Five challenges for Canada, which still has a job to do

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1. Get refocused, and don’t be too confident

Not to take anything away from Friday’s big win over the United States, but that’s in the past. Sunday is the focus now.

The Swedes have flown largely under the radar this tournament, but after an uneven start and the loss of Henrik Zetterberg, they seem to be hitting their stride just in time. Like Canada, they still haven’t lost a game.

“We weren’t one of the favorites to make the finals, but we believed in ourselves, and it’s a great feeling to be here now,” said Daniel Alfredsson after beating Finland in the semifinals.

Alfredsson must not have read many pre-Olympic predictions, because a lot of people did, in fact, pick his team to make the finals. Even without Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, the Swedes are still plenty dangerous up front, and their blue line is matched in depth and talent only by the Canadians. And, of course, they’ve got…

2. Henrik Lundqvist

Remember when he was struggling with the Rangers? Yeah, he’s not struggling anymore. Lundqvist came into the Olympics playing well, and he’s stayed hot in Sochi. Only six shots have beaten him in five games, for a 1.20 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

If not for Lundqvist, the Swedes may very well have lost to Switzerland in the preliminaries. The one goal he did allow versus the Finns wasn’t a good one, but otherwise he was perfect.

“I gave up a tough one there,” he said. “I definitely thought it was an icing so I kind of relaxed and I just made a bad move.”

But, “If you take away that one goal I feel like I played a really solid game, I did the things I need to do.”

3. Start burying some chances

source:  This goes hand-in-hand with point No. 2. Despite all the goal-scoring forwards the Canadians brought with them to Sochi, only four have actually scored. Jeff Carter has three, Jame Benn two, and Patrick Sharp and Ryan Getzlaf each have one.

Against the Americans — just like against the Norwegians, Latvians, and Finns — Canada had lots of shots and not many goals. Granted, Jonathan Quick was a big part of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, and Patrice Bergeron have yet to bury one this tournament.

Now, clearly, the most important thing for Canada is defense. Mike Babcock has said time and again that his team’s only job is to score one more than the opposition. So far it’s done that. But shutting out the Swedes won’t be easy. In part because…

4. Stay out of the box

Sweden’s power play has been deadly, scoring seven times on 19 chances. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has three of those seven PP goals, including the game-winner versus Finland, a blast from the point that beat Kari Lehtonen.

Canada has been fairly disciplined to this point, going shorthanded 16 times in five games. But Sweden has the kind of skilled players that tend to draw penalties, and the Swedes as a whole should possess the puck more than some of the sides Canada has faced so far.

“Our coach (Par Marts) keeps telling us ‘go for it, go for it, go for it’ even when we feel we shouldn’t be going for it sometimes,” said Lundqvist. “He encourages our players to use their skill. As long as we use the puck well it’s good for us.”

5. The big ice

What, you thought you’d heard the last of the big-ice factor? Sorry, but when a country hasn’t won Olympic gold outside of North America since 1952, it’s a factor until it bumps the slump. Especially against Sweden, the defending world champs and the last winner of Olympic gold on the big ice, eight years ago in Turin.

“They’re incredibly stingy defensively; they’re hard to play against,” Matt Duchene said of the Swedes, per NHL.com. “They like to slow the game down, they like to re-group. They almost play the game like soccer on this big ice. It’s a chess match, it’s going to be a chess match. I have a great appreciation for Swedish hockey after playing in that league and playing against them last year in the [world championship] and other times.”

Get to know Hurricanes’ slew of young defensemen

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There’s a strong chance that Carolina Hurricanes fans are strongly informed about this team’s wealth of promising – in some cases, already productive – young defensemen.

Carolina still has some questions in net, as Scott Darling must prove that his strong work as a backup in Chicago will translate into a productive career as the top guy with the Hurricanes. There’s also some questions at forward; while the group looks feisty, it’s unclear if they’ll be dominant or merely solid.

The defense, however, seems to be the group that could really become the envy of just about every NHL team outside of maybe Nashville.

Again, Hurricanes fans probably know this well. On the other hand, plenty of other hockey fans – maybe even hardcore ones – only know so much about these guys. In the event that the Hurricanes finally make good on their building hype, here’s a guide so that you can look like you knew about them first.

