Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller, Jay Bouwmeester

PHT Morning Skate: Bouncing back from comebacks Game 2 theme

1 Comment

Three Game 2s get underway today including a matinee special in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The theme of the day for a pair of teams might be how to hold down a lead.

The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild each had leads in Game 1 only to see their home-standing opponents storm back to win in overtime. The in-between game of the day features the Columbus Blue Jackets hoping to annoy the Pittsburgh Penguins into losing and giving Columbus the franchise’s first playoff win. The Jackets held a 3-1 lead of their own in Game 1 before losing 4-3 and they’d like their collective inexperience not bite them again.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks [St. Louis leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC LiveStream)

The Blackhawks thought they broke through and got into Ryan Miller’s head in Game 1. Getting a 3-2 lead after one period will create a comfort zone. Then the Blues realized it’s the playoffs and that means having to defend and they did just that for the next 80+ minutes shutting down the ‘Hawks.

The Blues would like to keep doing what they did through the rest of Game 1 into Game 2. The problem there: They know the Blackhawks will make adjustments and thus goes the chess match between Joel Quenneville and Ken Hitchcock. Patrick Kane had a nice return to action in Game 1 and Jonathan Toews would no doubt like to pot a goal of his own to match.

The Blues had to like the resolve they showed and the offense they got from guys who helped them all season late in the game. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen coming up when they were needed most was the exact kind of lift they needed. Game 2 could deliver another instant classic.

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets [Pittsburgh leads series 1-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Blue Jackets did a lot of things the team liked in Game 1. Brandon Dubinsky pestered Sidney Crosby all game long and the Jackets at one point held a two-goal lead in the second period. If Columbus is going to earn their first ever playoff win, they have to not take penalties.

Matt Niskanen was the burr in the side of the Blue Jackets in Game 1. When you spend time worrying about where Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are on the man-advantage, people are going to get open and Niskanen seized the day.

If there’s a guy the Jackets have to get involved in Game 2 it’s Ryan Johansen. After a breakout season, there’s no hiding a 30-goal guy in the playoffs which means it’ s up to both coach Todd Richards and Johansen himself to find ways to get free of the Pittsburgh defense.

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Colorado leads series 1-0] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Wild looked for a while in Game 1 like they were in charge. Giving the Avalanche an opportunity to play to their strengths and open things up a bit was a recipe for a comeback. Wild coach Mike Yeo had parts to a successful game plan going on Thursday night but not the total package.

If the Wild can take solace out of anything in Game 1, it’s that they can hang with the Avs offensively. Charlie Coyle and Ryan Suter showed a deft touch, but they’ll need more from Zach Parise and Jason Pominville if they want to work the Avs more.

Colorado, on the other hand, got a brilliant game out of their “old man” Paul Stastny and steady as he goes work from Semyon Varlamov. The Avs showed how dangerous they can be and that’s what coach Patrick Roy likes to see. Now if they can keep the Wild from getting the jump on them, they’ll be all set.

Canucks’ Tryamkin refuses AHL assignment, would prefer to be a healthy scratch apparently

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles against Nikita Tryamkin #88 of the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Vancouver Canucks have an interesting situation with big Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin. Six games into season, the 22-year-old defenseman has yet to get into the lineup, and he’s been brandishing the KHL out-clause in his contract by refusing an assignment to the AHL.

“There is no possibility that he will play in the American Hockey League,” GM Jim Benning said this weekend, per the Vancouver Sun. “We’ve explored that. We’ve talked to him and his agent and he has said no. In a perfect world, we’d like him to get some games (in the minors). But it is what it is. He is working hard in practice and doing extra work.”

Tryamkin was the 66th overall pick in the 2014 draft, an enticing project with size and strength, one who naturally drew comparisons to Zdeno Chara. He came to North America late last season, after his fourth KHL campaign with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg had finished, and played 13 games (1G, 1A) for the Canucks down the (meaningless) stretch.

It remains to be seen when he’ll get into a game again. Chris Tanev got banged up Sunday in Anaheim and is questionable for tomorrow’s home date against Ottawa, but Tanev is more likely to be replaced by Alex Biega, who played as a forward against the Ducks.

Tryamkin, meanwhile, will likely have to sit and wait. Unless he gets bored enough to go to Utica, which is where the Canucks would like him anyway.

Per Cap Friendly, Tryamkin’s contract pays him $925,000 in the NHL versus $70,000 in the AHL. He can become a restricted free agent after the season is over, which would allow him to return to the KHL should he choose to do so.

