Corey Perry

Five Q’s: Red Wings-Ducks series preview

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1. How much will the Wings miss Nicklas Lidstrom?

The question they’ve been asking all season. In the past, the Red Wings have been able to find ways to overcome the retirement or departure of a superstar player, but the salary cap era is making that increasingly difficult. Granted, there is no replacement for Lidstrom, but that doesn’t change the fact that Detroit’s defense remains one of its big question marks heading into this series. Coach Mike Babcock has liked what he’s seen lately from his blue-liners, but playoff pressure can produce a different story.

2. Are the Ducks for real?

It was never a question of top-end talent for Anaheim; it was one of depth. Forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan largely lived up to expectations this season, but they were complimented by forwards like Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri, and Saku Koivu. In 2011-12, the Ducks’ top three goal-scorers (Perry, Ryan, and Teemu Selanne) accounted for nearly half of the team’s total goals. This season, the offense has been spread around more. But is Anaheim’s success sustainable? Early on, they were getting great goaltending and scoring on a high percentage of their shots. Lately, they haven’t been so lucky, finishing the season with an 8-9-2 record in their last 19 games.

3. Can Johan Franzen stay hot?

After Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ biggest offensive weapon is the 33-year-old Franzen. When Detroit needed him most this season, he stepped up, scoring seven goals and 13 points in his last 13 games. If Franzen can carry that hot streak into the postseason, the Ducks’ Cinderella story might come to an abrupt end. To an extent, history is on Detroit’s side in this regard. Franzen first made a name for himself thanks to his breakout performance during the Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup-winning run. He then averaged more than a point-per-game over the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. However, Franzen was largely a non-factor in 2011 and 2012 and, due in part to that, Detroit didn’t last long either of those years.

4. Hiller or Fasth?

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has been dancing around the question of who will start in Game 1. Goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth both had superb seasons. While Fasth has the marginally superior numbers, Hiller has far more NHL experience. How much Hiller’s experience counts for is perhaps a tad debatable, especially seeing as he hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2009; but still, it was just a year ago that Fasth was playing in the Swedish Elite League. Regardless of who Boudreau picks, that netminder will likely be on a tight leash. If either one falters, his counterpart will likely be given an opportunity.

5. Can Babcock pull it off again?

In 2003, the Detroit Red Wings were a superpower, fresh off of a dominant regular season, as well as a Stanley Cup title in 2002. Then they ran into the seventh-seed Anaheim Ducks in the first round and lost. In four games. Now recall that Mike Babcock was the rookie bench boss leading the Ducks past their mighty foe. We’re not sure if the Wings are quite the underdogs the Ducks were back then, but Babcock’s certainly faced his share of challenges this season. If he can get his team to the second round, it will be another job well done for one of the league’s best head coaches.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 22: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his first period goal against Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.

Another defenseman down: Niskanen won’t return for Caps tonight (Video)

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Uh oh.

There are only three games on the docket for Wednesday, but injuries are a factor in all of them. The Washington Capitals must now worry about underrated defenseman Matt Niskanen after he left tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.

Niskanen took a shift to end the second period, only not to return, much like Andrej Sekera did in tonight’s Edmonton Oilers game.

The Capitals blueliner got hurt after falling awkwardly following a collision with Radko Gudas, as you can see from the video above.