Getty

What October has in store for Pacific Division

1 Comment

In an age of parity, a slump or hot streak can often be explained – at least in part – by a team’s schedule.

That’s not meant to discount strong play or wobbly goaltending, or any other factors that go into winning and losing. Even so, the answer to the question “What’s wrong with Team X?” can sometimes be “they’re tired and on a long road trip.”

With that in mind, let’s look at what October has in store for NHL teams. Since the Pacific Division features Anaheim and Arizona, we’ll start here. The goal is to cover all four divisions by the end of this weekend.

For a deep dive on PHT’s Pacific Division materials, check out this preview.

Anaheim Ducks (Beat Coyotes 5-4)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Oct 9 vs Calgary
Wed, Oct 11 vs NY Islanders
Fri, Oct 13 @ Colorado
Sun, Oct 15 vs Buffalo
Fri, Oct 20 vs Montreal
Tue, Oct 24 @ Philadelphia
Thu, Oct 26 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 28 @ Tampa Bay
Sun, Oct 29 @ Carolina

The Anaheim Ducks are dealing with a blistering array of injuries, making the start of their schedule a good news/bad news situation.

Beginning 2017-18 with four straight games at home (not to mention six of seven in Anaheim) makes for a more comfortable situation, even if few of their key players come back during this stand. (Ryan Kesler isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.)

On the flip side, if the Ducks stumble, they’ll also be losing home games. So far, they managed to beat the Coyotes, so at least there’s that.

Even when the road games start to pile up, the Ducks only face one back-to-back set in October.

Arizona Coyotes (lost to Ducks)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Vegas
Tue, Oct 10 @ Vegas
Thu, Oct 12 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 14 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Chicago
Tue, Oct 24 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

After a narrow loss to begin the season against the Ducks, the Coyotes embrace a fairly Ducks-like schedule, right down to finishing October with a back-to-back set that’s part of at least four road games against East teams. (The Coyotes face a five-game trip, as you can see; they begin November back at home.)

The Coyotes face two home-and-home sets with teams that carry some mystery in the Golden Knights and Stars. Will Vegas be as vulnerable as expected? Could Dallas live up to the hype? The Coyotes will serve as an early barometer for both teams.

Overall, this is a friendly schedule for the upstarts.

Calgary Flames (lost to Oilers 3-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Winnipeg
Mon, Oct 9 @ Anaheim
Wed, Oct 11 @ Los Angeles
Fri, Oct 13 vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 14 @ Vancouver
Thu, Oct 19 vs Carolina
Sat, Oct 21 vs Minnesota
Tue, Oct 24 @ Nashville
Wed, Oct 25 @ St. Louis
Fri, Oct 27 vs Dallas
Sun, Oct 29 vs Washington

This is not exactly a friendly start, especially if the Jets’ 7-2 loss to Toronto was a mere hiccup for a dangerous team. The Flames face two back-to-back sets, with the first starting at home against the Senators and then transitioning to Vancouver the following day. Back-to-back sets stand as the most obvious opportunities to rest Jaromir Jagr, if Calgary goes down that route.

On the bright side, there aren’t any enormous road trips yet.

Calgary needs to get everything in order by the end of October; Oct. 27’s home date against the Stars begins a seven-game homestand.

Edmonton Oilers (beat Flames)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Vancouver
Mon, Oct 9 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Ottawa
Tue, Oct 17 vs Carolina
Thu, Oct 19 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 21 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 24 @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Oct 26 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 28 vs Washington

Connor McDavid and the Oilers get to ease into their roles as favorites with a light, low-impact October.

The Oilers get to play four of their first five games at home to start the season (counting the McDavid showcase to open 2017-18) and don’t face a back-to-back in October. Much like the Flames, they’ll want to finish the month on a high note; Oct. 26 begins a five-game homestand.

Los Angeles Kings (Shut out Flyers 2-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ San Jose
Wed, Oct 11 vs Calgary
Sat, Oct 14 vs Buffalo
Sun, Oct 15 vs NY Islanders
Wed, Oct 18 vs Montreal
Sat, Oct 21 @ Columbus
Mon, Oct 23 @ Toronto
Tue, Oct 24 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 26 @ Montreal
Sat, Oct 28 @ Boston
Mon, Oct 30 @ St. Louis

After one home game and one road contest to start the season, the Kings are slated for extremes of stands and trips.

At least there’s an opportunity to build early confidence, as Saturday’s road game isn’t exactly a cross-continent trek against the Sharks. Two back-to-back sets and that month-ending six-game road swing stand as big obstacles. That said, the Kings will enjoy a lot of home-cooking in early November, so they need to hang in there.

Another bright side is that the Kings aren’t expected to travel as rigorously as they have in the past.

San Jose Sharks (Lost 5-3 to Flyers)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 12 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 14 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 17 vs Montreal
Fri, Oct 20 @ New Jersey
Sat, Oct 21 @ NY Islanders
Mon, Oct 23 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Oct 26 @ Boston
Sat, Oct 28 @ Buffalo
Mon, Oct 30 vs Toronto

Much like their BFFs in Los Angeles, the Sharks see dramatic shifts in home and road runs. They didn’t begin their season-opening five-game homestand on a high note with a loss to Philly.

One nice thing for San Jose is that there aren’t any back-to-backs in October. That’s especially nice for an aging core, although those achy legs might have appreciated such a friendly schedule deeper into the season.

Oct. 30 begins a home-heavy run: five in a row and eight of nine at home stretching into November.

Vancouver Canucks (open season on Saturday)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Edmonton
Tue, Oct 10 vs Ottawa
Thu, Oct 12 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Calgary
Tue, Oct 17 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 19 @ Boston
Fri, Oct 20 @ Buffalo
Sun, Oct 22 @ Detroit
Tue, Oct 24 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 26 vs Washington
Mon, Oct 30 vs Dallas

The Canucks are another team, like the Kings and Sharks, who rotate home and road runs. They face a road back-to-back wedged into that five-game swing in mid-October.

If the goal is to tank, you almost wonder if Vancouver would’ve welcomed an especially grueling start to the season.

Vegas Golden Knights (first-ever game tonight)

Schedule

Fri, Oct 6 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 7 @ Arizona
Tue, Oct 10 vs Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 vs Detroit
Sun, Oct 15 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 21 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado
Mon, Oct 30 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 31 @ NY Rangers

The Golden Knights play their first game that “counts” against the Stars tonight, but must wait until Tuesday for their first-ever home game. Their patience is rewarded with a seven-game homestand, though.

Vegas will began as a franchise with a back-to-back set, one of two in October. Things go pretty road-heavy to end October and begin November.

If some early wins help draw in extra fans, this could work out nicely for the Golden Knights.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

Getty
1 Comment

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

A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

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.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

Getty
2 Comments

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

You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

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.

U.S. rides Zapolski, college kids to Olympic quarterfinals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Tony Granato knew going into the Olympics that Ryan Zapolski would be his goaltender and that the college kids on the Team USA roster would be counted on to supply offense.

It’s worked just like Granato and the late general manager Jim Johannson had hoped, and just in time: Zapolski stopped 21 shots in his best game of the tournament and NCAA players Ryan Donato and Troy Terry dominated offensively in a 5-1 win against Slovakia that put the United States into Wednesday’s quarterfinals against the Czech Republic (Tues., 10:10 p.m. ET, CNBC).

”Jimmy, like we said since Day One, this is his plan,” Granato said Tuesday’s win. ”It’s been a really nice mix.”

Zapolski and Donato both took hits to the head against Slovakia, and both said they were fine afterward.

It looked worrisome at the time.

In a frightening play, Ladislav Nagy crashed into Zapolski’s head and the goaltender was down on the ice for several minutes. Needing to be on top of his game in the Americans’ first elimination game, Zapolski was, even after jamming his neck.

”My hands and feet went numb a little bit, so it just kind of pinched my nerve, I guess,” Zapolski said. ”I think I just needed time for the feeling to come back. It took a little bit. It was a little bit of a scary thing for me kind of losing feeling in your body for a little bit, but it went away pretty quickly.”

Donato took a shoulder to the jaw from 6-foot-4 Slovakia defenseman Michal Cajovsky, who was ejected, and didn’t miss a shift despite a bloody nose he thought might be broken. On the next play, he set the screen on James Wisniewski’s 5-on-3 power-play goal in a game that helped the U.S. get its offensive groove back.

”He’s a really tough kid, and you see how much just of a natural goal-scorer he is,” Terry said of Donato. ”He’s fun to play with, and if I get the puck to him I know it’s got a pretty good chance of going in.”

Donato and Terry have had fun and made some magic playing on a line with former NHL forward Mark Arcobello, who Granato joked was the happiest person at the Olympics because of his skilled linemates. Arcobello, who scored his first Olympic goal against Slovakia, knew at the first practice how good Donato and Terry would be.

”You could just see the talent they’ve got,” Arcobello said. ”They look like pros. They don’t look like college players. They’re poised and they do the right things. They’re smart players. So I knew right away they were going to be pretty good.”

Johannson and Granato wanted to bring three to seven college players and hoped they’d be this good. But their first conversation about a player was about Zapolski, a 31-year-old journeyman with no North American professional experience above the ECHL.

Zapolski is among the best goaltenders in the Kontinental Hockey League but conceded ”maybe things weren’t going the way I had hoped the first few games” when he allowed a few soft goals. There were none of those against Slovakia.

”In a tournament like this, you only win if you have a good goalie,” Wisniewski said. ”You’re going to have to have a good power play and a good penalty kill, but your best penalty killer is going to be your goalie. With his numbers he’s had in the KHL, he’s come in ready to play every game, which has been huge for us.”

It’s huge for the U.S. to get its power play and offense going. And to no one’s surprise, Harvard’s Donato, University of Denver’s Terry and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway are at the forefront.

”You see it more and more in the NHL with these young kids coming in and making a huge impact,” Wisniewski said. ”They come in guns a blazing, they get every opportunity and they want you to make plays. The game has changed and you can see with the guys on our team.”

The U.S. came into the game scoring only four goals in three games. Scoring five against the team Granato called perhaps the best defensive team in the tournament has the Americans feeling good going into the quarterfinals.

”I think people saw tonight we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey,” Terry said. ”So we have a lot of belief in our team and we’re excited to keep going.”

Despite a 4-0 loss to the Russians to wrap up group play, Granato and his players believe they’ve gotten better each game and see a benefit in playing the extra qualification-round game to keep improving. The Czech Republic is up next for the U.S.

”There’s some different weapons that we’ll have to be aware of,” Granato said. ”I think what we learned from our team is it doesn’t matter what the other team does. We have to attack, we have to get in on the forecheck, we have to use our offensive players that we do have, the skillset that we do have.”

Elsewhere in the qualification round:

– Norway eliminated Slovenia 2-1 in overtime for its first Olympic win since 1994. Norway will face the Russians on Wednesday in its first Olympic quarterfinal appearance, while Slovenia played without Ziga Jeglic, who was suspended for doping.

– Finland eliminated South Korea with a 5-2 win, advancing to play Canada on Wednesday night.

– Germany eliminated Switzerland 2-1 in overtime, advancing to play top-seeded Sweden on Wednesday night.

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

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

Puck, player tracking being tested at Olympics

Getty Images
1 Comment

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Finland players looked at the numbers and laughed.

They couldn’t believe captain Lasse Kukkonen only had five sprints in a game and Petri Kontiola had a whopping 46.

Even better: They don’t even know what qualifies as a sprint.

“We were looking at the stats and average speeds and making fun of some guys,” forward Oskar Osala said. “How can you have 46 sprints in a game? It sounds like a ridiculous amount of sprints.”

At these Olympics, data on speed, acceleration, stopping, distance traveled, shift lengths and ice time is available to teams in what could be the next step for puck and player tracking across hockey, including the NHL. Referees even have whistles digitally connected to the clock so it stops immediately without the need for a timekeeper’s quick reaction that will always be a step slow.

Yeah, this feels like hockey’s future. The NHL has worked with technology companies and invested significant money to develop a system it can use. The Olympic men’s and women’s hockey tournaments are a valuable testing field that could speed up the process of getting it ready for use like it is in the NBA, Major League Baseball, Formula One and other sports.

“We’re still searching for the right thing, but technology is developing so fast,” International Ice Hockey Federation general secretary Horst Lichtner said. “We are still all looking for the right solution. Maybe it’s two years. It’ll be fast.”

