Minor leaguers will tell you that one of the toughest parts of the ECHL or AHL are the long bus trips. Traveling overnight, from game to game, night after night for six months can wear on a person both physically and mentally. One of the great rewards for all the hard work and patience through the minor leagues is that the travel accommodations are usually a little better in the NHL.
Well, and the money’s pretty good too.
In a scene that must have looked more like a Slap Shot trailer than an NHL reality, the New Jersey Devils were reminded of their roots on Thursday afternoon—and then some. The team was forced to walk to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia after the team bus broke down on the way to the arena.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer had a sense of humor about the whole situation when asked by Tom Gulitti of the Fire and Ice blog:
“The bus broke down about two blocks away. The transmission went on it. We either had the option of waiting for a ride or walking and we chose to walk. So it was a nice warm-up for the game.
“A little team building. I felt like I was back in junior again.”
Luckily for the Devils, old-timers like Jason Arnott and Jaime Langenbrunner are no longer on the team.
Walking two blocks at the end of their short bus trip must have been the reason for their 2-1 loss in tonight’s game against the Flyers as well. Talk about a built in excuse. How would Pete DeBoer respond to one of his players if they dropped an excuse like, “I couldn’t finish in the 3rd period because I was exhausted from our walk this morning?” Perhaps the walk caused the Devils defense to lose track of Jaromir Jagr with 7 minutes left in the game when he snapped home the game-winning goal on the power play.
Good thing this fiasco happened during the preseason and not during the stretch run in March. What kind of team travels on a bus that can have a transmission go out? Most buses used by NHL teams look like they would cost more than a single-family home in the Hamptons. Who knew one of those monstrosities would ever have actual mechanical problems?
They say the preseason is all about learning experiences. In this case, we’ve learned that it’s all fun and games until you’re forced to walk two blocks in South Philly.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.
On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.
Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.
From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.
In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.
And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.
During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.
Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.
“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”
Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.
With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.
“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”
An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.
Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.
To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.
The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.
Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.
Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.
While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.
While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.
“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.
Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.
Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.
That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.
“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win. “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”
The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.
Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.
But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.
Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.
As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.