2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Byfuglien vs. Pronger the battle to watch

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Buff.jpgOne of the biggest (literally) reasons for the Blackhawks’ success
against the Canucks and the Sharks was forward/defenseman/forward Dustin
Byfuglien. The large and seemingly unmovable Byfuglien has scored eight
goals in the postseason, including one in each of the past five games.
In the Hawks’ four-game sweep of the Sharks, he had the game-winning
goal in three of the four games.

Nearly all of his goals were
scoring from directly in front of the net, as the opposing team seemed
helpless in keeping Byfuglien away from the crease. It didn’t help that a
couple of times the Sharks and Canucks inexplicable forgot about him,
yet no matter what either team tried to do he was still able to make one
heck of an impact in crashing the net.

With Michael Leighton in
net, riding one heck of a performance against the Canadiens and likely
extremely confident, you can guarantee the Blackhawks will continue
their net-crashing ways.

Only this time, the Flyers have a weapon
the likes of which Byfuglien and the Blackhawks have yet to face: Chris
Pronger.

There are many matchups in the Cup finals that are
intriguing, but none will get as much focus or be as important to each
team’s success than the battle between Dustin Byfuglien and Chris
Pronger in front of the net. Byfuglien hasn’t battled a big defenseman
like Pronger, yet Pronger hasn’t had to try and clear out what is
essentially a skilled defenseman from directly in front of the net.

Unfortunately,
Pronger may be at a disadvantage. What would have worked 10-15 years
ago in the NHL won’t fly today. NBC’s Mike Milbury, speaking during a
conference call today, explains:

“I wish it were in 1975 so I
could really watch this matchup; because
the way the rules are now, if Byfuglien goes to the front of the net,
Pronger can’t touch him. He can have action when the puck’s around the
crease, but if Byfuglien wants to go to the front of the net, all he has
to do is stand there.

“I think it’s going to be interesting to
see if Pronger can do anything
against Byfuglien, because the way the rules are you can’t touch the
damn guy anymore.”

Milbury has long been outspoken about the
current rules prohibiting physical play, and in this case he’s dead on
about how Pronger will struggle to stay out of the penalty box when
Byfuglien starts to take up residence down low. You also know that the
Hawks will take advantage of this matchup, in the hopes that Pronger
does something stupid and suddenly the Flyers are without their best
defenseman.

Knowing Pronger, there’s a good chance this will
happen at some point.

The Blackhawks and Byfuglien have become
masterful and causing trouble in front of the goaltender and the net,
knowing exactly what to do and to say to get the opposing team off their
game. Scoring goals down low, with Byfuglien let loose outside the
crease, is sure to be the first way to anger the Flyers.

Pronger
has shown in the past that he does know how to clear out the front of
the net without playing dumb, using his frame to box out the forwards
around the net and give his goaltender a clear view of the shooting
lanes.

It’s going to be two of the bigger players on the ice
going at one another, with one of them at a disadvantage. It’s the wily
veteran, the defenseman brought in to give the Flyers this exact edge,
against the hot young forward who has suddenly become the hero for the
Blackhawks.

Kings want to increase scoring, but can Stevens make it happen?

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If sheer exposure to a team translates to make that team better, then no candidate can lift the Los Angeles Kings quite like John Stevens.

The hockey world tends to lose track of assistant (or “associate”) coaches far more easily than the main guys, and that is the case with Stevens. Seriously, Stevens has been with the Kings since 2010-11. How many Kings fans occasionally forgot he was there?

(Be honest.)

Anyway, Stevens has been able to keep an eye on the Kings for some time, so does he really have a chance to make them better? That remains to be seen, but give Stevens and new GM Rob Blake credit; they at least seem to offer some specifics about improving Los Angeles’ offense beyond “score more goals.”

The presser starts around the 8:00 mark:

Stevens provides a fun line about wanting to “lead the league” in goalie interference challenges which …

*gets interrupted by Bruce Boudreau GIF*

No, but really, LA Kings Insider transcribed some of the more interesting bits about how management believes that they’ll approach zone entries and attempting to score from the center of the ice. Here are some choice bits via Rosen’s transcription:

Blake: “We were at the bottom of controlled entry, goals off of controlled entry … We were near the bottom at getting the puck to the slot whether we were skating it or passing it so there were a lot of things that, the way goals are being scored now, that we weren’t having success in.”

Stevens: ” … Analytics tells you we don’t get enough scoring opportunities from the middle of the ice and that’s clearly an area where, whether it’s quickly off a transition forecheck and you’re going to try to get to those areas, you’re going to have people there more, and spend more time around the net. But it’s clearly an area we’re going to focus on.”

***

OK, so there’s a blueprint. But roster construction matters as much as system – let’s not forget that the Kings remained a possession mammoth until the end and that Darryl Sutter remains a respected coach – and that’s where the real questions come in.

Simply put, there are some reasons to wonder if things might actually get worse.

The Kings will find out if Anze Kopitar merely experienced a down year or if this is the new reality as he turns 30 in August. Jeff Carter could hit the wall some expected him to already hit. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are two rare Kings scorers who are in their primes … but they’re not going to be nearly as cheap after getting new deals this summer.

Ultimately, Stevens can only do so much. Blake will need to be creative to help this team … be more creative.

But hey, at least they have a plan that seems a bit more concrete than only spewing out buzzwords like “being tough to play against.”

