Could a full summer of rest help the Blackhawks rise to the top again?

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When you compare how the last two summers have gone for the Chicago Blackhawks, you’d start to wonder just how dramatic it is to play in the Windy City. You go from a summer filled with parades, parties, and cost-cutting moves last year to one that sees more in the way of additions and maintenance for major players in an effort to have another celebration-filled offseason in the near future.

While the Blackhawks had such a busy summer last year, this year it’s been more about adding support players (Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, Jamal Mayers, Sami Lepisto, and Dan Carcillo) and helping their stars get better through modern medicine. With Patrick Kane out of action for the next 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist, that part isn’t always so easy to pull off but for guys like former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, the rest one can get after a disappointing first round playoff loss can be turned into a huge benefit.

As Keith tells CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers, he’s hoping that the time off will be the sort of thing both he and the Blackhawks need to get back to winning the Stanley Cup next summer.

“Looking at the minutes, they were a lot of minutes. I’m playing my best when they’re not as much as that,” he said. “I enjoy playing a lot of minutes. Everybody will tell you that. But there probably comes a point when you reach your peak and at a certain point, at a certain number where does the play drop off when you go over that?”

Keith said he’ll focus on taking shorter shifts this season, and the Blackhawks’ offseason acquisitions should help him do that. General manager Stan Bowman got deep on the blue line again, getting Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto before and during free agency.

“It’s been talked about a lot that you can never have too much depth on defense,” he said. “It’s tough when you get six defensemen, you’re missing one and have to plug someone in who isn’t as comfortable back there as they could be. We’ve got a lot of experience from top to bottom now.”

That depth on the blue line will be huge for Chicago as they were forced to press youngster Nick Leddy into action sooner than they’d hoped and also made Chicago rely more upon depth guys like Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, Jassen Cullimore, and John Scott. While those guys were useful when used sparingly, they each saw more than 30 games played last season cycling in and out of the third defensive pairing.

By adding veterans like O’Donnell, Montador, and Lepisto and cutting ties with Chris Campoli, a restricted free agent that GM Stan Bowman said he’s not bringing back, the Blackhawks are not just deeper, but tougher as well. That toughness is something Patrick Kane says he appreciates more than anything citing it as something last year’s team was lacking compared to their Stanley Cup team.

With the Blackhawks forward lines being essentially unchanged from last year and with high hopes that everyone can stay healthy, they shape up to be a more dangerous team with the defensive help. With Corey Crawford getting his second season under his belt as the #1 goalie in Chicago and having every assurance he’ll be “the man” going into the season, things are looking up once again for Chicago. While every team has it’s question marks heading into a new season, for Chicago they’ve gotten things patched up on their end.

If they can overcome the other beasts in the West in San Jose, Vancouver, and Detroit they’ll be right in the mix to challenge for the Stanley Cup once again and that’s say something considering all the gutting moves they had to make after winning the Cup. Having guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Keith recharged for the new season, however, that might be the best thing to happen to them all summer.

Canada women shooting for 5th straight Olympic hockey gold

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Four years is a long time to wait for a second chance. For some, the chance for golden redemption has been much longer.

The United States women’s hockey team has not won Olympic gold since the sport was added to the games in 1998. The Americans have since watched their biggest rival – Canada – take home four straight gold medals.

The drought has hurt most since 2014, when the Americans blew a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game and had the puck clank off the post, just missing an empty-net goal before Canada tied it with 54.6 seconds left in regulation. Marie-Philip Poulin scored again for a 3-2 overtime win , keeping the gold medal with the country that created the sport.

”Not everyone was there in Sochi,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said. ”We’ve got players who suffered that heartbreak once, maybe twice, and we’ve got players who’ve never felt that. They’re going to play fearless and on their toes regardless. I think all of us are there to win.”

The Americans have won four straight world championships, the last in overtime last April in Michigan . Yet Canada just doesn’t lose in the Olympics . The world’s dominant hockey powers meet in pool play Feb. 15 in a game scheduled so North America can watch at 10:10 p.m. EST on Feb. 14. If the Pyeongchang Games go as four of the past five Olympics have, they will meet again Feb. 22 with gold at stake once more.

”We’ve come up short the last two Olympics, and our ultimate goal is just play our best,” said American Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a two-time silver medalist. ”If we can do that, we truly believe we can come out on top.”

