In praise of Mike Babcock

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He wasn’t a finalist for coach of the year, but Mike Babcock is earning no shortage of admiration these days.

A couple of stories for your reading pleasure…

—- Yahoo!’s Nick Cotsonika has a great piece on the Red Wings’ head coach. (Young defenseman Brendan Smith: “I think I’m still trying to win him over. It’s something that you have to do day in and day out. He’s watching and judging at all times. He demands a lot out of us.”)

—- Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole wrote recently about Babcock’s evolution as a head coach. (Babcock: “Our coaching staff understands totally that to be the best you can possibly be, you’ve got to maximize each day and continue to get better and grow. There’s no better example than Scotty Bowman, always changing, that’s what you have to do. I’m fortunate to coach the Red Wings, got a good group of people who’ve been coachable and worked hard, we’ve tried to help them, we’re all in it together and we’re having fun.”)

If the Red Wings end up knocking off the heavily favored Blackhawks (Detroit leads the series, 2-1), the broadcasters who vote on the Jack Adams Award might be tempted to demand a redo.

Babcock says that this year has been “the most fun I’ve had coaching in a couple of years, by far,” which suggests the 50-year-old loves a challenge. Because as much as some Red Wings fans may be tired of hearing that Nicklas Lidstrom is no longer with the team, adjusting to life without one of the greatest defensemen of all time is right up there on the list of tough challenges for a head coach.

Game 4 of the Detroit-Chicago series goes Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores a most unusual breakaway goal (Video)

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning, Bruins try to move on to Round 2

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Game 5: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-1)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Gord Miller, Joe Micheletti
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
NBC/NBCSN*
Call: Chris Cuthbert, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream

Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream

*Regionalized coverage – Florida markets and WNBC in New York metro area will air NJ-TB on NBC and CBJ-WSH on NBCSN; all other markets will receive CBJ-WSH on NBC and NJ-TB on NBCSN

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Boyle, Luongo, Staal are 2018 Masterton Trophy Finalists

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes have been named finalists for the 2017-18 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association is given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

PHWA chapters in each NHL market nominate a player for the award each year and the top three vote-getters are then designated as finalists.

The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Brian Boyle’s story – via the NHL:

Before Boyle set foot on the ice as a New Jersey Devil, he faced his biggest test. At the start of training camp the 33-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer. He worked his way back into the lineup by Nov. 1 and notched 10 goals over his first 25 games, including a memorable goal on the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Prudential Center, a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Nov. 24. Boyle missed just three games after his season debut and represented the Devils at the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. While handling his own illness, his family and his career, Boyle has approached every day with the same optimistic attitude and perseverance that has inspired and lifted the Devils’ locker room.

Roberto Luongo’s story – via the NHL:

Luongo, 39, overcame hand and groin injuries during the season and backstopped the Panthers’ drive for an Eastern Conference Playoff berth. Sidelined by injury since early December, the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts and appearances returned on Feb. 17 to help the Panthers defeat Calgary 6-3 and ignite a Florida rally in the East’s Wild Card race. In a 13-game span, Luongo went 9-3-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .928 SV%. On Feb. 22, Luongo delivered a heartfelt, unscripted speech to the crowd at BB&T Center prior to Florida’s game against Washington. The 12-year resident of nearby Parkland, Fla., addressed the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during the Panthers’ pregame ceremony to honor the victims.

Jordan Staal’s story – via the NHL: 

Showing leadership and strength amidst a family tragedy, Staal was a key component of the Hurricanes throughout the season. In late February, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced their daughter, Hannah, was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect previously diagnosed by doctors. Staal, who had assumed a bigger leadership role with the young Hurricanes by being named co-captain before the season, missed just three games following the tragedy. He registered 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 79 games, the second-highest goal and point totals in his six seasons with Carolina. The 29-year-old skated in his 800th NHL game on Dec. 27 against Montreal and scored his 200th goal on Jan. 12 against Washington.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Calder Trophy (Sunday)
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy


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

Kings shift focus to extending Doughty, addressing offense

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Kings believe they are still Stanley Cup contenders, even after being swept by the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. How close they are to that goal might be reflected in how negotiations go with defenseman Drew Doughty this summer.

General manager Rob Blake said Friday that working out a contract extension with Doughty is the team’s top priority. The Kings and Doughty can begin holding talks on July 1, with his current deal set to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

“I always wanted to be an LA King and I want to stay an LA King,” Doughty said.

Doughty is one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy presented to the league’s top defenseman after winning it in 2016. He had 10 goals and 50 assists in his most productive NHL season yet, but Doughty believes he can still improve his scoring output.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“I wasn’t too happy with my goal totals this year,” Doughty said. “I think I only maybe scored one or two one-timer goals, which in my career probably half of my goals are one-timer goals, so I was pretty disappointed about that this year. I can definitely improve on that and have an even better season and hopefully set some new career-highs.”

The Kings scored just three goals in four games against the Golden Knights. Developing a more reliable offense is the one glaring weakness that needs be addressed, and lifting the Stanley Cup for the third time is a reasonable goal provided it gets solved going into next season.

“Everybody is still here that was here in ’14 and almost in ’12 for that matter, too, so we’re not that far off,” center Anze Kopitar said. “It’s going to take a lot of work, yes, but we’re not far off.”

CAREER YEARS

Kopitar set personal bests with 35 goals and 57 assists while averaging a career-high 22:05 of playing time. His 92 points represented a 40-point improvement over his lackluster 2016-17, leading Kopitar to joke he is “aging like wine.” Dustin Brown had 61 points to top his previous high of 60 set in 2007-08, his fourth season in the league. Doughty broke free with 60 points after reaching the 50-point plateau once in the previous seven seasons. Doughty’s usual defensive partner, Jake Muzzin, had 42 points. Even depth forward Trevor Lewis got into the act with 26 points and 14 goals in his most productive campaign.

FORWARD THINKING

Rookie Adrian Kempe was fourth on the team with 16 goals despite not finding the back of the net in the final 29 games of the regular season. Stepping in at center when Jeff Carter missed 55 games following surgery to repair a cut tendon in his ankle, Kempe showed a surprising toughness to go along with his natural quickness. If Kempe can continue to develop, he could decrease the reliance on Kopitar, who will be 31 when next season starts, and the 33-year-old Carter.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll be the first one to tell you he can offer more, and that’s a learning process,” Kopitar said. “That’s his first full year in the league. Speaking from experience, it takes a little bit of time to figure out your routines and what’s working for you and what’s not.”

LOOKING FOR DEPTH

Short of dealing in the offseason, the Kings should return essentially the same roster next season. Speedy forward Tobias Rieder is a restricted free agent, and Torrey Mitchell is an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old Rieder showed some chemistry with Carter, posting four goals and two assists in 20 games. Defensemen Christian Folin and Kevin Gravel are both unrestricted free agents.

HOME IMPROVEMENT NEEDED

The Kings went 23-15-3 at home, the second-fewest wins by a playoff team. It seemed like they were getting better as the season went on, going 9-4-0 down the stretch, only to lose both home playoff games and fall to 0-5 at Staples Center in their last two postseasons. Their 118 goals at home in the regular season was tied for 21st in the NHL. The power play contributed 25 percent of that output, underscoring the need for 5-on-5 improvement.

COMING ATTRACTION

Clearly in need of more contributors on offense, center Gabriel Vilardi could be an option for the Kings next season. Selected No. 11 overall in the 2017 draft, Vilardi has been a force in the OHL playoffs with 11 goals and nine assists in his first 12 postseason games. Vilardi also has the size and 200-foot game that fit a Kings team that still emphasizes defense.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey