Ryan Miller

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: All those bad teams, starting with the Sabres

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. This week we’re talking bad teams, and whether any of them can turn it around.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I’ve got some great advice for the Buffalo Sabres ahead of tonight’s game on national TV against the B’s. Tell me what you think. Maybe, just maybe, they should try really, really hard as soon as the puck drops. The only reason I suggest this is because standing around not doing anything isn’t working for them.

In all seriousness, did you see the Sabres’ last two games against Vancouver and Colorado? I believe they were out-shot a combined 134-3 in the first period. At home. Their fans deserve a lot better than that. It’s embarrassing.

MORE: Bruins aim to add to Sabres’ suffering tonight on NBCSN

Mike Halford: Yeah, it’s pretty ugly. The Sabres are so awful even their own players are distancing themselves. Did you hear what Ryan Miller said the other day? You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve plucked the key quotes:

“I can only do my part.”
“I’m not going too high or low.”
“I’m not going to worry about it.”
“I’m not going to try to be overly intense.”

This is like that pre-breakup stage of a relationship when you know it’s all but done so you start prepping for the split. All that’s left now is for Miller to start “working late” with a “friend.” But enough about the Sabres, let’s move on to the tire fire in Philadelphia. I now present the complete list of Flyers forwards who have more goals than the Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who it should be noted, is a goalie:

Tye McGinn
Brayden Schenn
END OF LIST.

That’s bad, right?

JB: Bad, yes. Also, pretty shocking. At this rate, is there any way Claude Giroux makes Team Canada and plays in Sochi? With all those great Canadian centers, he’s an easy cut right now for Steve Yzerman.

You know, I have to admit, of all the talent on the Flyers’ roster, I would not have predicted Steve Mason would be their best player after eight games. Without Mason, they’re still winless. He was the first star in their 2-1 triumph (and what a triumph!) over the Panthers, which is their only W so far. That’s right — the Flyers have only won once, over the worst team in the NHL last season, and they didn’t even deserve to win it.

OK, so here’s a question for you. Of all the teams off to awful starts — Buffalo, Philly, Edmonton, Florida, New Jersey and the Rangers — who do you think has the best chance to make the playoffs?

MH: The Rangers, I guess? Remember that, two years ago, New York started with a similarly brutal road trip and only had three wins in their first nine tries. That team made it to the conference final. Now check out the Rangers’ schedule from Dec. 7 to the start of the Olympic break — they play 20 of 30 at MSG. Pretty good opportunity to make up for a lousy start.

I’m glad you mentioned Edmonton, by the way, because I love trade speculation. And of all the struggling teams, the Oilers seem most ready to make a deal. Nail Yakupov’s been a healthy scratch twice, their goaltending remains questionable (even though Devan Dubnyk is playing better recently) and, as others have pointed out, the Mike Brown-to-San Jose trade leaves them with just 48 contracts on the books, suggesting room’s possibly being created for a larger deal.

Pretend you’re Oilers GM Craig MacTavish (quick, put on these stylish glasses) — what would you do?

source: Getty ImagesJB: I sure wouldn’t trade Yakupov for anything less than, well, a heck of a lot. Even if “his team game is really, really poor,” as one scout put it, he also scored 17 goals in 48 NHL games as a teenager. That’s an asset you can’t fritter away. Think of how many teams are desperate for scoring around the league. Think how many would love to generate the buzz that adding a first overall pick would generate.

I do actually think MacTavish should be shopping Yakupov, but not because goaltending was an issue to start the season. Panic moves are dumb. And besides, Dubnyk isn’t the Oilers’ biggest problem. Nor is scoring. Team defense and maintaining consistent puck possession, now those are issues. Lars Eller wasn’t wrong in his assessment; he just maybe shouldn’t have said it publicly.

We haven’t really looked at the Devils yet, so let’s do that before we get back to bloggin’. The way I see it, riding Cory Schneider is the only way they’re going to get back in the race. Sorry Marty, you should be the backup now. We can call you Brodongo!

MH: I’m thinking Luodeur, and as much as I hate banishing Luodeur (see, it’s catchy) to the bench, I do agree — the Devils have to ride Schneider for the foreseeable future. Heck, even Marty agrees they “might as well try to get a little roll going.” (Note: said roll stopped rolling last night in Columbus.)

Problem is, Schneider can’t fix everything himself. The Devils’ defense is not good (though they finally parked Adam Larsson, which is good), they’re getting no production from Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, and Ryane Clowe, their big offseason signing, is still on IR with a head injury.

On the bright side…yeah, I’m having trouble with that one.

Shocking: Tortorella emphasizes ‘mental toughness’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Team USA head coach John Tortorella answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Without any clues, if you had to pick one word to describe what John Tortorella might be looking for, what would it be?

There’s a strong chance many would pick “toughness” (or, OK, maybe a variation such as “grit”) and you’d be right.

After a World Cup of Hockey in which Team USA’s pursuit of toughness bordered, at times, on the comical, Tortorella kept the same themes going with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think that’s the fine line of winning and losing,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “How do you handle yourself in those little situations where it’s, ‘Man, what do (I) give? Or, do (I) give in?’

“I’ve said it from day one, our mental toughness needs to be changed and this is part of the process.”

