Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 10

Philadelphia 3, Toronto 2

For most of the year, the Flyers were at/near the top of the hockey world while the Maple Leafs were struggling to find their game. Over the last couple of weeks though, their roles have been reversed. The Leafs had been playing well with points in 14 of 16 games after the All-Star break while the Flyers suffered a season long 4-game losing streak. Well, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted because it looks like things are getting back to normal. The Flyers win was their 2nd in a row; the Leafs loss was their 3rd in a row.

The tone was set early when Mike Komisarek leveled Dan Carcillo with a boarding hit that put the Leafs on a 5-minute PK to start the game. A goal and multiple chances later and the tone had been set. The Flyers eventually jumped out to a 3-1 lead and the Leafs were unable to make the comeback.

Buffalo 4, Boston 3 (OT)

The Bruins are 31-0-3 when leading by two or more goals at any point in the game. But here’s an interesting tidbit: the Sabres represent the 3 losses in extra time. Including the win in Boston, the Sabres have ridden a 6-1-2 streak to the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. Overtime game-winning goal scorer Brad Boyes is proving to be quite the deadline pickup for the Sabres. He now has 3 goals and 3 assists in only 6 games since coming over from St. Louis.

Zdeno Chara was able to put the Max Pacioretty incident behind him with a 2 assist effort; but the rest of the team had a more difficult time bouncing back from the emotional game in Montreal—not even Tim Thomas’ 41 saves were enough for the B’s. The OT loss means that the Bruins have now dropped 3 in a row.

Ottawa 2, Florida 1

It was only 2 seasons ago that Craig Anderson was making a name for himself as Tomas Vokoun’s capable back-up in Florida. For those people who forgot about him in South Florida, he served up quite a reminder as the Senators rode yet another strong performance to their 6th win in Anderson’s 9th start for the Sens. He now has a 1.44 goals against average in Ottawa with a fantastic .956 save percentage. If he keeps this up, he’s going to mess up the Sens draft pick.

St. Louis 4, Montreal 1

The game was supposed to be the big Jaroslav Halak vs. Carey Price matchup—but turned out to be a hangover game after their teammate Max Pacioretty was carried off the ice in Montreal on Tuesday. Price played well, but the rest of the team looked sluggish and never really gave their goaltender a chance to win.

Andy McDonald had a goal and two assists while the Blues continued to claw their way towards the 8th spot in the West. The win against the Habs was their 3rd straight; they’ll need to continue that kind of play if they want to have a chance to sneak into the top 8.

Nashville 4, Minnesota 0

In an important game for both teams, the Predators jumped all over the Wild at home by scoring 3 goals in the first 13 minutes of the game. The win vaults the Predators to the 9th place spot in the West, only 1 point behind the 8th place Kings. The effort from the Nashville players and crowd were exactly what you’d expect for a team battling for their playoff lives.

The Minnesota Wild’s performance was something different altogether. The Wild failed to show up and never really had any pushback once they fell behind. Worse yet, the game is the first of a back-to-back as they play in Dallas tomorrow and were kicking off a 4-game road trip with the game in Nashville.

Phoenix 3, Calgary 0

The Coyotes haven’t been playing their best hockey of late but they were able to beat the streaking Flames to win their 2nd game in their last 8. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 39 shots he saw to earn his 6th shutout of the season in front of the home crowd in Glendale. The huge win moves the Coyotes ahead of the Flames for the 4th spot in the ever-changing West.

The Flames played much better than the score reflects. All but two players had at least one shot on goal—but it was just one of those nights. If they play like this every night, they’ll win far more games than they’ll lose.

Vancouver 5, San Jose 4 (SO)

Easily the game of the night, the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see the Sharks repeatedly come back to tie the score. The Sharks and Canucks traded goals at the end of the 3rd period before the game went to overtime. Despite outshooting Vancouver 9-0 in OT, the Sharks were unable to get a puck past Cory Schneider—eventually losing in shootout. Even though Schneider gave up 4 goals, the 44 shots he kept out of the net made him Vancouver’s MVP for the night.

Ryane Clowe did his best to keep the Sharks in it as he flirted with a hat-trick, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The good news for fans in San Jose is they went toe-to-toe with the best in the West and deserved to win. The bad news is that Alex Burrows didn’t let that happen in the shootout.

