Mike Milbury

Five Questions with Mike Milbury

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We’re happy to have NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury join us to give us his thoughts on five burning questions around the league.

What stuck out about the Capitals win over Pittsburgh at the Winter Classic?

This was a game that meant something to the Capitals. Instead of coming out and trying to do things pretty, they wanted to come out and prove something to themselves. They played hard, they played physical, and they played like they cared.You see the way Alex Ovechkin and his teammates reacted to winning that game and you can tell there was something else there motivating them. You’ve got Ovechkin pumping his fists and waving to the fans and just soaking it all in. They just flat out wanted to win.

With the kind of situation they had out there on the ice under those conditions with the fans and the attention being paid to them they didn’t give in at all. They played like they just wanted this game a lot more and it showed. They came out of there under those circumstances to validate themselves and did so. That, to me, was the lasting impression of that team.

Alex Ovechkin is still struggling to score goals – should he change anything he’s doing?

The whole thing has to be about winning the game. It doesn’t have to be about goal streaks or stuff like that and you see that in the reaction he had in winning the game. That’s what it’s all about – winning the game. He was legitimately pumped up and happy about the win. He had a goal taken away but he didn’t linger on that. He just moved on.

Yeah, he’s got to find a way to score more goals. People suggested maybe he vary his approach to scoring goals; not just powering through, looking for space more often. The thing that I liked was that he didn’t give a damn that he didn’t score a goal, he was more concerned with the win and for me that’s a really good sign for Washington.

With Tampa Bay acquiring Dwayne Roloson and adding Marc-Andre Bergeron are these the moves they need to make a playoff run?

There’s no question Tampa Bay needed help between the pipes. I love the fact that Steve Yzerman sees a team that’s going places and is willing to give up nothing off his roster. I think they needed help and it’s a great signal for a team to see that Yzerman believes in them to pull the trigger on a deal to help them now.

As for Bergeron, he can bring it from the point. He’s a bit of a one-dimensional player and not a great defender. He gives them multiple options so they can work up high and down low on the power play. I don’t expect to see him get a lot of ice time 5-on-5. But he’s quick enough and he can be a useful player on the power play and that’s a good kind of guy to have.

Should Claude Julien be worried about his job in Boston?

Absolutely not. They had a five-game road swing and they got eight out of ten points on the road. They weren’t all pretty, but they were points. The last time I looked that’s all that counts. Get your points.

I think he’s got good support from his general manager (Peter Chiarelli) and the president of the team. I think people are making too much of this.

Two years ago this guy was coach of the year and last year his team was a game away from making the conference championship. I think people are asking for too much right now.

Vancouver has jumped to the top of the NHL but do you buy them as being the best team in the league?

I’ve always had my doubts about the Sedins in terms of their grit. They’ve proven to me over time that they have to be taken seriously. Now, how seriously? They’ve got to start getting it done.

I think they’re deep at the blue line position, they have a great goaltender (Roberto Luongo) who also has a challenge ahead of him, and they’re certainly deep up front.

I think it’s time to consider them one of a group of four, five, no more than six teams that are likely to win the Stanley Cup and they’re trending towards the lower end of that six.

Tuukka Rask leaves game for Bruins

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 7: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks up at the video on the scoreboard after making a save against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Times are a little tough for the Boston Bruins right now with losses in three consecutive games and speculation regarding the future of their coach.

What they do not need at this point is any kind of a significant injury to a key player, so it has to be a concern that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask had to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the second period.

He was replaced in net by backup Zane McIntyre.

The Bruins have yet to offer an update as to why Rask left the game or what his status is. He allowed two goals on 22 shots before exiting.

Even though he has been slumping in recent weeks Rask’s play for most of the season (he entered play on Sunday with a .920 save percentage on the season) has been a big reason the Bruins have climbed back up the goals against rankings after doing little to improve their defense over the summer.

Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

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This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Goalie Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on January 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.