TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

7 Comments

Saturday: San Jose at Tampa Bay (2 p.m. ET)

If I had a vote for the Vezina Trophy, and I had to vote right now, I’d vote for Ben Bishop. And I’d do it with very little hemming and/or hawing, because this guy has been unbelievable. After 34 starts, he’s 23-5-4 with a .938 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against average. Sure, I’d have to consider Josh Harding, Semyon Varlamov, Tuukka Rask and Carey Price. And if there was one little thing that might make me think twice, it would be total minutes played, since I think there’s a lot to be said for a goalie’s workload, and Bishop only ranks 11th in that category. But Bishop has been so good, and his play has been so important to his team with Steven Stamkos out, I just couldn’t pick anyone else.

Saturday: Montreal at Toronto (4 p.m. ET)

It’s Hockey Day In Canada this Saturday, with all seven Cup-less-since-1993 squads in action. I feel like we haven’t written much about the Habs this year, so here’s something to chew on: Montreal is one of those rare teams with a defenseman, PK Subban, as its leading scorer. There are two ways to look at this. On the bright side, it’s great to have a d-man with the ability to lead an NHL team in points. But on the other hand, it doesn’t say much about the forward corps, currently led by Tomas Plekanec and his 30 points in 48 games. I fully expect general manager Marc Bergevin to try and address this, perhaps not before the trade deadline, but in the offseason.

Saturday: Anaheim at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

I’m not sure there’s a team I’m more curious to see in the playoffs than Anaheim. Despite all the success the Ducks have had this regular season, I get the sense potential opponents (or at least the fans of those potential opponents) would rather face the Ducks than the Blackhawks, Blues, Kings, or Sharks. Maybe my senses are wrong there, but if they’re right, I think it has a lot to do with guys like Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano and Cam Fowler playing such big roles for Anaheim. Even though Fowler was highly touted going into the 2010 draft and will play for the United States at the Olympics, people may still look at Anaheim’s roster and think, “Look at these guys. We can beat these guys.” The Ducks haven’t been past the first round of the playoffs since 2009, which may also have something to do with it.

Sunday: Boston at Chicago (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. The first meeting between the ‘Hawks and Bruins since Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Neither club has been winning as much as it would like lately, but if I had to pick one that should be concerned, I’d pick the Bruins. The loss of Dennis Seidenberg for the season can’t be overlooked, and I think general manager Peter Chiarelli needs to address it before the trade deadline. Zdeno Chara will be 37 by the time the playoffs start. Everyone knows he’s in fantastic shape, but how many more runs at the Cup will the B’s have with him as a truly elite defender? Even Nicklas Lidstrom couldn’t play forever, and he sure didn’t play the same way as Chara.

Sunday: Washington at NY Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Caps fans may not like hearing this (or they may love hearing this, based on some of my previous predictions), but I think there’s a good chance Washington misses the playoffs this year. Here’s how the standings look today:

source:

Note the far-right column containing regulation/overtime wins. Now note how many more ROWs that teams below the Caps in the standings have in comparison. That says something. Washington also ranks in the bottom 10 of the NHL in possession stats, which, unlike a team’s record in the shootout, are strongly correlated with the overall quality of a team.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

Getty
Leave a comment

Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

Getty
1 Comment

Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

Getty
Leave a comment

The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

Getty
Leave a comment

Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy