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Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Rangers react to management ‘throwing in the towel’

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Earlier this month, New York Rangers management issued a letter to their fans about the new direction the team would be going in. Instead of pushing for a playoff spot, they decided that it was time to “be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy.” Basically, they’re rebuilding, re-tooling, or whatever other word you want to use to describe a roster overhaul.

At the time, many, including myself, thought it was very progressive of the Rangers to outline their future plans to their fans. But after spending a few minutes in the locker room on Thursday morning, I’ve changed my mind.

Prior to Thursday’s game against the Canadiens, the Rangers held their morning skate at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After the skate was over, the assembled media was allowed into the room. Mats Zuccarello and David Desharnais were just two of the players made available. After talking to them for a few minutes, you could see how a that kind of letter has affected the players in a negative way.

Here’s some of the quotes that stood out:

• Mats Zuccarello on the mood changing in the room:

“I mean, we try to keep it the same, but there’s a lot of thinking about what’s going to happen and stuff. I think that’s normal. No one wants to be in this situation. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you’re losing and there are a lot of rumors and all that. I think in about six days (after the trade deadline), the mood is going to get a little bit better, hopefully.”

• Zuccarello on his name popping up in rumors:

“I’ve been here for a while and I don’t really know any other organization. It’s hard to sleep sometimes and you think a lot, but at the end of the day it’s part of the game and when you’re not performing at the level the team should be or hoping to be, it’s normal that these questions and all the rumors comes up. You just have to deal with it.”

• David Desharnais on Rangers going in different direction:

“I think they thought we were not as good as they thought we’d be and they’re just going to move in another direction. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but it’s just part of hockey.

• Desharnais on the letter:

“They told us before (they published it), so it wasn’t a surprise for us, but at the same time it kind of is. It’s like (management is) throwing in the towel. We just have to keep fighting and prove them wrong.”

• Alain Vigneault on how difficult it is to keep team moral up after the letter (quote translated from French to English):

“It’s a situation that’s unusual. When the story first came out in January, we were in a playoff spot. We were the first Wild Card team. When the official announcement came out a few weeks ago, we were only three points out of a playoff spot. So it’s definitely an unusual situation for a team to be in. [Management] asked me what I thought our chances of winning the Stanley Cup were this year, and I said ‘I may not have won with better teams, but I’m convinced we could make the playoffs.’ The first time they asked me, we were sitting in a playoff spot and I’m convinced that we’d still be in a playoff spot. Like I always said, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Just look at Nashville last year, they were the 16th team in the playoffs and they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Organizations make decisions and there’s no doubt that right now, for everyone in the organization, it’s an unusual situation that’s not easy to manage.”

Later on in the afternoon, the Rangers let it be known that they’d be making forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner healthy scratches for the game against the Habs because trades were close to happening. New York then hopped on the ice and was just flat for most of the game. The team eventually shipped Grabner to the New Jersey Devils for a second-rounder and a prospect.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at your team’s chances of winning and deciding to blow it up. The Rangers’ intentions were good. They wanted to keep their fans up to date on what the plan moving forward was going to be, but it seems like they didn’t consider their players when they made that decision.

Yes, most of the players will be on their way out anyway, and yes, no one feels bad for athletes making millions of dollars, but it just doesn’t seem like they treated their players fairly in this case.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Woe, Canada: Germany ousts Canada 4-3

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Canada’s topsy-turvy Olympics was dealt a heavy blow Friday night as Germany shocked the two-time defending Olympic champions 4-3 in the men’s hockey semifinals.

The loss came a day after Canada’s women’s hockey team was denied a fifth straight gold in a shootout against the rival Americans and amid the despair of having no chance at medals in men’s or women’s curling.

“They came out ready to play,” Canada forward Rob Klinkhammer said. “We didn’t. They were the better team.”

Without NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty, elite goaltender Carey Price — and certainly don’t forget Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock — Canada was skated out of the building by coach Marco Sturm’s team that now faces an even stiffer test in the favored Russians in Sunday’s final.

After winning back-to-back gold medals in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, and three of the past four dating to 2002, Canada’s self-described band of journeymen will play the Czech Republic for bronze on Saturday.

“We did not match their work ethic,” Canada forward Derek Roy said. “It stings a lot. It is not a good feeling to lose a game like that.”

Canada has only settled for a bronze medal twice in 21 previous Olympic men’s hockey tournaments and took home gold or silver in each of the six games with women’s hockey.

“We obviously let a big one get away from us,” Klinkhammer said.

Canada will likely play for bronze without top-liner Gilbert Brule, who was ejected for a brutal hit to the head of David Wolf at center ice, one of several bad penalties by an uncharacteristically undisciplined team coached by Willie Desjardins.

Desjardins and his staff made some adjustments at the first intermission, but never called a timeout when Germany went up 3-0 or 4-1. Kevin Poulin was starting in net because No. 1 goalie Ben Scrivens injured his shoulder/collarbone area in a collision in the quarterfinal against Finland, and he allowed goals scored by Brooks Macek, Matthias Plachta, Frank Mauer and Patrick Hager on 15 shots.

Poulin refused to speak to reporters afterward. There weren’t many answers for what happened to the team that had looked dominant against Finland.

