PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Did the U.S. go too young on D?

12 Comments

21, 22, 24 and 25.

Those aren’t lottery numbers — they’re the ages Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, John Carlson/Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk will be when the U.S. opens the 2014 Winter Olympics against Slovakia.

Going so young on defense was one of the most surprising developments from USA Hockey’s roster announcement– well, aside from the “Bobby Ryan can’t spell intense” development — and remains a big question mark heading into Sochi. The U.S. completely overhauled its silver medal-winning blueline from Vancouver in 2010, returning just two defensemen (Brooks Orpik and Ryan Suter) while turning things over to the kiddie corps.

Veterans Orpik, Suter and Paul Martin (named to the ’10 squad, but missed to injury) are expected to lead, and with good reason. Faulk, Fowler, Carlson, McDonagh and Shattenkirk have never played in the Olympics before; Falk, Fowler and Shattenkirk have just 28 combined games of playoff experience.

“We have some leadership on the back end, we have some experience, we have guys that have been there before,” American head coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Canadian Press. “But we also have added some younger players. But I go back to being a team we think is going to be real sound defensively and real good defensively. With the young guys and the old guys we think we have that with that group.”

The U.S. braintrust — namely Bylsma and GM David Poile — have stressed speed, skating and puck movement as keys to their decisions. In selecting young defensemen they’ve done exactly that, eschewing the mold in Vancouver that relied more on physicality (Tim Gleason) and guys that weren’t so fleet of foot (Ryan Whitney).

But the change in approach isn’t without risks.

Four years ago, GM Brian Burke strategically tagged the U.S. as pre-tournament underdogs, saying “there’s not going to be a penny bet on this team.” That’s in stark contrast to this year’s club — “our goal is to go over there and win gold this time around,” Bylsma said — which puts an intense amount of pressure on first-time Olympians. What’s more, the contentious selection process has the youngsters under the microscope, as more seasoned veterans (and loyal international participants) like Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson were passed over.

Poile, though, insists he’s constructed the best blueline available:

On Fowler: “His game has grown in leaps and bounds. He’s been one of the best defencemen in the NHL this season.”

On Carlson: “This year he has transitioned from somewhat of a defensive defenseman to a two-way defenseman. He leads the NHL in shorthanded minutes [4:00 per game] with a team that’s pretty good in penalty killing and his offensive game has gone way up.”

On Faulk: “He certainly has his star rising. We like Justin’s game.”

It’ll be very interesting to see if this ballyhooed young group can live up to its potential while handling the pressure. Remember, one of the best Americans in Vancouver was 36-year-old Brian Rafalski, the team’s oldest player. He won best defenseman, made the tournament all-star team and skated with Suter as the team’s top defensive pair.

With Rafalski now gone, Suter looks to be the guy — which could be why Poile was comfortable surrounding Suter with so many young defensemen. At the end of the day, the American blueline sounds like it’ll rely on its star power to get through.

“I think Ryan’s coming-out party was in Vancouver, when he and Rafalski were our best defense pair,” Poile said. “We here in Nashville knew all along what kind of player Ryan was, but his career really took off from that point.

“He’s going to be counted on to anchor or defense, play big minutes, maybe with multiple partners, to make big contributions — which is nothing new with him.”

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

2 Comments

Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
1 Comment

It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

9 Comments

Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

2 Comments

Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.