Leafs assoc. coach: I was thinking about Round 2 home ice during Boston collapse

39 Comments

Over at Maple Leafs Hot Stove, there’s a terrific and extremely candid interview with Toronto associate coach Greg Cronin, in which he sheds light on his mindset during the Leafs’ Game 7 collapse against Boston in the opening playoff round.

Most interesting? Despite the shift in momentum over the final 10 minutes of the third period — during which Boston erased a 4-1 deficit — Cronin was looking ahead to potential home ice advantage in the second round.

That’s right.

Here’s more, from the Hot Stove:

“If you watch the game over again, watch the last three minutes. Did you know that [Mikhail] Grabovski had the puck in Boston’s zone, behind the net, and they had no goalie in the net? It was 4-2, and there was just around 2 minutes to go in the game.

“I was not in any shape or form worried about being under assault like we were in Game 5. It just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t happening up until that point. We had the puck in their zone, and Grabovski turned the puck over. They came up the ice, [David] Krejci passed it up to [Milan] Lucic, and Lucic skated by our bench. There was about a minute and 45 seconds to go and he dumped the puck in.

“I looked at the clock and I saw the Rangers were beating Washington. This was how comfortable I was. I was thinking, ‘the Rangers won and we’re going to have home ice for the next round of the playoffs.’

“That’s what I thought in my head. I didn’t feel that the Bruins had established any consistent threat. They had some rushes where they came into the zone and dumped it in and had a couple of shots from the boards, but there wasn’t any sustained pressure that when you’re a coach you think, ‘oh boy we’re in trouble.’

“Until Lucic scored the goal.”

Lucic’s goal came with 1:22 left in the contest. Thirty-one seconds later Patrice Bergeron scored the equalizer, then potted the game-winner just 6:05 into overtime.

The comeback, as has been stated on numerous occasions, was truly one for the ages. The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third period, something that Cronin tried to explain.

“I think were were looking at a group of players who had never been in that situation before in their careers,” he said. “Did the pressure get to them?

“I don’t think they’d be human if didn’t.”

Months after falling to Penguins, Capitals work to move past playoff letdown

Getty
12 Comments

Sometimes, when a team falls short in a playoff run, it feels a bit melodramatic to throw around words like “devastation.” In the case of the Washington Capitals falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins – yet again – during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a little melodrama almost seems appropriate.

Still, it’s been months since they couldn’t complete a full rally from a 3-1 deficit, ultimately falling to the Penguins 2-0 in what must have been a deeply frustrating Game 7.

NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti caught up with a number of Capitals to reflect upon the past and look to the future, and while one must credit Nicklas Backstrom and others for saying the right things, you could also tell that the wounds haven’t fully healed just yet.

“I think that when it comes to the playoffs it shouldn’t be about individuals,” he said. “It should be about the team and how we lose as a team. How we acted in Game 7, I think that’s telling everything. They absolutely outplayed us in Game 7 at home. That shouldn’t be the case.”

Personally, it seemed like the Capitals seemed to carry significant chunks of play in that contest before running out of gas. There are fancy charts to back up such thoughts, but Backstrom is right in feeling disappointed. How could he not when he’s experienced setback after setback?

Speaking of setbacks, Capitals such as Evgeny Kuznestov and Dmitry Orlov also emphasized to Gulitti that they believe that this team can still compete in 2017-18.

“I don’t like when people say we’re a bad team right now,” Kuznetsov said to Gulitti during the European Player Media Tour on Thursday. “That’s bull to me. It’s not about the names. It’s about the guys when they come together.”

Some of that is soaked in cliche-speak, but you get the picture. It’s something that PHT and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan both argue to certain degrees: although there have been significant losses, there are also plenty of quality players in the meat of their primes.

The difference in 2017-18 may be that, after a couple years of seemingly having their division/the Presidents’ Trophy locked up weeks before April, this time the Capitals might just need to scrape and claw just like most other teams.

Considering how hard you need to fight to win most playoff series, that might not be such a bad thing for this group.

Just ask them how being the heavy favorites worked out in the past.

Eichel on Sabres: ‘We think we can be a playoff team’

Getty
6 Comments

This deep into the salary cap era, it feels like it’s generally easier to identify which teams are contenders and which teams need to rebuild. Things seem fairly “stratified” in the NHL.

That said, there’s still that murky middle class of teams that could either slip into the cellar or fight their way into the bubble. With a cleaner bill of health, a management shakeup, and some off-season tweaks, the Buffalo Sabres stand as one of those tough teams to peg.

