Risk Factors: Detroit Red Wings edition

4 Comments

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Detroit Red Wings 

1. Who steps up if Daniel Alfredsson retires?

It hardly seems like a good idea to rest your goal-scoring hopes on a 41-year-old to begin with – Alfredsson was tied for the team-lead in points last season (49) along with defenseman Niklas Kronwall – then there’s the concern over the health of Alfredsson’s back, which has kept him out of camp and predominantly off the ice. If one had to guess, at this point, it seems as though the 18-year NHL veteran has played his final game. So where does the offence come from? Obvious choices are Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but Datsyuk will start the season injured reserve nursing his shoulder injury suffered in the preseason and Zetterberg is coming off an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign (more on that below).

Detroit finished the 2013-14 season second in the league with 421 man games lost due to injury. As a result, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening were all given significant looks by the Red Wings last season. Nyquist, Tatar and Sheahan finished in the Top 10 in Wings scoring. However, the five aforementioned players are all 24 years of age and younger. As is always the case with young players, growing pains occur.

Detroit finished 16th last season in both goals-for per-game (2.65) and total goals scored (217) – only the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens finished with less total goals scored and wound up in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season. With veteran players such as David Legwand, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson not returning for 2014-15, it’ll be interesting to see whether the five youngsters can take another step forward. Otherwise Detroit’s streak of 23 consecutive seasons in the playoffs could be in serious jeopardy.

2. Finding a puck-moving defenseman

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock recently told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, “I like when we move the puck. I like when the puck gets going in a hurry. I like guys who can make good decisions and move it. We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our D, so is that the guys who’ve been here in the past? Is that someone new? I don’t know the answer for sure but I got two more opportunities to watch before we got to make decisions.”

The Wings still have Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko and Nick Jensen on their roster, but asking too much from, or relying on a young defenseman to make an immediate impact, is a recipe for disaster. The trio have a combined five NHL games played on their respective resumes.

As Khan points out in his piece, Ouellet, who leads all Red Wings in average ice time (over 24 minutes) in the preseason is the furthest along in his development.

“He’s just kind of an old-time player; he’s got great hockey sense,” Babcock said. “The sum of the parts add up greater than anything. He just thinks so good. You look at him, he’s not huge (6-1, 190), he’s not an elite skater, he’s just an elite thinker and plays right all the time.

“He just looks like a hockey player to me, looks like he’s played here 10 years.”

But before Red Wings fans go pondering the idea of placing someone like Brian Lashoff or Jakub Kindl, who despite putting up career-highs in assists (17) and points (19), was a minus-4 last season, on waivers consider that Ouellet has just four career NHL games under his belt.

Losing a veteran like Lashoff (106 NHL games) or Kindl (213 career NHL games) could be a disaster down the road should the injury bug hit. And if anyone knows how bad the injury bug can bite, it’s Detroit.

3. How will Henrik Zetterberg’s back hold up? 

One of the hardest hit by the injury bug was Zetterberg. The Wings captain was limited to just 45 games in 2013-14 due to an on-going back injury which finally needed surgery causing him to miss the final 24 regular season games and first three playoff games.

Zetterberg has had a slow start, albeit in preseason action, but even Babcock called out his top dogs this week.

“They’ve got to get going, just like everybody in exhibition. A lot of your veteran players, it takes them awhile to get going; the urgency isn’t quite there, even though they know they’ve got to be ready to go,” Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. “Our kids have won three, our big dogs 0-1. That’s all part of whether you’re engaged or not.”

Zetterberg turns 34 next week, is he on the decline? Its difficult to say that since he still managed 48 points in 45 games last season, but the key for Zetterberg will be to stay healthy. He’s only played 82 games once in his career (2011-12).

Despite being without both Zetterberg and Datsyuk for 16 of the final 24 regular season games last spring, the Red Wings still managed to cobble together a 13-8-3 record to snag the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

This season Detroit’s young stars won’t surprise anyone. If the Red Wings are going to make the playoffs, both Datsyuk and Zetterberg will need to stay healthy and contribute regularly. If not, like Babcock’s reign in Detroit, the Wings’ playoff streak could come to a screeching halt. Babcock of course is heading to the final year of his contract and says he’s not interested in negotiating once the season begins.

Interesting, or should we say concerning, times could be ahead in the Motor City.

Rantanen’s goals help Avalanche defeat Flyers, extend point streak

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mikko Rantanen scored twice and the Colorado Avalanche extended their point streak to eight games with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Matt Calvert also scored, and Pavel Francouz made 32 saves in Colorado’s seventh win over the past eight games.

Claude Giroux scored the lone Flyers goal late in the third period and Carter Hart made 25 saves, but the Flyers fell in regulation for only the second time in the previous 10 outings (7-2-1).

Francouz provides boost between the pipes

With Avalanche starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer sidelined with a lower-body injury, Francouz made his fourth straight appearance and collected his eighth win of the season with a strong performance against the Flyers.

After a rocky showing against the Flames earlier this week which resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss, Francouz bounced back and was a steadying force in the crease. Claude Giroux ended Francouz’s shutout bid late in the third period, but the Czech goalie held off a late push from Philadelphia.

After a second-round defeat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche have eyes on home-ice advantage in the 2020 postseason. If Francouz can provide consistent goaltending when called upon, they certainly have the star power up front to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Kadri acquisition paying early dividends

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic acquired Nazem Kadri this past summer to help the Avalanche become a deeper team with improved secondary scoring. With 21 points in 28 games this season, Kadri has added another element to Colorado’s dynamic offensive attack.

Early in the third period Wednesday, Kadri patiently waited behind the Flyers’ net until Rantanen skated into position to convert a one-timer to give Colorado a three-goal third-period lead.

The Avalanche’s top line is one of the most lethal trios in the NHL, but Colorado is that much more dangerous if Kadri continues to provide an extra boost.

Looking ahead for Flyers

The Flyers began a three-game road trip against Central Division opponents with a loss against the Avalanche, but cannot let one game ruin the momentum they have generated with strong play in recent weeks. The Flyers will travel to Minnesota and Winnipeg over the weekend and need to continue to secure points to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.

Oshie, Carlson lift Capitals over Bruins in mid-season test

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 82-game regular season is a marathon for NHL teams, but at various points of the season you want to measure yourself up against a top team in your conference.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals defeated the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins 3-2 at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson scored the go-ahead goal 4:42 into the third period to help propel the Capitals. T.J. Oshie scored twice and Braden Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals collected their seventh win in the previous eight games.

David Pastrnak scored his NHL-leading 26th goal for Boston but the Bruins have dropped four consecutive games (0-3-1).

Oshie often overlooked

Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Carlson or Holtby, Oshie is often neglected when listing the Capitals’ star power.

Since being acquired in July of 2015, Oshie has been a consistent offensive threat for the Capitals in the previous four-plus seasons. He has averaged 25.5 goals and added his 12th and 13th of this season in stellar fashion on Wednesday.

Oshie made a quick deke to his forehand before ringing a shot off the crossbar, but then finished his own rebound to even the score early in the second period.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with a highlight-reel goal. The American forward danced around Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton before converting a nifty deke 3:30 after his first of the game.

While other players in Washington’s lineup receive credit for the Capitals’ strong play in recent years, Oshie should not be forgotten about as he has proven to be a key piece to the puzzle in Washington.

Pastrnak remains red-hot

The Czech winger has solidified himself as one the best pure goal scorers in the NHL today and recorded his 26th goal of the season on Wednesday. No. 88 is on pace for 67 goals this season and has helped the Boston Bruins secure a 10-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

Pastrnak tallied a short-side snipe to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead against the Capitals Wednesday. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy was able to complete a cross-ice pass because centerman Patrice Bergeron skated hard to the net in order to create an open passing lane.

If Pastrnak is able to continue this torrid pace, he could be in line to collect a lot of hardware at the NHL Awards show and help the Bruins collect a trophy they fell just short of last season.

Ovechkin’s office

The sign of dominance in any competitive sport is if you can continue to repeat an action while your opponent is aware of what is coming.

For Alex Ovechkin, his presence from the left circle throughout the course of his career has been spectacular. The captain of the Washington Capitals has recorded 299 of his 679 goals (44%) from the left circle or above. And since the 2012-13 season, 54% of his goals have come from that spot on the ice.

NHL teams will continue to game plan and know exactly where No. 8 will be on the ice, especially when Washington is on a power play, but his excellence from that area should be viewed in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky’s operation from behind the net.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Flyers vs. Avalanche livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Flyers and Avalanche have both won six of their last seven games and each enter this matchup in playoff position in their respective conferences. This is the first of two meetings this season as these two will play at Philadelphia on Feb. 1.

Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick in 2013, is having another standout season. After MacKinnon’s breakout season in 2017-18 (39 goals, 97 points), he upped those totals last season with two more goals and this season he’s tracking towards another career-best year. MacKinnon ranks third in the NHL in points (47) and is tied for fourth in goals (19) this season.

Travis Konecny leads Philadelphia with 28 points this season and is tied with Oskar Lindblom for the team lead in goals (11). Konecny took a hard, open-ice hit from Mark Borowiecki late in the first period on Saturday and did not return – he’s out indefinitely with a concussion. The 22-year-old Konecny was having a career season, on pace for 30 goals and 76 points.

Sean Couturier (22 points), Claude Giroux (21) and Jakub Voracek (21) are next on the team in scoring. Couturier has scored 30-plus goals each of the last two seasons as he’s totaled 76 points both years (his career high). Giroux already has four game-winning goals this season (as many as he had all of last year). Voracek has five points in the last five games (all assists).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk – Morgan Frost – Tyler Pitlick
Scott LaughtonKevin HayesJoel Farabee
Chris Stewart – Mikhail Vorobyev – David Kase

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimJustin Braun
Shayne GostisbehereRobert Hagg

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre BurakovskyNazem KadriJoonas Donskoi
Matt CalvertPierre-Edouard BellemareValeri Nichushkin
Matt NietoJ.T. CompherTyson Jost

Nikita ZadorovSamuel Girard
Ryan GravesIan Cole
Calle Rosen – Mark Barberio

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Peter DeBoer out as San Jose Sharks head coach

5 Comments

The San Jose Sharks cut ties with head coach Peter DeBoer Wednesday evening. Bob Boughner will take over behind the Sharks bench on an interim basis.

San Jose has lost its last five games and currently sits in sixth place in the Pacific Division with a 15-16-2 record. The Sharks have been outscored 15-3 in the previous three games.

“When you have had a level of past success, change is never easy, but we feel this team is capable of much more than we have shown thus far and that a new voice is needed,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. “As a team and as individuals, our play has not met expectations this year and our level of consistency has not been where it needs to be. This group of individuals who will lead our team moving forward are very familiar with our players, and we think this change can provide our group with a fresh start.

“Under the leadership of Pete, along with Steve, Dave and Johan, our franchise accomplished some great things, culminating in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. We want to thank them for their contributions to our organization’s success over the last four years.”

DeBoer was not the only coaching change. Assistant coaches Steve Spott, Dave Barr and goaltending coach Johan Hedberg were also relieved of their duties.

Boughner will be the boss behind the bench and will be joined by associate coach Roy Sommer, assistant coach Mike Ricci and goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov. Dan Darrow will remain in his current role of assistant coach, video.

The Sharks are the fifth team to make a coaching change this season along with the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs.

San Jose will host the New York Rangers Thursday.