Getty

Flyers rise, Leafs fall, Islanders lurk on busy night in East playoff races

4 Comments

On a busy night for the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams, the Philadelphia Flyers probably ended up being the biggest winners.*

Let’s try to sort things out lightning-round style, then we’ll take a look at where the most relevant East bubble teams stand.

  • The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed their third straight win, and it was a significant one, edging the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. The Flyers move ahead of the Leafs and other teams for the second wild card spot in the East, although Philly’s edge on Toronto looks a lot shakier when you factor in games in hand (more on that in a moment). Still, it was a big win for the Flyers.
  • The Maple Leafs really might be the biggest losers of the night, at least among teams whose chances seem most realistic right now. The Ottawa Senators lost, but they lost in overtime (3-2 to the Calgary Flames), so they have a three-point edge on the Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins won a hectic 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to move one point ahead of Toronto … but again, for now. The games in hand things is going to come up again.
  • The Florida Panthers managed to get the extra point against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 2-1 overtime win. The Cats aren’t in a position of strength, yet they can’t be discounted altogether, either.
  • The New York Islanders continue to rise in the East, gaining another win against an opponent in “contender” position. Andrew Ladd (yes, Ladd) scored two goals as the Isles beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, giving the Islanders a six-game point streak. They still need to make up some ground, yet they’re a reminder of how much of a difference a surge can make. Even with the Habs hobbling a bit lately, that’s impressive stuff.

Phew, that’s a lot to digest, right?

Well, this might make things a little easier to follow. Let’s break things down by way of the Atlantic Division races and also the bubble races overall.

Races for the last two spots in the Atlantic

2. Senators – 58 points in 47 games
3. Bruins – 56 points in 52 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP

As you can see, the Bruins lead the Maple Leafs for that third spot … but that’s a huge chunk of games for Toronto to make up ground (at least in an era rife with three-point games). Boston might end up being more concerned about the East bubble races, then, so that’s a good excuse to look at that situation.

Wild card

1. Rangers – 63 points in 49 GP
2. Flyers – 56 points in 50 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP
Islanders – 51 points in 47 GP
Lightning – 50 in 50
Sabres – 49 in 47
Hurricanes – 49 in 48
Red Wings – 49 in 49
Devils 49 in 50

With the Rangers likely out of reach, the Maple Leafs (and maybe the other somewhat-close Atlantic teams) must eye teams like the Flyers, Senators and Bruins instead. Games in hand make things interesting, particularly if you’re an Islanders fan dreaming of big gains or a Leafs fan being quite realistically optimistic.

If Thursday is any indication, there’s a lot of room for movement in these races for East playoff spots.

* – The Washington Capitals are probably the biggest winners of all in the East if not the NHL, as they continued their pattern of bullying teams by beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Kings hire John Stevens as next head coach

Getty
3 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings moved fairly quickly when it comes to replacing Darryl Sutter, and they did not have to go very far to do it.

The Kings announced on Sunday that John Stevens will take over as the team’s next head coach. The team will have a press conference on Monday.

Stevens has been an assistant coach with the Kings since the start of the 2010-11 season and spent four games as an interim head coach with the team during the 2011-12 season after Terry Murray was fired, and before Sutter was hired. Following the arrival of Sutter, Stevens went back to his role as an assistant, remaining in that position until now.

“John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy and specifically how he would implement a strategy to activate our players offensively while maintaining the defensive philosophies we have come to be known for,” general manager Rob Blake said in a statement released by the team.

“I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed. With that said, we believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club. His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward.”

Prior to his time with the Kings, Stevens served as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers between 2006-07 and 2009-10, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007-08 season.

He has a 122-111-34 record as an NHL head coach.

The fact the Kings are promoting from within (something they already did with the general manager role) is a pretty clear sign that even though they are seeking a different direction, they are maybe not quite prepared to go through a complete teardown of the organization.

They have missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and have not won a postseason series since 2014.

Canadiens spent too much time getting tougher, not enough time getting better

Getty
12 Comments

For several years now the Montreal Canadiens have been a very good, but very flawed hockey team.

Before this season their biggest issue was an overreliance on starting goaltender Carey Price, where they would be content to allow him to make as many saves as he had to make for the team to squeeze out a bunch of 2-1 or 2-0 wins. When he was healthy and on top of his game, his performance masked a lot of the flaws and the team won a lot of games (and he won a lot of awards). When he wasn’t there a year ago, the entire thing collapsed on itself and the Michel Therrien-led Canadiens were exposed for the house of cards they always were. If they were ever going to make the leap to serious Stanley Cup contender they were going to have to find a way to offer their All-Everything goalie some additional support and give him some help.

Their apparent strategy in doing that for this season only seemed to create more flaws. They were on display in their six-game first-round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.

From the very start of the offseason the Canadiens’ plan for this season seemed to revolve around getting bigger, tougher, stronger, grittier and more difficult to play against. Before the start of the 2015-17 season they traded Lars Eller for draft picks. They traded different draft picks for Andrew Shaw and his playoff experience and “hate to lose” mentality. They traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in a deal that will be dissected, analyzed and second-guessed for decades.

To be fair, they also added Alexander Radulov during the offseason, and he not only proved to be the best free agent signing by any team this summer, he was almost certainly the most impactful move the Canadiens made. But even with that addition, the direction general manager Marc Bergevin and then-coach Michel Therrien wanted to take the team in was clear.

It became even clearer at the trade deadline when almost every move the Canadiens made was centered around adding size and grit to the bottom six as opposed to some much-needed offensive punch. Along with adding Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson to their defense, they made the following changes to their forwards before the deadline.

  • They traded for noted cage-rattler Steve Ott, a fourth-line forward that has scored just six goals and recorded only 14 assists in 152 games over the past three seasons.
  • They traded for 6-4, 229-pound winger Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings.
  • They traded for 6-3, 220-pound winger Andreas Martinsen from the Colorado Avalanche

After the deadline Bergevin talked about not being able to add offense because the price was too high, and that a lot of their goal scoring issues could be fixed by improved confidence from within and that because playoff hockey gets tougher there would not be as many goals scored anyway.

From the Montreal Gazette:

“For us, we felt we had a good start (and) we had four lines producing,” said Bergevin. “Of late, that hasn’t been the case but I feel comfortable that, as guys get more confidence as we move forward, they’ll be able to chip in. And down the road, there won’t be as many goals and there will be those one-goal hockey games 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. It’s a tight league.

“I always say you can play with a bad shoulder or a bad foot but if you have no confidence, you can’t play,” said Bergevin. “Also down the stretch, it’s hard to score. You look at Columbus last night, one of the highest scoring teams in the league. You have to grind it out to score goals down the stretch.”

In other words: We might as well just try to embrace continuing to win every game 2-1.

As for the players they did add, those three forwards (Ott, King, Martinsen) combined to score 15 goals this season. These were their big trade deadline acquisitions.

The Canadiens played two games in this series where all three of them played in the same game. They lost one 2-0. They were 18 seconds away from losing the other one if not for some late-game (and overtime) heroics from Radulov to set up the tying goal in the closing seconds then score the winner early in overtime.

When it came to the decisive Game 6, when Martinsen and Shaw were out of the lineup (and Torrey Mitchell, who had played well in his limited action in this series was, also scratched) Brian Flynn and Michael McCarron (seven combined goals between the two this season) were inserted in.

The Canadiens were basically playing as a (at best) three-line team when it came to creating offense, and that is simply not good enough, especially when the whole mindset of the team seemed to be focussed on getting bigger and tougher. It runs counter to most everything the NHL’s most successful teams have done in recent years. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 20-9 the past two seasons with one of the NHL’s smallest, least physical rosters. When the Chicago Blackhawks had their mini-dynasty they were consistently one of the smallest, least physical teams in the league. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that reached the NHL’s final four in two of the past three seasons, did it with a collection of forwards that can be described as “undersized.”

It is a speed, skill league, and you can’t beat teams anymore by simply grinding them down with bigger, stronger players (you could argue there was never a time that was possible, but that’s a different argument for a different day). The Canadiens seemed to lose the plot on that one from the start, and then doubled down on it later in the season just before the playoffs began.

The Canadiens added their size and grit. But the end result was the same as we have seen from them in recent years: A flawed team that couldn’t produce anywhere near enough offense to make a deep playoff run with arguably the NHL’s best goalie playing at a high level.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule for Sunday, April 23

Getty
2 Comments

Only two series remain in the first-round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and both of them continue on Sunday.

First, the Boston Bruins look to push their first-round series to a seventh game after their double overtime win on Friday when they host the Ottawa Senators on Sunday afternoon. That game will be followed by Washington Capitals trying to, as Barry Trotz wants to see, push the Toronto Maple Leafs off the cliff.

Here is everything you for Sunday’s games, both of which will be shown on the NBC networks and streamed online.

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Video: Oilers showed off depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

2 Comments

As the Art Ross winner and Hart Trophy frontrunner, there’s no doubt that Connor McDavid is the catalyst for the Edmonton Oilers.

Still, the scary thing for opponents is that, while he created chances against the San Jose Sharks, McDavid wasn’t exactly lighting them up for points.

Nope, as Mike Rupp and Jeremy Roenick discuss in the video above, the Oilers advanced thanks as much to depth scorers – and deft goaltending from Cam Talbot – as they did because of McDavid’s blistering combination of skill and speed.

Now, the Anaheim Ducks rank as an interesting opponent. While the Sharks could slow McDavid with one of the few blueliners who could really give him trouble – relatively speaking – in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it remains to be seen if Anaheim can accomplish the same.

(A fully healthy Hampus Lindholm would increase their odds, mind you.)

Either way, the Oilers’ “other guys” deserve some credit, and they get it in the video above.