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.

Panthers boost playoff hopes, end Penguins’ streak

1 Comment

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

For quite some time, it seemed like the Metropolitan Division would send five teams to the playoffs while the top-heavy Atlantic would only generate three.

The Metro still dominates the wild-card picture, but with all apologies to the scrappy Red Wings, the Florida Panthers stand as the one Atlantic team with a shot at crashing the party. For all of the front office upheaval, the past few nights provide evidence that they could do some damage if they walk in that door.

Maybe it’s fitting for an up-and-down team to see some extreme highs and lows in an eventual 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite some strong work from Evgeni Malkin, the Panthers went into the third period with a 4-2 lead. That wouldn’t end up being enough, as the two teams traded blows during a frantic, five-goal final frame. The Penguins briefly tied the contest up at 5-5, pushing for a seventh straight win, but it was not to be.

Ultimately, Evgenii Dadonov (first career hat trick) trumped Evgeni Malkin (two goals, one assist) in getting the late game-winner. Perhaps the Panthers will try to lift up a community rattled by tragic shootings, as this is the second straight game where they’ve notched decisive goals late in front of home fans.

(Thursday’s win against the Capitals was even more dramatic, as they rallied late after Roberto Luongo‘s stirring speech before the game.)

Now, the Panthers might not seem like much of a threat with 62 points, as the Columbus Blue Jackets currently hold the East’s final wild-card spot with 67. Games played paint a brighter picture, though.

Here’s how the wild-card races look as of this writing:

Devils (currently facing Islanders): 70 points in 61 games played, first WC
Blue Jackets (won tonight): 67 points in 62 GP, second WC

Islanders (facing Devils): 65 points in 62 GP
Hurricanes (lost tonight): 64 points in 62 GP
Panthers: 62 points in 59 GP
Red Wings (beat Canes): 61 points in 60 GP
Rangers: 59 points in 62 GP

On one hand, the Panthers’ situation isn’t that different from the Red Wings,’ at least if Florida doesn’t get hot. On the other hand, consider that the Panthers have a few games in hand on everyone ahead of them. The margin could close rapidly … or they could fade.

Credit the Panthers for making things interesting, and if things go well, making their competition sweat.

That’s the power of “Dadonov Strength.”

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.

Devils retire Patrik Elias’ jersey

Getty
Leave a comment

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils retired career scoring leader Patrik Elias’ No. 26 jersey in a ceremony before their game against the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

The 41-year-old former Czech forward played his final game in 2016, finishing a 20-year career in New Jersey with two Stanley Cup championships and most of the team’s scoring records.

“For someone growing up in Eastern Europe, in a communist country, there’s no way I could have ever dreamed of this day,” said Elias, whose eyes welled with tears during his speech that was interrupted several times by chants of “Paddy! Paddy!”

Always a fan favorite, Elias walked through a section of the stands at the Prudential Center before taking his place on the ice with his wife, two daughters, former and current teammates and the franchise’s owners and management.

The podium on the ice was shaped as a puck with the No. 26 on it, and it was by surrounded by other super-sized pucks with the same number and two trophies, the Stanley Cup and The Prince of Wales trophy, presented to the Eastern Conference winner.

Elias played on four conference champions, scoring the winning goal in Game 7 against Philadelphia in 2000.

Elias is the first European player to have his number retired by the Devils, and the first forward. Defensemen Scott Stevens (No. 4), Scott Niedermayer (No. 27) and Ken Daneyko (No. 3) and goaltender Martin Brodeur (No. 30) also had their jerseys retired. All four were in attendance with Brodeur, of course, getting the biggest ovation.

It was appropriate that Elias’ No. 26 was raised to the rafters at the Prudential Center against the Islanders, the team he played his most games against, 91, and had his most points, 86.

Elias is the Devils’ leader in points (1025), goals (408), assists (617), points in one season (96), points in a playoff season (23) and game-winning goals (80), .

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Stamkos, Hedman fight for Lightning during same period

Leave a comment

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Your results may vary, but from here, novelty carries a lot of weight when it comes to noting an NHL fight.

Two superstar Tampa Bay Lightning players dropped the gloves in the same period against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, and while neither showing was especially boisterous or violent, the rarity really drives the point home.

As that tweet spoils, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman were the Bolts players who got a little testy in this one.

First, Stamkos went after Karl Alzner in defense of running mate Nikita Kucherov (see the video above this post’s headline). Some might argue that this was less of a fight and more of an aggressive hugging, but it’s still an unusual sight. According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Stamkos has only fought on two other occasions in the NHL: against Brad Marchand (2014-15) and Nik Zherdev (2008-09).

Hedman, meanwhile, dropped the gloves despite a considerable height advantage over Brendan Gallagher. You can see a portion of that fight in this GIF:

While this might explain the anger:

This would be Hedman’s sixth fight.

Theory: Lightning players are just as anxious as the rest of us to see if they’re going to land Erik Karlsson.

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.

Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

NBC
3 Comments

The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for completed deals as the Feb. 26, 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Feb. 24 — New York Islanders acquire Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 23 – Vegas Golden Knights acquire Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa Senators acquire Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – New Jersey Devils acquire Michael Grabner from New York Rangers for 2018 second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from Boston Bruins for 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 21 – Washington Capitals acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Feb. 21 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Tobias Rieder* and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. (*Arizona retains 15 percent of Rieder’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – Boston Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – San Jose Sharks acquire Eric Fehr from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2020 seventh-round pick.

Feb. 19 – Washington Capitals acquire Michal Kempny from Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional* 2018 third-round pick. (*Chicago will receive the higher of Washington’s own third-round draft choice or the third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Washington acquired the Toronto draft pick from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Marcus Johansson trade on July 2, 2017.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 19 – Philadelphia Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek* from Detroit Red Wings for a conditional* 2nd round pick in 2018 or a 3rd round pick in 2018 or a 4th round pick in 2018 and a conditional* 3rd round pick in 2019 (*Red Wings retain half of Mrazek’s salary. *The 2018 fourth-round pick turns into a third-round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games during the regular season. That pick will become a second rounder if the Flyers win two playoff rounds and Mrazek wins six games. The 2019 third rounder becomes Red Wings property if Mrazek signs with the Flyers.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 15 – Chicago Blackhawks acquire Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa Senators for Ville Pokka.

Feb. 15 – St. Louis Blues acquire Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2019 fourth-round pick.

Feb. 13 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Dion Phaneuf*, Nate Thompson from Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. (*Senators retain 25 percent of Phaneuf’s salary.) | PHT analysis