NHL Extra: Breaking down Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Blackhawks take on the Red Wings at 12:30 p.m. ET from United Center in Chicago.

Insider’s Preview

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers breaks down how today’s game for Chicago is “one last biggest game of the year” as Chicago hopes to clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Team scoring

Detroit can score some goals. They’ve tallied 257 times this year, good for third best in the NHL. They also average 3.12 goals per game, an average that sits second best in the league behind Vancouver. One thing working against them is that their leading point man Henrik Zetterberg is out for this game with a knee injury. That moves the point production pressure to 40 year-old defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is second on the team in points with 16 goals and 46 assists. Not bad for a guy they thought was looking over the hill last year. Pavel Datsyuk (22 goals, 36 assists) will lead them from the forward spot and hope to get Johan Franzen (26 goals) and Dan Cleary (25 goals) going to try and keep the Blackhawks out of the playoffs.

Chicago can score too though. The Blackhawks have scored 255 goals this year, fourth best in the NHL while averaging 3.07 goals per game, also fourth best in the league. They’re led by three guys that have notched over 70 or more points this year in Jonathan Toews (32 goals, 44 assists), Patrick Kane (27 goals, 45 assists), and Patrick Sharp (34 goals, 36 assists). Marian Hossa isn’t doing too bad either with 25 goals and 31 assists of his own. You’ll see combinations of those guys working throughout the afternoon all over the ice.

Goaltending

Chicago is led by Corey Crawford in goal and while that seemed like a bad idea at the beginning of the year it’s been working out great for the Blackhawks all season. Crawford is 33-17-6 this season with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. When Antti Niemi was let go by the team in the offseason, many wondered if the tandem of Crawford and Marty Turco would be able to give them the same kind of great work in goal that Niemi and Cristobal Huet did last year. Turns out Crawford’s been just as dynamic as Niemi. Should Turco have to jump into the game, you know when he’s not busy making cheeky bets with fans, he’s been average. Turco’s 11-11-3 with 3.03 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

For Detroit, it’s all about Jimmy Howard and whether or not he can get the defense to help him out. After a tremendous rookie season last year Howard’s come back to earth a bit. He’s still getting the wins, obviously, as he’s 36-17-5 this year but with a 2.78 goals against average and a .908 save percentage there’s a bit left to be desired there. Should Howard run into trouble, there’s no Chris Osgood there to bail him out. Instead it’s Joey MacDonald with his 15-5-5 record and a 2.58 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’s been good since coming up to take Osgood’s spot but he’s not the guy the Wings want playing in a big game.

Special teams

This game features a pair of the NHL’s best power plays. Chicago’s power play checks in scoring 23.4% of the time, a mark good for fourth in the league. Meanwhile Detroit is right behind them in fifth scoring 22.3% of the time with the man advantage. While they’re both good at scoring, stopping the opponents power play presents a different story.

Detroit’s penalty kill is effective 82.2% of the time, a mark good for 17th in the NHL. Chicago’s could use some work as they stop 79.2% of the power plays they face, the sixth worst mark in the NHL. If the Blackhawks have an Achilles’ heel it comes shorthanded. A parade to the box this afternoon for the Blackhawks would not bode well.

Injuries

Both teams come into today’s game dinged up. Detroit will be without forward Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Chicago is all sorts of maligned as they’ll likely be without forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp are playing through injuries as Sharp recently returned from his own knee injury.

Streaks and standings – Playoff decision edition

The task is simple for Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, they’re in the playoffs. A win of any kind be it in regulation, overtime, or a shootout the Blackhawks will end up fifth after navigating through all the tiebreakers. That would mean they’d face Anaheim in the first round as the Ducks have locked down home ice in the first round.

If Chicago loses in overtime or the shootout, they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s Dallas-Minnesota game as a Stars win would put them in the playoffs over them. If Chicago gets the loser point and makes the playoffs, they’d end up seventh in the West and face San Jose in the playoffs. If Chicago loses in regulation and Dallas loses, then Chicago slots in at the eighth seed.

Detroit is already locked in as the three seed in the West. If Detroit wins, they’ll draw Phoenix in the first round, if they lose they’ll have to face Nashville. Neither of those matchups look to be all that appealing to the Red Wings.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

It doesn’t sound promising for Matt Murray

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Matt Murray wasn’t available for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If he ends up being an option vs. the Washington Capitals, it might not be for a while.

The Penguins provided a less-than-promising update on Monday: he hasn’t yet resumed skating.

Now, there is some time for him to even get ready by Game 1, as their second-round series doesn’t begin until Thursday.

Considering Washington’s firepower, it would be nice for the Penguins to have two championship goalies to choose from in case things get ugly, but at the moment it seems like it’s Marc-Andre Fleury or bust.

“MAF” has his critics, but his overall work was strong vs. Columbus.

He won four of five games, generating a fantastic .933 save percentage. That’s a promising start to the playoffs, providing some hope despite a shaky .907 career playoff save percentage and a middling regular season (18-10-7, .909 save percentage and 3.02 GAA).

The less-than-positive aspects of Fleury’s numbers make Murray’s continued injury issues more unsettling, but Pittsburgh will just need to hope for improvements.

Or for Fleury to remain at the top of his game.

Kings want to increase scoring, but can Stevens make it happen?

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If sheer exposure to a team translates to make that team better, then no candidate can lift the Los Angeles Kings quite like John Stevens.

The hockey world tends to lose track of assistant (or “associate”) coaches far more easily than the main guys, and that is the case with Stevens. Seriously, Stevens has been with the Kings since 2010-11. How many Kings fans occasionally forgot he was there?