Lichtner and Alain Zobrist, CEO of Omega Timing, which is doing the tracking in hockey and ski jumping thanks to a deal with the International Olympic Committee, said their organizations have been in contact with the NHL about the technology.

The system includes microchips in the back of jerseys that can be tracked and cameras high above the ice at the Gangneung and Kwandong hockey arenas track the movement of the puck.

It’s not quite Fox’s famous “glow puck” from the 1990s, but it’s similar to the testing the NHL did at 2015 All-Star weekend and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Omega gave the same combination of technology a run-through at the 2016 Youth Winter Olympics in Norway, and it was successful enough to try it with pros.

At the Olympics, a player’s speed is sometimes flashed up on arena video boards and all the data is sent to teams. Unlike the NHL, iPads and other electronic devices aren’t allowed on benches in international play, but if and when they are, the data could be available in real time for coaches and players to evaluate.

“We’re able to measure the data, process it and distribute in less than 100 milliseconds,” Zobrist said. “It might be a great tool for them to help their coaching.”

Player performance tracking is a touchy subject off the ice. Players have expressed concern that data on speed, distance traveled, shot velocity and other things could be used against them in coaching decisions and contract negotiations.

“It’s just all cons,” said former NHL defenseman James Wisniewski, who’s playing for the United States. “There’s nothing pros for a player for that at all. It’s not like you’re going to make more money, get a longer-term deal because you travel more distance or you don’t travel. All this is going to do is hurt you. Being a (NHL Players’ Association) rep for eight, nine years, I really have a hard time believing that the PA’s going to even let that go through. It’s all negative.”

Osala enjoys real-time data he gets as a golf fan and considers it a useful tool for athletes.

“I kind of understand how the pros approach their game and I think it’s pretty cool how you can develop your game after you made a deep analysis of your performance in a long span,” said Osala, who played three NHL games with the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. “For me as a fan, it makes the game so much more interesting. Absolutely as a fan I would love to have the data in hockey.”

It would be fascinating to see how fast Connor McDavid skates, how quickly Vladimir Tarasenko releases the puck or how hard Zdeno Chara shoots from the point on the power play. But there are questions about how practical that information is. Lichtner called Formula One’s program the “ultimate data experience” because fans know everything, including the G-force on a driver, but said he doesn’t think that’s important in hockey.

“I don’t need to know the G-force of the contact between (Alex Ovechkin) and the other guy if he’s strong, but maybe some people would like it,” Lichtner said. “I can see a coach having a hundred pages more of information. He might love it, but what is the benefit for the fan?

“I’m asking my people always, ‘Why do we do it and what’s in it for promoting hockey better?’ Make it more complicated? It’s already fast and complicated enough. Can you explain the game better? Yes? Then we have a big benefit.”

During the U.S. game against Slovenia, Brian O’Neill’s maximum speed was posted on a scoreboard, visual evidence that this is a team that can fly. As much as Wisniewski doesn’t see any pluses, teammate Bobby Sanguinetti wondered if it the data can help players understand themselves better.

“It might even help with rest for us,” Sanguinetti said. “If you see a guy’s logging a lot of minutes and he’s traveling a lot of distance, I guess, from the chip, maybe that has some impact.”

Finland players joked around about Kukkonen’s five sprints, but Osala said he felt the veteran defenseman was one of the best on the ice.

Therein lies a potential problem.

“I think you need to have somebody looking at the data and somebody looking at the actual game,” Osala said. “You can’t just look at the numbers. There has to be a balance between them.”

That’s the common refrain among players and coaches about advanced stats right now, including Corsi and Fenwick, which measure shot attempts to convey some measure of possession. Once player and puck tracking is perfected and implemented, there could be specific stats on how much time the play was in each zone, similar to time of possession in football.

It seems like just a matter of time until the NHL will track and disperse that information, and Lichtner said the NHL and IIHF are on good terms and will share ideas. He said he doesn’t believe this system, which the IIHF only found out about three weeks before the Olympics and worked with Omega and jersey-maker Nike to implement, is the one that will ultimately be in place.

“The future is a mix of chip data and cameras,” Lichtner said. “But we have to try it.”

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