USOC Media Summit

Sochi notes: Women’s hockey tourney has an interesting format

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Hey, have you missed me? You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you. Sigh. Well, I’ve been in Sochi for a few days now. I’ll be here until the end of the Olympics, which will culminate with the men’s gold-medal game on Feb. 23. I’m hoping I can pop in here from time to time and share a few offhand thoughts on the hockey, and just being in Russia. Otherwise I’ll be writing stories that appear on both PHT and NBCOlympics.com, or in some cases just NBCOlympics.com.

OK, onto my first list of notes:

—- Full disclosure: I’d never covered international women’s hockey until I came to Sochi, and I hadn’t really followed it since the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Like most hockey fans, I knew the basics – Canada and the United States are really good, everyone else is trying to catch up – but it’s not easy to parachute in (figuratively speaking; they have an airport and everything here) and start asking questions. Not good ones, at least. Fortunately, the American and Canadian players/coaches/management have all been super friendly and open during the media availabilities I’ve attended. I guess they know it’s important to promote their sport during the Olympics, which is really the only time there’s a significant media contingent on hand to cover it.

—- They’ve got an interesting format to the women’s tourney this year. In the preliminary round, the top four ranked teams — Canada, U.S., Switzerland, and Finland – will play each other – and the bottom four teams – Sweden, Japan, Russia, and Germany – will play each other. After that, the top two teams from the first group (probably the U.S. and Canada) will advance to the semis while the bottom two teams from the first group will play off against the top two teams from the second group for the other two spots in the semis. Got it? Good. A couple of reasons I figure they’re doing this. 1. They want to guarantee at least one game between Canada and the U.S. 2. They don’t want the blowouts we saw in 2010, like Canada 18, Slovakia 0 or the U.S. 13, Russia 0. Blowouts aren’t fun to watch, and they only shine a spotlight on the disparity between the top and bottom teams. I believe there’s genuine concern that women’s hockey will be removed from the Olympics if the rest of the world doesn’t start catching up to the two powerhouses.

—- I watched the U.S. and German women scrimmage earlier this week, and the disparity was vast. You could see it right off the bat in the warm-ups. On one side, the Americans were ripping shots crossbar and in; on the other, the Germans were — and I’m not trying to be mean here — basically floating theirs. They didn’t keep score in the scrimmage, but I can tell you it wasn’t close and the Americans ended with a really high Corsi rating.

—- I don’t want to say U.S. star Amanda Kessel (sister of Phil) waffled when asked if she was back to game shape after skipping the pre-Olympic tour to manage an injured hip (which required surgery in 2012), but she definitely didn’t give a resounding yes. “Getting there” was how she put it. “Decent.” She did look pretty good in the scrimmage though, and coach Katey Stone said later she was “100 percent.”

—- I wrote on Wednesday about new Canadian coach Kevin Dineen’s decision to take the captaincy away from women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser and give it to Caroline Ouellette. The more I think about it, the more I wonder just what was going on with this team last year. Remember that Dineen only replaced coach Dan Church in December after the latter abruptly resigned. So that’s a coaching change and a captaincy change right before the biggest tournament in women’s hockey, which only occurs once every four years. Clearly Dineen felt the team needed a shakeup, and I guess you have to give him credit for making a tough move he believed in, because it would’ve been a lot easier to just go with the status quo. I’ll still be surprised if it’s anyone but Canada and the U.S. in the final game, but the U.S. sure does seem like it has a great chance to snap Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals. And of the two favorites, if one is going to get upset by another country, I’d have to bet it’s going to be Canada.

—- I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories of reporters and their unfinished hotel rooms. Well, mine is just fine, thanks. I did, however, have a panic the other morning that I’d lost my wallet. Fortunately, it was right there in my pocket the whole time, but I was sweating it big time for a bit. I just can’t imagine the hassle of trying to replace all the credit cards and other stuff in my wallet while in Russia. You may be wondering, how could I possibly think I’d lost my wallet when it was in my pocket? Good question. Best I can explain is my whole pockets routine has been thrown off over here. Usually I keep three things in my pockets – wallet, keys, phone. Same three things every day. Over here, it’s totally different. I have my own phone and a temporary local phone, and I don’t always take my wallet with me, plus I’ve got credentials hanging around my neck and sometimes I carry a little digital recorder and everyone’s speaking a bunch of different languages and I didn’t sleep for the first 36 hours I was here because I stayed up to watch the SEA-HAWKS! win the Super Bowl. You can see how a blogger’s pockets routine could get thrown off. I figure it’s a bit like North American hockey players having to adjust to the bigger international ice surface. I have no idea where my keys are, by the way.

I’ll leave you with one of the many pictures hanging in the hallways of the massive main press center here. Just the definition of old school Olympics.

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Early thoughts – and praise – for Capitals landing Kevin Shattenkirk

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Jaws dropped around the hockey world when news broke that the Washington Capitals landed Kevin Shattenkirk in a blockbuster trade. Heads were then scratched as people tried to make sense of the “conditions” of a conditional second-rounder involved in the move.

With a little time for the smoke to clear and with the assets revealed, here are some scattered thoughts.

PHT will likely cover more of the fallout on Tuesday and beyond, though, so stay tuned.