Things to know about women’s hockey at the Pyeongchang Games:

U.S. DROUGHT

Since winning it all in 1998 in Nagano, settling for silver – and bronze, in 2006 – has been a source of angst for the United States. Katie Crowley was on that inaugural U.S. team and said the drought has been surprising considering the quality of players dressing for the Americans. Crowley, now coach at Boston College, said if she had the answer to what went wrong she’d have three gold medals herself. Now she says it’s up to the current roster.

”Hopefully, they can do something about it,” Crowley said.

PRE-OLYMPIC TUNEUP

The Americans and Canadians played eight games during the fall. The United States won three of the first four, including two to take their third straight Four Nations Cup title . But Canada and coach Laura Schuler were experimenting with a roster of 28 then. Canada won the final four games, with two decided in overtime and one a shutout.

”It’s a good benchmark to see how we’re progressing,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. ”It’s extremely tough competition, and I suspect they feel the same.”

Said Schuler: ”Every time we play them, we learn what we’re good at. And we learn where we need to continue to improve.”

GOALIE EDGE

The edge in net goes to Canada: goaltender Shannon Szabados is going for her third gold and Genevieve Lacasse won her first in 2014. Lacasse also had the only shutout during the US-Canada exhibition tour .

”Shannon brings a calmness to our team, for sure,” Schuler said. ”She’s a big physical presence in the net, and obviously has a great history.”

The Americans are bringing a trio of goalies making their Olympic debuts in Alex Rigsby, Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney. Stauber played goalie himself and was the goaltender coach before being named head coach last May.

”We have trust in every single one of them, no matter who’s in net,” said defenseman Kacey Bellamy, a two-time silver medalist.

NORTH AMERICAN UPSET?

Canada has won 20 straight Olympic games since losing gold in Nagano. The United States is the top-ranked team in the world – with Canada a close second – while the rest of the world works to close the gap . Finland is No. 3 after beating Canada 4-3 in April in the preliminary round at the 2017 world championships.

KOREAN COOPERATION

South Korea coach Sarah Murray may have the biggest challenge with officials working to add North Korean athletes to her team, 22nd in the world. Although the country has had little women’s hockey success, the South Koreans hope to ride home-ice advantage to a victory – any victory – in the preliminary round. South Korea is in Group B with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The South Koreans help open pool play Feb. 10 against Switzerland – sixth in the world.

AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

Without NHL players, Olympic tournament is ‘wide open’

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When Willie Desjardins coached Canada’s 2010 world junior team stacked with future NHL players Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Brayden Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo and goaltenders Jake Allen and Martin Jones, it took a wild final game with John Carlson scoring in overtime to win the gold medal for the United States.

Just like Canada was the most talented team back then, Russia is likely to have that role at the upcoming Winter Olympics. Desjardins isn’t concerned about that.

”In this tournament, anybody can win,” Desjardins said.

Goodbye, NHL players. Hello, unpredictability.

No NHL participation for the first time since 1994 threatens to upset the traditional world hockey order after Canada has won the past three best-on-best tournaments: the 2016 World Cup, 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Russia is considered the favorite because it has former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov, though Finland could make gold its sixth medal in the past five Games or Sweden could win for the first time since 2006.

Coach Tony Granato’s American team was put together with players from European professional leagues, the NCAA and American Hockey League.

”This Olympics is wide open for a lot of reasons,” Granato said. ”Russia’s got the most talented players in the world. They’re going to have the team that steps on the ice with the most talented players. Does that make them the best team for two weeks? No. We all know that. We all know how sports works. All you’re looking for is an opportunity to make the most and be the best that you can be for that period of time.”

Because it’s such a short tournament with three pool-play games, a qualifying round and then quarterfinals, it could come down to which team gels first after limited preparation time. Or maybe another goaltender will pull off what Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis almost did when making 55 saves to give Canada a scare in the quarterfinals in Sochi.

”The goaltending matters, too, in an event like this,” NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said. ”It always matters, but I think in this one, the underdog – if you have an elite goalie – can really do some damage.”

Who’s the underdog? It’s fair to say host South Korea, in its first Olympics in men’s hockey, fits that bill, along with Slovenia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany and Norway.

Yet being in a group with Slovenia, Slovakia and Russia is no easy task for the U.S., which boasts 38-year-old semi-retired captain Brian Gionta as its most experienced player. Granato said the U.S. ”has lots of pieces that other teams and countries don’t know about” and wonders if his team will be overlooked.

Mistake-prone play seems likely, though Gionta doesn’t think there will be any lack of sizzle.

”I know there’s been some talk that not having the NHL guys in, you don’t have your high-skilled guys,” Gionta said. ”I think that’s a bad representation of the people that are going over there and competing in these games. There’s a lot of great hockey players.”

