crosbygetty

Playoffs tonight: Crosby’s back

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The playoff schedule is moving along swiftly and four more games come your way tonight including a pair of teams who faced off last night.

A pair of teams try to shake off tough losses while two more are looking to bounce back after lackluster games. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Islanders up 1-0 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Big story, requires few words: Sidney Crosby is back.

Now, back to our regularly-scheduled previewing.

The Islanders are hoping for better things for themselves tonight. After getting drubbed 5-0 in Game 1, they’ve got some recuperating to do in Game 2. One thing coach Jack Capuano has to get figured out fast is how to free up his top line. John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Brad Boyes combined for just four shots in Game 1. They rely too much on those guys for production to have them be held silent.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, wants more of the same. Their physical play on the Islanders seemed to help their “deer in the headlights” way of playing. When you figure the Pens were able to dominate the way they did without Crosby or Brooks Orpik in the lineup, maybe those guys can just keep practicing until the second round starts.

Hot tip for the Isles: Fix the penalty kill. Pittsburgh was 2-4 on the power play in Game 1.

Game 2: Montreal Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators down 1-0 (7 p.m. ET, CNBC)

Last night’s Game 1 certainly wasn’t lacking in fireworks or controversy. We’ll know of Eric Gryba’s fate after his crushing hit on Lars Eller later this afternoon. Montreal’s got bigger problems than worrying if a third-pair defenseman is going to be punished, however.

The Habs’ biggest issue: Figuring out Craig Anderson. The Ottawa goalie stopped 48 out of 50 shots in last night’s victory including 25 in the second period. If they can’t rattle Anderson and get the Montreal faithful roaring behind him, they’re in trouble. Speaking of trouble, there’s Carey Price.

Price has struggled late this season and those troubles carried over into Game 1 as he gave up three third period goals on the way to the 4-2 loss. He finished the night by blowing off the media after the game and making tonight’s Game 2 a true walking-on-eggshells kind of game. Playoff drama is the best.

Game 2: Chicago Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild up 1-0 (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Chicago would like to make things a little easier on themselves in Game 2. After beating the Wild 2-1 in overtime on Tuesday, things haven’t changed up for either team. Dave Bolland and Ray Emery are still out for Chicago while Jason Pominville and Niklas Backstrom are out for Minnesota. That means both teams know just how to plan for Game 2.

For Chicago, finding a way to knock Josh Harding off his game would go a long way towards making this series a bit less stressful. Harding’s sudden start on Tuesday to replace the injured Backstrom showed a ton of guts making 35 saves in the losing effort. Minnesota’s offense could try to lend him a hand though.

The Wild mustered only 27 shots and went 0-4 on the power play. Finding a way to crack Chicago’s PK would do them a wonder of good. If they can get Zach Parise the room to do things, they’ll be in business. Easier said than done against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Game 2: Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks down 1-0 (10 p.m. ET, CNBC)

No matter what the playoffs seem to center around Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and his efforts in Game 1’s 3-1 loss were noted. The soap opera-like drama surrounding him and the rest of the Canucks has helped pique interest in this series, but he’s going to need his teammates to step up a little bit for him.

San Jose’s Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau were able to get things rolling for them. Given the grief Marleau gets in the playoffs, the Canucks could take that as a bad sign that he had a big hand in the win. We all know Jeremy Roenick will be watching him intently.

Worth paying attention to: How Ryan Kesler does on the wing. He’ll be with Derek Roy and Chris Higgins on the second line. Will playing wing help give him room to spark the offense?

Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

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via Colorado Avalanche
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Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

(If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

(Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

(There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

Waning workhorses

In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

If Price falters

The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

  • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

  • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
  • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

***

Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

 

Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.

With Lehner injured, Enroth will be in Sweden’s goalie mix at World Cup

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 04: Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres and Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators warm up to play at First Niagara Center on October 4, 2013 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Sweden has selected Jhonas Enroth to replace injured goaltender Robin Lehner on its World Cup of Hockey roster.

Lehner was bothered by an ankle injury last season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Lehner had not recovered 100 percent.

Enroth, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden’s roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game.

Enroth started for Sweden at the 2015 world hockey championship.

The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.