Nicklas Backstrom, Martin Brodeur

Are these 10 players primed for bounce back seasons?

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NHL.com’s John Kreiser is something of a maestro when it comes to off-season fodder, so it comes as no surprise that his top 10 list of “bounce back” players is an interesting read. That being said, the beauty of these lists is that they typically lend themselves to wildly subjective (and sometimes fun) debates. With that in mind, I’m going to file his 10 choices into three categories: likely to improve significantly, candidates for a marginal improvement and players who are unlikely to improve.

Let’s stay positive at first by going with the guys who should have a much better season. Again, this is going on the 10 players Kreiser listed; we might provide some other candidates at a later time.

Significant improvement

Nicklas Backstrom – The Swedish pivot’s numbers might be linked to Alex Ovechkin for quite some time, so it’s no mystery that his numbers slid when Ovi scored a relatively low 32 goals last season. Ovechkin isn’t likely to suffer with a shooting percentage at the 8.7 mark and Backstrom isn’t likely to hit just 8.9 percent himself for another season, so I bet Backstrom will be better by the sheer force of better luck. There’s one caveat, though: I think he’ll be closer to the 88-point 2008-09 campaign than his career-best 101 in 09-10 since the Caps are more defensive-minded.

Mark Streit – It’s pretty hard not to top 0 points in 0 games, eh? Streit’s return could make the New York Islanders a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season.

Martin Brodeur – Actually, I think a better year for Ilya Kovalchuk and a healthier one for Zach Parise – and no John MacLean – will benefit the team as a whole, which will trickle down to Marty. Brodeur is getting long in the tooth, but like Streit, he’ll probably improve by default more than anything else. I still wouldn’t draft him too highly in any fantasy leagues, though.

source: APMarginal improvements

Marian Gaborik – He’d be a significant improver if a Terminator robot came back from the future and informed the world that the injury-prone winger would skate for 82 games with Brad Richards. Sadly, that scenario is about as likely as … a Terminator robot informing the world of a Slovakian winger’s surprising health. He’ll still be better than he was in 2010-11, though.

Sergei Gonchar – Another guy in the “he couldn’t get much worse” files. Don’t expect a significant improvement considering the mediocre roster around him, though.

Scott Gomez – Again, just in this category because he couldn’t get much worse than last year.

Duncan Keith – People overreacted to his struggles last season. The truth is that Keith benefited from a 2009-10 Chicago team whose overload of matchup advantages won’t be duplicated. He’s kind of like Nicklas Backstrom in that his normal expectations should probably rest somewhere in between his best season in 09-10 and his “struggles” last season.

Nik Antropov – The former Toronto Maple Leafs center had a surprisingly strong 09-10 campaign, but I just didn’t buy it. You can attribute much of that hot season to an unsustainable 19 percent shooting percentage. That being said, 41 points is far behind the totals he put together the previous three seasons and his ice time slid substantially in 10-11, so he’ll probably put up better numbers by default.

source: APUnlikely to improve

Niklas Backstrom – This isn’t meant to be an insult to Backstrom; he’s a good NHL goalie. The problem is that the Minnesota Wild defense is really poor so it’s likely he’ll be hung out to dry with regularity. Perhaps you could file him under “marginal improvement” if win-loss record is all you can are about, but I get the feeling his individual numbers might be shaky again. In fact, his .916 save percentage was pretty solid last season, so hanging the Wild’s struggles on his shoulders really isn’t that fair in the first place.

Steve Sullivan – He’ll be significantly improved … in video games. Unfortunately, you can’t turn injuries off in real life, so I fear that Sullivan might be next season’s version of Mike Comrie. This might be my riskiest pick because it could indeed be very wrong if he remains healthy, but he’s been so injury prone that I can’t see it happening.

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So what do you think about these players? Do you have some bounce back candidates of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03:  Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 03, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Lightning defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The bigger the playoff moment, the more Nikita Kucherov shines.

The young Russian has a knack for scoring when Tampa Bay needs it most, which is one of the reasons the Lightning are within one victory of reaching the Stanley Cup final for the second straight year.

Kucherov has found the back of the net a NHL-leading 11 times in 15 games this postseason, seven of them in situations in which he’s either tied the score or given his team a lead.

The 22-year-old’s latest addition to his impressive playoff resume he began compiling last year was a late goal Sunday to force overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. He also notched an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s winner less than a minute into the extra period.

The 4-3 victory on the road gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 in Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.

“When you’re a rising star in this league, as he is … every team’s got one of those guys at some point,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It just seems the bigger the moment, the bigger they rise to the occasion. He is proving that last year wasn’t a fluke. He’s just a gifted, skilled, determined player. He’s really a pleasure to coach.”

Kucherov had 10 goals in 26 playoff games a year ago, including a pair of overtime winners that helped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. One more victory and Tampa Bay will become the first team to make consecutive trips to the championship round since the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings did it in 2008 and 2009.

“He keeps climbing the ladder, and he keeps getting better. But what has really been remarkable for me this year in watching him is the timeliness of his game. He’s not scoring one goal in a 6-1 loss or the sixth goal in a 6-1 win,” Cooper said Monday.

“He’s getting the game-tier, game-winner; sets up the biggest of the biggest goals, and that says a little bit about the type of player you are,” the coach added. “When you need him, he’s the one ultimately, more often than not, that’s there for you. I think that’s the one thing that’s remarkable about him.”

Pittsburgh has gone from a 2-1 series lead to facing elimination for the first time this postseason after losing consecutively for the first time since January.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he won’t make a decision on a starting goaltender for Game 6 until Tuesday morning. Marc-Andre Fleury made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, and was unable to protect leads of 2-0 and 3-2.

Rookie Matt Murray started the first four games of this series and is 9-4 with a 2.33 goals-against-average and .923 save percentage.

“I thought Marc made some big saves for us, especially early in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, adding it was difficult to gauge how much the long layoff impacted Fleury’s performance.

“It’s a tough circumstance. We believe in the guys we have. We think we have quality people, but it’s an imperfect situation,” Sullivan said before the team flew south to Florida on Monday. “All things considered, we’re trying to make the best decisions we can.”

The Penguins are confident than can rebound Tuesday night and take the series back home for a seventh game.

“I believe in my team. I believe in myself, and we can come back to Pittsburgh for sure,” Penguins star Evgeni Malkin said.

“Every game you shake off, win or lose,” Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said.

“This group has done a terrific job all year of just staying in the moment and not dwelling on the past, not getting ahead of itself, and just trying to focus on that one game in hand,” Sullivan said, “and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Tampa Bay plans to approach it the same way.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to take a 3-2 lead in last year’s conference finals. They returned home and were trounced 7-3 in Game 6.

“You can’t sit here and dictate or guarantee what the result’s going to be, but our mindset going into the game has got to be a heck of a lot different,” Cooper said. “And our group is well aware of that.”

 

PHT Morning Skate: Nobody is better at predicting the Stanley Cup playoffs than actor Will Arnett

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–Will Arnett knows a thing or two about making good Stanley Cup predictions. (Top)

–Some concept jerseys for the Las Vegas Aces. (BarDown)

–Sharks center Joe Thornton really is a nice guy. (ESPN)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues:

–The IIHF’s updated world rankings. (IIHF.com)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic has done a good job against Vladimir Tarasenko.

–Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine put together some solid performances at the worlds. (NHL.com)

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”