PHT Morning Skate: Chicago looks to follow Montreal’s example

10 Comments

The New York Rangers’ first opportunity to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t have turned out much worse for them.

After allowing no more than three goals in each of his previous seven contests, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was chased from Game 5. He turned aside just 15 of 19 shots, although his replacement, Cam Talbot, was no better.

Montreal overcame a second period comeback attempt from the Rangers en route to a 7-4 victory that reduced the series deficit to 3-2. The game also featured its fair share of controversy, as has become the standard in this series.

With one series extended, Chicago will do its best to follow in Montreal’s footsteps.

Game 5: Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Los Angeles leads series 3-1] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

A year ago, Los Angeles’ defense of its championship was thwarted by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. That moment has stuck with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.

“It was a frustrating time,” Doughty told the Los Angeles Times. “I wanted to win that Cup again so bad along with all the other guys on my team. It hurts when you can’t get what you want and what you want back.

“It really gave me the drive, even more of ‘the want’ to beat this team just because they did take our season away last year and it’s our turn to do it back to them.”

After a lot of hard work, he finally has the opportunity to put the Blackhawks through exactly what he dealt with, but the completion of his poetic revenge won’t come easy. Chicago has been down this road before — not against the Kings mind you, but the Blackhawks did find themselves behind 3-1 against Detroit in 2013 and they fought back.

“Why can’t we do it again?” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane asked. “It’s tough in the position we’re in now. But at the same time, we still feel good about our team in here and we all know that we’ve done it before.”

If the Blackhawks are to pull off another comeback, they will need more from Kane. He helped lead them past St. Louis and Minnesota, but the Kings have held him to just one assist in the Western Conference Final. To be fair though, Kane isn’t the only one that’s had a hard time beating goaltender Jonathan Quick.

The other two members of Chicago’s top line, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, weren’t exactly great in Chicago’s 5-2 loss on Monday, which is troubling as Chicago needs its first line to dominate to make uniting Toews and Kane worth the hit in depth.

The Blackhawks do have a great cast build around Toews and Kane, but they haven’t shown up so far. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have combined for just one goal in this series.

If any of those guys start to click though, the Kings will be in for a fight. Certainly, they’re anticipating a strong effort from Chicago tonight.

“I think we’re in a good place in terms of understanding that we’re playing a really good hockey team, knowing full well we’ll get the full charge tomorrow night,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We’ll have to be ready for it.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

Getty
Leave a comment

Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

Getty
Leave a comment

The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

Getty
Leave a comment

Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

Getty
2 Comments

The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%