Five Thoughts: Yzerman and Boucher make magic in Tampa; Habs stung by own gameplan

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After an incredible first round of the playoffs, there’s no rest for the weary as the second round kicks off tonight in Vancouver. Before we move along to that, we give our thoughts on how things shook out last night before we look ahead to the future.

1. If they’re not lauding Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher already in Tampa Bay, they’ll probably start building them statues soon enough. What’s most interesting about how Yzerman has handled things in Tampa is that he recognized early on in the season that his team had a major issue in goal. With Mike Smith and Dan Ellis struggling and the Lightning defense not jelling quite yet, Yzerman made the move to get Dwayne Roloson out of Long Island.

While Roloson goes through his fits of giving up lots of goals now and then, it’s never for an extended period. He shakes off bad games and plays strong in the next one. The kind of strong backstopping he’s provided Tampa has been immense and it’s paying off in a big way now. Shutting out the Penguins in Game 7 and looking calm and cool while doing it speaks volume for how he works.

2. I know the Penguins getting bounced out of the playoffs is a disappointment for fans in Pittsburgh, but they should be proud of that team for doing as well as they did. If nothing else, the worth of both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma was proven and thensome in dealing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well as the circus sideshow of Matt Cooke. They dealt with injuries, suspensions, and the perpetual focus on Crosby no matter what he was doing to keep his team locked in and ready to win. If only Bylsma could cast a magic spell to fix his power play and make it work better against the Lightning (1-35 in the series). If nothing else, going out in such a tough way this year will only light the fire more to win it all next year.

3. For all the problems the Penguins had with their power play in losing, somehow Boston and their even worse power play (0-21 in the series) managed to soldier on and beat Montreal. While Boston was able to get past a lower ranked team with such inability, getting past Philadelphia while not taking advantage of power play time will make life a lot harder on them. For all the answers Tomas Kaberle was supposed to provide for the Bruins power play, it’s somehow gotten even worse in Boston. It’s been pointed out too often by now that Kaberle doesn’t shoot enough or at all on the power play, he’d better get his confidence up to pull the trigger now. The Bruins will need the offense.

4. Sure fans in Montreal are disappointed with losing and I understand that coach Jacques Martin is able to coach and stress defensive strength with the best of them, but one thing the Habs should do next season is learning to push the game offensively over the course of a full 60 minutes. Too many times did the Habs turn tail and dig in defensively when getting a lead and with the sort of offensive talent they’ve got there’s zero reason to sit back and do that. With guys like Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyn there ready to break out and score, it’s a shame to not see them not utilized more for anything other than to just dump the puck into corners and go off for a change when they’ve got a lead.

That kind of strategy worked great before the lockout, now it leads to heart attack inducing closing minutes of games. In the Habs case, the final period and a half of a game would turn into a game of “dump the puck out of the zone and wait for a power play to go back on the attack.” It’s a crap style to play and while it’s hard to argue with a coach that’s made the playoffs doing things that way, playing it obscenely safe like that is death.

5. I can’t quite recall a round of the playoffs in the NHL being this exhilirating in a long time. The last hockey-related playoffs I can remember being this memorable was the 2009 NCAA Tournament that saw thrilling games, overtime games, and upsets all throughout the tournament that culminated with Boston University’s unreal comeback. There they came back from being down two goals in the final minute of the game to tie Miami University and then eventually winning the national championship in overtime.

This time around, we saw four series go to Game 7 and two of those Game 7s went to overtime. That’s just incredible drama to have right at the start of the playoffs. If you’re thinking the rest of the way will be hurting for drama, a pair of second round rematches with San Jose facing Detroit and Boston facing Philadelphia should convince you otherwise.

Panarin trying to ‘find chemistry’ with new teammates in Columbus

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Artemi Panarin faced his old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday.

It was only preseason and Panarin didn’t register a point in just over 22 minutes of ice time, and 8:17 on the power play.

