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.

Report: Canadiens to sign KHL defenseman Jakub Jerabek

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Just four days after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens’ front office is already hard at work.

The Habs have reportedly agreed to terms with Chekhov Vityaz defenseman Jakub Jerabek, according to KHL reporter Aivis Kalnins.

No official announcement has been made because Jerabek still has four days remaining on his current KHL contract.

The 25-year-old isn’t big (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but his numbers suggest he’s got a good blend of offensive ability, while playing with an edge.

In his first KHL season, Jerabek scored five goals, 29 assists and accumulated 56 penalty minutes in 59 games.

He had spent the previous eight years with Plzen HC over in the Czech League.

Montreal has plenty of defensemen on their roster, but with the expansion draft and free agency on the horizon, that could change fairly quickly.

Veteran Andrei Markov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but it would be shocking to see him go. Alexei Emelin, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson are all signed, while Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov are both set to become restricted free agents.

In Beaulieu and Nesterov’s case, there’s a decent chance they won’t be back with the club next year.

Last year’s ninth overall pick, Mikhail Sergachev, will also be looking to make a full-time leap to the NHL in 2017-18, so Jerabek isn’t a slam dunk to become a regular.

PHT Morning Skate: Five under-the-radar coaching candidates

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–We don’t often see franchise players hit the open market, but next summer could be intriguing in that regard. Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog focuses on the Islanders’ future with or without John Tavares, and what direction the team could be heading in. Friedman also touches on Joel Quenneville’s job security in Chicago and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Some hockey fans have begun questioning the importance of winning faceoffs, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t among those who doubt the importance of winning draws. “If you start with the puck, you can use it to your advantage on the offensive side of the game. When you’re trying to protect a lead and starting with the puck, you’re killing their momentum that they’re trying to build.” (OC Register)

–Even though it’s been almost 30 years since Wayne Gretzky has suited up for the Edmonton Oilers, he still gets pretty intense during their playoff games. We’ve all gotten to see the footage of a nervous-looking Gretzky watching the Oilers play, and he’s definitely not just putting on a show. “It’s an emotional game and I’ve always been sort of an emotional guy. It’s exciting. Back in Edmonton, the city is on fire. The Oilers are playing with a great deal of passion. You can’t help but get caught up in that passion. That’s what it’s all about. (Edmonton Journal)

–There’s a couple of teams still looking for new head coaches at this point, and Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon brings up five off-the-board candidates that could step in and get an NHL job very soon. With the success the Capitals have had over the last few seasons, it’s not surprising to see their associate coach Todd Reirden and assistant Lane Lambert get some recognition. (Sportsnet)

–Speaking of people flying under the radar, USA Today looks at eight players that could surprisingly make a huge difference for their teams in the second round. With the injury to Karl Alzner in Washington, Nate Schmidt could eat up some important minutes for the Caps. Pens forward Jake Guentzel, who was terrific in the first round against Columbus, may need to help shoulder the offensive burden. (USA Today)

–Smaller goalie equipment was supposed to make life harder for netminders, but has it had the opposite effect? Since the equipment change became mandatory on Feb. 4, scoring went down by 0.03 goals-per-game. The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell suggests that if the NHL wants to add more scoring, they may be better off making goalies wear bigger equipment. (The Hockey News)

Bruce Cassidy officially named head coach of the Bruins

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Bruce Cassidy wanted it, and now he’s got it.

On Wednesday morning, Cassidy was officially named the 28th head coach of the Boston Bruins.

He really helped turn Boston’s season around after taking over for Claude Julien, who was fired on Feb. 9. Cassidy led the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record in 33 games behind the bench.

Despite being without a number of key players like Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, David Krejci and others, Cassidy’s Bruins managed to push the Senators before eventually being eliminated in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.

“Obviously we’re talking (the players) about pretty much everything when we’re out shooting the bull, and a lot of guys liked him,” forward David Backes said on Tuesday, per NESN. “He was put into a tough situation — being out of the playoff race, maybe just chasing at the point he takes over to try to take a team and get in … and you figure the way the business works, that he’s probably coaching for his life to make a splash and show that he can be a difference-maker or else who knows what the future holds for him? I think he did a heck of a job, and his results are what a coach should be judged on.”

Cassidy did some impressive work over the final three months of the campaign. Under his watch, the team finished first in goals-per-game (3.37), first in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in wins (18), tied for second in power play percentage (27.8), tied for third in goals allowed per game (2.30), and they ranked sixth in takeaways (229).

Prior to joining Julien’s staff as an assistant at the start of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy spent five years as head coach of Boston’s AHL team in Providence.

This is the second head coaching job for the 51-year-old at the NHL level. He previously served as head coach of the Washington Capitals for parts of two seasons (2002-03 to 2003-04).

After surgery, Joe Thornton should be ready for 2017-18 (Wherever he plays)

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On Monday, we found out that Joe Thornton made the “courageous” (or … outrageous?) decision to fight through tears to his ACL and MCL and suit up for the playoffs.

(That still warrants a moment of reflection, because, wow.)

The San Jose Sharks sent out a positive update in that regard: after successful surgery yesterday, Thornton is expected to be ready to play by the start of the 2017-18 season.

So, that answers one big question. It doesn’t settle an even bigger one, though: where will Thornton play next year?

Patrick Marleau indicated that he believes he has “at least five good years” left, a fine thought that becomes trickier when you consider San Jose’s salary structure problems for 2018-19 and on. The impression is that Thornton wants to come back, too, but what if he – justifiably – seeks security in a longer term deal?

That situation is currently unclear, but at least it sounds like he’ll be healthy to start next season, whether he remains a member of the Sharks or joins a different roster.