Mike Milbury’s Hat Trick

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Each week here at ProHockeyTalk, NHL on NBC’s Mike Milbury gives us his take on three hot topics of discussion around the league. We’re happy to have Mike join us and give us his unique and fiery opinions on what’s going on in the NHL.

Who comes out ahead in the Wojtek Wolski-Michal Rozsival trade between New York and Phoenix?

I think both teams got things that they needed. Obviously it’s a positional trade, a winger for a defenseman. Phoenix has needs and a lack of depth at the position they opted for Rozsival despite his age and despite the fact that he’s got a contract that goes for another year. Because of the injuries that have occurred to the Rangers they opt for a one-time goal scorer who’s not playing great hockey right now but he’s young and he’s fitting a pattern the Rangers follow right now. He fills a need and serves their purposes for that and youth.

Skill players like Wolski seem to get a few more passes than then average Joe. A guy that can put the puck in the back of the net is a valuable resource. There are many people that will take a shot at a guy that might need to mature a little bit. It might be his last chance to prove himself but it would surprise me if it is. That all depends on Wolski and how he performs. The Rangers and John Tortorella are hoping that he can get hot once again and do it consistently.

With the teams being announced for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, what are your thoughts on the game itself?

I hate the All-Star Game. It sucks. I wish they’d just throw it away. I hate the Pro Bowl, I don’t like the NBA All-Star Game, I don’t even like what Major League Baseball does, although I will tune in for the home run hitting contest.

We’ve got a spectacular for the sport in the Winter Classic. I don’t like the All-Star Game and I wish we’d be the first sport to get rid of it. I know it’s a chance to shmooze some sponsors. It’s a business decision to show promote the identity of the players and sell it to big sponsors. There’s got to be a better way to do that though. Maybe a golf tournament in the middle of the summer when the guys are relaxed.

But to pull out a four-day weekend in the middle of an 82-game schedule to is nonsensical for me and from the players standpoint. You ask players and they’re honored to be selected whether it’s their first or their 50th time. But it becomes more of a burden than a pleasure to go to these things.

I’ve coached in an All-Star Game and you barely see these guys. Their itinerary is chock full of activities and social events and they barely get time for themselves. They do all this and then they’re back on a plane and back to join their teams for the re-start of the regular season. It doesn’t serve them well and it doesn’t serve the game well in that it tires players out. It adds something to the business side of things, I get that part of it, I just wish they’d find a better way to expose the players to the major sponsors and make them more sociable at that point.

There’s a handful of teams facing struggles right now. What’s out there for Ottawa and Los Angeles to do to change things up?

Ottawa’s missing some key offensive players despite Kovalev’s lack of production and they still believe he’s a bonafide offensive producer and they’re still without Jason Spezza. You take out two ice time eaters and major producers you’re going to suffer. It’s gone way past that.

Brian Elliott looked tough in goal, their defense was shoddy last night, Sergei Gonchar is not the Gonchar that we’ve come to expect, and Daniel Alfredsson is not having a banner year. They look like a team that’s lacking in focus and discipline and in desperate need of a change of some type or another. I’m not close enough to them to say the coach should go or the manager must go, but all in all last night (a 6-0 loss to Boston) was a real rough performance. This is a team that now trails Toronto in points in the Eastern Conference, that’s not a slam on Toronto just showing where they’re at and it’s not good.

As for Los Angeles, Terry Murray has been a good coach for a long time and maybe he’s changed his ways in recent years but he used to be a real stern taskmaster. I’m not there to watch his practices but you wonder if that’s the approach the Kings need at this point.

I don’t think that’s going to happen during the course of this season, but maybe he’s developed, the way Michel Therrien did in Pittsburgh, a work ethic and an identity and a defensive scheme and then that style may not be the right fit now.  I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though. I’m not saying Terry Murry is a bad coach, he’s a very good coach. It’s just that sometimes the fit is off and you take a team as far as you can take them and then you hand them off. It might be coming to that time in L.A.

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Got a question you’d like for us to ask Mike? Leave one for us in the comments or e-mail us at prohockeytalk@gmail.com to pass it along and share it with you in the future.

Michal Neuvirth gets Game 5 start for Flyers; Couturier returns to lineup

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With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.

Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When healthy Neuvirth had the best numbers out of the group during the regular season, but health has been a constant battle for him the past few years.

The other big lineup news for the Flyers on Friday will be the fact that center Sean Couturier will be returning after sitting out Game 4 with a lower body injury. He may not be 100 percent, however, given that he took pregame line rushes on the team’s third line between Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds. Valtteri Filppula was skating on the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Among the other changes for the Flyers: Robert Hagg will replace Travis Sanheim on defense, while Dale Weise will play on the fourth-line instead of Oskar Lindblom.

Related: Penguins will not have Patric Hornqvist in Game 5

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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.

Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins, Jets, Predators look to advance

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Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-1)
NBCSN
Call: John Forslund, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Jets lead 3-1)
USA
Call: Dave Randorf, Louis Debrusk
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-1)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Leafs ‘under the gun,’ especially Matthews and Kadri

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Nazem Kadri told reporters that he didn’t apologize to his teammates about the three-game suspension he received for a hit on Tommy Wingels, explaining that he was sticking up for Mitch Marner.

An apology might not be necessary, but the bottom line is that Toronto Maple Leafs fans likely expect a lot from Kadri – not to mention star center Auston Matthews – as this team tries to fight back from down 3-1 in their series against the Boston Bruins.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Letdowns

The Maple Leafs dropped two of three games with Kadri out of the lineup, prompting plenty of “What if?” questions, even if people merely wondered how different things would be if it was just a one-game suspension.

Regardless, when it came to last night’s 3-1 loss in Game 4, Mike Babcock didn’t mince words about Toronto failing to exploit the Bruins’ absence in the form of Patrice Bergeron.

“I’m assuming that he thought he was going to come tonight and dominate the game. That’s what I thought,” Babcock said of Matthews. “That didn’t happen …”

Auston not scoring often

Ultimately, Matthews has been limited to one point (the game-winner in Game 3) through the first four games of this series. That’s a disappointment for the NHL’s biggest jersey seller, especially since he showed nicely during his first playoff series, collecting five points during that memorable first-round bout with the Washington Capitals during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to throw Matthews under the bus, and Babcock essentially admits that not enough was there last night.

Still, quite a bit of this comes down to bounces. Matthews has generated more than four shots on goal per game (17 overall) so far in this series, suffering with a Rick Nash-like 5.9 shooting percentage during this postseason. Such numbers tend to balance out over time; note that Matthews scored four goals in six games during that Capitals series on 16 SOG, good for a 25-percent shooting rate that would be unsustainable during an 82-game regular season.

There’s also at least some reason to wonder if Matthews is at least somewhat limited by the injury that cost him 10 games from Feb. 22 until his return to the lineup on March 22. As brilliant as he was (six goals, seven assists for 13 points in nine games), maybe he’s missing a few mph on his fastball against unforgiving competition like Zdeno Chara?

Either way, Matthews (and William Nylander) have struggled while the Bruins’ top-line forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak find ways to feast upon the Maple Leafs’ mistakes.

Kadri has plenty to prove

Expectations will be high for Kadri, too, and his offensive numbers have been modest over a small sample size of playoff appearances.

So far, Kadri has generated two goals and six assists in 14 career playoff games, piling up 35 penalty minutes. At minimum, Toronto would like to see his finishing touch pay off a bit more in the postseason after the agitating center generated 32 goals in each of the past two regular seasons.

Much of that can be filed under “easier said than done,” particularly when Tuukka Rask is on his game.

Under the gun

That said, Babcock believes that players like Matthews and Kadri should “embrace and enjoy” the pressure.

” … No pressure means you have no chance. Go to the Olympic games, if you’ve got no chance for a medal there’s no pressure,” Babcock said during Friday’s press conference.

“Do you want to be that person or the person under the gun? I want to be under the gun. We want to build our program so big that we’re under the gun, we’re supposed to win. Like I said, I talked about those fans, we’ve got an unbelievable fan group. They expect us to be good. We want to be good. Let’s be good.”

Kadri, Matthews, and the Maple Leafs will get their chance to “be good” enough to keep this series alive in Game 5 on Saturday. You can tune in on NBC, with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.