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News & Notes: Blackhawks’ power-play issues and Rask vs. Thomas

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News and notes entering Monday’s Stanley Cup Final. More overtime on the way?

Game 3: Chicago Blackhawks at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (watch on NBCSN and live online) – Series tied, 1-1

The Bruins and Blackhawks stopped an eight-year streak of one team taking the first two games by splitting Games 1 & 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Chicago. Tonight, the scene changes to the TD Garden in Boston, where the Bruins have won six straight since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series vs. Toronto.

In the 26th overtime game of this postseason (two shy of the NHL single-season record), Daniel Paille’s goal 13:48 into overtime helped the Bruins become the first road team in ten games (since the first round) to win in OT. It gave Paille his second game-winning goal of the playoffs, matching his total from his last 246 regular-season games, and punctuated an impressive performance by the Bruins’ reconstructed line of Paille – Chris Kelly – Tyler Seguin. United after a first period in which the Blackhawks outshot the Bruins, 19-4, the trio played a part in both Bruins goals, while combining for seven shots on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford and using their speed to force two registered takeaways and several other Chicago mistakes.

The third line’s rise came at the right time, as Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton was held without a point for the first time this postseason, and only two shots on goal. Lucic did contribute a game-high ten of the Bruins’ 50 hits in Game 2.

In a series in which neither winning team has led in regulation, the Blackhawks have not lacked scoring chances. Through 185:56 of playing time in two games, they have attempted a staggering 196 shots (compared to 133 for Boston), 97 of which have reached the Bruins goal. In Game 2, the Hawks’ depth showed, as all four forward lines got at least four shots through to Tuukka Rask. However, the team mustered only 15 shots after the first period, none by captain Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, one by Patrick Sharp, and two by Marian Hossa. Toews, the Selke Trophy winner, remains stuck on one goal in 19 games this postseason. While changes to the top lines are possible, head coach Joel Quenneville only hinted that he might insert the more offensive-minded Viktor Stalberg into the lineup in place of Brandon Bollig, whose mishandling of the puck led to Paille’s OT-winner in Game 2. Roster moves should be learned at the morning skate.

Another major area of concern for Chicago is its power-play futility. The Blackhawks have failed to score on 15 straight opportunities with the man advantage, dating back to Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, when Bryan Bickell lit the lamp. Against the Bruins through two games, the Hawks are 0-for-6, with only four shots on goal. Astonishingly, Bickell was on the ice for only 0:13 of 10:43 during those six opportunities.

TIM VS. TUUKKA – BRUINS GOALTENDER COMPARISON

When asked on Sunday to compare his current goaltender, Tuukka Rask, with the goalie that helped lead his club to the Stanley Cup title two seasons ago, Tim Thomas, Bruins head coach Claude Julien told reporters that “[Tuukka] has been as much a contributor to our team as Tim was two years ago.”

The data would seem to confirm that opinion, with Rask matching Thomas both at home and overall:

Tim Thomas (2011):

  • 16-9, 1.98 GAA, .940 save %, 4 shutouts (named Conn Smythe Trophy winner)
  • at TD Garden: 10-3, 1.78 GAA, .945 save %, 2 shutouts

Tuukka Rask (2013):

  • 13-5, 1.73 GAA, .944 save %, 2 shutouts
  • at TD Garden: 7-2, 1.91 GAA, .942 save %, shutout

DID YOU KNOW?

Recent history shows that the road team has fared better in Game 3s when the Final series is deadlocked at one game apiece, winning six of nine since 1989. However, it is interesting to note that when the road team wins Game 3, it later captures the Cup. When the home team wins the third game, it does not finish the deal.

Year Winner of Game 3 Score Opponent Outcome
1989 Montreal 4-3, 2OT (home) Calgary Lost in 6
1991 Minnesota 3-1 (home) Pittsburgh Lost in 6
1993 Montreal 4-3, OT (away) Los Angeles Won in 5
1994 N.Y. Rangers 5-1 (away) Vancouver Won in 7
1999 Dallas 2-1 (away) Buffalo Won in 6
2000 New Jersey 2-1 (away) Dallas Won in 6
2001 Colorado 3-1 (away) New Jersey Won in 7
2002 Detroit 3-2, 3OT (away) Carolina Won in 5
2004 Calgary 3-0 (home) Tampa Bay Lost in 7

This postseason, the Blackhawks are 0-3 in Game 3s, losing at Minnesota, Detroit and Los Angeles. The Bruins are 3-0, winning at Toronto and the N.Y. Rangers and at home vs. Pittsburgh.

DID YOU KNOW?

Of the NHL-leading nine goals that David Krejci (BOS) and Patrick Sharp (CHI) have each scored this postseason, only two of Krejci’s have come at TD Garden, and only two of Sharp’s have come away from the United Center.

