PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Will goaltending cost Canada?

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There is always going to be second-guessing when it comes to Canada’s roster at the Sochi Olympics. So far, without a single game played, the question marks and doubts surrounding the goalies of the defending gold medalists are abundant.

The three tasked with tending the Canadian net: Roberto Luongo, believed to be the incumbent for the starter’s job after his gold medal victory in Vancouver four years ago, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.

None of them have been particularly impressive since the roster was announced on Jan. 7, which has prompted debate about who gets the starting duties. It’s believed the top choices are Luongo and Price, with Smith slotting into the No. 3 role. Luongo has allowed 26 goals in his last nine starts, but 14 goals in his last four. Price has given up 32 goals in 13 games, including a span in which he allowed four or more goals on five consecutive occasions. He’s playing well of late, with three straight wins, one shutout and three goals-allowed in his last three games. Smith has given up 33 goals in 14 games, but has also played better since the start of February, allowing five goals in his last four games, which includes a shutout.

The greatest concern appears to be Luongo.

“I don’t know. Obviously, we haven’t won, so it’s tough from that side of things,” Luongo said recently about the state of his game, as his Vancouver Canucks lost seven straight prior to the Olympic break.

Luongo has also dealt with two injuries – a groin ailment suffered prior to the holiday break and an ankle injury after a collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown early three days before the Olympic announcement.

Last week, Canadian head coach Mike Babcock told Sportsnet he’ll split the goalie duties in the first two games of the competition, while the goalie who starts in the third game will probably be the starter for the remainder of the tournament. Babcock, the returning coach for Canada’s team, didn’t divulge any details on who his initial starter will be in the opening game, although he has an idea. Four years ago, Babcock started Martin Brodeur, but after a round-robin concluding loss to the U.S., the bench boss switched over to Luongo in the medal round. His decision proved successful.

It seems impossible that Babcock would base his decisions on the public comments of NHL players over the course of the last month. But 10 days after Canada’s roster announcement, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, also on the Canadian squad, made a ringing endorsement for his NHL teammate Price.

“I know he’s my teammate and everything, but I’m hard pressed to find another goalie that’s better than him right now in the world,” said Subban.

As we can see, the debate involves many opinions, beyond just that of fans and pundits. Doubtful any of it will influence Babcock and his coaching staff. But there’s no denying that the individual performances of Luongo, Price and Smith over the last month have raised questions from the external sources about whether Canada can repeat as gold medal champions, and whether goaltending will help or hinder that team’s quest.

Recent comments from Babcock would suggest that Luongo will be his guy to start the tournament. He also gave Luongo a vote of confidence, too. Past history, like the 2010 Games and not the month of January, might have something to do with that.

“I’m not concerned,” Babcock said, as per TSN.

“I just think he’s a really good goalie. I’ve been with him a number of times and he’s always found a way to deliver. So I’m not concerned, no.”

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Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.

King Leon: Draisaitl collects four points vs. Ducks to give Oilers a Game 1 win

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So far, the Edmonton Oilers had been showing that they can win tight, low-scoring playoff games. And then the third period of Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks happened.

The two teams entered the final frame tied 1-1, with smaller breaks and bounces being the story. Then just about everything happened in the third, with Leon Draisaitl guiding the Oilers to a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

Draisaitl ended up with a goal and three assists, extending his point streak to three games (seven points during that span).

He wasn’t the only Oilers player to raise some eyebrows, and actually, the other two starring members were a lot more surprising. Mark Letestu seemed to make the early difference with two power-play goals, while low-scoring defenseman Adam Larsson found the net twice, including on the game-winner.

Phew, that’s a lot to absorb, right? This video captures the wildest scoring stretch of that period, even if there would be more:

While Connor McDavid hasn’t been bad, he’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – so far in the Oilers’ run, and that was mostly true on Wednesday. He ended up with a mere secondary assist in this one,

Yet, that might just be part of the good news for the Oilers. They advanced after McDavid had spotty series against the Sharks, and they just gave the Ducks their first postseason loss of 2017 with Draisaitl and others stealing the headlines.

Things got nasty at the end of this game, with key Ducks such as Ryan Getzlaf being prominently involved. Such moments make it clear that Anaheim isn’t likely to bow out of this one easily (and perhaps not gracefully?) but that should only make for a captivating Game 2.

That Game 2 airs Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; you can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)