The Morning Skate: Can Chicago keep up Quick pressure?

5 Comments

A quick look at the Western Conference finals and notes from Boston’s win over Pittsburgh.

Game 2: #5 Los Angeles Kings at #1 Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online)Blackhawks lead series, 1-0

In Game 1 last night, the Blackhawks learned that perimeter shooting and net-front presence are the key ingredients to beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. Midway through the second period, Patrick Sharp scored off a rebound of a Johnny Oduya slapshot – his league-leading eighth goal of the postseason – and Marian Hossa redirected a Duncan Keith shot from the point less than four minutes later, to lift the Blackhawks past the Kings, 2-1, at the United Center.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville jumbled the top two forward lines before the game, matching the burly Bryan Bickell with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane. The team responded quickly, outshooting the Kings 17-2 in the first period. For the game, the lines each contributed a goal on a combined 17 shots on goal. Look for those lines to remain intact for Game 2.

The Kings, who came in as the top-hitting team in the league, outhit the Blackhawks, 44-38, in Game 1. However, it was the Blackhawks who seemed to have the more effective hits. Mike Richards took a hard check from Dave Bolland in the last two minutes, and did not return for the final rush. Despite not talking with reporters after the game, Richards is not expected to miss any action. Coach Darryl Sutter quipped in his postgame press conference that he saw his second-line center “arguing with a ref” after the hit.

Jarret Stoll returned to the Kings’ lineup for the first time since Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals (upper-body injury), and won 10-of-19 faceoffs.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Kings fell to 1-6 on the road this postseason (lone win: Game 6 in St. Louis), after going 10-1 during last season’s Stanley Cup run. All six losses have been by 2-1 margins. Their last loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final vs. the New Jersey Devils was also by that score.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 3, Pittsburgh 0 (Bruins lead series, 1-0)

David Krejci scored two goals – his sixth and seventh of the postseason – to extend his lead in the NHL scoring race (19 points), and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout, as the Bruins took Game 1 in Pittsburgh, 3-0.

The “HuLK Line” of Nathan HortonMilan Lucic – Krejci continued their torrid scoring pace this postseason, combining for all three goals and three assists. That trio now has 45 points (16 goals), more than each of the the high-flying Penguins’ top two lines, Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPascal Dupuis (34 points, 18 goals) and James NealEvgeni MalkinJarome Iginla (38 points, 14 goals). The Bruins also won 32-of-48 faceoffs (66.7%), led by Patrice Bergeron (10-for-16) and Chris Kelly (9-for-12), while Crosby (6-for-17), Malkin (one-for-six) and Brandon Sutter (three-for-ten) did not fare as well.

After a week off for both teams following five-game conference semifinal wins, the Penguins tried to set the tone on the physical side. However, the rugged dimension didn’t seem to favor the Pens’ style, and after Matt Cooke took a major penalty for a check from behind on Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid early in the second period, they seemed to lose all offensive flow. (They had only 16 shots on goal in the final 28:28.) Malkin showed his frustration, going after Bergeron at center ice at the end of the second period, while Crosby confronted Rask, then got in an extended shouting match with Zdeno Chara.

In the postgame press conference, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he thought his stars should not have let emotions get the better of them: “That’s not something we certainly want to be into. [We] don’t want to make the game that way.  We want to play five-on-five.”

Not only did the Bruins seize home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series. They also snapped an eight-game playoff losing streak to the Penguins. Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

It was the first time in 97 games over exactly 16 months (February 1, 2012 at Toronto) that the Penguins were shut out, and the first time in 75 games (April 27, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay) that they were blanked on home ice.

Sidney Crosby, who was a -2 during 24:21 of ice time, was shadowed by Patrice Bergeron during 14 of 18 even-strength shifts (TSN). The Pens captain, who played without a face guard under his visor for the first time since breaking his jaw on March 30, was also called for interference on Bergeron in the first period, one of two minor penalties on the night.

LINKS

  • Blackhawks will adjust to quick turnaround [CSN Chicago]
  • Kings on a different road than 2012 [L.A. Times]
  • Sidney Crosby says inconsistent officiating “escalated” physical play [NESN]
  • Reformed Matt  Cooke has relapse in Eastern Conference Final opener [CBC]
  • David Krejci keeps piling up points in big games [Boston Herald]
  • Bruins mess with good thing by bringing back Andrew Ference, and it works [Boston Herald]
  • Healthy scratches feel a part of Penguins’ run [Pittsburgh Tribune]

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

Getty
6 Comments

With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

Getty
Leave a comment

National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.