jmlilesunderrated

John-Michael Liles’ hot start deserves more attention

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Perhaps it’s especially appropriate to discuss under-the-radar performances this week, considering the fact that hockey fans, bloggers, writers and other people around the game might begin campaigning for write-in candidates regarding the All-Star Game voting.

One player who shouldn’t be ignored, even though he almost certainly will be is John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. At one point not too long ago, the offensive defenseman was the source of derision, a scapegoat for the Avs’ newly found post-lockout struggles.

After putting up some solid but unspectacular numbers in his seven-year NHL career, Liles now finds himself quietly rising among the league’s leaders in points for defensemen. He nearly scored a hat trick tonight in Colorado’s dominant performance against St. Louis, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help the Avs beat the Blues 6-3.

Liles began the season red-hot. In fact, the 30-year-old defenseman broke an obscure scoring record for defensemen by earning at least one assist in the first nine games of the season, breaking a mark previously held by Ottawa’s Filip Kuba. It seemed like things were going back to “normal” after Liles went five games without a point, but he now has three games with at least one point (three goals and two assists overall) including his great game against the Blues.

That leaves Liles with an elite output to begin the 2010-11 season: he has almost a point per game with three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 17 games. Sixteen points ties him for second place in the NHL for point scoring with Dustin Byfuglien; only Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom have more to their credit so far this season with 17 each.

Does this mean that Liles is an elite defenseman over the long haul? Not necessarily, but the veteran blueliner seems like he’s raising his game. His 22:57 average time on ice is a career high (he only averaged more than 20 minutes per game once in his career, during the 2008-09 season). He’s also making the most of those minutes; his +9 rating ties him for fifth place in the NHL in that category.

It’s not realistic for Liles to threaten a point per game pace for the entire season. Heck, that type of pace might be a bit much to expect from anyone not named Mike Green in this era of hockey. But one thing is certain: Liles isn’t getting the credit he deserves for an outstanding first 17 games.

If nothing else, he’s come a long way from the days when he was a popular choice when someone was looking for a scapegoat.

Capitals manage OT win after coughing up lead to Bruins

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at Verizon Center on November 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, and they might have lost key defenseman Matt Niskanen to injury, but at least the Washington Capitals managed a win against the Boston Bruins.

For a while, it was looking pretty ugly.

After going up 3-0, the Capitals went more than a period’s worth of time without even managing a shot on goal. Whether you lean more toward giving the Bruins credit for fighting back or beating up the Capitals for “sitting on a lead,” it’s staggering that such a dangerous offense could be held in check for so long.

Luckily for Washington, Nicklas Backstrom salvaged the night with an overtime goal to give the Capitals a 4-3 overtime win.

Both teams have had a knack for extending games beyond regulation lately, by the way:

Capitals over the last three games:
Shootout loss to the Lightning
Overtime win against the Sabres
Overtime win tonight against the Bruins

Bruins over the last five games:
Shootout loss against Flyers
Shootout win against Hurricanes
Regulation win against Sabres
Overtime win against Panthers
Overtime loss to the Capitals

Maybe that’s what gets it done in 2016-17: finding ways to carve out wins and shake out rough patches, like the Caps did tonight.

Matt Niskanen injured by Patrice Bergeron boarding hit

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Patrice Bergeron doesn’t have a reputation for dirty hits, but he drew the Washington Capitals’ ire for a hit on Matt Niskanen.

The Capitals consider Niskanen “probable” to return to Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins with what they’re calling an upper-body injury. Bergeron received a two-minute boarding penalty for the infraction.

(Check out video of the hit above.)

The Capitals’ Twitter acknowledged the brewing bad feelings.

Does Bergeron deserve supplemental discipline for that boarding hit?

Washington currently leads the game 3-2.

Ouch: NHL official helped off ice after puck to knee (Video)

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There are plenty of hazards on an NHL rink even if you’re not a player.

Barry Trotz ranks among the coaches who’ve been hit by pucks, though he’s one of the tiny sliver of humans who would shake off a puck to the forehead. It can be dangerous for officials, too, whether it means a wayward puck or wayward player.

The latest example comes in the form of linesman Steve Miller needing help off the ice after a puck hit him in the knee area. As you can see from the video, it looked like he was in serious pain.

Yikes:

Video: Tyler Bozak with some saucy moves on this goal

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It’s refreshing that hockey fans have, for the most part, moved on from debating Tyler Bozak‘s merits.

The general feeling is that the Toronto Maple Leafs use him in appropriate ways these days, so we can simply enjoy his work as a pretty spiffy hockey player.

Speaking of spiffy, check out the sweet moves he made against the Minnesota Wild for the goal above. Feels like you could dub over a Chris Berman “whoop” or two in there, right?

(If you’re into that kind of thing.)

Here’s that gaudy move in isolation and in GIF form: