fowler

Can Cam Fowler avoid the sophomore slump?

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Having a great rookie season is a great accomplishment for any player in the NHL. After constant years of hard work, making the NHL and succeeding is a dream come true for any person who’s ever laced up a pair of hockey skates. Players will put in countless hours while they’re relentlessly chasing their dream—the closer they get to the brass ring, the harder they’ll work to make it.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when players take a step back in their second season in the league. Its goes by many different names: sophomore slump, sophomore jinx, Jim Carey, whatever. Many time’s it’s just a bit of complacency in an ultra-competitive game where thousands of players are fighting for a precious few spots on NHL rosters.

He was one of only five players to make the jump straight from the draft to the NHL last season and was the only defenseman to make the transition. He certainly didn’t disappoint. It may have flown under the national radar, but his 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie put him in the company of guys named Housley, Stevens, Bourque, Murphy, Berard, Myers, and Niedermayer. Not bad company for a guy who dropped like a rock at the 2010 Entry Draft.

The next step for Fowler to develop into a complete, two-way defenseman. “[I’m just] trying to develop into that top-tier defenseman,” the Fowler shared. “I want to be a guy that a team can build around. It seems like every premier team in the league has those one or two d-men that just stick out and play a lot of minutes and log a lot of ice-time out there. That’s something I want to do—I want to be able to play in all situations and just complete my game overall.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of player who is content with his 40-point rookie season. Becoming a two-way defenseman will be imperative for the Ducks as they deal with injury problems on the blueline and look for players who can add a strong defensive game. He’s already getting more time on the penalty kill this season as Toni Lydman continues to recover from an injury that kept him out of the first two games in Europe.

Still, Fowler is a defenseman who has the potential to be an elite blueliner with his puck skills, on ice vision, and smooth skating ability. He hasn’t lost track of his bread-and-butter. His ability to jump into the play as a defenseman is something that that separates him from most other d-men.

“The coaching staff preached to me last year that that’s what they wanted me to do.” Fowler said. “Whether it was joining up in the play late to make it a 3-on-2 or whatever it may be, I think that’s an element of my game—that when I’m skating is when I’m at my best. The coaching staff, there are no reins on me or anything. Its go. They trust me when to make those reads, when to jump and when not to jump.”

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said the main difference between the beginning of last year and this year is confidence. Although even with the added confidence, the coaching staff didn’t think he had the best training camp—but it was different story once training camp ended and the games started in Europe.

“It’s all about his ability to get around the rink and read situations.” Carlyle said. “If the two games [in Europe] were any indication, we have Cam Fowler back.”

The coaching staff aren’t the only ones who see a difference in Fowler this year. Fellow 2010 draft pick Devante Smith-Pelly, who is fighting to stick with the team this year, says the difference has been night and day.

“It’s crazy what a year did to Cam,” Smith-Pelly said. “He’s a lot more mature, you can tell. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s faster. He was obviously a great player coming into this team and no seeing him for a year and then coming back and seeing him every day, you can tell he’s gotten a lot better and a lot more mature.”

It’ll be critical for Fowler to use his maturity and have it translate to his play on the ice. If the team can depend on him for 25 minutes per game, it’ll ease the workload for bottom-pairing guys, and allow guys like Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky a breather every so often. Still, Carlyle is quick to make the distinction between an increased workload and increased pressure this season.

“I don’t want to put the pressure,” Carlyle said. “I don’t mind the workload, but it’s the pressure of having to accomplish more than he did last year. We would accept a young 19-year-old defenseman to accomplish what he did last year. If he was to come in and have 10 goals and 40 points, would we accept that as a good year? I would say yes. Our expectations are not for him to go to 20 goals and 60 points right off the bat. That’s not the pressure we’re putting on him. If he does it, that would be great. But we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on him or any of our younger players. We think that’s incorrect. We think its tough enough to play defense in the league as a 19-year-old. He did it as an 18-year-old. Sometimes those ‘sophomore jinxes’ do come into play, we don’t want to look at that as a possibility. [We want him to] just go out and play, give us your best, your best that you gave us last year was good enough.”

There won’t be any whispers of a sophomore slump if Fowler can pick up where he left off last season. Judging by his attitude at the beginning of the season and his willingness to improve upon his overall game, last season looks like it’s only a hint of the vast potential Fowler can bring to the Ducks.

The rest of the league should be afraid.

The Bruins are finally ‘starting to connect’ on offense

Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46), of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal beside Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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The floodgates have opened for the Boston Bruins.

And it’s about time.

With Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Flyers, the B’s have scored 22 goals in their last six games. The offense has been a relative juggernaut compared to the first few months of the season. Brad Marchand had five points against Philadelphia, and he likes the progress the team has made.

“I think early on we had a lot of moving parts and guys in and out of the lineup. [We had] different guys that came in that we all had to get used to one another, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Marchand, per CSN New England. “It took half the year, but…I think we all realized that we have to be a desperate team. We’re starting to come together and learn each other and finally get some chemistry on the lines. All of that comes into play and again, I think we’re just starting to connect.”

The statistics suggested the goals would come. The Bruins have the highest score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but through Christmas, for whatever reason, the pucks weren’t going in.

To illustrate, Patrice Bergeron had just four goals in his first 31 games, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots. He now has five in his last 12, bringing his season total to a modest nine, as the bounces are finally starting to go his way:

To be sure, the Bruins are still in a desperate fight for a playoff spot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division, but with five more games played than both third-place Toronto and fourth-place Ottawa, winnable games like this afternoon’s against the Islanders need to be won.

