PHT Morning Skate: Habs, Wild look to turn things around at home

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Tonight’s Game 3 match-ups in Montreal and St. Paul are vital ones for the host teams.

The Montreal Canadiens are trying to shake off the disappointment of their Game 2 loss in which they blew a 3-1 third period and gave up four unanswered goals on the way to a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins. Home ice advantage could come in handy for the Habs as the crowd at Bell Centre will surely be at fever pitch.

The Minnesota Wild are in a bit more of a predicament down 2-0 in the series to the Chicago Blackhawks. In spite of the losses, they feel like they’re right there with the defending champs. That may have been the case in Game 1, but Game 2 saw Chicago dominate.

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Game 3: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins [Series tied 1-1] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Canadiens are hoping home ice can help them gain an advantage on the Bruins and after Bruins coach Claude Julien’s complaints about the lack of calls in Game 2 going his team’s way, looking for the officials to bend things more their way in Montreal is an interesting tactic.

Michel Therrien recognized what Julien was doing, however, and this is where home ice comes into play as Bell Centre can be one of the most intimidating places for players and officials alike to play in.

For the Habs, Thomas Vanek got things going with a pair of power play goals in Game 2, but the area they have to get better is 5-on-5. Four of the seven goals they’ve scored in the series have come on the power play whereas all eight of the Bruins’ goals have come at even strength.

Reilly Smith has been big in the first two games with two goals. Boston’s defensemen have been equally strong with Dougie Hamilton having two goals and Torey Krug and Johnny Boychuk with one each.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 2-0] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The mission for the Wild seems simple. After getting run over by Patrick Kane in Game 1, they kept him quiet in Game 2… Only to see Marian Hossa have a big night setting teammates up with three assists. The guy who’s been killing them in both games is last season’s playoff stud in Bryan Bickell.

In two games, Bickell has three goals and two assists. After a regular season in which he had 15 points, having five in two games sounds like a major problem for Minnesota.

Another serious issues for the Wild comes from their star players being shut down. Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu are struggling badly as the three have combined for two assists, both coming on Clayton Stoner’s goal in Game 1. With the series shifting to home ice for Minnesota, those players have to find ways to get free to create and generate opportunities.

People can talk about Ilya Bryzgalov’s goaltending issues all they want, but unless the offense helps out, the Wild are in trouble.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

 

 

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”