It’s Canada against Finland to see which nation emerges as the top team in Group B in the preliminary round, and yet most of the attention will be on Mike Babcock and his lineup decisions for Sunday’s game.
Babcock, the Canadian head coach, has already made it known he will once again tinker with the lineup for this final preliminary game, with defenseman Dan Hamhuis and forward Patrick Sharp coming back in. Now, who on that roster comes out and sits?
It remains a guess as of right now. But with one game left until the medal round, Babcock is afforded the luxury of dressing some players, sitting others and mixing his lines to finds the combinations that will work.
“Believe me, these decisions aren’t easy,” Babcock said, as per NHL.com. “They’re difficult because they’re personal, because it’s about a player. When you have an interaction with a player, that’s personal. But it’s not about them. It’s about our country and it’s about making the right decisions.
“Now, if it’s not broke, why fix it? After Game 1 you could have said the lineup’s fine, but we had that opportunity. So you’re right in assuming it’s getting…let’s face it, right away it’s Game 7. But we have one more game that it isn’t.”
Marchessault took over the Vegas scoring lead with a big night during a 5-2 win over his old team, the Florida Panthers. The Golden Knights scored four unanswered goals after falling behind 2-0 early in the first period, and Marchessault played a big part by assisting on the tying and go-ahead goals and then potting the empty-netter to seal things. He now has 29 points on the season.
Reilly Smith, another ex-Panther, chipped in a pair of assists, including one on Marchessault’s goal to ice things for Gerard Gallant’s side. Vegas is now 13-2-1 at home.
Highlight of the Night:
Patrik Laine scored his team-leading 16th of the season for the Winnipeg Jets, and it was beautiful.
• Patrick Kane scored twice and Corey Crawford made 27 saves as the Chicago Blackhawks downed the Minnesota Wild 4-1 for their fifth win in a row. Kane now has seven points in his last four games. He’s one goal away from 300 for his career and now sits fifth all-time in Blackhawks history.
• Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 24 shots he faced and recorded his eighth career shutout during a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues. Adam Lowry, Laine, Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey provided the goals as the Jets split their home-and-home with the Blues.
As the Vancouver Canucks transition their roster and let the kids take over, Brock Boeser has been a real bright spot this season. Well, right now fans are holding their collective breaths hoping that the Calder Trophy candidate isn’t too seriously hurt after blocking a Mark Giordano shot early in the second period Sunday night.
Did you catch that Jim Benning reaction?
Yup, us too, Jim.
Boeser, who leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in scoring with 17 goals and 30 points, was ruled out for the rest of the night a short while later with a foot injury.
Depending on the severity of the injury could also impact some of Boeser’s potential bonuses in his rookie season. Ryan Biech of The Athletic had a great breakdown on Friday about how much the Vancouver stands to earn this season should he hit certain totals in specific categories. Hopefully this doesn’t keep him out long. The Calder race is better with him a part of it.
UPDATE: Canucks head coach didn’t have an update on Boeser after the game.
It was pretty clear that after receving a slashing minor, boarding major and game misconduct all in the span of about three seconds, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche still had some punishment coming to him.
And so on Sunday night the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a two-game ban for the veteran defenseman after he boarded Vladislav Namestnikov Saturday night in Colorado.
As detailed in the video, Johnson knows that Namestnikov has already fired his shot on goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning forward isn’t expecting to be shoved like that after his scoring attempt. That, and how far he was from the boards make it all especially dangerous. Fortunately, Namestnikov was able to remain in the game.
If you get into a bar argument with a sports fan about Alex Ovechkin, there’s a strong chance that at least one person will argue that the Washington Capitals superstar is “not clutch.”
It’s easy to compile such an argument, whether it’s fair or not. The Capitals won three Presidents’ Trophies in the Ovechkin era, yet they’ve never gotten to a third round with him on their roster. His Olympic struggles are both dramatic and well-documented.
That said, if you extract team successes and failures from the picture – which is difficult for many to do, that’s true – it gets tougher to deny that there’s some “clutchness” there, unless you just start to wrestle with whether “clutch” is even a real thing or not.
(Allow me to not open that pandora’s box.)
Last night, Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st overtime goal, adding to an NHL record he already owned. In the process, he came that much closer to 100 career game-winners in the regular season.
As you can see, Ovechkin is one GWG away from joining a club of players who’ve scored at least 100; he’d be the eighth person to do so. It might not take him long to pass Jarome Iginla, and depending upon how his twilight years go, Patrick Marleau.
It’s plausible that Ovechkin may finish his career on the top of that list, though he might fall short of passing kindred spirit/guy he once clobbered in initial play Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr is a kindred spirit because, while he’s currently in the Teemu Selanne phase of his career as an ageless wonder loved by just about any fan interested in the game, number 68 was once a frequent scapegoat in his own right. Plenty of people questioned his character and work ethic, at times to the point of things getting cartoonish. Sometimes stars like these need to go through that period before people embrace them like they always should have.
And the more you look into things, it’s clear that a lot of fans should drop the disdain and enjoy just how special Ovechkin is.
Consider this: Ovechkin is just 32, yet Hockey Reference’s listings show that he’s been in the top-10 in game-winning goals in 10 seasons. Ovechkin led the league in that category three times and was in the top five on seven occasions.
For a guy who takes a beating for not lifting the Stanley Cup (yet?), Ovechkin shows up in the playoffs, too.
During his career, Ovechkin has scored 46 goals and 90 points in 97 career postseason games, close to a point-per-contest. Just about every player sees a dip in regular season versus playoff numbers – it’s the nature of the beast with checking tighter and every goal mattering much more – so being able to generate offense that often sure indicates some “clutchness” to me.
At some point, you just have to tip your cap to a great player, and maybe stop frowning and enjoy his boisterous celebrations and once-in-a-lifetime scoring skills. You might get a chance to do that again soon, as Ovechkin sits at 581 goals. He might just hit the 600 mark in 2017-18, joining 19 other NHL players to cross that barrier.
This post isn’t meant to imply that Ovechkin is totally flawless and it’s unlikely that a mountain of milestones will move his harshest critics.
Then again, if listing some of these resounding accomplishments helps even a few extra hockey fans enjoy a rare talent, it’s well worth it. At 32, Ovechkin could really rack up numbers for a long time, but his window could close as a true goal-scoring phenom.
It wouldn’t be very clutch to come around to Ovechkin once his best days are all behind him, now would it?