ALL EYES ON DAHLIN

One of the most dynamic and offensively talented players is also the youngest: Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who’s projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in June. Dahlin has 11 points in 29 games playing against grown men in the Swedish Hockey League and had six points in seven games at the world juniors. He’s just 17.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?

When the NHL announced it was out of these Olympics, executives from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada were quick to say every team would have 25 great stories. There are players on almost every team who are familiar because they played in the NHL at one point. Most of the rosters are made up of journeymen plying their trade in pro leagues in Europe, such as Czech Republic captain Martin Erat, Germany’s Christian Ehrhoff and Canada’s Ben Scrivens. Americans Troy Terry, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato and Will Borgen are currently playing college hockey.

”The tournament in general is going to be built with teams with lots of guys that this is the greatest event for them and they didn’t necessarily think they were going to get this opportunity,” Canada GM Sean Burke said.

BIG ICE

If the Sochi Games proved anything, it was that the international-sized ice that’s 15 feet wider than NHL rinks doesn’t create more offense. The U.S. and Canada built rosters with the bigger ice in mind, prioritizing skating and mobility and playing a more European style. That doesn’t mean European teams won’t have an advantage, but it won’t be such a stark change as when North American NHL players need a few games to get used to it.

OAR PRESSURE

The Olympic Athletes from Russia team is a favorite to win gold, which would be the first since the Unified Team in 1992. But Russia hasn’t medaled since 2002, including a disappointing showing on home ice four years ago. The chance to draw all its players from the Kontinental Hockey League should benefit Russia, which has won four of the past 10 world hockey championships. But something about this stage has made Russia play like less than the sum of its parts before, which makes even a star-studded team beatable.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

The Buzzer: Pacioretty continues hot streak

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Players of the Night:

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: Here’s a name you haven’t seen often in these parts this season. But Pacioretty had two goals tonight, the opener for the Canadiens and the game-winner with 1:18 left in the third period to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. He also added an assist on Montreal’s other goal. Truth be told, Pacioretty has been sizzling lately with six goals and an assist in his past six games.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson had a quiet night for the most part until the third period, but he was stellar when called upon and made 23 saves, including a second-period beauty (which you will see below) to help his team to a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night:

James Neal had all the moves to help the Vegas Golden Knights secure a point on the road in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

John Gibson got just enough on this puck to redirect it off the post and out for quite the save:

Factoid of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Panthers 4, Golden Knights 3 (OT)

Canadiens 3, Capitals 2

Ducks 2, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Henrique, Kesler too much for Quick, Kings in 2-1 Ducks win

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Jonathan Quick did all he could.

The posts behind him helped on a couple occasions, but Quick was everything the Los Angeles Kings needed to break out of their five-game losing streak, which they entered Friday wearing like a ball and chain.

But while Quick was solid in the crease, making 29 saves, the men in front of him couldn’t replicate their goalie’s performance in a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings have now lost six straight and just two of their past 10 and are tied with four teams, including the Ducks, who sit on 53 points and just outside the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Ducks-Kings rivalry has become quite the grind ’em out slugfest over time, and despite their recent downward spiral, the Kings weren’t going to roll over and die when the puck dropped, even if they played 24 hours earlier.

This rivalry doesn’t allow for one team to not show up, despite whatever mitigating circumstances may be available.

And neither team was giving the other any allowances, evidenced by a 0-0 scoreline after 40 minutes.

The Ducks struck first in the third frame as Adam Henrique finally willed a puck behind Quick, who had puzzled Anaheim’s offense for 42 minutes and change.

Henrique’s individual effort on the goal began a few seconds earlier as he won a foot race to the puck to get it into the Ducks’ zone, dove to make sure it stayed there and they got up and went to the net, where he picked up a loose puck that and put it in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at the 17:55 mark.

That lead was shortlived, however.

The Kings struck back two-and-a-half minutes later as some extended offensive zone time by the Kings resulted in Alex Iafallo flicking a puck up and over John Gibson off a rebound to ruin his shutout bid at 4:48.

The Ducks would get the final say.

Jakob Silfverberg‘s excellent forecheck kept the Kings from clearing the puck out of their zone.

The puck found its way to the point, where Francois Beauchemin unleashed a high point shot that was redirected down and under Quick by Ryan Kesler for the eventual game-winner.

Gibson’s night may have been a little quieter than his counterpart 200-feet away, but he was on point when he needed to be, making 23 of 24 saves, including getting just enough on Iafallo’s second-period shot to steer it off the post and out to keep the game 0-0 at that point.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck