Detroit Red Wings v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Three

Five Thoughts: Kunitz and Downie debate; Is Ilya Bryzgalov worn out?

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After a night that saw all four road teams win playoff games last night, it’s only fitting that we’re talking about head shots once again. Everyone can thank Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz for that. That’s not all there is to discuss though because, hey, it’s the playoffs and there’s more to playoffs than head shots and suspension debates, right?  RIGHT? All right then.

1. You’d think we would be able to escape the head shot discussions in the postseason with everyone being focused on winning the Stanley Cup. Instead, we’ve been treated to two instances of a player’s head being targeted on a hit thanks to Raffi Torres’ brutal hit on Brent Seabrook and now Chris Kunitz elbowing Simon Gagne with ill intent. I get that sometimes you have to play on the edge and that a lot of players are hoping for more respect between each other but it’s pretty clear it’s not going to happen.

Torres getting by without a suspension on a technicality of sorts on his play is bad enough, but don’t expect Kunitz to escape similarly. Kunitz’s hit evoking thoughts of Matt Cooke’s past transgressions is natural in this case especially with it involving the Penguins but Dan Bylsma has to be furious that his guys go out of their way to take such needlessly selfish actions on the ice when the team needs every guy possible to win games.

2. As for Steve Downie’s huge hit on Ben Lovejoy even in spite of Downie’s past it’s tougher for me to swallow that one as being a “terrible” hit. With Lovejoy himself saying after the game that he thought the hit was a good, hard hit that he’d expect to have happen means a lot, especially given the opposite tone that Gagne had in his words for Kunitz’s dirty elbow. Both guys will talk with the NHL about their hits but the gut feeling says that Kunitz gets at least one game and maybe two for his elbow while at worst Downie gets a game for charging Lovejoy if he gets anything at all. Spin away Wheel of Justice.

3. Nice of Boston to finally show up in their series and all it took was scoring the first goal (or in this case the first three goals) of the game against Montreal. With these two teams being very defense oriented getting that lead first is huge. During the regular season, Montreal was 32-6-6 when scoring first the 10th best record in the NHL while Boston was 30-6-6 good for 13th in the league. Boston being able to make Montreal battle back is key for them. If they can take Game 4 and even this series up, we’re in line for a raucous series where home ice means nothing. I think everyone aside from Boston and Montreal fans are rooting for as much mayhem as possible.

4. A lot of people will point to Brian Boucher’s play in goal and how solid he looked for good reason in the Flyers 4-2 win over Buffalo. 35 saves is nothing to sneeze at but let’s give some credit to the Flyers defense for finally playing a strong game in front of their goalie. They played tough and despite the number of shots given up and Boucher stood tall. Getting those kinds of efforts from both goalie and defense while Chris Pronger continues to sit out with a broken hand are inspiring for the team.

5. There are two series in the Western Conference that are at 3-0 and they feature a pair of teams that have been efficient and led their divisions all year beating up on teams that scrapped and fought to get into the playoffs until the final week (or day in Chicago’s case). It can’t be too surprising to see Chicago getting dominated by Vancouver and Phoenix is getting taken out easily as Ilya Bryzgalov looks worn out putting up with the Detroit attack.

The two early goals he allowed in the first period in their 4-2 loss to Detroit made it look like he wasn’t dialed in yet. The guys in front of him didn’t help but it’s possible Bryzgalov is worn down. Bryzgalov has been starting non-stop in goal since March 20 and hasn’t played in just two games since February 1 (28 games). Goalies are built for the long haul but just two games off in the final two months of the season takes its toll.

Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

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A three-point night for Nick Schmaltz, which included a nifty pass to Jonathan Toews for the game-winner, must have Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wondering how to approach the trade deadline.

The way the 20-year-old rookie has been playing, does Bowman really need to add a first-line left winger before next Wednesday?

It’s a valid question. Only a month ago, Bowman was reportedly sniffing around the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.

But Schmaltz has since caught fire, with two goals and five assists in his last six games. The rookie from Wisconsin had one goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

“He’s been really good,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Tuesday] was the most we’ve ever seen him with the puck. I don’t know how many times he evaded coverage, and all of a sudden he loses the guy on him and a play develops. That play against the grain to [Toews] was spectacular.”

Toews, of course, has been through a whole host of linemates this season, and only in the last month has the captain really started to produce offensively. Richard Panik and Marian Hossa are two veteran options to skate on his right side, but the left side has been a running audition.

Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick in 2014, only got called back up to the NHL in mid-January.

One month later, Toews is liking the chemistry that’s developed between himself, Schmaltz and Panik.

“We’ve been given the chance to spend a few games together, get some consistency, get some feel and some confidence,” said Toews. “The biggest thing for the three of us is if we go through a game without scoring, we’re given a chance to go out in the next game and try and redeem ourselves and contribute offensively.

“It’s a lot of fun, because I think we’re feeling it. [Schmaltz and Panik] are playing so well at both ends of the rink. They’re playing with a ton of confidence with the puck.”

The ‘Hawks have two games left before the March 1 deadline. They host Arizona tomorrow and St. Louis Sunday.

Ducks set to debut Kerdiles, another talented prospect

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23:  Nicolas Kerdiles, drafted 36th overall by the Anaheim Ducks, poses for a portrait during Day Two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Another day, another Anaheim rookie ready to make the leap.

Nic Kerdiles, the 36th overall pick in 2012, looks primed to make his NHL debut tonight when the Ducks host the Bruins. Kerdiles was recalled yesterday and, at this morning’s skate, worked on a line with Corey Perry and leading goalscorer Rickard Rakell, a good indicator he’ll be in the lineup.

