Five Thoughts on Vancouver’s Game 1 victory over Boston

5 Comments

It might not have been the most perpetually exciting Game 1 in Stanley Cup finals history, but it did result in an exciting conclusion with the Vancouver Canucks beating the Boston Bruins 1-0 thanks to a Raffi Torres goal with 18.5 seconds left in the third to take a 1-0 lead in the series. As you might expect, we’ve got a few thoughts on the game.

1. After such a tense Game 1 that saw both teams getting tremendous chances coupled with a meticulous and overly careful pace at times, it all came down to one mistake by Boston and one tremendous play by Ryan Kesler to swing the game. It starts with a missed play by Johnny Boychuk, a tremendous play by Kesler to make sure the play stays onside and then a pair of great passes. Kesler’s pass to Jannik Hansen and then Hansen’s hesitation pass to Raffi Torres to make sure they got Tim Thomas out of position to score the game’s lone goal. Much like Boston’s Game 7 win against Tampa Bay, the game came down to one defensive breakdown, this time it was Boston making the mistake. Of course, hockey can be a fickle game and this one was more about the goaltending than not.

2. Give it up to Roberto Luongo for earning his third shutout of the playoffs. For the third time, he also pitched a shutout in Game 1 of a series. He did it against both Chicago and Nashville as well and last night he more than earned it stopping 36 shots and dealt with having to stare at Zdeno Chara’s behind while the Bruins were on the power play. Luongo has been sharp ever since they’ve beaten Chicago in the first round and his play tonight is further proof that the Luongo we’re watching now is a much more mature and smarter goalie than we’ve seen in the past. Growing up is interesting that way.

3. As for Chara parking in front of the net on the power play, it didn’t do too much for the Bruins success there as they went 0-6 with the man advantage including coming up empty on a 4:00 double minor and a 1:35 5-on-3 power play. While Chara’s presence in front of the net is intimidating and causes vision issues for Luongo, his skills there are in need of sharpening. He’s not exactly Tomas Holmstrom or Dustin Byfuglien in front of the net. In fact, Luongo’s experience in dealing with Byfuglien the last two years is serving him better in how to deal with Chara.

Considering that Boston at one point was putting three defensemen out on the power play with Chara in front and Tomas Kaberle and Dennis Seidenberg on the point, it’s no wonder why the Bruins power play struggled again in Game 1. The Bruins are trying whatever they can to make it work with the power play but they’re still coming up empty. Old problems coming home to roost in the Stanley Cup finals won’t go over well with the fans.

4. One other thing that will go under the microscope for Boston is Claude Julien’s decision to split up Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins were 12-4 with those two teamed up together in the playoffs and the decision to split them up put things a bit out of whack in Game 1. Chara was solid but the Canucks speed started to wear him down. It also caused Seidenberg to take a penalty in the second period and made life miserable on Johnny Boychuk in the third period.

As CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty pointed out to me after the game, Boychuk’s got problems of his own lately as he’s been on the ice for the last seven goals against the Bruins. That’s a major problem considering Tomas Kaberle’s minutes have been up and down and Adam McQuaid is still a bit green. Andrew Ference can be solid at times but isn’t wholly reliable. It’ll be interesting to see if Julien goes back to having one dominant defensive unit or tries to make things work with Chara and Seidenberg split up again.

5. As for Alex Burrows’ chomp on the finger of Patrice Bergeron, it’s an unbelievably dumb move by Burrows. With Burrows situated on the top line with the Sedin twins he can’t be committing stupid mental mistakes like that that distract from what his team is doing on the ice and put him in the box. While the Bruins didn’t score on the power play they gained from that, the likelihood of Burrows being suspended for Game 2 for doing that is high. Burrows played coy in his quotes after the game and Bruins coach Claude Julien called it “classless”  but you flat out don’t do that. Jarkko Ruutu was suspended for two games for doing that to Andrew Peters years ago and while the playoffs skew how punishment is likely meted out, our guess is that you can bank on Burrows missing Game 2.

With that likely happening, that means Burrows will be replaced on the top line by any one of Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, Jeff Tambellini or another forward. That means the Sedins have to run with a new linemate for a game in a situation that demands solid play and perfection to earn a win. Stupidity should be painful and the Canucks might just get to learn a hard lesson thanks to a key player being a selfish buffoon.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

Getty
Leave a comment

The Carolina Hurricanes have been building up some buzz ever since Bill Peters helped transform a young core into an impressive possession machine.

Even so, whether you blame it on goaltending or some other factor, the Hurricanes haven’t made it to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season.

Management took measures to make some key upgrades in the off-season in order to break that slump.

Logically enough, Carolina searched for an answer in net, trading away Eddie Lack and boldly handing a four-year, $16.6 million contract to Scott Darling. With that, they’ll mix the future (Darling) with the past (Cam Ward) as their goalie duo.

Speaking of the past, the Hurricanes also brought back a vestige of their Stanley Cup victory, acquiring Justin Williams as a UFA. They added some additional championship experience by bringing Marcus Kruger into the mix, too.

Some of the biggest transactions come down to keeping players in the fold. The Hurricanes made it clear that, along with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin figure into their long-term plans with substantial contract extensions.

Of course, the biggest decision may come off the ice, as the Hurricanes’ ownership situation remains fuzzy at the moment.

Switching gears, it’s easy to see why people are so excited about the Hurricanes. Aside from a Williams here and Lee Stempniak there, this roster is brimming with young talent, including players whose peak years are likely ahead of them.

Still, at some point, potential needs to make way for production. PHT will examine where the Hurricanes might be headed in 2017-18 on this fine day.

Lehtera: Trade from Blues to Flyers will be ‘good for me’

Getty
4 Comments

Let’s be honest. Jori Lehtera felt like a bit of an afterthought in the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues and some significant picks to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Just consider the PHT headline: “Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract.”

That’s certainly a fair way to look at it, as the Flyers received the 27th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and a conditional first-rounder in the deal. Would they have gotten such a haul for Schenn if they didn’t absord Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit, which expires after 2018-19?

Again, it’s easy to lose track of the human factor, as Lehtera was moved from the only NHL team he’s ever suited up for. While he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that the news brought out both good and bad emotions, the 29-year-old believes that he’ll benefit on the ice.

“I have no idea why (the Blues traded me), but I think it’s better for me that I got traded, so I don’t really care why,” Lehtera said. “That’s the business part of hockey. It’s always tough to leave when you know all of the guys and the city. But hockey-wise, it’s going to be good for me. I didn’t play well at the end, but I think a new start will be really good for me.”

It’s been an interesting few years for Lehtera.

His numbers have dropped from his nifty rookie season (14 goals, 44 points) to 2015-16 (34 points) and finally last season (22 points).

Context matters, naturally, as centering a line of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko inflated his numbers, especially earlier on.

Still, that couldn’t have been a promising trend for both the player and the team.

The challenge will be to really make a mark with Philly. With Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula, Sean Couturier, and possibly even Nolan Patrick in the way, Lehtera would have plenty of competition down the middle. It wouldn’t be shocking if he was asked to move to the wing on occasion.

Lehtera certainly has plenty to prove, but he also gets a chance to make a positive first impression. If he can make an impact, then he’ll make Flyers GM Ron Hextall look that much brighter in the process.

Report: Avalanche will soon have AHL affiliate in Colorado

Getty
4 Comments

There are upgrades that improve teams in dramatic ways, and then there are moves that improve quality of life.

Mike Chambers of The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche will make a tweak that would likely be a big plus in the quality of life category: starting in 2018-19, the Colorado Eagles will be their AHL affiliate. The Eagles will be bumped from an ECHL team to the AHL.

At the moment, the Avs’ affiliate is the San Antonio Rampage (pictured). So, yeah, there will be a nice advantage in a) calling players up and b) management having more opportunities to keep an eye on prospects.