“When you score a couple goals, I guess your confidence goes up a little bit,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “I think that’s what happened [with us]. So we’ve just got to make sure that we keep it going and don’t take a step back.”

NHL on NBCSN: Capitals visit Penguins, go for 10 in a row

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck past Trevor Daley #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here

Streaks are colliding in Pittsburgh on Monday night when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

From the Pittsburgh side, they are looking to break a three-game losing streak (their longest of the season) and will have to do so without the services Kris Letang, their top defensemen, after he was placed on injured reserve on Monday morning. Not exactly a great situation to be in when the team coming in for a visit is a Capitals team that has not only won nine games in a row, but has been absolutely crushing every team they have played during this stretch, including the Penguins less than one week ago.

Even more than the current winning streak, the Capitals are now 16-2-2 in their past 20 games and have moved back into the top spot in the NHL standings and are making a run at a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

It has been a collective team effort during this latest run, especially during the current winning streak where five players have averaged more than a point per game, including Justin Williams who has a team-high six goals during the streak.

“Everybody seems to be doing their job at a high level right now, and that’s why we’re being successful,” Williams said after their 5-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, via the Washington Post. “When there’s a breakdown, someone’s there to help you out, and when there’s a total breakdown, our goaltenders are there to shut the door. Not a great start but a great finish.”

The Capitals were able to win Sunday’s game with backup goalie Phillip Grubauer in net — and for the first 40 minutes he had to be their best player — and will be turning back to Braden Holtby tonight. For as good as Holtby was a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, he has managed to be even better this season and carries a .933 save percentage into Monday’s game. In 18 starts since the start of December, he has been at an even higher level at .944.

The Penguins meanwhile have hit their first tough stretch of the season, giving up 15 goals over the past three games. The Penguins have not lost four games in a row since a four-game losing streak in December of 2015, which were also the first four games of Mike Sullivan’s head coaching tenure with the the team. Going up against a team that just beat them 5-2 a week ago, and a team that has outscored Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia by a 26-3 margin they have a gigantic test in front of them.

Penguins place Kris Letang on injured reserve, is ‘week-to-week’

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are on their first real losing streak of the season (three games) and are now going to be without their No. 1 defenseman for at least at least a couple of weeks after the team announced on Monday morning that Kris Letang has been placed on injured reserve.

Coach Mike Sullivan also announced that he will be out on a week-to-week basis with what is being called a “lower body injury.”

Along with the move to put Letang on injured reserve, the Penguins also recalled forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Letang was injured during the Penguins’ 6-4 loss in Detroit over the weekend, playing only 2:06 before exiting the game with an apparent leg injury.

Injuries have been a constant problem for Letang in his career and have allowed him to play in more than 70 games just once since 2010, and it usually has a pretty significant impact on the team when he is out.

While Sidney Crosby is the Penguins’ best player, there is an argument to be made that Letang is their most important and the one player they can not afford to lose given the minutes he plays, the impact he has on the game in all three zones, and the fact he is probably on any given night on one of the five best all-around defensemen in hockey. There is a pretty drastic change to their offense when Letang is out of the lineup.

Entering this season the Penguins averaged 3.16 goals per game over the previous six seasons with Letang in the lineup (while winning more than 64 percent of their games), versus only 2.73 (and only winning 54 percent of their games) when he has been out of the lineup.

In the 12 games Letang has missed this season they have averaged 3.06 goals, compared to 3.60 in the 30 games he has played.

The Penguins host the Washington Capitals, winners of nine in a row, on Monday night.

PHT Morning Skate: The Canucks’ power play is a big problem

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— Following a six-game winning streak that moved them back into playoff contention the Vancouver Canucks dropped their fourth game in a row on Sunday night, losing 2-1 to Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils. A power play unit that is currently 27th in the league on the season and has gone just 1-for-17 during their current losing streak has been a big part of the problem and Ben Kuzma of the Province looked into it following their most recent defeat. [The Province]

— The Washington Capitals’ 5-0 win on Sunday (highlights above) that improved their winning streak to nine games was also the 1,500th win in franchise history. [Washington Capitals]

— Will this be the year Shane Doan waives his no-trade clause to get a chance at the Stanley Cup? Elliotte Friedman speculates that if the Coyotes, who currently have the second worst record in the league, approached the now-40-year-old Doan about a trade that he might be willing to accept it. He has four goals and eight assists in 40 games this season. [Sportsnet]

— Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula had some fun at the team’s skills competition over the weekend by taking out in the shootout dressed as … Drake. [Edmonton Oilers/YouTube]

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had an update on the status of injured goaltender Jonathan Quick on Sunday and basically said there is “no change” that he is still “a long way off.” He has been injured since the season opener and has not played since, making Peter Budaj the team’s starting goaltender this season. Budaj has a .917 save percentage and a 20-11-3 record in Quick’s absence for a Kings team that is hanging on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference [Kings Insider]

— Since their 16-game winning streak came to an end the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost four of their past six games and had to use four different goaltenders over the past four games. Is that post-winning streak hangover something that is going to be good for them in the long run? [Columbus Dispatch]

— The Minnesota Wild extended their winning streak to four games on Sunday night and moved into sole possession of first place with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They now have a two-point lead over the Blackhawks with four games in hand on them. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s game.