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.

NHL On NBCSN: Senators, Canadiens meet in NHL 100 Classic

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The first outdoor game of the 2017-18 season takes place on Saturday night in at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa when the Ottawa Senators host the Montreal Canadiens.

Both teams are looking for some kind of a spark to break out of their early season slumps that have them starting to get buried in the Eastern Conference standings. Even with those slow starts there remains plenty of intrigue with this game.

Let’s start with the fact that both teams — both of which were in the playoffs just last season — are absolutely desperate for points right now.

[Live Stream: Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators]

The Senators, who were just one shot away from being in the Stanley Cup Final a season ago, have won just two of their past 14 games and find themselves in 15th place in the East, 10 points out of a Wild Card spot and seven points behind the Boston Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

As if the problems on the ice are not bad enough, there is plenty of off-ice drama surrounding them. And it seems to keep getting worse.

The long-term future of their only superstar, defenseman Erik Karlsson, remains in doubt and with each passing day it seems as if his time in Canada’s capital city is coming closer and closer to ending. A free agent after next season, Karlsson has made it clear he is not looking to take a discount on his next contract. Then came the report that he was one of the many Senators that was asked to give his no-trade list.

As if all of that wasn’t ominous enough, team owner Eugene Melnyk spoke publicly on Friday, the day before what should be one of the highlights of the team’s 2017-18 season, and played the relocation card.

Other than all of that, everything is going wonderfully for the Senators.

On the other side of the ice we have the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens enter play on Saturday sitting just two points back of the Bruins for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but have also played three additional games.

The Canadiens have been a difficult team to get a grasp on this season because they keep running so hot and cold.

After starting the season on a 1-6-1 run, they followed that up by going 7-3 over their next 10. Then they lost five in a row. Then they won five in a row. Which was then followed by a three-game losing streak. You never know which Canadiens team you are going to get on a given night or over a given period of time. The only thing consistent about them this season has been their inconsistency.

Now they enter play on Saturday night against a struggling Senators team that is dealing with plenty of drama off the ice.

Outdoor games always have a little extra appeal to them, but this one is especially big given how much the two teams need the points.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canada beats US 3-1 in women’s hockey Olympic tuneup

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 victory over the United States on Friday night in the latest Olympic tuneup between the world’s top powers in women’s hockey.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

It was the fifth of six meetings between the rivals as they prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada has won four of the five recent matchups, after the Americans took the series opener Oct. 22 in Quebec City.

”We just have to be better in the red zones – that’s the difference between winning and losing,” United States coach Robb Stauber said. ”We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 

MISC: 

Scores: 

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Melnyk threatens to move Senators if ‘disaster strikes’

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If you’re looking for someone to spoil an upcoming function, you may want to give Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a call.

On the eve of the Senators’ outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and on the night when Ottawa’s greats from yesteryear took the ice with Parliament Hill as a backdrop, Melnyk did his best to steal the spotlight from the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, Melnyk threatened to pull the plug in Ottawa and relocate the team if disaster struck.

“If it becomes a disaster, yes,” Melnyk said. “If you start not seeing crowds showing up, yes. But, for now, we are on the cusp of doing OK.”

The doom and gloom continued, with Melnyk suggesting he isn’t going to waste a “lifetime of working hard” to support the Senators.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?”

Melnyk reiterated that he’s not looking to sell the team, a statement he made earlier this week in the Ottawa Sun, and used McDonald’s as an example on Friday. 

“It won’t. It just won’t happen,” he said. “It’s a franchise. Imagine if you own a McDonald’s franchise, but you can move it. But why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy.

We’re doing OK here. Not great, but we’re doing OK. It’s just too much fun. What else do you do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan, fanatically a hockey fan, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

Melnyk said the Senators have “cut everything to the bone,” saying the Senators have one of the thinnest management groups in the league.

“We want to keep and maintain great players,” he said. “You can’t keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues. It doesn’t work.”

According to CapFriendly, the Senators are at just over $73 million in projected cap space.

Melnyk called the Senators disaster on the ice this season a “crappy streak” that every team goes through.

“We have way too much talent with this team not to perform,” he said.

When asked if his comments on Friday could take away from the luster of the event taking place in Canada’s capital this weekend, Melnyk said no.

“It keeps the newspapers selling and the radio people listening,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck