Crosby scores on Miller

Five questions ahead of U.S.-Canada semifinal showdown

32 Comments

1. Will the revenge factor work in the Americans’ favor?

“Everyone knows the history of the two teams in Vancouver,” said Sidney Crosby, referring to the 2010 Olympics when the U.S. beat Canada in the preliminary round, only to lose in the gold-medal game. “They’ll be motivated.”

It was the Canadians who were especially motivated four years ago, with all the pressure of hosting the Games on their home ice. Anything less than gold and they’d have experienced something similar to what the Russians are experiencing right now.

According to American forward David Backes, beating the Canadians was “something that was on our list” coming into Sochi.

“We’ve got 13 returners, which are guys really on a mission to avenge our loss in Vancouver in the gold-medal game,” he said.

Watch the game live online Friday at noon

While Backes didn’t want to overstate things — “the team that loses this isn’t shamed out of the tournament,  or anything like that” — he clearly hasn’t forgotten the disappointment he felt when Crosby scored the golden goal.

2. Will the Canadian forwards start scoring?

Given the depth of talent up front, it’s somewhat extraordinary that only four Canadian forwards have managed to score in four games. Crosby remains goalless, as does Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, and Patrice Bergeron — all of whom have received a considerable amount of ice time from coach Mike Babcock.

Not that they haven’t had their chances.

“I mean, we were all over them,” Crosby said after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Latvia. “To get that many shots and that many good quality chances, it was tough to not see it go in.”

The next day, Crosby was again forced to answer questions about his lack of statistical production.

VIDEO: Will Canada raise its level pf play vs. U.S.?

“If the chances are there, you can’t really do much besides make sure you focus on putting them in. I don’t think I’m second guessing anything,” he said.

“I’m playing and reacting, trusting that it’s going to go in and sometimes it feels like it’s not going in very easily, but usually it takes one and they all start going in. I think that’s kind of been the theme with our entire team. We’ve been right around there, doing a lot of good things and we just have to trust and keep doing that until eventually the pucks start going in in bunches.”

There also seems to be a sense among the Canadians that playing the U.S. — as opposed to European sides like Norway, Finland, and Latvia — will be a better fit, style wise.

“Looking at some of the teams we played, they focused first and foremost on checking us and making our lives miserable in the offensive zone,” said Toews. “It just seems like you need one, two or three plays to go right for things to work against those teams. Tomorrow, I think we can check well, we can concentrate on our defensive game and try to make them make mistakes.”

3. Will the American forwards keep scoring?

“I think the Americans have scored really easy in the tournament,” said Babcock. “The puck just seems to go in the net for them, so they’ve been a good team. I don’t think they’ve had a match-up, besides the Russians, where they were beat at all. They’ve just beat everyone big time.”

Phil Kessel has led the way for the U.S., with five goals in four games. Backes has three goals. Dustin Brown and Paul Stastny have two each.

Against Canada, however, the Americans will face a team that’s surrendered just three goals all tournament long, and one that features arguably the best blue line in the world as well as two of the most celebrated defensive forwards, Toews and Bergeron, in the sport.

VIDEO: Highlights from U.S. win vs. Czech Republic

“We are not going to try to outshoot a team like Canada,” said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. “We are going in with a blue-collar mentality, to outwork them. We want to win a low-scoring game, a 2-1 game.”

4. How will the American defense hold up?

Against the Russians, Ryan Suter was on the ice for almost 30 minutes, with Bylsma shortening his bench to defend a team with a dangerous top six.

Well, the Canadians not only have a dangerous top six, they have a dangerous top 12. Even after losing John Tavares, all four lines are still filled with NHL all-stars, and that can’t be said for any of the teams the U.S. has faced so far.

Suter should play a ton again Friday, as should Ryan McDonagh. But the difference may be in the performance of a youngster like Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk, or a veteran like Brooks Orpik or Paul Martin.

