24/7 Penguins/Capitals Episode 3: A rivalry comes alive and Bruce Boudreau becomes a fan favorite

Last night’s third episode of HBO’s 24/7 provided us the perfect appetizer for what’s to come at the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. With the Capitals again winning games and the Penguins rolling along into their December 23rd match-up, the scene was set to help show how these teams would tackle each other and provided some insight as to what they think of each other.

Setting the stage for the big showdown was the tale of two rookies. Andrew Gordon for Washington was shown getting his first goal and getting heaps of love from his teammates after a big win over New Jersey. As for Ben Lovejoy of the Penguins, he too notched his first goal and his first NHL fight. He also earned his first terrifying moment in the league after taking a puck off his face. The end result of which was tough to watch and even more stomach turning after the team’s flight when Lovejoy’s face swelled up to make him look like a character from “The Hills Have Eyes.”

As for the main event of the third episode, the table was set for a showdown of teams that had it all working right. It was fitting that the game evened up and ended in a shootout but what made our ears perk up was what Pens coach Dan Bylsma thought of Michal Neuvirth after the first period. The Pens jumped out to an early lead on the Caps in that one and Bylsma told his team in the locker room that he thought Neuvirth was “shaky” and that they should get after him.

Neuvirth responded by clamping down and allowing the Caps the opportunity to get back in the game. Stepping up when you’re put on the spot is clearly a big deal and Neuvirth responded. What was interesting to see was how the teams responded to the shootout. The shootout, of course, is hotly debated as to whether or not people enjoy it and if the teams get fired up about it.

After Pascal Dupuis’ shootout winner, the answer is a definitive “yes” that the teams get into it. The Penguins were hooting and hollering while the Caps were down in the dumps after the skills competition loss. Read into it what you will, but I view it as the Caps being down for not getting the ultimate reward for getting back into the game and roaring back against the Pens.

With the Christmas break coming after that game, it afforded the HBO cameras the chance to see more downtime with the players and coaches and the cameras did not disappoint us offering us some classic moments, the biggest of which centered around Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s Christmas shopping trip with his sons to find a gift for his wife. It wasn’t so much what he got his wife as it was Boudreau going cuckoo for Haagen-Dazs at 10 in the morning.  Upon walking into the mall Boudreau says, “I smell food.” How do you top that? I want to party with Boudreau just so long as I don’t have to pick up the check.

Ever get the feeling that Coach Boudreau is the guy you have to usher out of the house at Thanksgiving? After being busted with sauce on his face in episode one and now his shopping trip nearly derailed by a feeding frenzy in the food court we’re thinking that Boudreau is in line to be the next host of Man v. Food if Adam Richman ever gives it up.

Other highlights included:

  • Brent Johnson’s Christmas sweater. Going for solidarity with fellow Christmas sweater wearing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury never looked so scary.
  • Penguins forward Mike Rupp getting a jab in on Caps defenseman Mike Green’s orange vespa by asking his daughter if her pink bike was the same thing Mike Green had. Priceless.
  • Rupp being an equal-time needler after saying he can’t get away from Sid after pointing at the picture of a kid on a Nerf gift his kids got for Christmas.
  • Eric Fehr of the Capitals spreading holiday cheer to folks in D.C.
  • Dan Bylsma living up to his “Disco” nickname playing XBox Kinect with his son. Disco Dan rides again.
  • Nicklas Backstrom celebrating a traditional Swedish Christmas at home in the States. Hey, seeing how others do their traditions is cool.
  • The closing montage of the episode made us want the game to be played immediately after it was over. Awesome stuff.

Next week we’ll get the full monty treatment of the lead up to and the playing of the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Expect nothing but the absolute best and I can’t wait to see what the camera views will capture here at Heinz Field because there’s only so much justice my own dinky little camera can bring to it. Tying in the end of Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point streak and the Penguins coming into the game off a loss to the Islanders should help shape the drama beautifully.