The Budweiser Events Center is about a one-hour drive to the Pepsi Center according to Google Maps, depending upon traffic. So yeah, that’s an easier situation than traveling from Texas.

The Avalanche haven’t made this news official; Chambers cites two anonymous sources. With the change coming for 2018-19, it’s possible that confirmation might not come for a while. More from Chambers:

The Avs, citing their contract with the Rampage, declined comment, but vice president Jean Martineau confirmed the team’s contract with San Antonio ends after the 2017-18 season. Eagles general manager Chris Stewart could not be reached for comment.

Will Rangers fans warm up to Vigneault this season?

Getty
7 Comments

This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

From the way many New York Rangers fans discuss Alain Vigneault, you’d think he was presiding over the era of 1997-98 to 2003-04, when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

Impressive results

From a sheer win-loss standpoint, Vigneault’s been a success, even if the Rangers haven’t been able to win it all. The Rangers’ points percentage has been at .628, almost as strong as his .632 mark with the Canucks, when AV took Vancouver within one win of that elusive Stanley Cup title.

(Breaking: things haven’t gone so smoothly for Vancouver since he left town.)

The Rangers are 192-108-28 under Vigneault. They made an unexpected run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and also brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Plenty of critics

Of course, Vigneault wasn’t on the ice winning those games, and many would (understandably) attribute the Rangers’ successes to the players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist. In the eyes of many, this team’s successes come despite Vigneault.

Again, the criticisms are often as harsh as they are widespread.

Sometimes people find his defensive pairing decisions maddening. If you want to make some Rangers fans wince, just utter the name Tanner Glass. SBNation Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter provides a portal into such angst, with headlines like “Rangers demise started at the top” and failing grades for his playoff maneuvering.

Twitter can honestly get a little weird with the AV vitriol, although … maybe that’s to be expected? Consider this a random example that’s on the more, well, SFW spectrum:

Not everyone is bashing Vigneault, mind you, but his critics can sometimes resemble a chorus.

Glass floor

Of course, any passionate fan base will have its qualms with coaches. People have been discussing “the pros and cons of Alain Vigneault” for ages.

It’s easy to get caught up in your favorite team and ignore the notion that virtually every coach has “their guys.”

In this case, “their guys” means marginal players whose elevated roles leaves fans shaking their heads. Jon Cooper seemingly favored Andrej Sustr and arguably never really trusted Jonathan Drouin. Maple Leafs fans weren’t always thrilled to see, say, Roman Polak getting serious minutes. The list goes on and on.

A turning point?

With that in mind, the 2017-18 season could be an especially fascinating chapter in the love-hate affair between Rangers fans and Vigneault.

Frankly, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took measures to protect Vigneault from himself, and those changes might just leave fans begrudgingly agreeing with more AV moves than usual … or it might send some over the edge if old habits die hard.

As much as people criticize individual moves, Vigneault made a strong argument that he’s a versatile coach in 2016-17, taking a more modern approach with the Rangers. It mostly worked, and now this team has better tools to improve their transition game.

To an extent, it’s addition by subtraction, as Dan Girardi‘s time mercifully ends, and with it the motivation for AV to give him big minutes. This opens the door for more mobile defenders to get time, such as promising young blueliner Brady Skjei.

The actual additions are most important. Kevin Shattenkirk stands, on paper, as a massive upgrade, especially if he slides into a pairing with Ryan McDonagh (who some believe has been dragged down by Girardi for years).

Another key will be how Marc Staal is used. If the emphasis shifts from Staal to Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei, Brendan Smith and maybe even Anthony DeAngelo, stats-minded Rangers fans might be pleased.

Maybe most importantly for the mental health of some fans, that lure to put Glass in the lineup is also gone.

***

To some extent, criticisms are just the nature of the beast for coaches in professional sports. Vigneault’s been around long enough to realize that.

Even so, the highs and lows of Vigneault can sometimes be quite dramatic, making him a polarizing subject for fans. This season should be especially interesting to watch from the perspective of Rangers fans, whether AV makes changes or continues to frustrate them in familiar ways.