Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton

Five Thoughts: Sharks and Red Wings provide a Game 7 for the ages

10 Comments

A legendary Game 7 between Detroit and San Jose fills us with tremendous pride as hockey fans that we can get such nice things this late in the year. With two more rounds to go we can only hope there’s more great things to be had because after this most anything else could feel like a letdown.

1. Let’s give it up for Patrick Marleau for helping get the monkey off his back in in clutch games. Marleau’s goal in the third period proved to be the eventual game winner in San Jose’s 3-2  Game 7 win over Detroit thanks to Pavel Datsyuk’s ridiculous late goal that cut San Jose’s lead from 3-1 to 3-2. It didn’t take too much effort for Marleau to earn the tap in on Devin Setoguchi’s original shot, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get things rolling for you in a positive way.

While Jeremy Roenick was more than critical of Marleau after San Jose’s Game 5 loss to Detroit, Roenick was more than happy to praise Marleau’s effort in Game 7 and for good reason. While Marleau wasn’t an overwhelming presence with the shots on goal or forcing the offensive pressure, he was involved in the play on both ends of the ice. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Marleau’s past in the playoffs, expect him to be a major factor against Vancouver.

2. It’s about time we retired the “Joe Thornton is a choker” label, isn’t it? Thornton had quite the history in Boston for coming up short in the playoffs and not leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. His time in San Jose hasn’t proven to be much better since being dealt to the Sharks but in these playoffs, he’s been impressive. Through 13 playoff games, Thornton has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) including a great assist on Devin Setoguchi’s first period power play goal. Thornton’s offensive work hasn’t been the only thing of note for him though as his work shadowing both L.A. and Detroit’s top forwards has been stellar.

Thornton isn’t much regarded as a solid defensive center but in these playoffs he’s given headaches to both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg while following them around the ice. We’ve advocated already this postseason to slow it down with the “playoff choker” label for Thornton and his play keeps making us feel good about that.

3. How about the work of Antti Niemi in the playoffs? He’s done some truly outstanding work and his efforts against Detroit in the second round have been other-worldly. Against Detroit he had just one game that you could hold against him in Game 5 where he gave up four goals on 22 shots. Aside from that, last year’s Stanley Cup winning goalie was solid allowing just 17 goals through seven games against Detroit with a .931 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. While the GAA isn’t mind blowing, that save percentage is. Niemi was tested quite a bit by the Red Wings and still found a way to come out on top of things. That kind of effort will be needed against Vancouver in the next round in a big way. Vancouver went 3-0-1 against San Jose this season.

4. Since this was just a Conference semifinal round many fans won’t be quick to remember how great this series was and just how dominant a player Pavel Datsyuk is. With all the bumps and bruises the Wings had in Game 7 with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi leaving the game with concussions, it’s scary to think what could’ve been had those players been able to play all along. Still, Datsyuk did his part to be a creative and dominant force all over the ice both offensively and defensively and came up with one of the prettiest goals you’ll see all playoffs in the third period in Game 7. Datsyuk is lauded rather often for his play but not generally brought up in the same context as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. It might be time to start adding another name to that list.

5. For as great as Antti Niemi was in this series, Jimmy Howard of Detroit was right there with him. The lack of solid backup goalie for the better part of the second half of the year didn’t affect Howard very much and while things were a bit hairy against Phoenix in the opening round, Howard looked outstanding throughout Detroit’s series with San Jose.  When the Sharks were able to put together shots in close Howard stood tall. Many fans wonder if Jimmy Howard is capable of being the tried and true starting goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. If this series and the regular season didn’t sell it to the skeptics, there’s little doubt that those fans will ever be satisfied with how things are. Jimmy Howard is here to stay in Detroit.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.