Will Quenneville stick with his line changes?

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I can understand Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness.

After all, they’ve been so successful all season and for the entire
run of the playoffs and there’s no way that Patrick Kane and Jonathan
Toews would continue to struggle together. Yet for the first three
games, the top line of Kane, Toews and Byfuglien weren’t just
ineffective — they were downright bad.

The trend continued in Game 4, and only when the Blackhawks were down
4-1 did Quenneville start to split the two up. He didn’t stick with one
set combination, opting instead to mix and match his two best players
with a number of other linemates as he searched for some way for the
Blackhawks to get their mojo back.

Of course, Quenneville wasn’t very revealing about his thought
process behind the changes in the third period.

“Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it’s a matchup
or get some energy going in the lines,” Quenneville said right before
leaving the podium. “We didn’t like some things. Sometimes you try
some things. I thought the energy came.”

Quenneville started off
by taking Dustin Byfuglien of the top line with Toews and Kane and
placing him on a bigger line with Andrew Ladd. Once the Hawks started to
roll in the third period, and once they were able to put together three
effective lines, then the Flyers started to have all sorts of issues
with the Hawks’ attack.

Until the third period, the Blackhawks had
become a very stale offensive team. Sure, there were goals being scored
but this was far from the Chicago team we thought we knew. A lot of the
credit has to go to the Flyers, who have done a tremendous job of
shutting down the top line of the Blackhawks all series long.

“[Carle
and Pronger] have done a tremendous job, not just tonight and not just
this series but throughout the playoffs,” Danny Briere said after the
game when asked about the Flyers defensemen. “Every team we’ve played
they’ve seemed to shut down their top guys. But we can’t forget that
Chicago also has a lot of firepower.”

Marian Hossa and Patrick
Sharp were easily the best forwards on the ice for the Blackhawks
tonight, and Quenneville was able to start getting them space as well
when he changed the lines up and spread out the attack a bit. With
Pronger and Matt Carle doing such a good job of shutting down Toews, the
Flyers were also able to take adavantage of their shortcomings on
defense.

It’s incredibly odd to keep writing this, but the player
that was so good for the Hawks in the first three rounds and the player
many considered the favorite for the Conn Smythe has struggled mightily
against the Flyers. Kane and Toews were a combined minus-6 last night,
and it wasn’t until Quenneville finally broke them up that we started to
see some effectiveness from the two.

So the question is, will we
see these changes continue? After the game Danny Briere and Simon Gagne
both acknowledged that the Flyers had trouble adjusting to the changes
the Blackhawks had made in the third period. Obviously, Quenneville
isn’t going to do the exact same thing that worked at the end but you
have to think that Toews and Kane need to continue to be split up going
forward.

With Chicago headed back home, and knowing the history of
this team, then I would venture we’ll see the two right back together
to start Game 5. However, there’s a good chance that if they start to
struggle again and the Hawks have issue rolling out a consistent
three-line attack, that Quenneville won’t hesitate to move them around
again. Of course, it’s much easier to work on those changes in practice
than it is to change on the fly in the middle of a game.

If
Quenneville is smart, if he truly is the coach to lead the Blackhawks to
the Stanley Cup, then he won’t shy away from the changes that need to
be made and proved effective in Game 4.

Talbot thinks McDavid is ready to be Oilers’ captain

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 and goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game is the final game the Oilers will play at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid was only healthy enough to play about half of his rookie season, yet he’s earning plenty of looks as the Edmonton Oilers’ next captain.

It sounds like he has his No. 1 goalie’s vote, as Cam Talbot sang his praises when asked by Sportsnet earlier this week.

I’ve been asked that a lot. I think he is. How ready is anyone, really, for the captaincy at any age? It’s a big jump up and a lot of responsibility, but if anyone’s able to do it, Connor can. He’s so grounded. He was raised really well, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he leads by example. He works hard on and off the ice. He’s the kind of guy guys are going to follow in the dressing room. I think if you put a leadership group around him and give him the C, he’ll grow into it and lead this team for sure.

At 19, McDavid would jockey with Gabriel Landeskog to become the youngest captain in NHL history.

It’s not that uncommon for teams to hand the “C” to relatively inexperienced guys when there’s an obvious fit, from Sidney Crosby to Jonathan Toews. McDavid’s already attracted attention to Edmonton – just ask Milan Lucic – so perhaps it would be silly to delay the inevitable?

(Giving him that title may also imply that change is in the air …)

Talbot didn’t just praise McDavid, mind you, as he also said that the Oilers are one defensive piece from really competing.

***

In other positive Oilers news, head coach Todd McLellan seems very upbeat about Zack Kassian, according to the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m very impressed with Zack’s approach in life, in general,” McLellan said. “We’ve talked about the Oilers and hockey but from where Zack was, bottoming out (as a Montreal Canadiens’ winger) with his lifestyle (going into the NHL’s Substance Abuse program) and to see where he his with his commitment to conditioning and becoming healthy. That can rub off on other players.”