Specifically, Tortorella was talking about the Blue Jackets going through what the Columbus Dispatch describes as an especially “grueling” practice early on in training camp. But, honestly, it feels like it can be Torts’ request for just about anything hockey-related.

(It would be a refreshing bit of trolling if Tortorella decided to talk about finesse for an entire press conference.)

To some extent, talk of toughness can probably be chalked up to “coach-speak.”

Still, it’s tough not to wonder if the 2016-17 season might serve as a litmus test for Torts’ way of thinking and how it may influence the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even when it’s not Torts making the decisions or at least dishing out the soundbytes, the Blue Jackets seem fixated on intangibles. Consider how GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about character while elaborating on the divisive decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over, say, Jesse Puljujärvi.

For all the blue collar talk, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a cheap team, with the 2016-17 version coming in at a cap hit of about $69 million.

In a multitude of ways, Columbus is paying a premium for intangibles and toughness, with Torts carrying that focus to an extreme. It should be fascinating to see how this all shakes out … even if Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play could ultimately be the real make-or-break factor for the Blue Jackets.

Predators give Laviolette a two-year extension

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Head coach Peter Laviolette speaks to referee Kelly Sutherland #11 during the third period of Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 9, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have been on a roll lately, and keeping Peter Laviolette around seems like it keeps things going in a positive direction.

The team announced a two-year contract extension for Laviolette during Saturday’s State of the Union event.

During his first two seasons behind the bench in Nashville, the Predators have managed two playoff berths, beating the Anaheim Ducks in the first round during this last postseason trip. The Predators have managed to stay competitive in the Central Division, which is no small task.

With P.K. Subban added to the mix, it makes great sense to retain Laviolette’s services. You never know how a situation will work until it plays out, yet on paper, his system seems like a seamless fit for the star defender.

Nashville’s shown some promise already under Laviolette’s watch, particularly in quietly putting up some promising possession stats. At this moment in time, the future looks even brighter.

It can’t hurt that the guy has a Stanley Cup on his resume, either.

Goalie mask tour: Seinfeld references, tributes and more

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Actor Patrick Warburton attends The Apartment VIP Party on June 23, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Hulu)
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As difficult as it is to believe, it’s October already. You know what that means*; hockey season is rapidly approaching.

Along with stories about guys who might still be a little injured claiming they’re “100 percent” and teams carrying in optimism that will eventually look foolish, we also get fun stuff like new goalie masks.

We’d already seen Petr Mrazek pay tribute to Joe Louis Arena a month ago, but with the preseason in high gear, we’re seeing more masks.

While there will likely be some other fun entries before the games start to count in 2016-17, PHT is kindly saving your delicate fingers a few extra clicks by collecting a few choice masks in one post.

To start things off, Michal Neuvirth paid tribute to late Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider:

Michal Neuvirth knew what he wanted on his new Philadelphia Flyers mask. He wanted it transformed into an epic tribute to the one and only, Mr Flyers himself, Ed Snider🙏🏻. Michal and I we brainstormed together and a plan emerged how to create the painting. I just love to create Storyteller masks📕. I wanted this to be truly special❤️. Put a lot of thoughts into every detail. We wanted it to be subtle and clean design that live and breath Flyers in the core. It was an honor to create this piece. On the side is also the wonderful logo of Ed Snider created by fellow artist David E. Wilkinson. In the design you will also just as always find a painting of the castle from Michal's hometown. Thank you Michal, we have worked together for so many years and it always a joy to create your mask paintings😊🎨 Thank you! #neuvirth @philadelphiaflyers #nhl #DaveArt @nhl #DaveArtCreativity #aflyerforever

A photo posted by David Gunnarsson (@davidofdaveart) on

This Miami Herald video shares Roberto Luongo‘s very-cool concept: the old Panthers cat on one side, the new one on the other. Here’s a shot from George Richards:

(Anyone else get a little John Vanbiesbrouck nostalgia from that lid?)

Thankfully, no birds were harmed in the making of Louis Domingue‘s mask, which features Arizona sports figures from Randy Johnson to more obvious Coyotes choices:

Nitpick: Steve Nash’s hair could have been floppier. Just saying.

Finally, hockey and Seinfeld once again mix better than a black-and-white cookie in Scott Wedgewood’s mask, which features a Puddy reference:

If you want more goalie masks, DaveArt.com’s list should keep you entertained for some time.

* – Barring all-too-frequent lockouts.

Malkin is ‘not happy’ with the way he’s been playing lately

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Evgeni Malkin is back in Penguins training camp after a stint with Team Russia at the World Cup.

Malkin and his team reached the tournament’s semifinal before being knocked out by the eventual champions, Team Canada.

The Pens forward collected three points in four games, but he wasn’t satisfied by his overall performance.

“I need to start now,” Malkin said on Saturday, per the Tribune. “I’m not playing great. I’m not happy with my game at the World Cup. I will play better here and now.”

When he’s at his best, Malkin is fully capable of taking over games. That’s easier said than done in a best-on-best tournament, but those are the standards he’s set for himself.

So, what does he have to do to get back to that elite level?

“Play more with the puck. That’s my game always, if I have the puck and I spend more time with the puck. The last four, five games in the World Cup, I tried to use my partners, but my confidence when I play with the puck.”

The 30-year-old dealt with some injuries last year, but still managed to produce 58 points in 57 games during the regular season and 18 points in 23 games during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup playoff run.