The Morning Skate: Will Kings capitalize on no Keith?

A quick look at the Western Conference finals and notes from the amazing double-OT win by the Bruins last night.

Game 4: #1 Chicago Blackhawks at #5 Los Angeles Kings, 9 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Blackhawks lead series, 2-1

The Kings will look to knot the Western Conference Final at two games apiece and maintain their home-ice perfection this postseason (8-0) when they host the Blackhawks in Game 4 at Staples Center tonight.

The Blackhawks will be without 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who was suspended for Game 4 for high-sticking the Kings’ Jeff Carter in the face. Keith will miss his first-career postseason game. The replacement for the solid, two-way defenseman has not been determined, but it figures to be the defensive-oriented Sheldon Brookbank or the puck-moving rookie, Ryan Stanton. The loss will be felt for a team that only got 20 shots on goal – and a single goal (Bryan Bickell) – in their 3-1 loss in Game 3.

Jonathan Quick, who stopped 19 shots in the Kings’ in Game 3, has been spectacular at home this postseason. He has a 1.13 goals-against average, with a .957 save percentage (201-of-210) and three shutouts, even better than the marks he put up at Staples Center during his Conn Smythe Trophy postseason of a year ago: 1.34 GAA, .945 save% (206-of-218) and two shutouts.

Mike Richards skated with the extras on Wednesday, and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury (concussion). Carter will play after getting 20 stitches on the inside and outside of his mouth, a chipped tooth and a couple of cracked teeth in the meeting with Keith’s stick.

SUSPENSIONS, THIS POSTSEASON

Player Team Suspension Replacement(s) Result(s)
Andrew Ference Bruins ECQF, Gm 2 (check to head) Dougie Hamilton Lost G2
Eric Gryba Senators ECQF, Gms 2&3 (check to head) Andre Benoit Lost G2, won G3
Justin Abdelkader Red Wings WCQF, Gms 4&5 (charging) Mikael Samuelsson Won G4, lost G5
Raffi Torres Sharks entire WCSF (hit to the head) several players Lost series in 7
Duncan Keith Blackhawks WCF, Gm 4 (high sticking) TBD TBD

ECQF = Eastern Conference Quarterfinals                    WCQF/WCSF/WCF = Western Conference Quarterfinals/Semifinals/Final

WHO ON EARTH IS … MARCUS KRÜGER?

In his third NHL postseason, Marcus Krüger has two goals, but the fourth-line center’s true value has been recognized with key shifts on the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that has a league-leading 96.2% (51-for-53) success rate. In 15 games, Krüger has played a total of 50:21 with the man-disadvantage, the second-most in the league, behind only teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson.

This week, Krüger is of one of two regional cover athletes for the June 10 issue of Sports Illustrated. (Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is the other.)  The cover shows the Stockholm, Sweden native upending the Kings rookie Tyler Toffoli, one of his eight hits this postseason. Rather than concern himself with the “SI Cover Jinx,” though, the 22-year-old pivot should try to work on his faceoff skills. He is only 46-for-128 (35.9%) at the dot, worst among all skaters with at least 120 attempts, including 18-for-63 (28.6%) when the Hawks are short-handed. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal series vs. the Red Wings, he went zero-for-11, the worst “oh-fer” since the Red Wings’ Igor Larionov went zero-for-12 in 2000.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 2, Pittsburgh 1, 2OT – Bruins lead series, 3-0

Player Teams Points Games Cups
Wayne Gretzky Oilers/Kings/Blues/Rangers 382 208 4
Mark Messier Oilers/Rangers 295 236 6
Jari Kurri Oilers/Kings/Rangers/Ducks/Avalanche 233 233 5
Glenn Anderson Oilers/Leafs/Rangers/Blues 214 225 6
Paul Coffey Oilers/Penguins/Kings/Wings/Flyers/Canes 196 194 4
Jaromir Jagr Penguins/Capitals/Rangers/Flyers/Bruins 196 195 2

According to an ESPN report, Bruins fourth-line center Gregory Campbell suffered a broken right leg while blocking a Evgeni Malkin slapshot in the second period, and will miss the remainder of the season.

The Bruins can close out the series sweep in Boston on Friday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Penguins haven’t been swept in a best-of-seven series since 1979, when the Bruins eliminated them in the NHL quarterfinals. On the Pens’ roster was Colin Campbell, father of the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell.