(Be honest.)

Anyway, Stevens has been able to keep an eye on the Kings for some time, so does he really have a chance to make them better? That remains to be seen, but give Stevens and new GM Rob Blake credit; they at least seem to offer some specifics about improving Los Angeles’ offense beyond “score more goals.”

The presser starts around the 8:00 mark:

Stevens provides a fun line about wanting to “lead the league” in goalie interference challenges which …

*gets interrupted by Bruce Boudreau GIF*

No, but really, LA Kings Insider transcribed some of the more interesting bits about how management believes that they’ll approach zone entries and attempting to score from the center of the ice. Here are some choice bits via Rosen’s transcription:

Blake: “We were at the bottom of controlled entry, goals off of controlled entry … We were near the bottom at getting the puck to the slot whether we were skating it or passing it so there were a lot of things that, the way goals are being scored now, that we weren’t having success in.”

Stevens: ” … Analytics tells you we don’t get enough scoring opportunities from the middle of the ice and that’s clearly an area where, whether it’s quickly off a transition forecheck and you’re going to try to get to those areas, you’re going to have people there more, and spend more time around the net. But it’s clearly an area we’re going to focus on.”

***

OK, so there’s a blueprint. But roster construction matters as much as system – let’s not forget that the Kings remained a possession mammoth until the end and that Darryl Sutter remains a respected coach – and that’s where the real questions come in.

Simply put, there are some reasons to wonder if things might actually get worse.

The Kings will find out if Anze Kopitar merely experienced a down year or if this is the new reality as he turns 30 in August. Jeff Carter could hit the wall some expected him to already hit. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are two rare Kings scorers who are in their primes … but they’re not going to be nearly as cheap after getting new deals this summer.

Ultimately, Stevens can only do so much. Blake will need to be creative to help this team … be more creative.

But hey, at least they have a plan that seems a bit more concrete than only spewing out buzzwords like “being tough to play against.”

Blues think they’re ‘as sound as ever’ on defense without Shattenkirk

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Knowing Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the talented defenseman and braced for the immediate blow to their playoff hopes.

That never happened. The Blues actually got better without him.

When the Blues dealt the pending free agent at the trade deadline, they seemed to be creating a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrapping the NHL-best Washington Capitals with their deepest defense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the elevated play of captain Alex Pietrangelo and second-year defenseman Colton Parayko while Shattenkirk plays a limited, specialized role for Washington.

With Pietrangelo taking over top power-play duties, Parayko pitching in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bortuzzo providing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the second round with a 4-1 series win over Minnesota and haven’t missed a beat without Shattenkirk.

“We’re bigger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two players that play with a little more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Edmundson doing the majority of the physical work,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Now we have two players that are bringing some of that physical play.”

Armstrong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shattenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young forward Zach Sanford because there was no chance of re-signing him this summer.

On the flip side, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan only got involved in the bidding when it became clear Shattenkirk was a rental and not long-term commitment.

After being a top-four defenseman in St. Louis, Shattenkirk is a third-pairing player and power-play specialist for Washington. He was among the team leaders in overall minutes in Games 1 and 2 before having his ice time slashed to a career playoff low 12:54 in Game 4 and ranking fifth or six on the Capitals’ blue line the remainder of their first round series against Toronto.

Shattenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an explanation from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “irrelevant” to players this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in crucial situations and leads Capitals defensemen with three points.

But he’s not in St. Louis anymore.

“I do think that we roll our D pairings a little bit more here, and everyone gets to play a regular shift for the most part,” Shattenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a little more reliant on our top two guys of playing the big-time minutes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of determined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

Saying so long to Shattenkirk shifted the big-time minutes on the right side to Pietrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL defensemen in points and 11th in ice time before the Shattenkirk trade, Pietrangelo was second with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game after it.

Thrown into tougher situations than his first playoffs last season, Parayko has grown up fast without Shattenkirk around.

“It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues prepared to face the Nashville Predators. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from experience.”

Even the experienced Blues defensemen like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the structure of Mike Yeo, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach in early February, but the defensive improvements have made up for the loss of Shattenkirk’s offensive talent that will earn him a big contract somewhere July 1.

“Defensively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gunnarsson said. “Without Shatty I think we were lacking, especially the first couple games (of the playoffs), some offense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

Yeo said his team being in must-win mode from the deadline on helped spur a late-season run that allowed them to also eliminate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an offensive spark from a right-handed-shooting first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jordan Schmaltz into their lineup.

In Washington, Shattenkirk is glad to be on a Stanley Cup contender readying for a second-round matchup against the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis enjoying success without him.

“When I was there this year, we knew we had that capability. For whatever reason we just couldn’t get to our full potential,” Shattenkirk said. “They were a group that believed that they could play this way all year, and they’re doing it at the right time.”

AP freelance writer Nate Latsch in St. Louis contributed.

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:Jake Allen gives Blues “a sense of calm.”

Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan named 2017 Masterton nominees

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The PHWA announced the three finalists for the NHL’s 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Andrew Cogliano and Derek Ryan.

As a reminder, the award is for “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Ryan distinguished himself as a 29-year-old who battled his way to time in the NHL, managing a goal in his debut game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

For what it’s worth, some believe that Bryan Bickell should have represented the Hurricanes.

Cogliano stands out as one of the “iron men” of the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks. The PHWA notes that he’s never missed a game in his career, managing a streak of 779 games.

Finally, there’s Anderson, who managed an impressive season in net for the Ottawa Senators while his wife Nicholle battles a rare form of throat cancer. That emotional story continued after Anderson backstopped the Senators in beating the Boston Bruins in the first round.