PHT staff Olympic predictions: Who’s going to win gold?

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Here are the picks from Jason Brough, James O’Brien, Joe Yerdon, Ryan Dadoun, Cam Tucker and yours truly for who’ll be golden at the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi…

Brough

Gold Medal Game: Canada beats Sweden

I’m keeping this simple. The two best teams on paper playing for gold. The best team on paper winning gold. Yeah, yeah, I know the best teams on paper don’t always win, but a lot of the times they do. Like in 2010, for example. Even without Steven Stamkos, Team Canada is still stacked up front, and there’s no matching its blue line. Goaltending could be problematic, but no team is without a potential Achilles’ heel. Canada’s goaltending could also end up being quite good.

Bronze Medal Game: United States beats Russia

Not the game the hosts wanted to play in, and it will show when they lose it. The fan in me hopes I’m wrong, because the Russians playing for gold at home would be a sight to behold. I just don’t think they’ve got the depth to make it that far.

O’Brien

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

As powerful as Russia’s offense and home-ice advantage will be, Canada is so deep and dynamic that even a seasoned nitpicker would struggle to uncover sore spots.

Bronze medal game: United States beats Sweden

Several other hockey powers have receded*, so the bronze comes down to a coin toss between Sweden and the U.S. Tre Kronor’s D combo of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson should make gorgeous music, but for some reason I have trouble betting against Team USA. That reason rhymes with Patrick Kane.

* – Points at Czech Republic

Yerdon

Gold medal game: United States beats Sweden

I’ll be plain about this: I’m making a very homer pick. Deal with it. That said, Team USA has a team very capable of winning gold. The offense is solid, the defense has strengths and the goaltending is great. The Americans’ speed on the big ice will be a major factor. The Swedes will be excellent but American brawn and nastiness will win out.

Bronze Medal Game: Russia beats Canada

Am I trolling? No. Well, maybe. Still, the Russians wants payback and they’ll be angry after not getting a shot at gold. They’ll want (need?) hardware and getting out of Canada makes for a perfect script. Except, you know, in the bronze medal game.

Dadoun

Gold Medal Game: Sweden beats Russia

At home and with the advantage of the bigger ice surface, I think Russia is going to end up doing very well in this tournament. That being said, Sweden has a significantly stronger defense and a more reliable goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Losing Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin hurts, but the Swedes’ offense is still strong, making them a balanced squad.

Bronze Medal Game: Canada beats the United States

It’s 2010 all over again, but with the stakes lowered. The States’ goaltending and defense is capable of frustrating Canada, but in the end Canada’s legion of skilled forwards will be hard to contain.

Tucker

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

It would be the dream match-up. The Russians will certainly be motivated to win gold, not just because they are the host nation of these Olympics but how their competition came to an end four years ago in Vancouver. It would also pit two of the game’s best players against each other, in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Canada’s goaltending is the obvious question mark if it hopes to repeat as gold medal champions. But the depth up front and on defence should help nullify any potential short-comings in the crease.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Finland

Sweden’s lineup is as stacked as any in this tournament, even with Sedin and Franzen out due to injury. That should help the Swedes get back to the medal podium in men’s hockey in Sochi, and they’ll defeat their most fierce rivals, Finland, in the process.

Halford

Gold medal game: Canada beats United States

I’m along the same simple lines as Brough — two best teams playing for gold, though I think the Americans are better than the Swedes; more in-form snipers (Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk, most notably) and hard-skating forwards will get the U.S. to the final. In the end, however, Canada’s unparalleled depth on defense will be too much to overcome.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Russia

I saw the Russians as the fourth-best team heading into the Olympics, and that’s how I see it finishing. Major reservations about their blueline and bottom-six forwards; Sweden has the more complete team and stronger/more experienced goaltending with Lundqvist.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings

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PROJECTED LINES

BRUINS

Forwards

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciAnders Bjork

Danton HeinenRiley NashDavid Backes

Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Defensemen

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugBrandon Carlo

Matt GrzelcykPaul Postma

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask 

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Red Wings do battle in Atlantic Division clash

RED WINGS

Forwards

Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinTomas Tatar

Justin AbdelkaderHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Luke GlendeningFrans NielsenDarren Helm

Martin FrkAndreas AthanasiouLuke Witkowski

Defensemen

Danny DeKeyserMike Green

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Niklas KronwallNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

Senators keep saying just enough of the wrong things

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Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion addressed a wide variety of subjects today, and he mostly said what needed to be said, but also left the door open just enough to allow all sorts of sadness to slip through.

