Five Thoughts: Home ice advantage myth, Flyers goaltending a recurring nightmare

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As proof that there’s always something to talk about in the playoffs, with only two games last night there’s more than enough on our plate this morning as we head into a non-stop hockey Saturday. Coming into focus today, how home teams and Flyers goaltending are stinking up the house in the playoffs, Tyler Ennis’ emergence, David Legwand’s bad night, and the comeback story of Jordin Tootoo.

1. Two nights in a row we’ve seen zero home teams hold down the fort and end up losing at home. Just how bad are home teams doing so far? Home teams are 14-21 in the playoffs and in the Montreal-Boston series, a home team has yet to win a game. Considering how hard teams fight to get home ice advantage in the playoffs it’s proven to be very unhelpful to most teams. It’s stunning to think that anyone can win anywhere at anytime but that’s how it’s gone so far. Whether or not that’s a trend we’ll see continue throughout the playoffs remains to be seen but one things for sure, home ice guarantees nothing.

2. At some point in the future the Philadelphia Flyers will figure out their goaltending. While it’s still very possible they’ll move on to the second round, the one thing that’s clear is that they’re not about to win the Stanley Cup this year with such a mish-mash mess in goal. After seeing Brian Boucher wilt in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo and end up replaced by last year’s playoff hero Michael Leighton, a guy who hadn’t played in an NHL game this year, it summed up every Flyers playoff run the last 20 or so years. A great team, and this Flyers team is very good, backed by highly suspect goaltending.

Last season the Flyers won in spite of their goaltending and this year they haven’t yet been able to do that. Playing without Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter doesn’t help that any, but Boucher’s performance yesterday and Sergei Bobrovsky’s in Game 2 are examples of what can happen without that ace goalie. I wonder if Ilya Bryzgalov would hate the weather in Philadelphia.

3. With how the Sabres have done this year, who knew that Tyler Ennis would become their latest big game player. Sure they’ve got Thomas Vanek and yes they’re without Derek Roy (and possibly Jason Pominville now as well) but Ennis is emerging as one of their most consistent offensive threats. That’s not too bad for a guy who was a late season call-up last year and after scoring 20 goals this season to breakout as a big game player. Considering they’re not getting goals from minutes eaters like Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad, Ennis is coming up big.

4. We raved about Bobby Ryan’s goal last night and it’s honestly one of the best goals we’ve ever seen, but how many posters would you see David Legwand end up on after that display? He gets his pocket picked by Ryan and then deked out of his skates twice on the same rush that turns into the highlight of the playoffs. Legwand is a lifelong Predator and while you’d think that would end up his lasting impression on the game, he made up for that set of errors by assisting Joel Ward’s goal that made it 2-2 right after Ryan’s stunner. Shaking off getting exposed that badly speaks a lot of Legwand’s ability to just keep moving on and not let it get him frustrated. The Predators getting the win in overtime makes it all the sweeter.

5.Speaking of the Predators, give it up for Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo took a leave of absence earlier this year to check into the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. After weeks away to get well, he’s come back a different player. The dirty hits and all-around jerky play have dissipated and in Game 5 he made two spectacular passes that led to Predators goals, including the primary assist on Jerred Smithson’s game winner.

If he can keep himself in check, having a grinder like that making pretty plays makes him the sort of player that can give Nashville an upper hand later on in the playoffs. Good for him on getting healthy and straightened out and turning himself into a tremendous feel-good story.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.