Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators - Game Six

Five Thoughts: Wrapping up on Vancouver-Nashville

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Fare thee well Nashville, you put on a good show to prove that yes, hockey is part of the sports fabric in Tennessee. After some tough seasons the fans there showed well enough that they love them some Predators hockey. As for five thoughts…

1. It’s remarkable that the Canucks were able to win a playoff series without getting major contributions from Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. The twins combined for two goals and five assists in the series and weren’t exactly dominating forces the way they normally are in most other games.

Their absence was made up for by Ryan Kesler alone (five goals, six assists) but as we’ve been stressing all along, if the Canucks are going to win the Stanley Cup they need them both to be on their game and producing offense. A slump in the next round out of the twins would almost certainly mean a failure in the conference finals. Getting nothing from them against San Jose or Detroit will result in another Cup-less season in Vancouver.

2. As huge as Kesler was against Nashville, and let’s face it the Canucks basically get no offense if it isn’t for him, Roberto Luongo’s performance was the real story here. Six games, six starts (crazy to have to stress this after the first round nonsense) a 1.63 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He gave up six fewer goals to Nashville than he did to Chicago despite essentially playing the same number of games. If Luongo can keep this kind of play up, he’s going to silence a lot of his critics. It’s hard to believe that a guy as good as Luongo brings naysayers out as much as he does, but they’re there (yours truly included).

Luongo is a big name, big money goalie and we haven’t seen one of those win a Stanley Cup in a while. If the Canucks do go on to win it all, it wouldn’t be outlandish to give his backup Cory Schneider a lot of credit in helping to keep Luongo fresh by giving him a solid reliever. Luongo hasn’t really had a capable guy like that backing him up in his tenure in Vancouver leading to Luongo starting 70 games a year and running out of gas in the postseason.

3. In a postseason that’s been loaded with role players going above and beyond the call of duty, the Canucks haven’t really had a player like that emerge yet. They’ve gotten some good offense from their blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler, but up front it’s been the usual suspects doing their part. There’s always time for a secret hero to emerge and if there’s a guy to keep your eye on right now, it might be Chris Higgins.

Higgins has been playing well in the playoffs and with three goals and an assist through two rounds, some of those chances will improve. We’re not expected Conn Smythe-like play here really, just someone out of the woodwork to help spur a team on. Higgins is in that position to be that guy if he continues to play tough and inspired hockey. After bouncing around the last few seasons, he’s carved out a good place for himself in the playoffs with the Canucks.

4. We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about the Predators here and what’s impressed us the most through these playoffs for them is the fans in Nashville. From the tossing of giant catfish on the ice, to the chants that make us think we’re at a college hockey game, to the volume of the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Not to mention the country music celebrity appeal going on and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a vibrant and bustling hockey market. It’s incredible to think that this city was in a lot of trouble years ago with maintaining this franchise, but a deeper-than-usual playoff run has sealed it up that this is a tremendous market for the game.

5. We know that Barry Trotz’s system isn’t the most exciting thing on earth, but the one thing that really hurt the Predators in this series was the lack of a game-breaking player. Without that sort of offensive force, the Predators had to try and grind things down and even use the occasional sneaky trick shot to score goals. Playing that brand of hockey is physically demanding and when the puck just isn’t going in the net times get frustrating. Having a guy that can fit into that system and plug 30-40 goals would do the Predators wonders. Unfortunately players like that don’t just fall out of the sky.

Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

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via Colorado Avalanche
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Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

(If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

(Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

(There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

Waning workhorses

In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

If Price falters

The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

  • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

  • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
  • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

***

Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

 

Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.

With Lehner injured, Enroth will be in Sweden’s goalie mix at World Cup

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 04: Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres and Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators warm up to play at First Niagara Center on October 4, 2013 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Sweden has selected Jhonas Enroth to replace injured goaltender Robin Lehner on its World Cup of Hockey roster.

Lehner was bothered by an ankle injury last season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Lehner had not recovered 100 percent.

Enroth, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden’s roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game.

Enroth started for Sweden at the 2015 world hockey championship.

The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.