Shortly after Erik Karlsson described listing the 10 teams he’d accept a trade to as a “formality” and after he walked back/spun comments about free agency, Dorion came close to saying what he should about the mega-star defenseman.

The good: Dorion said he wants Karlsson “to be a Senator for life” (via NHL.com’s Chris Stevenson) or at least 10 years (via TSN’s Ian Mendes).

Not as good: The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch notes that Dorion did say that the team is listening in calls about all players.

Now, look, many GMs will say that they’re listening and may even actually scribble down offers, even if they have no intention of making a trade. And, as Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin shows us, a GM could say “I will not trade P.K. Subban (for example)” and then trade him days later.

Still, with the temperature rising in Ottawa … maybe an even more emphatic “No” would have been more effective here? Just saying.

Dorion also addressed this doozy of a Kyle Turris quote from Josh Clipperton of the Canadian Press. Here’s what Turris said first:

“It’s tough because I think management did want to sign me, but I think that the owner didn’t. And that was his decision,” Turris said.

Yeah, not good.

There are many rumor swirling around Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, whether he ends up retaining his ownership status or not. It’s no secret, really, that Ottawa has been a budget-conscious franchise at times, which certainly brings into question whether they can stomach paying Karlsson what he actually deserves. Especially if things don’t settle down.

Dorion did what he could to affirm his shot-calling strength to the media, as Mendes and others report:

“Everything in the hockey department goes through me, not Mr. Melnyk,” Dorion said.

Speaking of the hockey department, Dorion also noted that a coaching change won’t happen.

Personally speaking, this is the area where it’s easiest to see eye-to-eye with Dorion. While Guy Boucher’s leanings, from the 1-3-1 and on, frequently make for yawn-inducing hockey, it’s difficult to quibble with the results. In a way, Boucher might be so effective that he’s put himself in a pickle: by creating a mirage with such a strong run, many likely expected the Senators to keep pulling rabbits out of hats.

We’ve seen plenty of Jack Adams winners become victims of past successes. In some cases, they got there through sheer luck. With Boucher, it might be a mix of shrewdness and luck, and now that luck is fading away.

Long story short, firing Boucher would be foolish when he’s likely made Dorion and others look smart.

Amusingly enough, you could apply a similar logic to the dangers of trading Erik Karlsson. The superb Swede is the sort of talent who can camouflage a lot of issues; moving him would essentially be an admission of defeat, as you’re simply not going to get a fair return in any EK swap. The only sensible situation in which a Karlsson trade happens would be if you went into a rebuild, and it could be a grim one in that.

Speaking of grim, that remains the best way to describe the current state of affairs for the Senators, who are suffering from dealing with tough situations but also, in some cases, from self-inflicted wounds.

But hey, much like when Paul MacLean spoke of his kid’s use of Taylor Swift lyrics, at least Dorion’s kid is having a good time with all of this. Kind of:

That might not be so easy to shake off.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Celebrating Lundqvist’s remarkable career as he nears 20,000 saves

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When it comes to impressive milestones, some numbers register with players, fans, and media more than others.

With that in mind, it’s not overly shocking that Henrik Lundqvist essentially shrugged his shoulders when he was informed that he’s on the verge of 20,000 saves, which would make him the 15th goalie to do so. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports that Lundqvist admits he’s more interested in wins (and you can be certain more interested in a certain large, silver thing you can drink and eat out of.)

“It means a lot to me to be up there with those names,” Lundqvist said. “The amount of saves, I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that number. I’m happy I’ve been able to play a lot of hockey throughout my 12 and a half seasons here. That’s pretty much the only thought I get when I hear 20,000 saves.”

Lundqvist needs four stops to reach that mark, in case you’re counting.

Rosen recently provided perspective that should really cement that Lundqvist isn’t merely accruing volume: “King Henrik” is slated to allow the lowest total of goals of any netminder who’s collected 20,000 saves. Lundqvist comes into tonight’s game with 1,748 goals allowed, while Jacques Plante is the current gold standard in that regarding, giving up 1,960.

