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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]

Oilers sign defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of Canucks GM Jim

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Matt Benning #5 of the Northeastern Huskies skates against the Boston University Terriers during the first period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament Championship game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Even with Adam Larsson added to the mix, the Edmonton Oilers’ organization is short on right-handed defensemen.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Matthew Benning to make the NHL jump, but the Oilers took a step in the right (right-handed defenseman) direction by signing him to a two-year deal on Saturday.

In case you have some jokes at the ready … yes, Benning is related to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The occasionally lampooned executive is his uncle. His father Brian also enjoyed an NHL career.

*Nervous laugh*

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy views the move as the equivalent to landing a “free draft pick.” It might be a nice perk for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to land Benning being that he was a 2012 sixth-rounder of the Boston Bruins.

McCurdy indicates that Benning, 22, could rank fairly high among the Oilers’ defensive prospects right off the bat, even if scarce options play a role along with whatever the blueliner brings to the table:

This is the fourth free agent signing of an NCAA player by the Oilers this off-season, though the first involving a defenceman. Previously, highly-regarded forward Drake Caggiula had signed along with right winger Patrick Russell and netminder Nick Ellis. All four are in age 22-23 and well-positioned to make an impact on the pro ranks in the near future, even as their NHL potential is an open book. But collectively they add some meat on the bones of a franchise whose organizational depth has been questionable. 

Interestingly, McCurdy notes that the Canucks were in the running for Benning’s services.

(Waits for a few more Jim Benning jokes.)

Seems like the Northeastern University product received a decent deal, relatively speaking:

Flames management enjoys a rare luxury: a clean slate

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames address the media before the trade deadline prior to the team's NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

During the waning days of the Jarome Iginla/Miikka Kiprusoff years, the Calgary Flames ranked as one of the worst things a sports team could be: both expensive and uninspiring.

There were a lot of bloated contracts connected to those days, but when you look at sites like Cap Friendly or General Fanager, the slate looks a lot cleaner heading into 2016-17.

OK, so maybe you could also argue that there are still a few troubling deals to get rid of.

Dennis Wideman‘s $5.25 million salary cap hit, Ladislav Smid‘s $3.5 million mark and Deryk Engelland‘s bewildering $2.917 million cap hit all expire after next season. Chances are, you have an issue with one or maybe all of those deals, so the Flames must be giddy to close in on all that extra breathing room.

And, yes, there are some deals that Flames GM Brad Treliving may regret. Just consider today’s earlier post about Troy Brouwer.

Still, the point is clear: whatever mistakes or strokes of genius that come, at least those moves will be Treliving’s to make.

Consider some of the important calls that await:

  • Such as, how will they sort out Johnny Gaudreau‘s lingering RFA situation this summer?

The easiest path might be to try to convince him to take a deal that is identical to the one Sean Monahan received, but one or both sides likely want something different.

  • Despite bringing in both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the goaltending future beyond 2016-17 is murky for a simple enough reason: neither netminder is signed beyond that point.

Elliott is receiving a bargain $2.5 million and is currently 31. Johnson, 30, barely comes in behind him at $1.7 million. It’s highly likely that Calgary will spend more money on its goalies in 2017-18, but who might be back?

And how much will the Flames need to see from Elliott and/or Johnson before trying to hammer out extensions?

The good news for Flames management is that they’re not saddled with a goaltending decision they might not have made. The scary part is that, if it doesn’t work out, it’s on them … and could cost someone a job.

  • The Flames ultimately have the power to determine who’s a marquee player and who is a part of the supporting cast.

Gaudreau is key, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign a long deal like Monahan or opt for a “bridge” deal. In addition to Monahan, the Flames signed these players to fairly long deals: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brouwer and Michael Frolik.

Yes, you can quibble with Brouwer and maybe another name, but plenty of teams would be jealous of that list overall.

***

Many general managers must navigate minefields of someone else’s mistakes. There are a lot of challenges to the job beyond that, but Treliving & Co. get to make their own.

It’s a luxury that is unlikely to last, but the Flames stand as an interesting team for armchair (and real-life) executives to follow.

Yahoo’s fantasy hockey position tweaks signal end of a very specific era

WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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Few things deepen your hockey geekery quite like playing fantasy hockey.

For sports haters and the sports-oblivious, it’s probably bad enough to see grown adults wearing hockey sweaters out in public. What about when someone is obsessing (and sometimes muttering profanities) about a team that only exists to about 8-15 people?