Brian MacLellan deserves consideration as a top GM

Judging an executive can be really tricky; while a GM of the Year award is easy to justify, it’s also easy to mock. Even the best managers inherit a roster (aside from MacLellan’s predecessor George McPhee, who will build one in Vegas), so you have to credit some successes to the guy who came before.

And, yes, McPhee helped put together a core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even so, MacLellan evokes Stan Bowman in masterfully adding tremendous electrons to a fantastic nucleus.

He added Matt Niskanen (and, admittedly, flubbed it with Brooks Orpik) to beef up a defense to help the shrewd hiring of Barry Trotz as head coach. Trotz seems like he’s ending what was a busy procession of shaky bench bosses.

MacLellan really nailed it the next summer, trading for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a bargain deal. A year later, the Capitals added a fantastic third-line center option in Lars Eller via a smart trade.

And now this. It’s not clear where Kevin Shattenkirk will fit in the Capitals’ lineup, but either way, he boosts an already formidable group.

Misc.

Let’s lightning round some other thoughts.

  • Scottie Upshall joked about all the one-timers Shattenkirk is primed to set up for Alex Ovechkin … but he has a point.
  • It’s difficult to imagine the Capitals re-signing Shattenkirk, putting continued emphasis on the talk of Washington being in the last season of a “two-year window” to make their greatest push for a Stanley Cup. At the same time, there aren’t a lot of problem contracts beyond Orpik’s in Washington, so the plus side is that MacLellan can also show how he might be Bowman-like in making the right calls in who to bring back. Make no mistake about it, getting Shattenkirk is about now, not later.
  • Oh yeah the Capitals also got a nice sneaky bonus in landing Pheonix Copley, who better have the nickname “typo.”

All things considered, it’s no surprise that the Capitals are excited.

There’s at least a chance Shattenkirk might be able to suit up for Washington as soon as Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but either way, this sure looks like a slam dunk.

Wild just wouldn’t stay down, edge Kings in OT

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Don’t blame Ben Bishop if, deep down, he was glad that he didn’t make his Los Angeles Kings debut on Monday.

After seeing the kind of speed, drive and all-around electric play displayed by the Minnesota Wild, you can understand a goalie shuddering at the often wide-open action. Despite falling behind four times against the Kings, the Wild ultimately edged Los Angeles 5-4 in an overtime thriller.

Mikael Granlund‘s 20th goal of the season ended it in OT, and quickly. And it was beautiful:

…. Unless you’re Jonathan Quick and the Kings, that is.

Granlund is absolutely on fire right now.

Ryan White made a great first impression for the Wild, scoring a goal and an assist (while displaying great flow). Martin Hanzal wasn’t able to score, though he did make his presence felt with five hits. And, again, Bishop might have secretly been relieved to put his Kings debut on hold.

Marian Gaborik turned back the clock a bit to his Wild prime, scoring a goal and an assist. He generally made quite a bit happen for Los Angeles.

It was a tough one for Anze Kopitar, meanwhile, who was unable to generate offense and suffered a -3. He wasn’t able to stop Granlund in OT, though who could?

The Wild still must worry as mumps sidelined at least Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, but for now, they’re battling on. Just ask the Kings how resilient this group really is.

Sell this: Kucherov, Lightning put trades behind them, blast Senators

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The Tampa Bay Lightning might be in sell mode, but that doesn’t mean their players are quitting on this season.

After shipping Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle out of town, they could have rolled over against a hungry Ottawa Senators team. Instead, they blew them out, winning 5-1 on Monday.

Nikita Kucherov was the biggest standout, collecting a natural hat trick, which you can watch above. (He also generated an assist.)

Jonathan Drouin had a big night in his own right, assisting on all three of Kucherov’s goals. Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson generated two assists apiece, as well.

And, yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy inspired at least a few “Ben who?” jokes by making 39 out of 40 saves, including this beauty:

As you can see, Ottawa actually had a 1-0 lead at that point, so it could have been a different game if the agile goalie did do the splits there.

The Lightning are still five points out of the final wild card spot, trailing Boyle’s new team in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Senators, meanwhile, find themselves slipping a bit out of the race to win the Atlantic Division, especially considering Montreal’s comeback win against New Jersey.

Tampa Bay may may not be done making moves and recognizing painful truth that the odds are against them rallying to a playoff spot. That said, nights like these make you wonder if a run is at least possible.

Canadiens’ big guns trigger comeback OT win against Devils

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 27:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates the game winning power play goal by Alex Galchenyuk #27 at 2:54 of overtrime against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 27, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Canadiens defeated the Devils 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were looking a little grim there for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

The New Jersey Devils had, at one point, a 2-0 lead. At least in some corners there were murmurs about a bad start for Claude Julien. Then their big guns swung the game.

The comeback started with Alex Radulov, though the drama was just beginning:

Travis Zajac made it 3-1 for the Devils on the power play, only for Radulov to assist on two Max Pacioretty goals to send the game to overtime.

From there, Alex Galchenyuk scored the overtime-winner for Montreal on the man advantage. Radulov got yet another secondary assist – he ended up with four points tonight – while Shea Weber nabbed the primary helpers on the last two tallies.

Long story short, the Canadiens biggest names came through, allowing Julien to maybe utther a sigh of relief.