind while they traveled to Winnipeg (they lost 5-3 with Pheonix Copley in net) and Pittsburgh.

    Tonight, the Blues will start Carter Hutton, but they’ll go back to Allen for Thursday’s game against Minnesota before they head off for the All-Star break.