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.

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

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Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Are Penguins making the right call with Sprong demotion?

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After being a healthy scratch for two games and seemingly being in the doghouse since at least Jan. 17, Daniel Sprong is headed back to the AHL.

To some degree, the move was made because it seems like Bryan Rust is getting ready to return to the mix after being sidelined since Dec. 27. Still, it’s a frustrating development for those who believe in Sprong’s potential as the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

All of the 20-year-old’s points came in one game, as Sprong scored two goals and one assist against the Islanders on Jan. 5. He went without a point in his other seven appearances in the NHL this season, with six coming during his latest stint.

Sprong was in the double digits in ice time each night until the Penguins’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17, when he was glued to the bench from the second period on. Considering his lack of production in general, it’s understandable that head coach Mike Sullivan is more reactive to mistakes.

Certain details make the move more debatable, though.

For those who believe that Ryan Reaves‘ role is antiquated, it must be frustrating to see Sprong get demoted. Reaves has been averaging less than seven minutes per game (6:41) despite taking a spot in the lineup for 49 contests. Pittsburgh is in a life-or-death battle for a playoff spot, and many believe that his presence (and the first rounder they gave up to acquire him) is a waste for the Penguins.

The Pens also seem like they’re taking a questionable all-or-nothing approach with Sprong.

Sprong’s most common even-strength linemates (by far) were Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon, via Natural Stat Trick. Maybe Sprong isn’t quite the right fit for Crosby at this point in his career, but there has to be at least a chance that he could provide more punch for the Penguins’ lineup than someone like Reaves lower in the lineup?

His possession stats have been solid in a small sample size and he hasn’t been shy, firing just less than three shots on goal per game (22 SOG in eight games). Couldn’t the Penguins find room for Rust and Sprong?

These are questions at least some Penguins media members and fans are asking right now, but the bottom line is that the team clearly believes that Reaves is a difference-maker. If Sprong is going to rank as one as well, it sounds like he’ll need to earn his next chance first.

We’ll see how the Sprong-less Penguins fare against the Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty important game on Tuesday. In other Penguins news, Matt Murray was overwhelmed by the support he received from his team and teammates following his father’s death.

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.

Troubling injury news for Bruins’ McAvoy, Lightning’s Palat

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Monday brought some tough injury news around the NHL. Let’s hit some of the bigger bits beyond Jaden Schwartz figuring to give the St. Louis Blues a boost.

  • Scary news for Boston Bruins star rookie Charlie McAvoy: he’s expected to miss about two weeks after undergoing a procedure to “treat an abnormal heart rhythm.” According to the statement from team Dr. David Finn, his issues were originally discovered on Nov. 26.

The full statement is really something:

Charlie McAvoy underwent a successful procedure today at the Massachusetts General Hospital to treat an abnormal heart rhythm.

Following the Bruins game on November 26, 2017, Charlie told team physicians that he experienced heart palpitations during the game. Subsequently he underwent an evaluation, which diagnosed him with a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). The type of SVT Charlie has is not considered to be dangerous to his health but can recur at any time and causes significant symptoms.

After consultation with team physicians, as well as experts in this type of heart condition, Charlie decided to have the condition treated with a procedure called an ablation. The decision to have the procedure done at this time is due to a high probability of recurrence. During the period from the initial occurrence ‪through Saturday’s game, Charlie was cleared to play by the medical team and was monitored closely.

He will be monitored overnight at Mass General and the expected recovery period is two weeks.

Such issues only make McAvoy’s rookie season that much more impressive. His ice time remains robust, with an average of 22:06 per night in 14 December games and 21:32 per game in eight January contests.

Here’s hoping that the procedure takes care of McAvoy’s issues over the long haul. He’ll be sidelined for the 2018 All-Star Game, and it sounds like Morgan Rielly will not be available either, so the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith makes a good point in wondering who will replace Victor Hedman as the Atlantic Division’s third defenseman at the 2018 All-Star Game.

Could we see the latest slap in the face for Habs GM Marc Bergevin in Mikhail Sergachev being the guy to take Hedman’s spot?

[Bruins are red-hot, to the point of maybe giving the Lightning a run.]

  • McAvoy’s heart issues are quite scary, but if recovery windows work out, the Tampa Bay Lightning might actually suffer from worse news on Monday.

On what Bolts head coach Jon Cooper deemed a “non-hockey play” with Jared Spurgeon, Ondrej Palat suffered an injury that could sideline him for as long as two months.