Lundqvist notes that he’s happy to have played a lot of hockey, and that brings something else to mind: how remarkable a success story he really is.

It’s easy to forget that the Rangers drafted Lundqvist in the seventh round (205th overall) back in 2000. You don’t hear Lundqvist’s name mentioned all that often when people discuss all-time draft steals, perhaps because goalies are tough to project and possibly also because he took off almost the instant he hit the NHL.

In 2005-06, Lundqvist managed a sparkling .922 save percentage in 53 games as a rookie, helping the Rangers make the playoffs. He really never looked back, and Hank is really starting to pile up milestones, all while managing a fantastic .920 career save percentage.

Maybe that’s also part of the reason this is such a “meh” thing for Lundqvist: he’s probably getting bored when it comes to setting high marks.

Two other interesting goalie milestones

While Lundqvist has been the model for consistent brilliance for more than a decade, two other veteran goalies are reaching or have reached fairly significant milestones, even as their careers have been far more turbulent.

In each case, we’re talking about 300 career wins.

Carolina Hurricanes stalwart Cam Ward already accomplished that task, as his team’s 3-2 shootout win against the Vegas Golden Knights marked his 300th W.

It’s been an odd career for Ward, who started off hot as the 25th pick of the 2002 NHL Draft. As you almost certainly remember, Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie, taking over for the Hurricanes mid-playoff-run (after a weak regular season for Ward) and helping them to a shocking Stanley Cup. How bizarre is it to realize that both Ward and Lundqvist would diverge after sensational starts to their NHL careers? Considering where they were drafted, many probably would have tabbed Ward to be the guy with great year-in, year-out numbers, yet he’s instead floundered, sitting with backup-like career save percentage of .909.

Still, he has that championship ring, so there’s at least one area where he’d draw Lundqvist’s envy.

The third goalie of note was taken before Ward in the 2002 NHL Draft, as Kari Lehtonen‘s walked an odd path since going second overall that year.

There were flashes of genius during his early days, yet injuries and inconsistency marred his Atlanta Thrashers run with disappointment. His time with the Dallas Stars has been mixed, as he’s gone from a goalie who often carried an over-matched team to a netminder who, along with Antti Niemi, often held the Stars back.

(Many will, fairly, point out that Lehtonen’s play dipped noticeably after concussion issues, opening another “what if?” door for the occasionally star-crossed goalie.)

Either way, he aims for win 300 of his own tonight, as he’s getting back-to-back games as the Stars face the Islanders.

As an aside, one might find it interesting that Kari Lehtonen currently boasts the same average save percentage of .912 between his Stars and Thrashers years. Maybe he’s just been secretly consistent?

Ultimately, this could be quite the week for goalie milestones, even if certain marks might be met with a shrug by the netminders in question.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers, Sabres show personality in ‘Road to Winter Classic’ debut

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All apologies to Epix, but “The Road to the Winter Classic” series just feels right heading to NBCSN.

The documentary series that gave us memorable moments like Bruce Boudreau avowing his love for ice cream, Boudreau unleashing a fugue state of locker-room profanities, and also great moments not featuring Boudreau is set to debut at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight, spotlighting the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres as they approach the outdoor extravaganza.

[2018 Winter Classic: Sabres vs. Rangers]

For fans who want to see more personality from hockey players, this is manna from heaven. The good stuff goes beyond that, really, as sports documentaries are almost always fun to watch, but it only gets better when the NHL is involved.

To whet your appetite for well-filmed and well-scored peeks behind the curtain, enjoy some teasers for the first episode.

In the video above this post’s headline, you’ll note Alain Vigneault and the Rangers discussing things getting back on track as the team adjusts to a different core, including the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk.

The best stuff, for me at least, comes when there’s humor, and that’s where the next couple of videos shine.

First, we have some nice self-effacing fun from Zach Bogosian, who provides much of the banter for the Sabres’ charity bowling event:

Next, here’s some fun-goofy footage of Rangers players taking the subway to practice:

Note: the NHL should mandate that players wear their uniforms in more inorganic situations, as that’s always fun. Plus it really would align with the advertising practice of having hockey players in their sweaters, even when they’re at restaurants or making toast.

Anyway, “Road to the Winter Classic” should be a good time, and should find a fitting home on NBCSN. It should pair well with tonight’s Bruins – Red Wings game, which you can read more about here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.