LINKS

  • Blackhawks, Bruins showcase the best part of hockey in playoff overtime [National Post]
  • Hockey can be stupid, as Bruins, Blackhawks prove [Sporting News]
  • Mike Milbury on Jaromir Jagr’s game: ‘He’ll pick up the garbage’ [Boston Globe]
  • Tuukka Rask just an ordinary superstar [Globe and Mail]
  • Bruins get physical, cash in checks for win in Game 2 [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Blackhawks entering the belly of the beast [SportsNet]
  • Blackhawks need more than leadership from Jonathan Toews [Globe and Mail]

Desjardins rejects notion the Canucks are playing a ‘passive’ structure

Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Kesler, left, is checked to the ice by Vancouver Canucks' Erik Gudbranson (44) in front of goalie Ryan Miller as Luca Sbisa, right, of Italy, defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columba. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Vancouver Canucks have played 24 games this season. They’ve opened the scoring just six times.

So in 75 percent of their games they’ve trailed 1-0. Of all 30 teams in the NHL, no team has trailed 1-0 in a higher percentage of its games. Colorado (73%) and Ottawa (71%) are close, but Vancouver leads the way. And that’s not a category any team wants to lead.

So what’s the problem? Why all the slow starts? One theory — beyond the simple explanation that the Canucks just aren’t very good — involves their much-ballyhooed defensive structure. Is it possible it’s too defensive? Too passive? Too much waiting for the other team to make a mistake, and not enough getting after it?

Because in last night’s 3-1 loss to Anaheim, the Canucks didn’t register their first shot until halfway through the first period. The Ducks didn’t open the scoring until the second, but they had their chances. The Canucks had practically none, until they were losing that is.

After the game, head coach Willie Desjardins refused to blame the structure for the slow start.

“There’s nothing passive about our defense,” he said. “I don’t think we moved the puck great. I don’t think we were transitioning it real well. Our team has to be a transition team. We’ve got to turn pucks over, we’ve got to transition, and we’ve got to get to the net.”

The Canucks, to be fair, were missing two of their best defensemen in Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and that meant bigger minutes for the likes of Luca Sbisa, who was charged with three giveaways on the night.

So Desjardins wasn’t necessarily wrong in his assessment. The Canucks did have all sorts of trouble breaking through the Ducks’ forecheck, especially in the first period.

“They took charge of that game. They had segments of the game when they were in our end,” said the coach. “The one thing that will happen if a team’s in your end, they’ll wear you down, so every time you come out you’re changing, and then you’re in a bad cycle.”

For the Canucks, the first period was one long, bad cycle.

Sbisa, for his part, couldn’t say why the Canucks came out of the gates so tentatively, but he did concede it was a “very disappointing” loss.

“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “We didn’t have that jump, that intensity that you need, especially against the Ducks, a big, heavy team. You’ve got to be ready to battle.”

The Canucks better be a lot more ready to battle Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs pay a visit to Rogers Arena. The Leafs smoked them, 6-3, in their last meeting on Nov. 5 at Air Canada Centre.

Related: Gudbranson threatened Martin in a ‘fit of rage,’ didn’t really mean what he said

 

Boudreau: Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Calgary will face Minnesota tonight, for the first time since losing Johnny Gaudreau to a broken finger in a 1-0 win over the Wild on Nov. 15.

Much has transpired since.

The Flames were pretty upset about all the slashes Gaudreau took that night, and spoke candidly (and often!) about it. That, in turn, led to Bruce Boudreau offering up the following on Friday:

According to Calgary GM Brad Treliving, a third-period slash by Eric Staal was the one that did the damage, breaking Gaudreau’s finger and leading to corrective surgery, which sidelined him for six weeks.

The Slashgate conversation lasted for a while. Treliving acknowledged he later spoke with NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom about the club’s frustration regarding the incident.

“When you look at that game, it wasn’t the first one,” he said, per the Calgary Sun. “This wasn’t a unicorn that popped up in the middle of a period. By our count there were 11 chops on (Gaudreau) in the game.

“Two, three, four, I got it, but maybe at nine we dial it in a bit.”

In related news, the Wild have recalled 6-foot-4, 211-pound tough guy Kurtis Gabriel for tonight’s game, and it looks as though he could be making his season debut.

What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist (72) can't get to a rebound off Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi with Julius Honka (6) defending during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene Puskar)
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The Dallas Stars are the worst defensive team in the NHL.

That’s just a fact. The Stars are surrendering 3.40 goals per game, and no team has a higher goals-against than that. Philadelphia’s next at 3.20, followed by Arizona at 3.14. The best is San Jose at 2.08.

Last night, the Stars fell 6-2 in Pittsburgh. With the loss, their record dropped to 9-10-6. They are now one point back of Nashville for the final wild-card spot, and the Predators have three games in hand.

What has happened to last year’s Stars?