If the Americans were going to have an Achilles’ heel in Sochi, a lot of people thought it would be the blue line. So far, that hasn’t been the case. But the U.S. hasn’t seen anything like Canada.

5. How will the goaltending story play out?

Because, really, what big hockey game doesn’t end with at least some talk about the goaltenders? Jonathan Quick and Carey Price have both been solid so far. The former has a .935 save percentage in three games; the latter has a .941 save percentage, also in three games.

“When I’ve seen Quick make some big saves early, he seems to become unbeatable,” said Drew Doughty of Quick, his teammate in L.A. “That’s why we’ve got to get one early on him. The only way we’re going to score on him is that we’ve got to get pucks up high, and we’ve got to get screens in front, and tips. He’s going to make the easy saves every time. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s win vs. Latvia

As for Price? “He’s an unbelievable goalie, so skilled. He’s awesome, and he’s come up big when we needed him. And it’s tough for a goalie to play with only 15, 16 shots. It’s not easy, and he’s done an unbelievable job.”

Still, both Bylsma and Babcock have left themselves open to considerable second-guessing given the guys they relegated to the bench. Ryan Miller was brilliant for the U.S. four years ago in Vancouver, and his numbers this season in Buffalo are better than Quick’s in Los Angeles. Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, won gold for Canada in 2010, and he’s got far more big-game experience than Price, even if all those big games haven’t gone particularly well.

Bylsma and Babcock would’ve been left open to second-guessing whichever goalie they went with, but that won’t make the debate any less heated should one of Quick or Price perform poorly on Friday.

Kronwall out for World Cup, Sweden names Lindholm as replacement

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Appropriate timing for this news, given it’s Red Wings day at PHT — Team Sweden has announced that Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall will miss the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, and has been replaced by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm on the active roster.

Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with a troublesome knee issue all offseason. Shortly after getting eliminated by Tampa Bay, Kronwall acknowledged he had a “rough year” and was seeking options for the knee — but going under the knife wasn’t one of those options, according to Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

That he avoided surgery led some to believe that rest and rehab was the way the club and “Kronner” wanted to fix the injury. If that’s the case, missing the World Cup makes sense — it would give the veteran an additional month to get healthy.

As for Lindholm, scoring this roster spot is a nice feather in his cap. At 22, he’ll be the youngest d-man on the team and got the nod over the likes of Dallas’ John Klingberg, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

Lindholm is still without a contract, however, so his situation will be worth monitoring as the tournament draws close.

Related: Rakell added to Sweden World Cup roster to replace Alex Steen

Rich get richer: Dallas signs Hudler to one-year, $2 million deal

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Florida Panthers looks up at the scoreboard as he skates prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Senators 6-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

One of the NHL’s most dynamic offenses has gotten even better — per the Morning-News, the Dallas Stars have inked veteran winger Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million pact.

The confirmation comes after some loud, heavy rumblings that Dallas was in on the former 30-goal man.

On Tuesday evening, a report from Today’s Slapshot claimed that Hudler’s agent, Petr Svoboda, confirmed a deal with Dallas was done.

That initial report was later corroborated by KTCK Radio Dallas host Bob Sturm who, on Wednesday morning, tweeted out “Hudler is true. Book it.”

Shortly thereafter, longtime Stars beat writer Mike Heika made it official.

Adding Hudler to the lineup is a major boon for Dallas. The 32-year-old is just one year removed from posting career-highs in goals (31) and points (76), capturing the Lady Byng trophy in the process.

Though Hudler had a tough time replicating that success last season, he was still fairly productive, scoring 35 points in 53 games for Calgary, and 11 in 19 games for Florida after being flipped to the Panthers at the deadline.

All told, Hudler finished the year with 46 points.

In Dallas, he’ll join a squad that led the league in offense last season (3.23 goals per game) and compete for top-nine minutes in a forward group that features the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin.

Loaded, to say the least.

The move also reunites Hudler with Stars GM Jim Nill. The two spent considerable time together in Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup together in 2008.

Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha

Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) scores on Montreal Canadiens goalie Ben Scrivens (40) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Anthony Mantha’s been here before.

Two years ago, yours truly wrote a “Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha” piece. At the time, Mantha was a 19-year-old phenom attempting to make the jump from junior hockey to the Red Wings — who were still waiting to hear if Daniel Alfredsson would return for a second season.

Yeah, Daniel Alfredsson.

Yeah, it was a long time ago.

And much has happened since, especially for Mantha.

The 20th overall pick in 2013 broke his leg shortly after that piece went live, an injury that stalled his progression and resulted in a difficult year with AHL Grand Rapids. At the end of the ’14-15 campaign, Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano said Mantha had been “very, very, very disappointing,” and Mantha acknowledged he had to work on “a lot of aspects of my play.”

A two-time 50-goal scorer in the Quebec League, Mantha proceeded to watch his name surface in trade rumblings, then failed to crack the Wings roster out of training camp last September. Mantha’s disappointment was compounded when Detroit’s newer, shinier young phenom — Dylan Larkin — became the first 19-year-old to make the team since Mike Sillinger did it in ’90-91.

Head coach Jeff Blashill admitted expectations for Mantha were probably too high, and the club seemed committed to taking a more patient approach with his development.

Until Mantha started changing people’s minds, that is.

Everything seemed to come together for the 6-foot-5, 204-pounder last year. He scored 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games for the Griffins, and started pushing for a recall by scoring his first professional hat trick in February.

At the time, the Wings were still preaching patience. But that all changed in mid-March, as GM Ken Holland made the decision to bring Mantha up and give him his NHL debut.

The results were a mixed bag. Mantha had two goals and three points in 10 games, but his ice time steadily diminished (he received 14:45 in his first contest, and just 6:27 in his last one.) And as the season came to a close and the Wings were in danger of missing the playoffs, Mantha was dropped from the lineup and returned to Grand Rapids.

Mantha’s pedigree and raw ability should put him in position to make the Wings out of training camp this year, but it’s no slam dunk. Fellow prospects like Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek will push for spots as well, and it’s important to remember that Mantha is waiver eligible — meaning he can go up and down without Holland having to worry about losing him.

But if there was ever a time for Mantha to really make the leap, this is it. He’ll be 22 by the time the season starts, and has had a good taste of NHL hockey.

Now all he needs to do is stick around.

It’s Detroit Red Wings day at PHT

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo
Leave a comment

The Detroit Red Wings continued their streak of playoff appearances earlier this spring, making it to the Stanley Cup tournament for a 25th consecutive season.

That’s great.

But their appearance was short, as they were once again bounced in the first round — for the third straight year, so consider that a streak of its own — by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With another early post-season exit, attention turned to the offseason. The big story was the future of Pavel Datsyuk, who is 38 years old and had one more year left on his contract, which came with a cap hit of $7.5 million. Speculation started with a report that the long-time Red Wing could leave that organization for his homeland, Russia, at the end of the NHL season and continued from there.

His contract — and cap hit — was eventually dealt to the Arizona Coyotes at the NHL Draft, officially ending Datsyuk’s time in Detroit. He won two Stanley Cups there, and scored 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games with the Red Wings.

Datsyuk has since signed a two-year contract in the KHL.

In hopes of replacing Datsyuk, the Red Wings signed free agent center Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.25 million.

The Red Wings also brought back goalie Petr Mrazek and defenseman Danny DeKeyser with no arbitration hearing necessary in both cases. Luke Glendening was signed to a four-year contract extension and Darren Helm avoided free agency, signing a five-year, $19.25 million deal.

Brad Richards also retired after 15 NHL seasons.

The Red Wings and the hockey world also lost the legendary Gordie Howe, who passed away at the age of 88.

So many from the hockey and sports world paid tribute to Howe, famously known as Mr. Hockey, including one from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said Howe defined hockey “for a life time.”