If all goes well, both McDavid and Kassian could be positive influences in the Oilers’ locker room, even if their roles would likely be wildly different.

Related: 

McDavid would be honored to serve as Oilers captain

McLellan says Edmonton will have a captain by opening night

Maple Leafs sign Marincin to two-year deal to avoid arbitration

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Martin Marincin #52 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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A scheduled arbitration hearing between the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Martin Marincin won’t be necessary.

The two sides have settled on a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.25 million, the Maple Leafs announced Friday. The arbitration hearing was scheduled for Aug. 2. This new deal represents the final restricted free agent signing left for Toronto, as per General Fanager, which also shows the Maple Leafs have about $55,916 in remaining projected cap space.

Marincin, 24, had one goal and seven points in 65 games for the Maple Leafs last season.

His new deal represents a raise from the $700,000 he made this past season on a one-year deal.

The Maple Leafs had also previously avoided arbitration with Frank Corrado and Peter Holland.

Toronto seemed pleased with the progress Marincin made this past season, in which he posted strong possession numbers in more than 900 minutes of ice time at five-on-five.

“He’s a thin guy so he’s got to work extra hard on his body,” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Globe and Mail during the season.

“He needs an NHL summer. One where you actually commit to being in the league [by putting] some meat on your bones. Then he’s in position to be a real good player in the league. But he’s really come. It’s good for him.”

NHL 17 goes deep on customization, right down to Bautista’s bat flip

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays flips his bat up in the air after he hits a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers in game five of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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More and more, it seems like EA Sports’ upcoming NHL 17 is about bolstering all the substance with some style.

While the biggest hopes for on-digital-ice changes seem to hinge on much-needed tweaks to goaltending, plenty of focus revolves around what your players will be wearing and where they’ll be playing.

Polygon provides a great breakdown for some of the tweaks:

Even more exciting is EASHL’s brand-new arena editor, which is a massive step up from last year, when the only things you could add to your team’s rink were championship banners if you won them. Your club will now make its way upward through five different arenas — a small community rink, a larger community rink, a Canadian Hockey League-size venue, an American Hockey League-size arena and an NHL arena — and you’ll be able to customize the last four venues in that progression.

Maybe most interestingly, you can relocate teams to one of 20 other hockey-friendly locales, whether it means bringing the NHL to Las Vegas a year early, rebooting the Hartford Whalers or a number of other possibilities.

(Does this mean the dream of “The KC Masterpiece” could come true?)

The increase in goal celebrations has been touched upon, yet seeing the fruits of such labor is another thing entirely. Hockey Twitter was delighted to learn that Jose Bautista’s memorable “bat flip” is included in the mix:

Nice nod to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who can use such an animation after forcing the Tampa Bay Lightning to trade Steven Stamkos “home.”

Need another trailer for the game? Why not:

Pacioretty on losing ‘friend’ in Subban trade

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02:  (R-L) P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with Max Pacioretty #67 in the second period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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P.K. Subban‘s relationship with now-former Montreal Canadiens teammates has been dissected for some time, but captain Max Pacioretty insists that he lost a “friend” in the trade.

At least, that’s what he’s saying publicly, as Sportsnet reports.

“I’d been with him for nine years, so it’s going to be very strange to come into the locker room and not see P.K. there, joking around with him all the time,” Pacioretty said.

He added that, in the Subban-for-Shea Weber trade, the Canadiens “lost a friend and hopefully gained another.”

Again, there’s been plenty of speculation that Pacioretty and other Habs viewed Subban as anything but a pal. Jacques Demers ranked among the many who believed that Montreal suffered from a “divided room,” with some believing that it came down to Subban vs. Pacioretty.

Pacioretty dismissed the claims back then:

While Subban responded in a way we’ve come to expect, wondering if he’d have to “make out” with Pacioretty to prove doubters wrong.

That Pacioretty passage might just sum it up the best: you can be friends with someone while (gasp) also occasionally being annoyed by their antics. Really, have you enjoyed a lengthy relationship – business or personal – that never had those moments of minor friction?

Chances are, such chemistry issues were really just a distraction from the more important issues, such as Montreal depending far too much upon Carey Price.

The good news for “Patches” is that he won’t field nearly as many questions about Subban now that P.K.’s plying his trade in Nashville.

The not-so-good news is that he’ll be an obvious target for blame if Montreal’s fate doesn’t change with Weber replacing Subban.

We’ll find out soon enough if Pacioretty has enough help from his friends.

Related

Owner stands behind Marc Bergevin’s moves, Subban trade included

Michel Therrien on his relationship with Subban (when they were still employed by the Habs)

Subban: This is a business