Still, this is the Internet, where niche obsessions can go really deep. Just fall down a rabbit hole about Star Wars extended universe if you want to get a taste.

Us fantasy hockey nerdy dorks got some understandable but still sad news today: it appears to be an end of an era for Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns being considered eligible as both right wings and defensemen.

NHL.com trotted out a list of changes to Yahoo’s popular format on Saturday, and the tweaks generally make total sense.

It’s a bit of a bummer, though, as being eligible for a forward and defensive position provided another example of the unusual natures of both Byfuglien and Burns. Luckily, there are about 1,000 Exhibits for each, especially true oddball Burns.

(The debate regarding where either player should line up has largely died out, though.)

Another thing of interest in NHL.com’s list is the most prominent players who can be placed in all three forward spots. That could be a good thing to keep handy if you’re the last-minute preparation type:

The six tri-eligible players among NHL.com’s top 200, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Patrick Sharp of the Dallas Stars and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers, have had their eligibilities reduced. Forsberg and Jokinen, who are now only eligible at LW, took the biggest hits from that bunch.

Forwards Robby Fabbri (now C/LW), of the St. Louis Blues, and Sam Reinhart, (now C/RW) of the Sabres, are the two players who have gone from single to dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

Check out the full article here.

Expect steps in right direction, not leaps, from Flames’ new head coach

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

If you’re looking beyond the shaky history of Jack Adams winners and going for a more objective approach, it’s not especially easy to break down the impact of a head coach.

Still, we’ve seen examples where a guy really can make a difference. Mike Sullivan is merely the latest to transform a wobbly team into a champion thanks to some deft maneuvers.

What, then, can the Calgary Flames expect from Glen Gulutzan?

Let’s break down some of the factors involved.

Better goalies, more experienced players

As Flames Nation’s Pat Steinberg notes, Gulutzan’s most immediate advantage of fired Flames head coach Bob Hartley is that Calgary made massive improvements in net.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson both carry promising numbers into this situation. Elliott’s work with the St. Louis Blues, in particular, strikes you as All-Star-level.

Of course, some will attribute a significant portion of Elliott’s success to being in Ken Hitchcock’s system, so it’s up to Gulutzan to provide a more nurturing atmosphere than the one Flames goalies have experienced in recent years.

Modest improvements

Steinberg delved a little deeper than Gulutzan’s two Dallas Stars teams (2011-12 and 2012-13) missing the playoffs and found that they were a middle-of-the-pack squad from a possession standpoint. Nothing spectacular there, but Gulutzan did improve the Stars from its previous station.

Upon being hired, Gulutzan pointed to experience as much as anything else when explaining how he improved.

(Which makes sense since … the Vancouver Canucks didn’t exactly set the world on fire while he was an assistant.)

Solid match for personnel

“Possession has become a popular word,” Gulutzan said after the Flames chose him. “For me, what possession is, it’s not always having the puck, because you don’t have it all the time. What we want to be is a real connected group here. When I say connected, we want to be connected in fives in all three zones. We want to defend fast, we are going to defend fast. We’re going to utilize the assets that we have here. In defending fast, you want to get the puck back fast, you want to get it out of your end.”

That quote could probably be attributed to a number of new hires. It’s plausible that you could swap out Gulutzan’s name with that of Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar.

Even so, the important thing is that Gulutzan is emphasizing key elements of a modern approach. He’s saying the right things about puck possession and wanting to win the transition game.

When you look at the talent assembled in Calgary, particularly on defense, emphasizing speed almost seems obvious.

From Norris-caliber defenseman Mark Giordano to underrated blueliner T.J. Brodie all the way to the talented guys who could use a boost (Dougie Hamilton especially, perhaps Dennis Wideman as well?), the Flames’ defense seems best suited for an attacking style.

The potential drawback is that Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson could be exposed to some extra “high-danger chances” when an attacking style backfires … but the good might outweigh the bad if Gulutzan’s system can stop the possession bleeding.

Tipping point?

The dream scenario for Calgary is that a series of manageable improvements make for a cumulative jump.

Ideally, Gulutzan’s system combines with in-house improvements to young players with a vastly improved set of goalies to transform the Flames into playoff contenders.

In the limited sample size we’ve seen of Calgary’s new head coach, he doesn’t necessarily strike you as a miracle worker. Instead, he’s lauded for the structure he provides and his ability to communicate.

That might be enough for the Flames, especially if they give Gulutzan some time to work through growing pains.