Could home ice advantage tilt things in the Boston Bruins’ favor?

When it comes to professional sports, it’s often difficult to accurately gauge the impact of home field advantage. That’s true to some extent with the NHL, but there are some tangible advantages to go with superficial or imaginary ones (such as loud fans cheering you on … and maybe intimidating officials into making calls they wouldn’t normally make?).

The biggest advantage is that the home coach receives the last line change. That might be exceedingly relevant in the face of Alex Burrows’ overtime game-winner in Game 2; as the Vancouver Province points out, Andrew Ference probably wouldn’t have been on the ice if Claude Julien was certain he would get the matchup he wanted. The Boston Bruins can get the matchups they want more often in Games 3 and 4, which might be a big difference-maker in a series that has been skin-tight so far.

Home team centers also have an advantage in the faceoff circle (and not just because coaches can pick and choose which centers face off against each other). The away center must place his stick on the ice first before the puck drops, giving the home center a slightly better chance to win. Take a quick look at how the major faceoff men on both teams have done in home and away games during the playoffs.

Boston’s faceoff guys (minimum 150 FO’s taken)

Patrice Bergeron at home: 130-62 (67.7 percent); away: 123-92 (57.2 percent)
David Krejci at home: 91-80 (53.2 percent); away: 75-75 (50 percent)
Chris Kelly at home: 48-53 (47.5 percent); away: 34-48 (41.5 percent)
Note: Of the Bruins who took at least 100 faceoffs in the playoffs, Rich Peverley is the only center with a better road winning percentage (54.2) than at home (52.5).

Vancouver’s faceoff guys (minimum 150 FO’s taken)

Ryan Kesler at home: 159-125 (56 percent); away: 117-104 (52.9 percent)
Henrik Sedin at home: 110-142 (43.6 percent); away: 78-84 (48.2 percent)
Maxim Lapierre at home: 53-62 (46.1 percent); away: 48-41 (53.9 percent)

As you can see, Boston centers see a dramatic improvement in their faceoff winning abilities … yet the Canucks are inexplicably better in the faceoff circle on the road. It’s probably worth mentioning that Vancouver has played five more home than road games so far, so that sample size difference might explain the discrepancy a bit.

Either way, home ice advantage might help the Bruins gain more puck control and thus alleviate some (but not all) of their decision-making ills.

Home and road records in regular season and playoffs

Boston in the regular season: Home: 22-13-6; Road: 24-12-5
Boston in the playoffs: Home: 7-3; Road: 5-5

Vancouver in the regular season: Home: 27-9-5; Road: 27-10-4
Vancouver in the playoffs: Home: 9-3; Road: 5-3

As you can see, both teams were pretty balanced at home and on the road in the regular season but have been significantly stronger at home in the postseason. (The Bruins came into the finals with a 5-3 road record while the Canucks came in 7-3 at home, obviously.)

It makes sense that each squad leans on the advantages of playing at home a bit more in the playoffs. With more concern for matchups (and time to break down video to exploit those matchups) in a best-of-seven series, the last change and faceoff advantages make a difference. Perhaps the teams are also a little less nervous about putting on a good show in front of their fans in the postseason as well, realizing that crowds are delighted by wins more than anything else during this time of year.

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So, will these advantages add up to a win or two for Boston in the next two contests? The games have been awfully close so far, but if the Bruins fall behind in Game 3, they might worry about their fans turning on them. Either way, you can find out what happens by watching the game tonight on Versus at 8 p.m. ET.

Oilers coach on Draisaitl negotiations, cap crunch and more

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As NHL.com reports, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan doesn’t seem too worried about Leon Draisaitl‘s contract negotiations.

“I’m confident we’re going to see Leon in an [Oilers] uniform,” McLellan said at a charity golf tournament. “We want him to be there, he wants to be there, and it’s just a matter of getting a few things done over the summer.”

Granted, as confident as McLellan is, he also admits that he doesn’t really get involved in that side of the hockey business, preferring to leave that to GM Peter Chiarelli.

On that note, McLellan said he’s aware that locking down Drasaitl, Connor McDavid, and other key members will likely leave the Oilers with a “tight wallet … and that’s not going to change for many years.”

(For an in-depth look at the Oilers’ salary structure, check out this deep dive.)

McLellan faces the challenge of aligning those big-ticket items with bargain signings, something that’s likely only to become a more common situation as time goes along. He also must deal with an obstacle that isn’t new to him considering his Sharks days, but will be unusual for many Oilers: no longer slipping under the radar.

“Expectations make it a little harder on a hockey club, mentally and physically, and we haven’t experienced that as a group yet and that’s why I still consider our team a growth team,” McLellan said. “We’ve got to go through that now. Teams will be ready for the Oilers. They’ll be prepared to play against us night in and night out, and people expect us, our fans in particular, to win on a more regular basis than we have in the past. Our task just gets tougher.”

