Keith Ballard;  Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand finds right balance between agitation and offense

When people discuss pests or agitators, most of those players count as “double-edged swords” for their teams.

Just look at the roller coaster career of New York Rangers nuisance Sean Avery, the most notorious character for reasons that rarely have much to do with his on-ice play. Avery’s big mouth and nefarious attitude often find him in the penalty box and sometimes provides competition with unwanted motivation. That being said, he can also be an impact player when his head is on straight and the bounces go his way.

The problem is, when you take that pestering aspect out of Avery’s game, he seems like a cat without claws. Simply put, he hasn’t found the proper balance between annoyance and productivity.

The 2011 Stanley Cup finals feature some of the league’s greatest examples of how to strike the right compromise. Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows might be infuriating at times, but they frequently benefit the Vancouver Canucks without taking a whole lot from the table.

Of course, those two Canucks skaters have had plenty of time to iron out the kinks in their pestering games. Boston Bruins’ pest Brad Marchand might be the most impressive example in this series; he’s already excelling at walking that difficult tight rope even though this is his rookie year in the NHL.

Sure, he’s had his regrettable moments like any other player of his ilk. Late in the regular season, he motivated the Toronto Maple Leafs with an immature (if ultimately correct) golf swing motion that ultimately backfired when the Leafs came back. He also had a less than great moment in Game 4 against Vancouver.

One of those things happened as he was skating away from the melee late in Game 4. As he coasted past the Vancouver bench with an official serving as a guide, Marchand wiped his hands in an exaggerated fashion — not a taunt with which the Canucks players found much pleasure.

“That’s something I shouldn’t have done,” Marchand said. “It was a little childish. They were yelling at me from the bench and that was just how I reacted. I kind of wish I didn’t do it.”

That being said, the motion didn’t light a fire in the dejected Canucks nor did it earn Marchand a trip to the penalty box. Perhaps riding that line involves a bit of luck, but it doesn’t hurt when you’re a legitimate NHL player. Marchand boldly claimed he would score 20 goals this season and seemed like he would be far off that pace with five goals midway through the season. Bruins coach Claude Julien reminded him of his claim and perhaps that pumped him up because he scored 16 in his last 39 games to hit 21 for the regular season.

He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs, either. A great Game 4 performance propelled him into the scoring lead among postseason rookies, with his 15 points giving him a one-point edge on San Jose Sharks standout Logan Couture.

If you told the Bruins a rookie would be a key facet to their playoff run, they’d probably expect it to be Tyler Seguin. Yet while Seguin struggles to earn Julien’s trust and score with regularity, Marchand has become a fixture on the Bruins’ solid second line. His teammates have taken notice, too.

Marchand has already tied the rookie record for most goals by a Boston player in one playoff year; one more goal would move him into the top 20 in franchise history for a single postseason.

“He’s not a pest to his teammates, that’s for sure,” goaltender Tim Thomas said. “I think he’s a great player who brings energy and effort every night, basically — and that helps the team. The last two games, Game 3 and Game 4, he had huge goals for us, beautiful goals for us that were skill goals. On top of that energy and effort that he brings every night, he has skill.”

Despite all of these positive thoughts, Marchand is still working to harness his game. That means there will be steps forward and backward as his career marches on. We’ll see if he – and his team – take another step in the right direction in Game 5 tonight.

Mike Yeo gets a vote of confidence; Wild will scratch Vanek, Zucker vs. STL

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo talks to Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Associated Press
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Things haven’t been going well with Minnesota’s hockey team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean changes are coming via firings or trades.

On Saturday, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher reiterated his confidence in his team and his coaching staff going forward.

The Wild have won just three of 15 games since Jan. 1 and they’re currently riding a four-game losing streak.

The Wild have been through mid-season slumps before.

Last year, Yeo lost it during a team practice and that seemed to spark his team, as they were able to turn things around and make it to the postseason.

Will a similar tactic work, again? Probably not.

As PHT pointed out earlier this week, this slump might not be like the previous ones.

The Wild are just one point behind Nashville (with a game in a hand) for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but will their top guns be able to get them out of this funk?