“I won’t dig too much into that other than that’s a huge loss for us on a complete non-hockey play that didn’t have to take place,” Cooper said, via the team website.

This post details the injury, including footage of the hit.

  • Finally, the New Jersey Devils will lose Taylor Hall for what sounds like a couple games. It doesn’t sound like a long-term problem, but it’s reasonable to at least wonder if his presence at the All-Star Game might be threatened.

Hmm. Considering how important Hall is to a Devils team that might be in for a real battle to hold onto its current playoff spot, it’s fair to ask if he would be better off getting rest.

For more on the All-Star Game, read up on how the skills competition will be different here.

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 announces details of 2018 All-Star Skills Competition

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We know who’s going to Tampa this week for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game, and now we know what events will make up this year’s Skills Competition.

On Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN), there will be six events focusing on individuality, with the winning player taking home $25,000 for each victory. The NHL Department of Player Safety will choose the players for each event. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber will be making the trip, which means the Hardest Shot will have a new winner for the first time since Sheldon Souray and Adrian Aucoin shared the title in 2004.

So Hardest Shot is back along with Fastest Skater, and there will be two new events, one old standard with a new look and one brought back for the first time since 2008. Here’s a rundown:

TWEAKED

Accuracy Shooting: “Eight players will compete in the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™, a timed event where a shooter is positioned 25 feet from the goal line and shoots pucks at five LED targets located in the net. On the referee’s whistle, one of the five LED targets will randomly light up for three seconds and the player will attempt to hit the lighted target. Hit targets will be taken out of the random sequencing and if the target is not hit within three seconds, the next target will be lighted. The clock stops when the player has successfully hit all five targets, the player that hits all five targets in the fastest time will be crowned the winner of the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™. If there is a tie for the fastest time, the tied players will compete again to determine the winner.”

No longer will players get to pick which targets to hit. It will all be done randomly and they’ll need some quick thinking in order to take out all five.

Puck Control Relay: “Eight players will compete in the Gatorade NHL Puck Control Relay™, a timed single-round event that includes three skills: (1) Stickhandling, where a skater controls a puck through a series of eight pucks in a straight line; (2) Cone Control, where a skater controls a puck through a series of eight cones in a zig-zag formation; and (3) Gates, where a skater approaches a gate and is required to shoot or otherwise guide the puck through the lighted rung of a gate. Each skill must be completed before moving on to the next skill. The referee’s whistles will signal completion of each skill and the player to complete the three skills in the fastest time is deemed the winner of the Gatorade NHL Puck Control Relay™. If there is a tie for the fastest time, the tied players will compete again to determine the winner.”

NEW

Passing Challenge: “Eight players will compete in the Dunkin’ Donuts NHL Passing Challenge™, which consists of three skills over one round, including  (1) Target Passing, where each player must complete four successful passes to targets that light up in a random sequence; (2) Give and Go, where each player must successfully complete the four required passes through a course set up in the neutral zone; and (3) Mini Nets, where each player must complete one pass over a barricade and into each of four mini nets, as well as an additional pass into the game net. Each skill must be completed before a player moves on to the next. The referee’s whistle signals completion of each skill. The player to complete all three skills in the fastest time is deemed the winner of the Dunkin’ Donuts NHL Passing Challenge™, and if there is a tie for the fastest time, the tied players will compete again to determine the winner.”

[NHL reveals 2018 All-Star Game rosters; who missed out?]

Save Streak: “Five goalies and all 36 skaters will participate in the GEICO NHL Save Streak™, a shootout grouped by division where goalies compete to make the most consecutive saves. Each goalie will face one opposing division and a minimum of nine scoring attempts. Each scoring attempt is officiated in accordance with NHL shootout rules and begins on the referee’s whistle. Players from each division will shoot in numerical order, lowest to highest, with the divisional captain shooting ninth. A goalie’s round at the GEICO NHL Save Streak™ cannot end with a save – if the divisional captain’s shot is saved, the goalie will continue to face shooters until a goal is scored. If the goalie makes a save on the divisional captain’s shot, the order of shooters to follow is the same as at the original order. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak during his time in net is the winner of the GEICO NHL Save Streak™. If there is a tie for longest consecutive save streak, the goalie with the highest total saves made during his round will be crowned the winner.”

Where’s the fun for the goalies? We need to get them doing something other than stopping shots. Let’s get them back to trying to score, hitting targets down the ice like they were outlet passes or, hey, why not bring back the goalie race?

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are celebrating their 25th season, and the city of Tampa will host the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The League’s midseason showcase will take place at AMALIE Arena and will include the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

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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.