(Hey, you missed out on that sensation with your hipster music friends in high school, so here’s your chance.)

Note: This will focus mainly on their most prominent defensemen.

Justin Faulk – OK, if Hurricanes defensemen are indie bands, then Faulk is The Arcade Fire: most people know about him by now.

Still, at just 25, he’s in the thick of his prime, and at the very team-friendly clip of $4.833 million for three more seasons.

Since he really broke through in 2014-15, Faulk has generated 48 goals. That’s the sixth-highest total among NHL defensemen during that period of time, according to Hockey Reference. (Brent Burns is in a league of his own with 73, but he’s only eight behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who came in second with 56 goals.)

Faulk’s 23 power-play goals rank third among blueliners during that same stretch.

The American defenseman is a bit of a double-edged sword in that chances seem to go both ways when he’s on the ice, but his offensive production is probably worth it.

Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin – At the moment, it seems clear that the Hurricanes would be wise to make their current defensemen specialists.

While Faulk can be the offensive motor, it sure seems like Pesce and Slavin could be the guys doing the dirty work in their own end. Head coach Bill Peters can decide if he wants to have one be Faulk’s “defensive conscience” or if he wants to put them together, but either way, each blueliner puts up modest offensive numbers but limits chances against to a promising degree. And, hey, there’s a chance they might bump those scoring numbers up at least a bit as they mature.

The Hurricanes made big investments in contract extensions for Pesce, 22, and Slavin, 23, this summer.

Noah Hanifin – There are certain numbers that make you grimace with Hanifin, 20, especially if you grade him based on the fact that he was drafted fifth overall in 2015.

He certainly doesn’t work out too well from a fancy stats perspective:

Yikes, well at least he seemed to be a strong playmaker …

On the bright side, Canes Country’s Peter Dewar notes that Hanifin’s numbers dramatically improved once he was elevated to a spot with Pesce in Carolina’s top-four once Ron Hainsey was traded.

Hanifin scored almost as many points (14) in 26 games after Hainsey was traded than he did (15) in the 55 contests before that happened. His stats improved basically across the board, often in dramatic ways.

Perhaps Hanifin made the jump to the NHL a bit too quickly, but there’s still plenty of time for him to figure things out. Much like Klas Dahlbeck and Trevor van Riemsdyk, Hanifin enters a contract year as he’ll be an RFA after 2017-18. Dalbeck and TVR are both 26, so the similarities likely end there.

Haydn Fleury: Click here for plenty on Fleury, the subject of “Looking to make the leap.”

Jake Bean: Along with Fleury, Bean is one of the blueliners who could battle for minutes in the near future. Bean, 19, was the 13th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. He’s been putting up impressive offensive numbers in the WHL, and even last year spoke with NHL.com about the logjam in the Carolina pipeline.

“In some ways it’s a logjam, but for me, I’m excited that I’m going to be surrounded by really talented prospects and players,” Bean said. “It’s an opportunity not everyone is going to get with every team.”

***

For all we know, amassing such an impressive war chest of defensive talent might one day allow GM Ron Francis to improve other areas of the team. It’s the sort of luxury few teams can relate to.

As is, though, this is one impressive group with its best days almost certainly coming down the road.

Video: Don Cherry sings ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ at Cubs game

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So, CBC personality Don Cherry was the Chicago Cubs’ recent guest for their traditional rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.

He’s not the first hockey-person to do so, as Jonathan Toews was involved in a memorable butchering of that song, among others.

Cherry put his own spin on it, giving fans a chance to review both his singing, lyrics, and his suit (the latter of which was relatively understated):

Russian Machine Never Breaks and Sportsnet note that Cherry tweaked the lyrics just a bit, but he earned some points with fans in Chicago by getting a cheap Blackhawks pop.

Hey, if nothing else, it provided an opportunity to dust off that awesome, ancient photo via Getty.

The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It’s tough to pick the perfect NHL home for Jaromir Jagr because there are just so many variables.

There are, for instance, unspoken demands. Jagr has easily earned the right to ask for a significant salary and role thanks to his Hall of Fame career. It’s his right to hold out for what he wants.

Of course, it makes him a tougher puzzle piece to wedge into a team’s bigger picture. The 45-year-old could finally totally fall off the map in 2017-18. Naturally, even if he merely continues to slip, there’s the argument that Jagr is taking minutes away from players with a brighter future.