If they fail, McLellan will shoulder much of the blame, even if management makes some poor decisions with that “tight wallet.”

Blues re-sign goalie Binnington

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Jordan Binnington, the netminder taken 88th overall by the Blues in 2011, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced on Friday.

Binnington, 24, has played almost exclusively with St. Louis’ AHL affiliate since turning pro four years ago, though he did spend some time in the ECHL.

Last year he worked alongside Ville Husso and Pheonix Copley in the Wolves’ goal, and will likely do so again with Husso moving forward (Copley was traded to Washington as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.)

Binnington’s NHL body of work is brief — one 13-minute relief appearance during the ’15-16 campaign. Right now he’s jockeying with Husso to be the organization’s No. 3 netminder, a potential call-up should either Jake Allen or Carter Hutton get hurt.

Chris Neil wants a one-way deal, and says he’s received offers

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Here’s what we know about veteran tough guy Chris Neil.

He won’t be back in Ottawa, the city where he’s spent his entire 15-year career. But he does want to keep playing. What’s more, he’s not ready to accept a two-way deal or training camp PTO, because offers for a one-way deal have already come in.

“The offers I’ve had so far haven’t been [two way or PTO]. They’ve been a one-way deal,” the 37-year-old forward said, per the Ottawa Sun. “For me, that’s what I’d be looking for.

“It’s up in the air right now. There’s some interest. There’s some teams you’d prefer over others.”

Neil was informed by the Sens last month that he wouldn’t be brought back next season, which marked the end of an era. Ottawa took Neil in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, and he made his NHL debut three years later. He went on to become one of the club’s most recognizable players, in large part to his pugilistic ways — during the 2003-04 campaign, he fought a remarkable 24 times.

That trademark toughness could be something teams are interested in bringing aboard. There were rumblings St. Louis was eyeing him after trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, with Fox Sports Midwest reporting that Neil had three offers on the table.

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that Neil believes he can still play. After learning that he wouldn’t be brought back to the Canadian capital, he had some choice words for Sens head coach Guy Boucher and the perceived lack of opportunity Boucher afforded him.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy [Lee, Sens assistant GM] and Pierre [Dorion, GM] … I think, if it was up to them, I’d be back,” Neil explained, per the Citizen. “But they kind of put it in the coach’s hands and that had a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, Guy [Boucher] never really gave me the chance to show I can play.

“Even before I got hurt, I was a healthy scratch for a couple of games and I saw the writing on the wall.”

After tough year in Florida, Smith ready to reunite with ‘players-first’ Gallant

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For Reilly Smith, the anticipation of playing for Las Vegas next season goes beyond playing for the league’s newest team.

It’s also about playing for his old coach, Gerard Gallant.

“I think he kind of embodies the motto that it’s a players-first league and everything kind of revolves around that,” Smith said, per the Golden Knights website. “I know particularly last year in the Florida Panthers organization, there was a lot of change and things going on and I know one of the main messages that he always put forth was that whatever goes on outside, make sure you guys are a tight-knit group inside and play for each other.

“That was one thing that he definitely tried to convey to the team and try to get us to rally behind.”

Smith’s time in Florida was a two-part tale.

After coming over from Boston as part of the Jimmy Hayes swap — Marc Savard’s contract was also shipped to Florida — Smith had a terrific ’15-16 campaign under Gallant, posting career highs in goals (25) while helping the Panthers qualify for the playoffs.

In the postseason, he was a consistent scoring threat, finishing the series with four goals and eight points in six games.

Year two wasn’t nearly as successful.

Gallant was fired early on — controversially so — and Smith’s production dropped off. He ended with just 15 goals and 37 points, disappointing figures that were exacerbated by the big five-year, $25 million extension he signed in the offseason.

Reading between the lines, fair to suggest Smith struggled with the coaching change from Gallant to Tom Rowe. Things came to a head in early March, when Rowe called out Smith following a loss to Dallas.

On the Stars’ first goal, Smith seemed to lose his man in front of the net. Rowe was asked about it, and responded.

“We went over that exact play in team meeting and we haven’t learned our lesson yet,” he said. “That is the problem.”

Rowe wasn’t done there. Later, he was asked about Dallas’ winning goal, which may have been deflected in off a skate. The criticism went back to Smith.

“I don’t know,” said Rowe. “All I know is Reilly Smith was blowing the zone doing exactly what he is not supposed to be doing.”

Smith will certainly be a guy to watch this season. He’s still only 26 years old, looking for a bounce back, and noted that Gallant gave him the opportunity to play a larger role than he had with the Bruins (and, prior to that, the Stars).

One wonders if that’ll happen again, this time in Vegas.