Exciting times for both him and the club.

A former University of Wisconsin standout, Kerdiles’ debut was delayed due to a lengthy concussion battle that cost him most of this season. He’s only recently returned to action with AHL San Diego, but didn’t miss a beat — he has four goals and nine points through 10 games, this following a ’15-16 campaign in which he scored 27 points in 45 games (a year also marred by injuries, including broken ribs and a bruised kidney.)

This opportunity comes with Antoine Vermette serving a 10-game suspension for abuse of an official, and veteran journeyman Corey Tropp having been returned to the minors.

At 23, Kerdiles is actually one of the older prospects to join the big club this season:

— Jacob Larsson, the 19-year-old Swedish defender taken 27th overall in ’15, cracked the roster out of camp and played four games before getting returned to Frolunda.

— 21-year-old Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round pick in ’14, has become a lineup fixture, with 12 points in 43 games.

— Nick Sorensen, 22, is a Danish winger taken 45th overall in 13. He made his debut in October and appeared in five games.

— Defenseman Brandon Montour, an AHL All-Star at the center of trade rumors, got called up in January and has 12 contests under his belt.

With all this young talent — especially on defense — it’s not surprising Anaheim’s been in the middle of major trade rumblings leading up to the March 1 deadline. GM Bob Murray’s on record saying he won’t trade blueline prospects for rentals but, with all the talent at his disposal, one wonders if he’ll make a move to avoid losing a prized asset at this June’s expansion draft.

This could be why Anaheim’s debuted all these youngsters. The organization needs to see what they can do at the NHL level, and evaluate who will be in their long-term plans.

Five team stats you may find interesting

Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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+50 — That’s the Washington Capitals’ goal differential in 2017. No, not for the entire season. Just for the 23 games they’ve played since Jan. 1. Over that stretch, they’ve scored 98 goals and allowed just 48, for an average score of 4.3 to 2.1. In rather stark contrast, the Colorado Avalanche are minus-30 in 2017, with just 40 goals scored against 70 surrendered.

18 — Regulation wins for the Los Angeles Kings. That’s all they’ve managed in 59 games. Yet the Kings are only two points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot, with one game in hand. How have they done it? With a league-high 10 overtime victories, against just one OT defeat, that’s how.

53.6 — The faceoff win percentage of the Avalanche, the second-highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, the three worst faceoff teams are the Penguins (47.8), Rangers (47.6), and Oilers (47.1), all three of which are on pace to make the playoffs. The lesson? Faceoff stats are overrated.

25-0-0 — The Penguins’ record when leading after two periods, making them the only team with a perfect record in that situation. Even more impressive? The Pens finished a perfect 39-0-0 last year, meaning they’ve yet to lose a regular-season game in that situation under head coach Mike Sullivan. (They went 12-2-0 in the playoffs.)

3.47 — Goals per game by the Penguins, putting them on pace to become the highest-scoring team since the 2009-10 Capitals (3.82). That Capitals team, by the way, was the highest-scoring team of the salary-cap era.

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Canucks’ Miller, agent to discuss trade possibilities

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week, and won’t play again until Saturday, but still figures to be very active next over the few days.

GM Jim Benning said he’d talk with players possessing no-trade clauses during the break, and one of those, veteran netminder Ryan Miller, will have additional discussions as well.

Per News 1130, the pending UFA will talk with agent Mike Liut about trade deadline possibilities. Liut added his client has yet to decide anything regarding his future.

More on this, from Pierre LeBrun on TSN’s Insider Trading:

Ryan Miller has a no-trade with only five teams on it, and of those five teams to go to, three are in the state of California. He spends his offseason, as most people know, in the L.A. area.

The L.A. Kings are, to me, the only real team that potentially makes sense. If they get news on Jonathan Quick in the next week that they’re not sure about him, then perhaps they have to go out and trade for a goalie — and Ryan Miller, that could be of interest.

On the flip side? The Canucks are not against Ryan Miller coming back next year at a lower salary, and being a mentor of sorts.

Miller’s in the last of a three-year, $18 million deal with a $6M cap hit. Pricey, but one that could be mitigated by salary retention.

As for potential suitors?

Today, the Kings waived current backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, a move many have linked to Quick’s pending return. So that would (theoretically) rule out the Miller-to-L.A. idea.

In a recent radio hit, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated the idea of Anaheim acquiring Miller. John Gibson has been terrific and is the unquestioned No. 1, but the situation behind him is dicey. Jonathan Bernier, himself a pending UFA, has just a .901 save percentage on the year with a 2.93 GAA, and isn’t playing much. Bernier’s made just two starts this month and in his last one, he was hooked after allowing three goals on just six shots.

Then there’s San Jose.

The club has history of upgrading the backup goalie position at the deadline, most notably last year when James Reimer was acquired to replace the ineffective Alex Stalock. There have been rumblings GM Doug Wilson might try it again this season, but head coach Peter DeBoer recently gave current No. 2 Aaron Dell a vote of confidence.

“There’s probably only one or two teams in the league with the luxury that if their starter goes down they feel very confident,” DeBoer said, per the Mercury News. “At the same time, our group has a real confidence in Deller, I think he’s earned that.”

In the end, an extension in Vancouver might be the most likely outcome. Miller’s been solid, posting a .917 save percentage for a sub-.500 team with one of the league’s worst goal differentials (minus-30). Jacob Markstrom hasn’t proven he’s a legitimate full-time starter, and the goalie market could be flooded this summer with the likes of Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson all potentially available.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?