The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the season

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) watches as Patrik Laine's game-tying goal goes past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

In case you haven’t noticed, NHL goalies are having a real struggle to start the 2016-17 season. After 80 games, the average save percentage sits at just .903, per Hockey Reference.

To put that number in perspective, the last time a season finished with that low an average was 2000-01. The last couple of years, it’s been at .915, the highest save rate in league history. So don’t expect it to stay at .903 for long. Remember, the goalies’ equipment hasn’t really been altered yet.

With that in mind, here are five goalies that need to pull it together:

Brian Elliott: The most obvious candidate. He’s been extremely shaky for his new team in Calgary, going 0-3-0 with an .839 save rate. Another poor performance tonight in Chicago and head coach Glen Gulutzan may need to give Chad Johnson an opportunity to take the ball and run with it, because the Flames are already in a hole.

Frederik Andersen: Another goalie playing for a new team. He’s gone 1-0-3 for Toronto, with an .879 save percentage. The Maple Leafs had better hope this is just a blip, because they’re committed to Andersen through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $5 million.

Corey Crawford: This is an interesting one, because Crawford has mostly been ventilated on the penalty kill. His save percentage is a ridiculously low .615 while the ‘Hawks are shorthanded (10 goals allowed) and an impressive .966 at even strength (three goals). Overall, he’s 1-3-0 with an .886 save percentage, which needs to be higher one way or the other.

Eddie Lack/Cam Ward: Let’s count these two as one, because they both play for Carolina and they’re both having serious issues. After five Hurricanes games, Lack’s save percentage is just .857 (three starts), while Ward’s is somehow worse at .852 (two starts). It was a similar story last year, when Lack and Ward combined for the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL, so don’t feel obligated to act surprised.

Steve Mason/Michal Neuvirth: We’ll also count these guys as one, since they both play for Philadelphia and they’re both having a tough go. This scenario is different than Carolina’s, though, because Mason and Neuvirth were both excellent last season in helping the Flyers to an unexpected playoff berth. This season, Mason is 1-2-1 with an .882 save percentage, while Neuvirth is technically undefeated with a 1-0-0 record, but his save percentage is just .854 in two appearances.

So that’s seven struggling goalies. There are plenty of honorary mentions, including Anton Khudobin, Louis Domingue, Darcy Kuemper, Craig Anderson, John Gibson, Martin Jones, Jake Allen, and even Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, whose save percentage sits at a lowly .861.

PS — Henrik Lundqvist, Semyon Varlamov, and Marc-Andre Fleury haven’t been great either.

Oh look, more injuries in Dallas

Lindy Ruff
Leave a comment

The Stars should be on the lookout for banana peels and open manhole covers.

After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Columbus, Dallas received more bad news in the health department — Ales Hemsky, who returned from a groin injury to play his first game of the year on Saturday, was re-injured and is now out for Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, while Jason Spezza “tweaked something in practice” today and is listed as questionable, per the Morning-News.


Spezza and Hemsky join Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Patrick Eaves (lower body) and Jiri Hudler (flu) among Dallas’ inactives.

Eaves might be able to go against the Jets, while Hudler has all but been ruled out. The rest of the ailments are of the longer-term variety, with Janmark the longest at 5-6 months.

As you might expect, the Stars have struggled while trying to compensate. The lineup against Columbus featured the likes of Gemel Smith, Lauri Korpikoski and Adam Cracknell — all of whom are basically new to the team this season — and, unsurprisingly, Dallas’ recent record reflects that lack of roster consistency: 1-2-1 over the last four games, including a pair of home defeats to the Kings and Jackets.

“We’ve got to deal with what we’ve got,” head coach Lindy Ruff said.

Related: The injury situation in Dallas is out of control

Rozsival to make season debut for Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks passes against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on December 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

An injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk has paved the way for Michal Rozsival to make his season debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Rozsival might’ve been scheduled to play anyway, as the veteran defenseman is expected to replace Michal Kempny when the ‘Hawks host the Flames tonight at United Center.

“We want to get everyone in at some point,” said head coach Joel Quenneville, per the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful, gives us some experience and can play minutes against top guys.”

At 38, Rozsival is one of the oldest players in the NHL. When the ‘Hawks re-signed him for another year, it came as a surprise to many. And by the time training camp rolled around, even he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be this season.

But not surprisingly, after last season, GM Stan Bowman would rather err on the side of too much depth on the back end.

“It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?'” Bowman said, per the Sun-Times. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”

Related: Blackhawks’ issues go beyond the penalty kill