Streit on Canadiens return: ‘Montreal always had a special place in my heart’

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Whether he’s Andrei Markov‘s replacement or a depth addition, the bottom line is that Mark Streit is slated for his second run with the Montreal Canadiens.

Streit, 39, would be justified in feeling like this signing could really tie his career in a nice bow.

MORE: Canadiens sign Streit

(Amusingly for everyone beyond his accountant, with a reported $700K cap hit for 2017-18, Streit is drawing almost the exact same salary as he did from the start; Streit received $600K in 2006-07 and 2007-08, according to Cap Friendly/Cap Geek.)

Back in 2004, the Canadiens drafted him … barely. He was a ninth-round pick, going 262nd overall in 2004.*

All things considered, Streit jumped to the NHL remarkably quickly, playing more than half a season in 2005-06. He would bounce from the Canadiens to the Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, and now back to Montreal. Despite him pretty well-traveled, the Swiss-born blueliner feels most at home with the Habs, as he told the team website.

“Montreal always had a special place in my heart because I started there,” Streit said. “One thing I really always missed was playing at the Bell Centre. It’s a unique rink with unique fans and a unique atmosphere. If you get the chance to play in front of them every night – with the atmosphere and the life in the city – I think it’s very motivating.”

Streit acknowledged the pressure that comes with playing there, and he’d certainly feel some if Canadiens fans are expecting a player who struggled to even crack the Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason lineup to replace Markov.

Considering his $700K cap hit, Canadiens fans should keep expectations reasonable, especially since Streit tends to really blossom when people don’t expect much from him.

* – In case you’re wondering, that was a respectable ninth round. Danniel Winnik (717 games played, 265th overall), Grant Clitsome (205 GP, 271), Adam Cracknell (203, 279), and Jannik Hansen (580 GP, 287) all made solid careers for themselves. Not bad for guys who were drafted in rounds that wouldn’t even take place today.

Canada would consider Doan, Iginla for 2018 Winter Olympics

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When discussing the construction of Canada’s possible roster heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sean Burke can be almost frustratingly coy. Still, in leaving virtually every available avenue at least conceivably open, he leaves room for some fascinating scenarios.

It might be tough to top this one discussed on TSN’s Overdrive 1050: if NHL teams pass on signing Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, perhaps the Olympics could be their swan song?

Yes, there are quite a few “ifs” involved, but it’s an intriguing thought during the dog days of the hockey summer.

Burke likely presented more realistic possibilities in acknowledging that professional players plying their trade in Europe, particularly the KHL, might be the greatest source for talent.

“Most of our players will be guys that come from Europe playing in the KHL,” Burke said to TSN’s Overdrive 1050.

When pondering possible entries, recent international tournaments could be helpful.

Looking at Canada’s 2016 Deutschland Cup roster and who they’re sending to the 2017 Sochi Open, NHL castoffs such as Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Nigel Dawes, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, and Mason Raymond all seem likely logical choices. College players such as Cale Makar make things more complicated – both for Canada and the U.S. – as well.

In a separate interview with TSN, Burke noted that he would rather not supply specific names himself. Even in being vague, he provided an additional interesting detail: upcoming tournaments may illuminate what Canada lacks on its roster as much as who could have a leg-up on making the team.

And, if nothing else, they’ll get a good look at some players through a rigorous process.

Wow.

That notion makes you wonder if AHL players will be at a significant disadvantage to make both Team Canada and the United States rosters. As the Associated Press notes, AHL teams look poised to loan certain players, but only for a window of Feb. 5-26.

Burke notes that he’ll want a significant chunk of his roster more or less settled around December, and he already pointed to a preference for those who are playing in Europe.

Now, that doesn’t mean Canada or the U.S. will ignore an obvious AHL talent – if available – yet it sounds like those players would face an uphill battle to making the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That said, a lot can change, especially considering how often injuries can throw a wrench in things.

As much as we’d all love to watch a “best-on-best” tournament featuring NHL players, the alternative is also intriguing: seeing how different teams construct rosters from a variety of other leagues/resources.

And, hey, it could be awfully fun to see the likes of Iginla and/or Doan leading a motley crew of young players and former NHLers. Such a thought might even get Doan to admit that he was out of bounds in blaspheming “Miracle.”

Zibanejad jumps at opportunity to be Rangers’ No. 1 center

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It’s reasonable to assume that the New York Rangers were comfortable trading Derek Stepan in part because they believed Mika Zibanejad could step into the No. 1 center role.

That puts a lot of pressure on Zibanejad, who’s never been the top pivot on an NHL team before. If that wasn’t enough, now he’ll need to justify the first big contract of his career (seeing his cap hit rise from $2.625 million to $5.35 million).

MORE: Rangers lock up Zibanejad for five years

At least he isn’t oblivious to this challenge, and as the Rangers website notes, he’s actually super happy* to raise the stakes.

“I think even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I’m working really hard to make sure that I’m … taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”

Stepan drew criticism – arguably unfair criticism – from Rangers fans for not being quite the No. 1 center many of them wanted, so it will be interesting to see how Zibanejad handles the challenge/burden.

If you were to grade his first season with the Rangers, you might be tempted to hand him an “Incomplete.”

Injuries really limited him for much of 2016-17, but when he played, he was solid, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games. Zibanejad had a flair for the dramatic, too.

Still, in full seasons, Zibanejad’s produced nice-but-unspectacular numbers. Two straight 20+ goal seasons to finish his Senators days were helpful, but many of his stats more or less fell in line with Stepan’s production.

Now, at 24, it’s reasonable to believe that Zibanejad’s best days are in front of him. It’s also true that, while he’s received nice opportunities to succeed, he wasn’t quite getting those top-line reps that Stepan received.

In all likelihood, it will come down to expectations. If Rangers fans want Zibanejad to produce at a level far exceeding Stepan, they might be disappointed; the bar for a successful season by most forwards’ standards has changed in the NHL, and Stepan’s mostly made the grade. On the other hand, if expectations are kept in check, Zibanejad could be a very nice fit for the Rangers.

Though he might miss the Derick Brassard comparisons now that the measuring stick changed to Derek Stepan.

* – Seriously, the guy said “super happy” a lot.

Yandle is happy Tallon is back running the Panthers

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It’s that time.

We’re approaching August, which means that the deluge of hockey optimism is really headed our way.

Players on teams that missed the playoffs – sometimes badly – will fill notebooks with quotes about how excited they are about next season. Guys whose past seasons were riddled by injuries will say that they’re in the best shape of their lives.

Now, look, there’s nothing wrong with that. And, hey, some of those players will almost certainly end up being right. Sometimes they provide some substance beyond the blindly positive comments.

That’s not really the interesting part of Keith Yandle‘s gushing comments about the Florida Panthers, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Nope, it’s interesting because he’s praising GM Dale Tallon regaining his post.

“Having Dale back in charge, I think that was the main thing that got everyone going,” Yandle said. “You sense the power over the locker room that Dale can have. It’s such a positive thing when you have a guy like Dale Tallon. Everyone respects him and everything he does for the team. Going into the season knowing he has our back, he has the team, and obviously that he hired great coaches too, it’s a great thing.”

Yandle’s enthusiasm regarding Tallon is interesting because, frankly, Yandle seems like he was part of the batch of analytics-driven signings.

Without knowing for sure, Yandle seems like the sort of defenseman “old-school-types” might not like. There were rumblings that he refused to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, only fueling thoughts that the very executive he’s praising might have wanted him out.

Tallon’s already done work to walk back certain moves from that not-so-old-regime, as he engineered the moves to send not just Jonathan Marchessault but also Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. There were also rumors that the Panthers were shopping Jason Demers, possibly more than once.

Now, it’s possible that Yandle could be excited about the direction of the team, even if said team might prefer that he was playing elsewhere. Still, it’s an amusing note amid a fairly typical round of optimistic quotes.

(Yandle does make some solid points about why 2017-18 could be better, by the way.)