Well, it would be easy to point at Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen and blame the goalies for everything. Those two haven’t been great this season, and that’s an understatement. Niemi has a .902 save percentage; Lehtonen’s is .885. For all the good work Jim Nill has done as general manager, he has botched the one position a GM absolutely cannot botch.

But outside of Dallas, far too little attention has been paid to the big changes in another part of the Stars’ lineup. This offseason, Alex Goligoski left for Arizona and Jason Demers signed in Florida. Those two veteran defensemen played the first- and fourth-most minutes for the Stars last season, and a team does not lose a pair of top-four defenseman and just keep going like nothing happened.

The Stars did sign Dan Hamhuis in free agency, but he’s struggled in a new setting. John Klingberg, their top defender, has also had a tough start.

Last night, with Johnny Oduya out injured, the Stars were forced to play the defending Stanley Cup champs with three rookies on defense: Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, and Julius HonkaThe other three were Klingberg, Hamhuis, and Jamie Oleksiak, the latter of whom has played fewer than 100 NHL games. Patrik Nemeth was a healthy scratch. He’s inexperienced too. 

“We all take pride in here, and that’s just not good enough. It’s frustrating,” said forward Tyler Seguin., per the Stars’ website. “We have to dig deep. We’re not digging deep enough right now. From our best players to everybody, we have to dig deeper, especially in those big moments and find ways to win hockey games.”

Seguin is still producing on offense, with 25 points in 25 games. But he was a minus-2 against the Penguins, and he’s a minus-11 overall. Meanwhile, the Stars’ other top center, Jason Spezza, is a team-worst minus-15; Klingberg is minus-10; captain Jamie Benn is minus-7; and so is Patrick Sharp.

Now, plus-minus can be a misleading stat. On bad teams, good players often have big negatives.

But that’s the thing. It happens on bad teams, and the Stars are not supposed to be a bad team. They are supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders.

So far this season, everything about them says bad team. Bad defensive numbers. Bad goaltending. Bad penalty killing. Bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi, so it’s not bad luck.

Yes, they’ve had injuries. So have lots of teams. The Stars will still have major questions in goal and on the back end when they get healthy.

The big question right now is whether they can recover and still make the playoffs. Because they’re starting to dig a hole, and if it gets much deeper, they’re going to get buried.

Speaking of digging holes, the Stars play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Two bad teams, going at it.

Bad, until they prove otherwise.

Related: Colorado’s core is under heavy scrutiny, yet again

Colorado’s core is under heavy scrutiny, yet again

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: (l-r) Joe Sakic and Alan Hepple of the Colorado Avalanche attend the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Prior to Thursday’s loss to Columbus, Colorado GM Joe Sakic was asked how his core players have performed during an ugly 9-12-1 start to the year — “inconsistent,” he said — and was then asked he had any intention of breaking the core up.

“Not right now, no,” Sakic said, per the Denver Post. “It’s early in the year.

“I have faith in them, but to me, the start is not a core thing — it’s a team thing.”

Not long after Sakic said that, the Avs lost their fourth straight game, putting them on 19 points — tied with Arizona for the fewest in the NHL.

And then, in his first real bit of message-sending, head coach Jared Bednar took the core to task.

“I’m going to say this,” Bednar said in his postgame media availability. “Tonight, I thought our supporting cast did a real good job up front. I didn’t love some of our top guys tonight. Not that they didn’t work hard, but I didn’t love their game as a whole.”

The controversy surrounding Colorado’s core guys dates back to the Patrick Roy era. After missing the playoffs for a second straight year — which he called “unacceptable” — Roy unloaded on his top players in an April radio interview, saying “the core needs to show more leadership.”

“It was like this when I played for Montreal, it was like this when I played for the Avs,” Roy continued. “The core are the ones that have to carry the team. They’re the ones where, when you lose a game, it has to hurt from the inside. You should want more.”

At this point, it’s probably prudent to identify exactly who comprises the Avs’ core. The Post says it’s “generally considered to be six players, now all tied up to long-term contracts.” Six of the longest-term contracts on Colorado’s books belong to Nathan MacKinnon (signed through 2023), Erik Johnson (2023), Gabriel Landeskog (2021), Tyson Barrie (2020), Matt Duchene (2019) and Semyon Varlamov (2019).

Carl Soderberg, signed through 2020, could be seen as the potential seventh member.

Roy clearly wanted to move on from at least some of these guys, and the fact Sakic didn’t was a major reason why Roy abruptly resigned in August. But it wasn’t that Sakic just keep the core intact — he actually strengthened his commitment to it by giving Barrie a four-year extension this summer, at a time when many figured the puck-moving blueliner would be dealt.

In light of that, it’s not really surprising that Sakic came out yesterday and publicly defended his core guys.

He’s sticking to his guns.

For now, anyway.