Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins - Game Four

Five Thoughts: The tables have turned… For now

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After four games of the Stanley Cup finals we’re right back to where we started from. The series is locked up at 2-2 and now it’s a best of three race to the end. While the Bruins have smacked the Canucks around in the last two games, everyone’s done their part to protect home ice. Still, if momentum is a real thing the Bruins have all of it and then some. As for our thoughts after what turned out to be yet another wild game, there’s enough to pick at.

1. As you might expect, Roberto Luongo wasn’t a happy guy after the game. When you give up 12 goals in two games while your team is outscored 12-1, everyone should be pretty upset about things. For Luongo, he could be hammering away at his teammates on defense but he’s held off on tossing them under the bus. While Luongo isn’t the right guy to light a fire under the defense, someone should.

With an injury to Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome getting himself booted from the playoffs, the Canucks are working with guys Alain Vigneault would rather not have out there like Keith Ballard. Ballard had a brutal night but he’s not alone. Andrew Alberts has struggled out there and while he’s been paired up with Sami Salo, there seems to be very little in the way of communication out there between those two and some of the same mistakes kept happening in Games 3 and 4. It’s not as if Vancouver hasn’t dealt with changing defensive situations thanks to injury, they should be better prepared for such upheaval.

2. One reason why teams can win on home ice better is because they get to work the matchups the way they want to thanks to getting the last change at home. Vancouver was able to mix things up at home to tweak some of the Boston defense pairings. Remember when Johnny Boychuk was the unofficial team goat in the first two games?

The games played in Boston showed that either Claude Julien is a brilliant coach to get the matchups he’s looking for or Alain Vigneault isn’t properly doing the things he has to to minimize the mismatches that will happen. Julien did his part in Vancouver by constantly tinkering with his defensemen on faceoffs. It might start off awkward, but once the puck is dropped, the usual pairings get reset thanks to a quick change. That simple move helped keep the games in Vancouver close. The Canucks kept trying to force the issue themselves and with their defense already in disarray… Well you saw the scores.

3. Brad Marchand starting to remind everyone of another diminutive forward that mixed it up with anyone and everyone regardless of the situation. There’s a lot of Pat Verbeek in what Marchand does out on the ice and that kind of sandpaper game and skill set is something every team loves to have. Perhaps the best part of what Marchand does is that he’s able to do all of his annoying either with his words (just watch how players react to him after the whistle, I’d love to have him mic’ed up for a game but it’d likely be R-rated) or his little agitation moves.

Verbeek was known as “the little ball of hate” and we’re pretty sure if you asked anyone on Vancouver they’d say some colorful things about Marchand to back up a similar moniker for him. His play in the playoffs has been something special though as his ability to score goals and be a tremendous penalty killer have been inspiring and the Bruins have really needed that badly over time.

4. Vancouver’s got some soul searching to do and a couple of guys that could use some ethereal guidance are Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. These two showed how great they can be earlier in the playoffs but lately against Boston they’ve gone back to old habits of falling for the petty nonsense and getting mixed up with the ancillary games that lead to nothing but trouble. If they can cut back on that stuff and go back to playing with that right mix of jerky play and high-end hockey skill the Canucks will be better off for it.

5. Ready for a fun coincidence? Before Game 3 the Bruins had Cam Neely start things off as the honorary captain to get the fans all worked up into a lather before the game started. The Bruins did right by #8 by scoring eight goals on Vancouver. Before Game 4 it was all about #4 Bobby Orr as he was the honorary captain of the night. The Bruins then shut down Vancouver by scoring four goals in beating the Canucks. Eight goals for #8 and four goals for #4.

I wonder if the Bruins want to test fate and get Raymond Bourque to do the honors before Game 6. Scoring seven or 77 goals (both numbers worn by Bourque as a Bruin) would be something else. They could just try to nail down the seven by getting both Bourque and Phil Esposito to do the honors as Esposito’s #7 is retired by Boston while Bourque’s #77 also hangs from the rafters.

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)
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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)
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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.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

***

It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.

Under Pressure: Tyler Johnson

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Tyler Johnson was such a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than a few people believed that he could ease the pain of possibly losing Steven Stamkos to free agency. He tied Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (72 points) and topped all Lightning players with 23 playoff points during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

The 2015-16 regular season was a bumpy one for Johnson … in some ways literally.

Painful year

Health was a major obstacle for Johnson, starting with the hangover from a wrist injury he suffered during Tampa Bay’s magic run.

Even afterward, there were moments of pain. Sometimes it came down to flat-out bad luck:

Other times, there were questionable hits:

It wasn’t until late in the regular season that Johnson seemed to feel himself, as he noted to the Tampa Bay Tribune.

“I feel I’ve got the speed back, got everything I can do,” Johnson said. “I’m actually mentally there, not worried about other things …”

Big commitments

He’ll have some things to worry about in 2016-17.

The Lightning handed out a ton of money this off-season, locking up Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy to lengthy deals. They still need to sort out a contract for Nikita Kucherov, a talented forward who rose while Johnson stumbled.

Fair or not, Johnson must prove that he’s a core member of the Lightning

He made a strong argument in his own favor once he was healthy, generating 17 points in 17 playoff games as the Lightning made it to within one game of another Stanley Cup Final appearance despite missing Stamkos.

Still, Johnson faces a fork in the road. Ben Bishop either needs a new deal or (most likely) a trade to a team that will make him “the guy.” Ondrej Palat likely won’t be the easiest player for Tampa Bay to re-sign, either.

Few players could gain or lose more money with one season of play than Tyler Johnson. He can prove that 2015-16 was derailed by bad luck or allow injury concerns to linger.

Millions are on the line, and those personal goals may very well help Johnson drive the Lightning to another deep run.

For all we know, he could also find himself driving out of town.