LINKS

The Predators built the NHL’s best defense, and it is going to be around for a while

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The Nashville Predators are preparing to play in their first Stanley Cup Final after marching through the Western Conference playoffs.

Their appearance in this year’s Final is being looked at as a little bit of a surprise because of their place in the standings among the NHL’s playoff teams (16th out of 16 during the regular season) but this was still a team that was looked at before the season as a legitimate contender. They had a disappointing first half that kind poured some cold water on the preseason hype, but since starting 17-16-7 the Predators have put together a rather dominating 36-17-5 stretch (playoffs included) since the first week of January.

They have a defensive unit that rivals any other in the NHL to thank for a lot of that success.

The addition of P.K. Subban over the summer to a group that already included Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm has given the Predators one of the most dominant top-four groupings in the league, and they all perfectly fit the modern NHL game.

They can call skate at a high level, they can all move the puck, they can all contribute offensively. And they can all play major minutes.

Through the first three rounds of the playoffs coach Peter Laviolette has leaned heavily on that quartet, giving each of them an average of 23 minutes of ice-time per game, meaning that just about every time you look at the TV one of those four players is going to be patrolling the ice. Last week I looked at the ice-time distribution of Nashville’s Stanley Cup final opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and how injuries (specifically the one to Kris Letang) has forced coach Mike Sullivan to take a defense by committee approach where all six defenders on a given night are getting almost the exact same ice-time. Each one plays roughly 30-35 percent of the game in what is a rather unconventional approach for a Stanley Cup Finalist.

In Nashville, it is a little different with each of the top-four playing more than 40 percent of the game, while the bottom pairing of Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin (two solid defensemen in their own right) are only playing about 20 percent of the game … or an average of about 11 minutes per game.

Following their Game 7 win against the Ottawa Senators, Penguins forward Chris Kunitz referred to Nashville’s defense as having “four Erik Karlssons,” and while that might be a little bit of an exaggeration (Karlsson is the NHL’s best defenseman and there probably are not four other defensemen in the league even close to him) it is at least telling as to how much respect this unit has around the league and how good they are.

But what should be a terrifying thought for the rest of the Western Conference is that this unit is going to be around for quite a while and still in the prime of their careers

When looking at the top-four, Subban is the “old man” of the group currently at age 28. They are also all signed for at least two more seasons beyond this one at a combined cap hit of just a little over $19 million per season.

That is a group that contains two of the top-six offensive defensemen in the league (Subban and Josi) over the past three seasons and two of the best shot suppression defensemen (Ekholm and Ellis) over the same stretch (out of more than 250 defensemen to play at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey since 2014-15, Ekholm is seventh in shot attempts against per 60 minutes; Ellis is 45th).

When you combine their ability with the fact that quartet has an average age of just 26.7 years old it is an incredible bargain against the salary cap.

They are backbone of this team, and a big reason why no matter what happens over the next weeks on the ice the Predators should be a formidable contender in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

Here are your officials for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final

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The NHL has announced its officials for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

They are as follows…

Referees: Wes McCauley, Brad Meier, Dan O’Halloran, Kevin Pollock

Linesmen: Scott Cherrey, Shane Heyer, Brad Kovalchik, Brian Murphy

Overall it’s a pretty experienced group of officials as O’Halloran, Pollock and Meier are among the eight most experienced officials the NHL has in terms of games called in their careers.

McCauley is near the top of the NHL in terms of penalties called per game, while Pollock is near the bottom of the league and seems to fit more into the “let them play” style of officiating. O’Halloran and Meier are not much higher, so you probably should not expect this to turn into a special teams series.

Of course, no matter who the referees are, by the end of Game 2 most of the coaches, players and fans from each side will probably not be happy with any of them.

All referee data via Scouting The Refs

 

Blackhawks sign Michal Kempny to one-year contract

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The Chicago Blackhawks announced on Saturday morning that they have signed defenseman Michael Kempny to a one-year contract that will cover the 2017-18 season.

The 26-year-old Kempny was a restricted free agent this summer. Financial terms of the deal are not yet known.

During the 2016-17 season, Kempny’s first in the NHL, he appeared in 62 games for the Blackhawks and scored two goals to go with eight assists.

With Kempny added back into the mix for next season the Blackhawks now have seven defensemen under contract as Kempny joins Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Gustav Forsling, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival.

Veterans Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

 

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.