Playoff matchups: Bruins begin title defense against Capitals

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For years, the Washington Capitals have carried the label of heavy favorites. However you frame those stories, it’s never ended well for Alex Ovechkin & Co., but 2012 represents an interesting flip of the script. This time around, they’ll be the seventh seed upstarts against the second-ranked defending champion Boston Bruins.

There was a point during this season when Boston appeared to be a behemoth on a level rarely seen in the salary cap era. Injuries and inconsistency (and if you ask some, a botched photo-op at the White House) seemed to at least slow down the bandwagon, though.

Still, the Bruins have a two-time Vezina winner in net (Tim Thomas), a probable Hall of Famer on the blue line (Zdeno Chara) and some underrated tools on offense. That might be enough against a haggard Washington squad with stars who don’t seem to be 100 percent in Mike Green and maybe Nicklas Backstrom plus some serious goaltending questions with Tomas Vokoun and possibly Michal Neuvirth on the mend.

Ovechkin has somewhat-quietly been heating up, though, so it sets up the Capitals as an interesting underdog option. Washington also outplayed Boston in its meetings this season, taking three out of four wins. On the other hand, the Caps take a playoffs-worst 16-21-4 road record into Beantown.

So who strikes you as the likely winner: the big, bad Bruins or the confounding Caps? Let us know in the comments.

PHT Fantasy: Teaming with the enemy

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If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, or civil correspondence, you probably think that Calgary Flames ragamuffin-forward Matthew Tkachuk is just the worst.

With that in mind, you’re probably not going to enjoy today’s advice: it’s fun and often productive to draft your most hated players in fantasy hockey.

Think of it this way. If Tkachuk helps you win your league next season, you can imagine yourself as some evil fantasy hockey baron, emitting a villainous cackle, possibly with a cigar jutting from your mouth. If Tkachuk stinks, then you can continue to despise him, and even blame your larger fantasy failings on that snotty-nosed kid who just won’t stop poking his mouthpiece outsomeone stop him.

(Now, some of you will respond: “But what if winning with villains on your team ends up souring the sweet taste of victory?” Allow me this response: [Points in other direction, runs away])

My personal villain of choice was once Todd Bertuzzi. Do note that this was vintage, All-Star Todd Bertuzzi, and not sad, sort-of-broken-down Detroit Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi.

The strange wrinkle is that a younger version of myself often picked him as a villain even before that ugly Steve Moore incident. As of today, I can’t recall what precisely rankled me about Bertuzzi before that scene; perhaps it was stubble envy?

It’s important to note that Team Villain (not to be confused with Team Putin?) works much better in leagues with PIMs, aka penalty minutes. Now, that’s not to say that every conniving-type will be sitting in the box all the time, it’s just that the Tkachuks of the world bring extra value because they can score and they can infuriate.

So far this season, Tkachuk has 13 points and 29 PIM in 19 games. Last year, he combined 105 PIM with 48 points, and the young forward happens to be part of a Flames line that dominates puck possession. (That latter point doesn’t always translate to fantasy gold … although it could if their continued strong play earns them more opportunities as time goes along.)

When you ponder the PIM-getters, it’s clear that Tkachuk is fairly rare.

[Rotoworld prepares you for the fantasy hockey week ahead]

On one hand, you have guys who can really pile up PIM and can at least secure a roster spot, but their offense isn’t always dependable. Tom Wilson is a prime example; he now has a whopping 674 PIM in 329 regular-season games, yet only 75 points. Wilson is an interesting example of how opportunities can fluctuate for pests who can play, though, as he has six points so far this season. If he can flirt with a point every game or two, then Wilson suddenly rises up the list of ruffians in fantasy.

Antoine Roussel, meanwhile, might be sliding. The Stars antagonist has generated just under 15 goals and 30 points in recent seasons, which is quite lovely when you consider his robust penalties (711 PIM in 359 games). There’s always the worry about a reduced role, and that – or bad luck – is happening in Dallas; so far he only has three points in 2017-18.

Tkachuk is the only “polarizing” player who’s made recent news and also possibly deserves a spot on your fantasy team.

Radko Gudas has been a buried treasure in fantasy leagues with deeper stats for some time now.

It makes sense that Gudas is something of an under-the-radar fancy stats darling, as he tends to fill up peripheral categories, even if his point totals are often modest. So far this season, Gudas has 57 PIM in 17 games versus just two assists, yet he fires the puck pretty frequently. With 33 SOG in 17 games, he’s close to two per night. That can help if Gudas is, say, your fourth or fifth defenseman.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast ponders Carey Price’s problems]

As the stats go deeper, Gudas becomes a guy who can help you steal certain categories. He’s delivered 1,097 hits and blocked 533 shots in 286 games, via Yahoo’s handy stats. Via NHL.com’s real-time stats, since 2012-13, Gudas ranked eighth among skaters in hits, and that’s among players who often played about 100 additional games. He comes in 57th in blocked shots, and that’s again while noting that he’s missed some time.

And that’s the thing; with guys like Tkachuk and Gudas, you sort of have to pencil in some lost games. Whether it’s sitting in timeout for a bonehead suspension or getting injured because of their rugged styles, don’t draft or add/drop these guys expected 82 GP.

***

If the last year or so drives any point home, it’s that sometimes the bad guys win.

On the bright side, that can come in handy. When it comes to prestige television and fantasy hockey, rooting for the antihero can sometimes be quite enjoyable.

Though, honestly, cable dramas probably should have curbed that trend after Walter White hung up his undies.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Perreault bemoans “stupid” slash, Gudas offered in-person hearing

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WINNIPEG — Mathieu Perreault didn’t shy away from expressing his feelings after nearly being decapitated on Thursday night by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas.

“It was kind of stupid by him,” Perreault said after receiving a vicious two-hand chop to the back of his neck in the first period of a 3-2 shootout win for his Winnipeg Jets.

The play, reminiscent of an executioner in Medieval times striking an unlucky soul with an axe at the gallows, came after Perreault and Gudas were jockeying for position in the corner in Philadelphia’s zone. The result was a two-minute minor for high-sticking, assessed to Perreault, and a five-minute major and a game misconduct for Gudas, who is no stranger to getting a phone call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

On Friday morning, the NHL offered the 27-year-old an in-person hearing with a date and time to be determined if Gudas chooses to accept.

Gudas was most recently suspended six games in October of 2016 for a cheap shot to the head of Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik.

It’s important to note that the offer of an in-person hearing means the suspension Gudas is facing could sail far north of five games. Given the Czech Republic native’s history, there’s little reason to think the head of player safety, George Parros, won’t throw a very hard book at Gudas.

Perreault, meanwhile, said he dodged a bullet on the play.

“He got the meaty part of the neck. It could have been worse if he got me in the side of the face or in the skull or bone,” Perreault said. “(Gudas) apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

It certainly could have been much worse, as Perreault alluded to in his post-game comments, and more so given that the 29-year-old only returned to the Jets lineup on Thursday after a 12-game spell on the sidelines with a lower-body ailment.

Gudas’s rap sheet in the NHL is long. Here are some of his notable transgressions:

– Dec. 2, 2015 – Gudas is suspended three games for a needless headshot to then-Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejed.

– February 2016 – Gudas receives three separate game misconducts in a span of sixteen days, the last coming on Feb. 16 for yet another head shot on New Jersey Devils forward Bobby Farnham.

– Oct. 3, 2016 – Another ejection, this time for boarding. A head was spared, this time.

– Oct. 8, 2016 – Ah, but not for long. Gudas’s latest run-in with the league prior to Thursday night came last season with another targeted shot to the head, this time at the expense of Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik. He was suspended six games.

– Oct. 26, 2016 – Another game misconduct for — you guessed it — an illegal shot to the head.

– Nov. 16, 2017 – Gudas makes like a lumberjack and tries to take Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault’s head off.


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.

Rick Tocchet on Coyotes’ struggles, Clayton Keller, staying patient (PHT Q&A)

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The Arizona Coyotes have won just three of their first 21 games, which obviously wasn’t part of the plan going into the year. Still, things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

On Thursday morning, Pro Hockey Talk had an opportunity to catch up with Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet. We chatted about the rough start to the season, Clayton Keller‘s incredible rookie season, the positives he’s seen in his team’s game, and much more.

Enjoy.

PHT: Coach, you came from an environment where you won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins. You’ve come to Arizona and you’re now coaching a team that’s trying to find themselves. What’s been the most difficult part for you mentally?

TOCCHET: “You want instant success. Obviously, the last couple of years have been unbelievable for me, so you come to this and you want the same thing to happen, but it doesn’t happen that way. It’s a process. That’s the one thing I like about the organization, we’re not going to accelerate to win short term. They’re willing to take hits now for the process of it. That’s something I’ve gotten better at in the last two or three weeks. I know it hurts to lose.

“I still don’t think we’re a two-win team. I think, with some solid goaltending early in the season, we’d have four or five wins by now. Saying that, I think it’s just a process we have to stick with.”

How far do you think this team is from being a playoff team?

“I don’t know. I could tell you it’s three years or two years, but I don’t know. All I know is that I want these young kids to improve. I feel certain guys are playing better. I think some guys are starting to get it.