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    NHL GMs are at least trying to fix goalie interference reviews

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    Much like the NFL’s headaches when it comes to what is or isn’t a catch, a simple stroll around Hockey Twitter will often unearth loud groans about goalie interference reviews. At least when people aren’t grumbling about offside goal reviews, that is.

    From the viewpoints of reporters on hand for the latest round of GM meetings, it sounds like the league is at least attempting to sort out the latest mess.

    Granted, you could sense some of the fatigue on this issue from what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had to say about it, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

    “You can clarify the standards, but each referee and everyone, you and I, has a different opinion,” Yzerman said. “Within that room everyone has a little different opinion on did it impact the goaltender. It’s subjective. No one is ever going to agree 100 percent.”

    Fair enough, but much of the frustration stems from the sheer confusion at hand, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear standard. It’s one thing to disagree with how an infraction is called, but at the moment, many feel like there’s far too much variation in calls.

    With that in mind, some GMs apparently hope to tweak the process by, ideally, limiting the number of people who are making the snap decisions on goalie interference:

    By “centralizing,” it could mean leaving that decision to “The Situation Room,” as Rosen explains:

    The meetings reportedly included test cases for goalie interference, with Rosen noting that GMs and media alike had trouble reaching a consensus on certain examples. That helps to illuminate the challenge at hand, but again, many people would probably be at least a bit happier if it was easier to anticipate what would and would not be called as interference.

    Quite a few numbers were thrown around about coaches challenges. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan shared a slide from the NHL that would argue that offside challenges have dropped off, likely because a failed challenge results in a delay of game penalty, but goalie interference remains a drag on the game.

    It’s a vaguely depressing yet informative chart:

    Ultimately, it seems like the league still has quite a bit to sort through, with totally fun subplots including the notion that goalies are being coached to embellish interference. Again, lots of fun.

    For fans of the sport, it’s about walking the line between getting it right and not grinding too many games to a screeching halt. One might ponder carrying over the delay of game penalty to challenging goalie interference alongside offside reviews, but that might not fly:

    Maybe Habs GM Marc Bergevin is correct in saying that just a small number of calls go wrong. Still, these challenges are slowing down games about two minutes at a time. That might not sound like much, though when it happens in the flow of an exciting back-and-forth contest, it can be a real killer.

    Let’s hope they improve the process, even if it ends up being a work in progress.

    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.

    Injury updates: Penguins’ Murray, others deal with concussions

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    NHL teams provided injury news updates on Monday, with the most noteworthy bits revolving around players dealing with concussions. Let’s sort through that mixed bag:

    • First, we’ll begin with promising news. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan considers Matt Murray to be “an option” to play on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That said, it’s a preliminary viewpoint, as Sullivan wants to see how Murray handles practice.

    You’d get the impression that the optimism is high despite that caveat, as the Penguins sent Tristan Jarry back to the AHL today. That could still change, but the team must feel a lot more confident about Murray being ready for the postseason.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Actually, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really worth risking Price’s health in meaningless games for Montreal, especially when you note that he’s frequently suffered from bad injury luck lately. Sure, he wants to play; that ambition is part of what makes him great. Concussions can be tricky, though, and you wonder if the reward would justify the risks involved.

    • Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is in “concussion protocol,” according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky. Trouba will reportedly see specialists, which isn’t that shocking considering how shaken up he looked after getting the worst of a hard collision with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars:


    • Also brutal: Noah Hanifin is out indefinitely in dealing with a concussion, via the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The 21-year-old set a new career-high with eight goals this season, and despite being limited to 71 games, he matched last season’s peak of 29 points. Hanifin is starting to show why he was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft as part of a stacked Hurricanes defense, yet much like his team, it looks like his season’s going to end on a low note.

    Hopefully he’ll be able to rebound fully in 2018-19.

    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.

    Bruins give Donato big opportunity in NHL debut

    via Boston Bruins Twitter

    The silver lining for injuries in sports is that one player’s absence opens the door for someone else to prove their worth.

    (Kurt Warner and Tom Brady gave that sentence a big thumbs up.)

