Steve Yzerman, Mike Babcock

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Canada’s chances at Olympic gold, the big ice, no Giroux, and more!

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Every Wednesday (except for the last two weeks), we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so now that all 12 of the Olympic rosters have been announced, who do you like to win gold in Sochi? I’m going completely off the board and picking Canada. I just don’t think Norway has enough depth. (Sorry Norway, truth hurts.) I do, however, think there are two things that could keep Canada from defending its title. First is goaltending, i.e. either Roberto Luongo or Carey Price don’t get the job done, or another country’s goalie catches fires, a la Dominik Hasek in Nagano. Second is what I like to call hockey being hockey. A bounce here, a bounce there. These aren’t seven-game series where there’s time for luck to even out. Put it this way — let’s say Canada has an 80 percent to win each game once it gets to the quarterfinals. (And I think that’s overly high, by the way.) Now do the math — 80 percent times 80 percent times 80 percent equals a 51 percent chance of winning all three and taking gold. You’re lost, aren’t you.

Mike Halford: Not totally lost, just trying to figure out how I ended up with Canada’s gold-medal chances at 512,000 percent. Anyway, I do get what you’re saying — one crazy play and, BOOM, tournament over. Remember Belarus over Sweden in ’02? I don’t know the odds of a 70-foot shot caroming off the goalie’s head and going in for the game-winning goal, but I assume they’re pretty low. Speaking of Sweden, the Tre Kronor are the only team close to having Canada’s “depth of talent” on defense and down the middle. I may even pick them to win gold, with goaltending being the deciding factor. I love Henrik Lundqvist in this kind of one-and-done tourney. Certainly more than I love Luongo or Price.

JB: Um, have you watched Lundqvist play this year? Something’s not right there. Otherwise I agree the Swedes have a good chance at gold, if it’s not Canada. After those two countries, I like the Americans next, then I guess the Russians. Though I might actually put the Finns and their goaltending ahead of the Russians and their star forwards. We talked about this before; I still can’t get past all the non-NHLers on Russia’s roster. Maybe I’m under-estimating the quality of the KHL? Maybe Brandon Bochenski, currently fourth in scoring in that league, is actually really good? Maybe Kyle Wilson and Nigel Dawes are really good too? All I know is it’s going to be fascinating to see how the hosts do. I think their story will be by far the most compelling to follow, win or lose. This is THE tournament for Russian stars like Alex Ovechkin. And something tells me Vladimir Putin isn’t the type to accept an excuse along the lines of, “Well, we were a bit thin on the blue line.”

source:  MH: I kinda hope Putin plays a role in the tournament, somehow. International hockey has really missed the political angle since the Cold War ended. I mean, would it be too much to ask for the FSB (successor to the KGB) to bug the Canadian dressing room? Not sure what they’d find out — “Mr. Putin, we’ve learned the Canadians intend to work hard, support the puck, and play a solid 200-foot game” — but I’d appreciate the extra effort. Anyway, let’s change the subject (before we get in trouble), because I want to talk about the snubs. Specifically, Claude Giroux. Bad enough for Flyers fans that he got left off, but then Team Canada selects Chris Kunitz? As you so eloquently put it on Twitter, that was like the apocalypse for the PHT comments section. So, question: Do you blame Canada for snubbing Giroux? For as good as he was in December, he coasted through the first two months and, lest we forget, blew off the summer orientation camp. You don’t just blow off Hockey Canada and think it’s going to forget about it. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, CLAUDE GIROUX?

JB: OK, first of all, I despise the word “snub” when it comes to situations like this. It’s not a “snub” that Giroux was left off the team. It was a decision. Will Canada regret it? Maybe, if they have trouble scoring. But I don’t think they will; I think they’ve got more than enough firepower on their roster. And while I’m at it, unlike a lot of people, I actually think the big ice could help them. I get North Americans aren’t used to it and they’re going to have to make some adjustments, but how can it be a bad thing when wizards like Sidney Crosby and John Tavares have more time and space to make plays? Don’t they always say the key to shutting down dangerous players is to take away their time and space? Similarly, I can’t wait to see Duncan Keith skating with the puck out of his own end and creating opportunities through the neutral zone. Ditto for PK Subban, if Mike Babcock uses him. This Canadian team has a ton of speed. It’s different than the previous editions that tried and failed to play the bruising, in-your-face NHL game on the big ice. This isn’t Adam Foote’s Team Canada.

MH: You know what I despise? People complaining about the use of words like “snub.” Maybe it’s not super accurate, but it’s a good word. Short and effective. Sort of like Martin St. Louis. And yes I mention him for a reason, because it’s pretty clear these are uncomfortable times in Tampa Bay after Steve Yzerman omitted (happy? I didn’t say snub) him from Team Canada. Not to be outdone, Jack Johnson is apparently choked at Todd Richards for getting left off Team USA. Make no mistake, these things can fracture relationships. Just ask Pat Quinn, who essentially torched his with Curtis Joseph by benching him in Salt Lake. This might explain why Yzerman looked so rattled during the Canadian roster announcement — it was the second time he had to tell St. Louis he wasn’t going to the Olympics.

source: Getty ImagesJB: Yeah, Johnson’s quote was sure something. “Anything that’s said now is empty and meaningless. When I needed the belief and trust, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get it when it counted from numerous people…The team’s picked. I sat there and watched it on TV along with everybody else. That’s how I heard. From TV.” I’ll concede that Johnson shouldn’t have learned the news from TV (though at least it was NBC), but that being said, Richards’ job with USA Hockey isn’t to pump Johnson’s tires. It’s to help the country win a gold medal. Frankly, I feel a lot more sorry for St. Louis, who’s 38 and nearing the end of his career. This was probably his last chance to participate in a best-on-best international tourney. He played in the 2006 Olympics, but that was a disaster for Canada. I don’t blame him for being devastated he won’t get a shot at redemption. Especially when he got beat out by a guy like Chris Kunitz. I mean, come on.

MH: That’s some nice trolling.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.