“I don’t know,” forward Andrew Ebbett said. “Just a couple penalties there early on. We were in the box the whole second period. It’s tough to win a hockey game when you’re killing penalties that whole time. We maybe needed two, three, five more minutes there at the end maybe to tie it up, but it was too late.”

Canada outshot Germany 15-1 in the third period but couldn’t climb all the way back after digging a deep hole. It started with high-sticking and faceoff violation penalties 36 seconds apart and unraveled when Macek scored.

He’s a dual citizen who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but didn’t look the slightest bit conflicted as he pumped his fist following a 5-on-3 power-play goal. A good player with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans and Calgary Hitmen, Macek looked like a star playing in the Olympics against Canada.

Danny aus den Birken was good again in net in making 28 saves, but Canada also struggled to break Germany’s suffocating neutral-zone trap to even get into the offensive zone for quality scoring chances and couldn’t cash in when there.

Canada lost in the quarterfinals in Turin in 2006 with NHL players on its roster, but this loss is still hard to take for a nation that has already set a national Winter Games medals record with 27. Canada won four gold medals in freestyle skiing and two in figure skating, where it has seven overall. Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue and Kelsey Serwa have been among Canada’s heroes but the curling and hockey teams so intertwined with the nation’s sporting identity came away disappointed.

“No reason for it,” Ebbett said. “It’s Olympic semifinal, chance to play for the gold and we just didn’t bring it in the first 20 minutes and they obviously were ready.”

PHT Morning Skate: OAR will play for gold; What can Blues give in trade?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Olympic Athletes from Russia are going to play for gold at the Olympics. They’ll take on Germany in the final. (NBC Olympics)

• Sean McIndoe looks at 10 annoying things NHL GMs say at trade deadline time, including “we’re not going to make a deal for the sake of making a deal.” (Sportsnet)

• Here’s an interesting story about the most disgusting things players have seen on the ice. (ESPN)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• The Sharks acquired Eric Fehr from Toronto this week, but is he really an upgrade on what San Jose already has? (Fear the Fin)

• The Canucks are betting on Erik Gudbranson‘s potential (Canucks Army)

• After picking up Nick Holden from New York, the Bruins have too many defensemen. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Could the Flyers be interested in Sabres forward Sam Reinhert? (Broad Street Hockey)

• The Devils acquired Michael Grabner from the Rangers, but what would it take to sign him to a contract extension? (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• Speaking of Grabner, Blue Shirt Banter breaks down the trade that saw him go from New York to New Jersey. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• Here are four wingers the Leafs could look to acquire before Monday’s trade deadline. (Leafs Nation)

• Bleedin’ Blue breaks down what assets the St. Louis Blues can give in a trade at the deadline. (Bleedin Blue)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Rinne hits 300, glorious Gaudreau, Matthews scare

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Barzal scored a goal and two assists in this game, pushing him to 65 points in 62 games during this sensational rookie campaign. He’s been all-or-nothing lately, generating three points in two of five games and then zero in the three other contests.

Going to go out on a limb and say the Islanders will take it …

  • Johnny Gaudreau matched Barzal’s output on Thursday, collected a goal and two assists as well. Gaudreau moved to second in the NHL in points with 73, a distant-but-impressive second to Nikita Kucherov‘s 80 points. Gaudreau is on pace to clobber his previous career-high of 78 points, set in 2015-16. Kinda staggering to realize he’s just 24.

Gaudreau’s surely had a hand in Sean Monahan rapidly changing his descriptor from “boring” to “clutch.”

Pekka’s 300th

Sure, the Predators probably didn’t need a ton from him on Thursday, what with a 7-1 caging of the Sharks, but Pekka Rinne‘s great work – not to mention great season – includes another milestone in his 300th win. Apparently he’s the eighth European-born goalie to hit that mark.

Tough to blame Rinne for becoming emotional when you consider his path to the NHL. Nashville selected him in the eighth(!) round in 2004, making him the 258th overall pick that year and the last pick of that round.

(Remarkably, there were some very solid NHLers who went in the ninth round of that draft: Mark Streit, Daniel Winnik, and Jannik Hansen.)

Good and bad for Matthews

Auston Matthews helped the Toronto Maple Leafs grab an eventual shootout win against the Islanders, continuing a run of even-strength dominance that really cements his beyond-his-years play:

Unfortunately, late in regulation, Matthews was sandwiched by two Islanders players and did not return, with people wondering if he suffered a shoulder injury.

Highlights of the Night

Hey, the Oilers aren’t gearing up for a playoff run during this trade deadline, but at least Leon Draisaitl reminded people of his profound skills.

Twice. The first move is flashier, but the second likely makes defenders feel just as hopeless.

Speaking of large hockey humans doing preposterous things, I give you Victor Hedman and the Lightning:

Scores

Maple Leafs 4, Islanders 3 (SO)
Wild 4, Devils 2
Flyers 2, Blue Jackets 1
Canadiens 3, Rangers 1
Lightning 4, Senators 3
Sabres 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Panthers 3, Capitals 2
Predators 7, Sharks 1
Oilers 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)
Flames 5, Coyotes 2
Stars 2, Kings 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.