SBNation blog Canes Country, for instance, ultimately argued against the Carolina Hurricanes bringing the legend in:

Justin Williams was brought in this offseason to help bring veteran leadership to the Hurricanes, and it seems general manager Ron Francis – Jagr’s former teammate in Pittsburgh – is done making moves. Their leadership quota filled, there’s really no place for Jagr to fit in the Canes’ lineup.

Perhaps not, but let’s trot out a few reasons why the Hurricanes should really think it over.

Star power

In Mid-July, 24/7 Wall St. reported that the Hurricanes saw the second-largest percentage drop in professional sports over the last decade. An eight-year postseason drought tends to hurt a team at the box office, after all.

Now, winning would be the best way for the Hurricanes to fill the seats. There’s no denying that.

Still, for all the hype about this roster full of young stars, that buzz might not go far enough to really draw mainstream attention. Signing Jaromir Jagr would be a way to draw eyes to the Hurricanes, and with a ton of cap space, Carolina is nicely equipped to meet his demands.

Grumpy old men?

Canes Country makes a strong point about how Jagr might not fit in with, say, Jordan Staal or Victor Rask.

Of course, part of that reasoning is based on a perfect world scenario where no one gets injured, but even assuming that’s the case … perhaps head coach Bill Peters could find some creative solutions?

For one thing, the question of foot speed could, conceivably, be mitigated by putting the few elder statesmen together. Perhaps Jagr would line up with Lee Stempniak and/or Justin Williams, thus sequestering some of the older legs and giving Peters a chance to massage situations to their advantage?

He might still provide a boost

It’s understandable to point to, say, dipping numbers for Jagr without Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and say that he can’t do it on his own.

On the other hand, Jagr sure seems like he would fit in on a team that’s quietly building a reputation as a possession powerhouse. Even in 2016-17, Jagr’s incredible hockey IQ and puck protecting prowess allowed him to put up the sort of possession numbers that players half his age would envy.

Just consider how he compares to the HERO chart standard for a first-line winger:

If fancy stats bore you, consider this:

Maybe Jagr wouldn’t be such a bad stylistic fit, after all?

***

Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said that he’s comfortable with the team as is, yet he’d also be willing to make an upgrade. The implication seemed to be via the trade route, but the Hurricanes really might want to give some extra thought to bringing in Jagr.

It might just help them break that playoff slump.

Gulutzan thinks Flames can be ‘a 100-point club’

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Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan covered a wide array of topics in a great Q & A with the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson, with his discussion of how well 2017-18 could go possibly being the most interesting note:

“The challenge, for sure, is managing expectations. We weren’t a 5-10-1 team to start last year, and we weren’t a 16-5 team to end,” Gulutzan said. “We finished with 94 points. I think, realistically, we can do better than that. But to make a jump from 77 to 94 to 118 isn’t realistic. So we have to manage that expectation. Our goal is we think we could be a 100-point club. That’s kind of what I think a lot about in the summer — trying to manage that expectation but also have something in mind that we think we could be.”

Interesting.

Adding Travis Hamonic to a defensive mix that was already quite impressive should raise Calgary’s ceiling to begin with. It doesn’t hurt that many of their best players are in the meat of their primes, from Johnny Gaudreau to Dougie Hamilton to Sean Monahan and more.

Gulutzan praised the size, character, and “play” of new goalies Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, yet that might once again be the reason to wonder if the Flames can make that next step from a team fighting for a playoff spot to a team legitimately contending.

(The jury’s still out on Gulutzan, too, though he makes a reasonable point that 2017-18 could be more stable as his second season after the “mega changes” of his debut season.)

There are some other interesting bits in this interview, which is worth your time, including:

  • Micheal Ferland is slated to start the season as Calgary’s first-line winger alongside Gaudreau and Monahan.
  • Hamonic will likely pair up with T.J. Brodie to begin; Gulutzan says that while Hamonic isn’t a “void” on offense, he expects Hamonic to open things up for Brodie.
  • Gulutzan expects a “big leap” from Sam Bennett.

Check out the full back-and-forth at the Calgary Sun.

If you need even more Flames action, there’s also this: