Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula

Five Thoughts: Detroit is making life miserable on San Jose

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It’s probably for the best if you’re a San Jose fan that you read with caution as things are getting really awkward for the Sharks. They’ll have to find a way to inspire their inner Vancouver Canucks to prevent from being the fourth NHL team to ever get bounced out of the playoffs in a seven game series after leading the 3-0 at one point.

1. The heart of a champion is a dangerous thing. Vancouver got a taste of it in the first round in dealing with Chicago. Old demons that popped up there were eventually vanquished in overtime of Game 7 after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. Now the Sharks get to try to do the same on Thursday night at home against the Red Wings. If there is a team in these playoffs that you absolutely cannot give life to when they’re down it’s the Detroit Red Wings.

Where other teams get down in the dumps after giving up a goal, these Wings don’t do anything of the sort. They rally, they fight back, they lay the big hit, the find a way to score the big goal. With San Jose’s temperamental nature now a major factor it can’t be stressed enough how badly the Sharks will need to get out to hot start and jump on Jimmy Howard early in Game 7.
Planning it and doing it are two entirely different things, however, and Detroit has been decidedly better than San Jose over the last four periods of play. This series has been very close all along but now Detroit is showing that killer instinct we’ve seen from them in the past.

2. Enough can’t be stated about what a difference Niklas Kronwall has been for the Wings. The last few seasons he’s battled injuries, defensive lapses in favor of making a statement hit, and grief for playing a reckless sort of game. Now he’s taken to playing alongside Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom and he’s playing a smarter brand of hockey. Yes, the hits are still coming (just ask Ryane Clowe) but gone are the days of the defensively liable hit and in this new era for Kronwall he’s adding plenty of offense as well.

It was his big shot that Henrik Zetterberg tipped to get Game 6 tied up and he’s scored other goals in these playoffs. Generally when you’re thinking of offense from the Detroit blue line you’re thinking of Lidstrom. Now Kronwall is a factor that opponents have to account for on both ends of the ice.

3. Now what does San Jose do? They’ve had three shots to end Detroit’s season and now it comes down to a Game 7 where virtually anything can happen. It’s not the position that Todd McLellan wanted to see his team in and he seemed almost despondent during the post game press conference. He knows better than most how the Red Wings operate after being an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Still, all the inside knowledge in the world can’t help you if the players aren’t executing well enough to win and that’s where he’s stuck now. It’s not a comforting place for a head coach to be in as there’s no amount of riot act-reading or coddling possible that can snap a team out of a funk like this. The Sharks have to go back to the active pressure they laid out in the series’ first three games and go from there. Everyone’s got to be all in on it though and therein lies the trick.

4. The disappointing play from a pair of San Jose’s biggest stars while they’ve been slumping has been noticeable. We all have heard plenty about Patrick Marleau thanks to Jeremy Roenick’s most unkind but honest words in taking him down a peg but Dany Heatley’s been off his game as well. Whether he’s got a nagging injury throwing off his style of play or not he looked especially bad last night to the point his frustrations are showing on all shifts.

One particular shift saw Heatley get defended off and had the puck taken away from him. Rather than haul around the net and chase down the defender now skating away with the puck, Heatley flopped out in front of Jimmy Howard in an odd fashion only to get up and glare at the official to seemingly beg for a call. While Heatley should be happy the referee didn’t decide to use him as an example of diving, losing his cool after getting his pocket picked and then trying to make amends by giving up on the play to hit the ice has to make Todd McLellan want to pull his hair out. To say that Heatley and Marleau need to step it up in Game 7 is a no-brainer.

5. Speaking of dumb plays, two games in a row now Justin Abdelkader has taken a bad penalty in the waning minutes of the game. He’s been fortunate that Detroit’s killed off those penalties to prevent giving up a killer tying goal late in the game, but you have to wonder if those kinds of bad mistakes are going to cost him a start in Game 7. You can’t afford to have calls going against you and Abdelkader pushing the envelope two games in a row with selfish penalties could earn him a seat in the press box for the final game of the series. Detroit can always fall back on Kris Draper if need be to take his spot in the lineup. Detroit’s playing with fire late in games needlessly but for now Abdelkader is doing enough of the other things right to keep Babcock’s faith in him.

Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

“They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

Elsewhere…

Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

— Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

Pietrangelo-Coyle
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Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

Update:

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

“I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

Vigneault felt the hit was late.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

Beleskey was not suspended.

Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Panthers center Vincent Trocheck have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From the NHL:

Crosby led the League in goals and points (5-3-8) in three games as the Penguins (26-18-7, 59 points) earned four of a possible six points to secure the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

Karlsson led the League in assists and ranked second in points (0-7-7) in three games as the Senators (24-23-6, 54 points) won one of three starts for the week.

Trocheck notched six points (3-3—6) in three games, helping the Panthers (31-15-6, 68 points) widen their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points.

Related: Red-hot Crosby could make Pens a flawed (but dangerous) dark horse