“The biggest challenge for us is to keep doing the right things when you lose. Because when you lose, you change your game sometimes, you try different things that you shouldn’t try. And that’s the biggest challenge for me, is to make sure that these kids do the right things and that this team does the right things because eventually it’s going to help.”

I know two wins in your first 20 games isn’t how you drew it up, but what are some of the improvements you’ve seen in your team since the start of the season?

“Well, some of the top teams we’ve played (against), where it’s 2-2 with five minutes left. We look at the scoresheet at the end of the game and they had 15 chances, we had 15. So we’re playing even up for 45-50 minutes, but it’s that 10 minutes where we lose the game because of consistency or the other team just has great players, too. It’s something that we have to learn to play 60 minutes. It’s hard to win in this league and it’s hard to play the right way for 60 minutes, and that’s what we have to learn here. It’s about mindset.”

I think everyone knew Clayton Keller was a skilled player, but how surprised are you to you to see him play close to a point-per-game pace 20 games into the season?

“Yea, he’s been really good. What marvels me is that he’s a 19-year-old kid. He’s only going to get stronger, and he’s going against top players against other teams and how he’s coming out of the corners with pucks. He’s got the puck on his stick and he’s making plays. That’s what’s really been surprising to me.

“I didn’t know he was going to be this good this quick. The arrow is just pointing (up), he’s only going to get better. The only thing I keep teaching him is don’t get frustrated. Because when you lose and you’re not getting points-the last couple of games he hasn’t gotten points- you get frustrated, and I don’t what that frustration to affect his game.”

Everyone sees the offensive ability in his game, but is there something he does that flies under-the-radar a little bit?

His poise in the corners. As a small guy, sometimes you think ‘ah, he’s not a good corner guy,’ but when he gets in the corners somehow he has elusiveness. Like, he gets out of the corners with the puck, he doesn’t just throw pucks away, he’s not scared. He’s been going in the corners with some really good defensemen and I think he’s done a nice job coming out of it, making a play. He doesn’t throw pucks away.

“Usually, young guys when they first come up they get the puck, they throw it away. They don’t realize how much more time they have sometimes. I think he’s exceeded that for me.”

How have you changed from when you were the head coach in Tampa Bay (2008-2010)?

“I think I’m more decisive. You have to tweak your lineup, you have to tweak certain concepts, but I’m totally different. I know the way I want to play, I’m not going to change (it), I know it’s successful. I know the certain players that I want and the team I want to become.

“In Tampa, I think I listened outside too much to other people. Obviously, you have to listen to the people in your organization, but I know this is the way I want to play and I’m very decisive about it.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Blind hockey is ‘the greatest thing ever’

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–Marissa Brandt was born in South Korea, but she was adopted by an American family when she was just four years old. Now, she’ll be representing South Korea at the upcoming winter Olympics What a journey! (Sports Illustrated)

–Offensive numbers have increased this season, but there isn’t a clear reason for that. The Sporting News’ Andrew Berkshire believes it could have something to do with defensive systems reaching their limit. (Sporting News)

–It wasn’t easy for Lightning fans to see the team trade Ben Bishop away last season. It clearly ended up being the right choice because Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of remarkable. (Tampa Times)

Jaden Schwartz is one of the funny guys in the Blues locker room, but he’s also dealt with his share of tragedies. A few years ago, his sister, Mandi, died, and that was obviously a difficult time in his life. Schwartz thinks of her every day and he continues to live out their hockey dream. (ESPN)

–The Coyotes have been the worst team in the NHL this season. As if that’s not enough, now they’re being accused of not paying employees enough, spying on their workers, and firing people for bringing up concerns over their pay. (AZCentral.com)

–Now that the three-way trade between the Sens, Preds and Avs is nearly two weeks old, Adam Gretz looks at the impact each part of the deal has had an on their respective club. (Fanragsports.com)

–Canucksarmy.com has had enough of the “stats vs. eye test” debate. “The thing is, hockey analytics is an evidence-based endeavour, and by definition, that means that there is plenty of evidence out there to back up its claims. How often do you see people that denounce the predictability of hockey analytics back up their claims with evidence?” (Canucksarmy.com)

–Blueseatblogs.com explains why yelling “shoot the puck” isn’t always the best solution. After all, passes that cross the slot line have a much higher chance of going into the net. (Blueseatblogs.com)

–You’re probably familiar with the term “putting money on the board”. If you’re not, it basically means that players or coaches offer money to teammate(s) if they win a game against a former team. It could be one reason why the Golden Knights have been so good this year. (Sinbin.Vegas)

–Here’s a nice story out of Connecticut, where hockey for the blind has arrived. “In the 13 years since I’ve been blind, it’s the most freedom I’ve felt,” Jim Sadecki said. (Fox61.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.