Zdeno Chara

Renewing the Hate: Boston hosts Montreal again tonight

To some, the first Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins game since the controversial Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty hit will be unimaginably full of hate. Yet most know that the two franchises have been marinating in dislike for each other for so long that, to some degree, this won’t be too special.

After all, they’ve been hammering on each other year after year since their rivalry began in 1924.

Still, tonight’s game will certainly capture the attention of the NHL’s disciplinary brash, who must hope that the contest won’t devolve into an ugly series of fights and attempts for retribution.

On one hand, the passion might be turned down a notch or two because the game will take place in Boston rather than Montreal. That being said, the fact that Bruins forward Mark Recchi called the Canadiens out for “embellishing” Pacioretty’s injuries brings the hate right back out again. (Joe Haggerty writes that Recchi knew exactly what he was doing when he made those comments.)

While there will be a little extra dash of distaste for tonight’s game, the bottom line is that it should have a large impact on the Northeast Division title situation. The Bruins currently hold a three-point lead atop the division with two extra games in hand, but a regulation win by the Canadiens would bring that within one. Montreal has won nine of the two teams’ last 11 regular season games, so their chances of closing some of the gap are solid.

Andrew Ference took the “just another game” approach when he discussed tonight’s contest with Haggerty.

“We prepare for it to get the two points, just like every other game,” said Andrew Ference, who has played in dozens of Habs-Bruins games over the last five seasons. “That’s the reality of it. It’s not good for writing, but that’s the way it is. They are all intense games when you see the same guys over and over again, and if you happen to be tight in the standings then those games are always intense.”

As for adventure and excitement, the Bruins don’t crave these things against the Habs.

“Everybody talks about revenge and what’s going to happen – and the build-up,” said Milan Lucic. “I’m sure they’re saying the most important thing for them is getting the two points, and I’m sure for them the most important is getting the two points because they’re right behind us in the standings.”

“That’s the only thing in mind for us: to create more of a separation between us and them. All of our focus is going into the game and building on what we did [against the Devils, a 4-1 win on Tuesday night].”

So, from Boston’s perspective, the big points on the line should limit the amount of shenanigans going on. Checking in on the Montreal side of things, Habs Eyes on the Prize writes that fans have lost respect for Recchi while Hockey Inside/Out forecasts a “calm” game between the two teams.

A good recent example of a game that lacked the revenge that many expected was the first game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins after Matt Cooke’s career-threatening hit on Marc Savard. Aside from Cooke being forced to fight once, it was a pretty flat encounter dominated by Pittsburgh.

So if you’re looking for a festival of fisticuffs, it might be wiser to consult the second most recent contest between the Habs and the Bruins. That’s not to guarantee that things won’t get out of hand – especially if the result gets lopsided early. But there’s enough at stake between the two squads that settling scores will take a backseat to expanding or decreasing Boston’s division lead.

Either way, it’s certainly one of the games to watch tonight, though.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.