    With the regular season winding down, the Boston Bruins are hoping to push the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division title and the conference’s top seed, but they’re probably just as hopeful that some key players will be healthy by the playoffs. That ship has sailed for Anders Bjork, yet they’re crossing their fingers regarding players dealing with a variety of maladies: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Such injuries might at least partially explain the timing of the Ryan Donato signing, and they’ll absolutely open up a chance for him to echo McAvoy in showing that he’s a quick study at the NHL level. Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discussed as much on Sunday:

    [NHL Playoff Push: Bruins look to test Blue Jackets]

    Donato already likely made an impact on viewers who saw him shine for the U.S. during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and logically enough, he’s slated to join fellow Olympian Brian Gionta (and Noel Acciari) on the team’s third line. Gionta came away impressed with Donato from their brief run together, as the Bruins website notes:

    “He was unreal,” Gionta said of Donato’s five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. “He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well.”

    While that’s not too shabby an opportunity for his NHL debut, it’s special teams where Donato gets a fascinating, golden opportunity. Via Left Wing Lock, it appears as though Donato will be on the top unit along with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug.


    Update: Before Monday’s game began, it was revealed that Rick Nash is also dealing with an injury, so Donato’s opportunity may be even more promising.


    Wow. One couldn’t set the table much better in Boston, particularly for a player who’s touted for a high hockey IQ.

    There’s also the matter of having hockey in his blood.

    This situation serves as a full-circle moment for Donato and Patrice Bergeron. You see, Bergeron says he learned a lot from Ryan’s father Ted Donato as an 18-year-old rookie with the Bruins:

    Even if Donato struggles at first – certainly a possibility, considering that he’s jumping right into the mix, including tonight’s game against a peaking Blue Jackets team – it’s a great story.

    Donato has a real chance to make an impact, though. If he can help an already-impressive Bruins team roll out a deeper scoring attack, then watch out. Tonight’s game against Columbus stands as his first opportunity to show that he can hang at the NHL level, and maybe plant the seed that he deserves a significant role even once other forwards get healthy.

    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.

    NHL Playoff Push: Bruins test Blue Jackets; trap games?

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    You can divide Monday’s five games into two categories: playoff-positioned teams battling it out and then games where favorites need to take care of business.

    In the cases of the Panthers and especially Flames, it’s about catching up to the pack before they run out of time.


    Let’s begin with the more crowded Western Conference playoff picture:

    The lowest-impact “taking care of business” game comes for the Nashville Predators, who currently top the NHL with 104 standings points. Beating the Sabres is all about widening leads in the division, conference, and league; getting a victory here will only embolden Peter Laviolette to rest players for the postseason push.

    Meanwhile, the Wild host the Kings in one of tonight’s two “test your might” games. Minnesota has developed a solid cushion for the Central Division’s third spot – granted, facing the Jets isn’t much of a “prize” – but adding more points would help hold off the Avalanche. The Kings have a lot more on the line, as they need to provide themselves with breathing room ahead of the bubble teams in the West.

    Delightfully, you can watch Kings – Wild on NBCSN tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET. The game is also available on our Live Stream.

    [Preview for Kings – Wild]

    Finally, the Flames need to take care of business against a team outside the playoffs more than anyone else tonight. Calgary’s dropped three of four games and face a stretch of three of four games on the road. The Coyotes have been more competitive lately, but perhaps that will make this less of a trap game?

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


    The Florida Panthers can’t be pleased that they’ve dropped two of their last three games, as they likely wanted to gather momentum heading into a road-heavy end of March. Beginning with tonight’s game in Montreal, the Panthers face a three-game road trip and seven of eight games away from home.

    As much as their games in hand seem like points in the making, actually converting those opportunities into wins could be a challenge. Really, it’s all about avoiding falling into traps:

    Mon, Mar 19 @ Montreal
    Tue, Mar 20 @ Ottawa
    Thu, Mar 22 @ Columbus
    Sat, Mar 24 vs Arizona
    Mon, Mar 26 @ NY Islanders
    Wed, Mar 28 @ Toronto
    Thu, Mar 29 @ Ottawa
    Sat, Mar 31 @ Boston

    With a game against the Habs, Islanders, and Coyotes, along with two contests against the Senators, the Panthers need to dig deep, even with a lot of away games coming up.

    Finally, in the East’s “test your might” game, we have the resilient Boston Bruins taking on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets in Boston. The Blue Jackets are winners of seven straight games while, even with injuries and other hurdles to clear, the B’s have won eight of 10 contests. It should be a great barometer for where both teams are heading into the final weeks of 2017-18.

    If the playoffs began today:

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

    Monday’s games:

    Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
    Nashville Predators at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
    Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
    Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET
    Calgary Flames at Arizona Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET

    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.