But there was an interesting nugget to come from his media availability following the game — Panarin’s first against his old team following this summer’s blockbuster trade between the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Panarin was loose and comfortable, occasionally chatting in English and frequently devolving into giggle fits with teammates Vitaly Abramov and Matiss Kivlenieks, who tried in vain to interpret for him. In fact, Panarin said he was ‘‘glad’’ to be with the Blue Jackets, where he’ll have more creative control on the ice. As dynamic as he and Patrick Kane were as linemates, Kane is basically a center playing wing, dominating the puck.

With the Blue Jackets, Panarin can be that guy.

‘‘I can play a little bit more with the puck,’’ Panarin said through the interpreters. ‘‘Just kind of express myself on the ice a little bit more.’’

In two NHL seasons, both with Chicago, Panarin has been a scoring threat, reaching the 30-goal mark twice. Now with Columbus, Panarin is on a two-year contract worth a total of $12 million and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency when this deal concludes, per CapFriendly.

With the Blackhawks, Panarin spent plenty of time alongside Kane and it appears there has been suggestions that his offensive production was inflated as the result of playing on a line with Kane.

That suggestion has annoyed Panarin. Still, he joins a Blue Jackets team already equipped with a strong nucleus of young players that made considerable progress with a franchise-setting regular season in 2016-17.

“We’ll see how the season will go,” Panarin told the Chicago Tribune. “Beginning of the season maybe I’ll need to make some adjustments, but I just try to find chemistry with my new partners. It’s still in progress.”

NHL hopes to make inroads in China with preseason games

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SHANGHAI (AP) As the Vancouver Canucks held their first practice in Shanghai before their exhibition game with the Los Angeles Kings, a dense fog settled over the ice. The humidity in the arena was high and the players could barely see the puck.

Large dehumidifiers were rolled in and the mist eventually cleared, but the NHL has perhaps a bigger visibility problem in China – a country with little tradition of winter sports, hockey included. The league is hoping to turn that around with a major push in the country, beginning with its first two preseason games between the Canucks and Kings in Shanghai and Beijing this week.

The timing couldn’t be better for the NHL. With Beijing set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the government is putting a massive emphasis on developing winter sports. Hockey training programs and youth leagues are expanding across China, and the nation’s first professional team, the Kunlan Red Star, plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

With interest on the rise, the NHL believes it now has an opportunity to crack a market that has traditionally been more fixated on basketball and soccer.

“You don’t quite know what to expect the first time the game is coming here, but I’ve always believed that hockey is a game you need to see live,” Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens said after Wednesday’s practice. “And once you see it live, you become hooked as a fan.”

A glance at the numbers shows just how far the NHL has to go. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has just 1,101 registered players, compared with nearly 556,000 in the U.S. and more than 631,000 in Canada.

And the fan base in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people is still in its infancy. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the NHL has just 47,000 followers, some of whom are obviously new to the sport. (One posted a question about the temperature of the arena and what was suitable to wear to the game.) The NBA, which hosted its first preseason exhibition games in China in 2004, boasts more than 33 million followers on Weibo.

“We’re learning a lot about how to market here and we’re learning a lot about how tickets are sold,” says David Proper, the NHL’s executive vice president of media and international strategy. “We’re just viewing this as Year 1 of a multi-year project and in Year 1 we may not knock it out of the park . but we can still build over time.”

Media exposure certainly helps. State broadcaster CCTV now televises five games per week to Chinese audiences and the Internet giant Tencent streams 14 games per week on its digital platforms, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL also has an influential partner on the ground in Zhou Yunjie, the billionaire founder of a Chinese drinks packaging company who has devoted significant time and resources to building the game he fell in love with as a youth in Beijing. Zhou’s company, ORG Packaging, is the presenting partner for this week’s exhibition games.

“Hockey was actually quite common in northern China back in the ’60s and ’70s, so there is a foundation among the kids in those areas,” Zhou told The Associated Press at his company’s newly opened hockey training base in a Beijing suburb, which includes a fully stocked gym, physical therapy room and a hotel for players attending training camps.