So, some might snicker at Jack Eichel thinking big while discussing the Sabres’ outlook with NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, but the rest of us might not be so sure that he’s totally off the mark.

“We think we can be really good,” Eichel said. “We think we can be a playoff team. That’s what’s important. We have to go into training camp with the right mindset, get the season off and running, put our best foot forward.”

(Hey, for what it’s worth, almost 70 percent of voters in a PHT poll leaned toward Buffalo making the playoffs.)

If the Sabres make a big push, just about everyone expects the 20-year-old to be a central figure in such a turnaround. With Connor McDavid‘s meteoric rise and the Sabres’ struggles in mind, it’s easy for casual fans to forget that Eichel is trending toward stardom in his own right. But he clearly is.

It can’t hurt that Eichel and some other key Sabres are approaching contract years, even if Eichel could very well sign an extension in the near future.

Even if Eichel does, both goalies (Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson) need new contracts, while Evander Kane, Benoit Pouliot, and others also enter seasons that could make a huge impact on their futures in Buffalo or elsewhere.

One would expect at least some improvement in Buffalo, but will the Sabres make the sort of leap that, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs managed in 2016-17?

It’s difficult to say, but Eichel sure seems happy about getting a clean slate.

Under Pressure: Chuck Fletcher

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

The Minnesota Wild have employed two GMs in their history: Doug Risebrough, the franchise’s architect, and Chuck Fletcher, who’s been in charge – somewhat startlingly – since 2009.

In that time, the Wild have spent a lot of money, particularly in landing local stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Even if you dismiss John Torchetti since he was interim head coach, Fletcher’s had plenty of opportunities as far as hiring coaches goes, as the franchise has gone through Todd Richards, Mike Yeo, and now employs Bruce Boudreau.

Fletcher deserves some credit for the fact that the Wild ‘s active playoff streak of five seasons, particularly since they missed the postseason from 2008-09 through 2011-12. Still, this team has peaked with two second-round trips and hasn’t ever won a division title under his watch.

It’s almost become a tradition in Minnesota: whatever happens during the regular season – and it seems, whoever’s behind the bench – the end result is always disappointment … and even so, Fletcher preaches patience.

Still, you wonder how much patience remains above Fletcher, particularly when you consider how Wild owner Craig Leipold regretted the bold move to land Martin Hanzal at the trade deadline.

“In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” said Leipold, per the Minneapolis Tribune. “I supported that decision at the time, and I’m willing to live with it.”

Yeesh, how long is Leipold “willing to live with” Fletcher’s teams falling short of the mark, though? It had to cut deep for Leipold to see his former team, the Nashville Predators, come two wins short of a Stanley Cup before his own team even made a conference final.

(Leipold said he was happy for the Predators … but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t jealous.)

For years, the Wild have produced some mild results on the ice, though Boudreau’s 2016-17 edition finally pushed for something bigger. That underdog status doesn’t parallel the team’s spending, however, and you have to place some of the blame on Fletcher.

After all, the two constants since 2009 have been seasons ending in disappointment and Fletcher being the GM.

There’s a lot of pressure to change that in 2017-18, and that ultimately falls on him.

Fabbri’s on track to be ready by Blues training camp

Leave a comment

Barring setbacks in his continued rehab from an ACL injury that ended his 2016-17 season, Robby Fabbri expects to be ready by St. Louis Blues training camp, according to Chris Pinkert of the Blues website.

The skilled, diminutive 21-year-old saw that scary injury cut his season short in February; you can see the moment in the video above this headline.

Blues trainer Ray Barile understandably feared for the worst when he saw Fabbri go down.

“Initially my thought was he had fractured his ankle,” Barile said. “The way he went into the boards, I thought it was a broken bone. When I got out onto the ice and he told me it was his knee, I got a knot in my stomach.”

Now, Fabbri is on the ice skating vigorously twice per week. There are plenty of positive signs in that regard, although it’s worth noting that he still hasn’t been cleared for full contact. Then again, it is just mid-August.

As yesterday’s salary cap breakdown notes, Fabbri’s at a fork in the road beyond rehabbing that injury, as he’s entering a contract year in 2017-18. Here’s hoping that the lure to earn a new deal doesn’t push him so much that he continues to have problems with his knee going forward, as the high-scorer has already shown potential to convert big numbers at lower levels to production in the NHL.

Pinkert’s feature on Fabbri is well worth your time, so read the full story here.