Blues think they’re ‘as sound as ever’ on defense without Shattenkirk

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Knowing Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the talented defenseman and braced for the immediate blow to their playoff hopes.

That never happened. The Blues actually got better without him.

When the Blues dealt the pending free agent at the trade deadline, they seemed to be creating a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrapping the NHL-best Washington Capitals with their deepest defense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the elevated play of captain Alex Pietrangelo and second-year defenseman Colton Parayko while Shattenkirk plays a limited, specialized role for Washington.

With Pietrangelo taking over top power-play duties, Parayko pitching in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bortuzzo providing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the second round with a 4-1 series win over Minnesota and haven’t missed a beat without Shattenkirk.

“We’re bigger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two players that play with a little more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Edmundson doing the majority of the physical work,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Now we have two players that are bringing some of that physical play.”

Armstrong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shattenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young forward Zach Sanford because there was no chance of re-signing him this summer.

On the flip side, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan only got involved in the bidding when it became clear Shattenkirk was a rental and not long-term commitment.

After being a top-four defenseman in St. Louis, Shattenkirk is a third-pairing player and power-play specialist for Washington. He was among the team leaders in overall minutes in Games 1 and 2 before having his ice time slashed to a career playoff low 12:54 in Game 4 and ranking fifth or six on the Capitals’ blue line the remainder of their first round series against Toronto.

Shattenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an explanation from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “irrelevant” to players this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in crucial situations and leads Capitals defensemen with three points.

But he’s not in St. Louis anymore.

“I do think that we roll our D pairings a little bit more here, and everyone gets to play a regular shift for the most part,” Shattenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a little more reliant on our top two guys of playing the big-time minutes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of determined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

Saying so long to Shattenkirk shifted the big-time minutes on the right side to Pietrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL defensemen in points and 11th in ice time before the Shattenkirk trade, Pietrangelo was second with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game after it.

Thrown into tougher situations than his first playoffs last season, Parayko has grown up fast without Shattenkirk around.

“It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues prepared to face the Nashville Predators. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from experience.”

Even the experienced Blues defensemen like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the structure of Mike Yeo, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach in early February, but the defensive improvements have made up for the loss of Shattenkirk’s offensive talent that will earn him a big contract somewhere July 1.

“Defensively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gunnarsson said. “Without Shatty I think we were lacking, especially the first couple games (of the playoffs), some offense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

Yeo said his team being in must-win mode from the deadline on helped spur a late-season run that allowed them to also eliminate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an offensive spark from a right-handed-shooting first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jordan Schmaltz into their lineup.

In Washington, Shattenkirk is glad to be on a Stanley Cup contender readying for a second-round matchup against the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis enjoying success without him.

“When I was there this year, we knew we had that capability. For whatever reason we just couldn’t get to our full potential,” Shattenkirk said. “They were a group that believed that they could play this way all year, and they’re doing it at the right time.”

AP freelance writer Nate Latsch in St. Louis contributed.

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:Jake Allen gives Blues “a sense of calm.”

Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan named 2017 Masterton nominees

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The PHWA announced the three finalists for the NHL’s 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Andrew Cogliano and Derek Ryan.

As a reminder, the award is for “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Ryan distinguished himself as a 29-year-old who battled his way to time in the NHL, managing a goal in his debut game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

For what it’s worth, some believe that Bryan Bickell should have represented the Hurricanes.

Cogliano stands out as one of the “iron men” of the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks. The PHWA notes that he’s never missed a game in his career, managing a streak of 779 games.

Finally, there’s Anderson, who managed an impressive season in net for the Ottawa Senators while his wife Nicholle battles a rare form of throat cancer. That emotional story continued after Anderson backstopped the Senators in beating the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Marleau says he wants to return to Sharks, but it might not be so easy

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It seemed strangely fitting that Patrick Marleau scored the final goal of the San Jose Sharks’ season as the Edmonton Oilers eliminated them in Game 6.

Monday presented questions about what that goal means.

For one thing, it definitely doesn’t sound like Marleau expects that to be his final goal in the NHL, as he believes he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more,” according to NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz.

“I still think I can contribute and play,” Marleau said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The 37-year-old made a strong argument that he can still light up the lamp in 2016-17. He scored 27 goals and 46 points during the regular season and ended his playoff run with three goals and an assist (all in the final three contests vs. Edmonton).

Marleau was especially effective once the new year rolled around, collecting 29 points in his last 41 games.

Before we get to the more unpleasant stuff, let’s watch that last goal:

So … yeah, that’s a pretty convincing case that he can at least still play now.

The bigger question is: if Marleau really wants term, are the Sharks willing to give him what he’s looking for?

Marleau admitted that discussions on an extension haven’t even happened yet. When you consider the upcoming challenges for San Jose, you wonder if this is it for a player who’s suited up for a whopping 1,493 regular season games with the franchise (even after there were significant trade rumors over the years).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s outstanding value $4.25 million cap hit evaporates after 2017-18, and the same can be said for Martin Jones‘ $3 million mark. One could imagine the Sharks approaching Marleau with a very appealing one-year offer, but it would be a big leap to imagine the franchise going for a guy who’s approaching 40 instead of a solid starting goalie and one of the best pure defensemen in the NHL.

So, really, the question isn’t “Will Marleau really play for five more years?” Instead, it might be “Does Marleau value playing for the Sharks enough to take a shorter deal or does he want that term right now?”