The numbers aren’t pretty:

Zach Parise has no points in his last four games and just one goal in his last nine contests.

Thomas Vanek hasn’t scored in eight games. He has just one assist during that span.

Mikko Koivu has four assists in 15 games since the new year began.

Mikael Granlund has two assists since Jan. 7 and he has a a minus-11 rating since then.

Jason Zucker has one assist in 11 games. He hasn’t scored since Jan. 7.

How will Yeo get his team’s attention this time around?

Here’s your answer:

Hossa doesn’t think the coach’s challenge is “good for the league”

Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, left, Marian Hossa (81) and Bryan Bickell (29) react after Los Angeles Kings' Jake Muzzin scored a goal  during the third period in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Marian Hossa isn’t a fan of the coach’s challenge.

The veteran winger ripped the NHL’s new challenge system after he had a goal called back in Thursday’s game against Arizona.

–To watch the overturned goal, click here

“I thought that was [a] joke,” Hossa said, per the Sun-Times. “I tried to battle in front of the net and I don’t have any intention to touch the goalie, just try to battle through two guys and put the puck in the net. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs, if there’s going to be calls after calls after calls. But I don’t think it’s good for the league.”

The goal was called back because as Hossa was battling in front, he got tangled up with goaltender Louis Domingue‘s stick.

It’s safe to say that Joel Quenneville wasn’t pleased with the decision:

One of the main criticisms of the challenge system is that the review is conducted on a small tablet by the referees on the ice instead of someone in a war room in Toronto or New York.

Every time a goal is disallowed, the NHL writes a blog explaining why the decision was made.

Here’s what they said about the call on Hossa:

The Referee determined that Hossa interfered with Domingue before the puck crossed the goal line. According to Rule 78.7, “The standard for overturning the call in the event of a ‘GOAL’ call on the ice is that the Referee, after reviewing any and all available replays and consulting with the Toronto Video Room, determines that the goal should have been disallowed due to ‘Interference on the Goalkeeper,’ as described in Rules 69.1, 69.3 and 69.4.”

Therefore the original call is overturned – no goal Chicago Blackhawks.

Do you think the referee got the call right?

Report: Penguins will host Flyers in an outdoor game in 2017

In this photo made with a fisheye lens, fireworks go off above Heinz Field as fans hold cards with a message honoring veterans before an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Associated Press
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It looks like the battle of Pennsylvania will head outdoors in 2017, according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are expected to host the Philadelphia Flyers at Heinz Field next year. It’s still unclear if the game will be a Stadium Series tilt or the NHL’s annual Winter Classic game on Jan. 1.

Here’s an excerpt from Burnside’s story:

The two state rivals have been talking for months about a plan for an outdoor game or series of outdoor games. There was discussion about playing an outdoor game at Penn State, but it’s believed financial demands by the university soured the teams on the neutral site as an option, so the two franchises have been looking at a reciprocal arrangement with an outdoor game played one year in Pittsburgh and a second game in Philadelphia perhaps the next year.

Although the Steelers and Penguins have a good working relationship, there could be a scheduling conflict if the NHL wants to make this game the Winter Classic.

Jan. 1 will be the final day of the NFL’s regular season . Should the Steelers host a Wild Card game the following week, they’d likely decide that a hockey game on their field isn’t the wisest decision.

To avoid this dilemma, the league would just have to move the game to Dec. 31.

This would be the second time Heinz Field hosts an outdoor game (2011).

Islanders officially activate Johnny Boychuk (upper body) off IR

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The New York Islanders got some good news on the injury front, as they’ve activated Johnny Boychuk off injured reserve.

The 32-year-old missed a total of 11 games because of an upper-body injury he suffered in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 31 (above).

New York went 5-5-1 without Boychuk, and they conceded four goals or more in five of those contests.

In 38 games with Boychuk, the Islanders had allowed four goals or more just six times.

The Islanders currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They’re three points behind the Rangers (two games in hand) and 18 points behind the first place Capitals.

In a corresponding move, they assigned defenseman Scott Mayfield to the AHL.