Zhou said China’s hockey revival should focus on both universities and a professional league, using the North American, northern European and Russian systems as models.

“It will take time before ice hockey really becomes like a religion with young people as it is in the West,” he said. “But ice hockey will definitely catch on with lots of kids.”

One thing that will certainly help is developing a home-grown star similar to Yao Ming in basketball and Li Na in tennis. There are promising signs on this front, too.

Song Andong became the first China-born player to be drafted in the NHL two years ago, selected by the New York Islanders. The 20-year-old Song has committed to play at Cornell this season.

On Monday, the Vancouver Canucks signed 21-year-old Sun Zehao to an amateur tryout contract to serve as the team’s third goaltender for the China preseason games.

“He’s working with our goalie coach,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “He liked how quick (Sun) was, how competitive he was. . I just think it’s a great experience for him.”

The NHL should also get a boost in China as excitement builds for the 2022 Olympics. The league angered its players by deciding not to interrupt its season to allow them to take part in the 2018 Games in South Korea in February. That stance may change for 2022 in the much larger Chinese market.

To some, skipping the Pyeongchang Olympics is a missed opportunity to gain a bigger foothold in China.

“With 2022 coming up, winter sports are taking the leading focus of all sports in China right now – more so than football,” said Mark Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website. “They’ll be promoting the Korea Olympics more than ever before.”

For now, the league is focused on taking its first baby steps in China, giving spectators in Shanghai and Beijing a good show.

“It’s going to be pretty cool, especially for people who have never really experienced it before,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. “It’s going to hopefully start something good here.”

 

Report: Up to eight teams have recently expressed interest in Duchene

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Another day, another development in the ongoing, lengthy Matt Duchene trade saga.

“Many teams are interested and many teams have been talking with (general manager) Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. Up to as many as eight teams over the last stretch of days,” said TSN’s Darren Dreger during Insider Trading.

“But the reality is none of these teams think they’re getting him. If you look at the Ottawa Senators, Pierre Dorion has been among the more aggressive and you look at the need he has with Clarke MacArthur out and Colin White out. But I’m pretty sure Ottawa doesn’t think they’re getting Matt Duchene. And the same applies to Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets.”

Yesterday, it was reported in the Ottawa Sun that the Senators were making quite an aggressive push to try to land Duchene, the Avalanche center who has been for months the focus of trade speculation following yet another disastrous season for Colorado’s NHL team. That said, the same report added that the two sides aren’t close.

Duchene has two years remaining on his current contract — five years, $6 million annual cap hit — before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency.

The Senators are dealing with a list of injuries up front right now, including the aforementioned MacArthur and White, the prospect center who got only a small sample of NHL playing time this past spring after his college season ended and he turned pro. The former did not pass his physical at the beginning of camp and the latter was announced as being out six to eight weeks with a wrist injury.

Last week, Duchene reported for training camp and gave a brief statement to reporters but didn’t take questions. He has since spoken to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, calling his future with the Avalanche “day to day.”

“I’m not going to predict the future on my longevity here,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “I’m day by day. I’m just enjoying playing hockey. A lot got blown out of proportion. I said what I wanted to say then. Nothing’s changed since Thursday. I’m here to get better, I’m here for those reasons — that I said on Thursday.”

Trocheck’s upper-body injury not believed to be ‘anything serious’

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Vincent Trocheck scored a goal during Tuesday’s exhibition game versus Nashville, however the 24-year-old forward had his night limited by an upper-body injury.

Trocheck recorded 6:49 of ice time — the vast majority of that taking place on the power play — in the first period and missed the second and third periods.

Per reports, Trocheck was to have the injury re-evaluated today.

“He had an upper-body injury, I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told 560 WQAM Sports Radio on Wednesday. “I expect him back for practice in the next couple days.”

Originally a third-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, Trocheck enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16 with 25 goals and 53 points, emerging as one of Florida’s promising young forwards.

He followed that up with 23 goals and 54 points last season. That point total led the Panthers, a team that was decimated by injuries to a number of key players, particularly Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.