Around the rink – Wednesday, November 17th

Happy hump day folks – here’s your beefy rundown of games in the NHL tonight with 12 games rocking your eyeballs across the continent. All times listed are Eastern because that’s just how we roll.

7:00 pm

Tampa Bay @ NY Islanders

Jack Capuano makes his NHL head coaching debut for the Islanders and he gets to deal with a Lightning team that could use a win themselves. A battle between two teams that are trending down of late, the Isles more so having lost 10 straight, doesn’t usually mean there’ll be headlines to be had, but this one’s a bit different.

Boston @ NY Rangers

The Rangers get to debut their 85th anniversary jerseys tonight and doing so against a Bruins team that’s looking for their offense to come back. The Rangers have been playing some solid and tough hockey of late and Marian Gaborik’s return to action has been worth the offense his presence demands. Boston meanwhile may have Johnny Boychuk back in the lineup on defense.

Vancouver @ Pittsburgh

Had this game happened last year, the story line would be “Sid vs. Lou in a battle of gold medalists.” It’s not happening then, and it’s happening now so forget it. Vancouver’s east coast tour is treating them with a .500 record and trying to get one over the Penguins will be tough.

Buffalo @ Washington

The Caps will look to get one back on Buffalo after the Sabres overtime win on Saturday thanks to Thomas Vanek’s crazy overtime winner. The Sabres are winners of four of their last five but beating the Caps in Washington is a tough order to fill. For the Caps, the loss to Buffalo on Saturday was the one hiccup in what’s been a stellar run of late winning seven of their last eight.

Ottawa @ Carolina

The Hurricanes are looking to bounce back after two ugly losses in a row in which they gave up 15 goals total to Philadelphia and Montreal. The Senators would approve if Carolina decided to continue not stopping shots as they’ve scored five goals in their last three games including a 5-1 drubbing by Philly.

Florida @ Atlanta

The Panthers have won two of their last three games and dealing with an Atlanta team in search of a break in goal might be the cure to an ailing offense for Florida. Atlanta has lost five of their last six and in all those losses they’ve given up a ton of goals, an average of 4.6 goals per game in those losses. Ugly.

7:30 pm

St. Louis @ Detroit

The Wings come into tonight’s game winners of six of their last seven and while Mike Babcock has taken his power play players to task, the Blues come into the game looking to turn things around. The Blues have lost four in a row and the great goaltending that was guiding them before has evaporated as the Blues have allowed 22 goals in the last four games. They’ll need Jaroslav Halak to be playoff-good to take down the streaking Wings.

8:00 pm

Anaheim @ Minnesota

After a tough loss last night in Dallas, the Ducks will try and bounce back against the Wild. What’ll be making that difficult is the Wild goaltending which has been outstanding of late. Both Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore have been solid-to-stellar this year. Also playing great of late for Minnesota is Martin Havlat. Havlat’s got points in five of his last six games and is coming off a three assist night against Tampa Bay.

9:00 pm

San Jose @ Colorado

The Avs are playing about as well as you can when you’re down as many defensive players as they are. They’re on a streak of winning one then losing one that stretches back to October 30th, a span of seven games. If the trend continues, they’re due to lose tonight and playing a hot Sharks team won’t help their chances. The Sharks are coming in winners of three straight including a thumping of the Kings in their last outing.

9:30 pm

Phoenix @ Calgary

The struggling Flames have lost six of their last seven and dealing with a Coyotes team that’s on a three-game win streak likely isn’t going to help the Flames get their act together. At least they’ll have home ice to keep them warm (cold?) tonight.

Chicago @ Edmonton

Do we think that maybe once the Blackhawks can beat the Oilers this year? Chicago is already 0-2-0 against Edmonton this season with both losses coming in Chicago, all while the Oilers have been able to score at will on the Hawks. Perhaps home ice will treat Edmonton as well as it did Chicago in their previous meetings.

10:30 pm

Columbus @ Los Angeles

The Jackets look to get Mike Commodore back in the lineup tonight and while they’ve been playing well, they’ve lost two of their last three. The Kings, meanwhile, saw their win streak snapped the other night against the Sharks and will be hoping to get back on top of things against the Jackets as they begin their three-game swing through California.

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

Getty
7 Comments

For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

Getty
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

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

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

2 Comments

Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

Getty
3 Comments

Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”