Getty

Tough road ahead for Red Wings: October schedules in Atlantic Division

3 Comments

On Friday, PHT pondered the opening schedules for the Pacific Division teams.

Let’s continue with the Atlantic Division, since they boast cities with alphabet-friendly names. (Very scientific way of deciding these, agreed.)

Don’t be surprised if these schedules prompt follow-ups as the season goes along. In some markets, a tough draw might be ignored while people wonder “What’s wrong with Team X?”

If the Red Wings can navigate their specific challenges, then “Detroit might not be so bad” stories might actually end up being justifiable.

Check out an in-depth preview for the Atlantic Division here.

Bruins (opened with win against Predators)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 vs Colorado
Wed, Oct 11 @ Colorado
Sat, Oct 14 @ Arizona
Sun, Oct 15 @ Vegas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 21 vs Buffalo
Thu, Oct 26 vs San Jose
Sat, Oct 28 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Oct 30 @ Columbus

Odd start for the Bruins, eh?

It’s strange to see a team skip the opening weekend, but that’s what is happening here, as the Bruins see an early-season break between Thursday’s opener and their second game on Monday. Considering their injury woes, perhaps it will serve as a serious benefit, particularly for guys who might just be day-to-day.

Even with a back-to-back coming next weekend, this is light overall, with another substantial gap in games between Oct. 21 and Oct. 26.

This opens the door for the Bruins to ease the likes of Patrice Bergeron in and out of the lineup, if needed. Heck, it might not be such a bad idea to spell Zdeno Chara here and there, either (if he’d allow it). November gets tougher for the B’s, however.

Sabres (lost in shootout to Habs)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ NY Islanders
Mon, Oct 9 vs New Jersey
Thu, Oct 12 @ San Jose
Sat, Oct 14 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Oct 15 @ Anaheim
Tue, Oct 17 @ Vegas
Fri, Oct 20 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 21 @ Boston
Tue, Oct 24 vs Detroit
Wed, Oct 25 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 28 vs San Jose

Looking at Buffalo’s wider schedule, there could be some tough times, with February standing out as maybe their friendliest month.

Some rough waters loom up ahead, including in October. Their first back-to-back is part of the California tour (maybe amend that to Cali-Vegas run going forward?). They face four road games in that Oct. 12-17 stretch, including a back-to-back and three games in four nights.

The Sabres then follow that up with two back-to-back sets.

For a team trying to cement itself as a contender, they’ll be tested early.

Red Wings (opened new arena by beating Wild)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Ottawa
Tue, Oct 10 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 12 @ Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 @ Vegas
Mon, Oct 16 vs Tampa Bay
Wed, Oct 18 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 20 vs Washington
Sun, Oct 22 vs Vancouver
Tue, Oct 24 @ Buffalo
Thu, Oct 26 @ Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 28 @ Florida
Tue, Oct 31 vs Arizona

Ouch. Hopefully the Red Wings enjoyed that home-opener, because they will see the road more than home for a while. Tonight begins a four-game road trip and stretch of five of six away from Detroit. That trip includes a back-to-back, but at least that veteran-heavy team only faces one such set in October.

An end of October/beginning of November stretch could do a number on this team’s dim hopes.

From Oct. 24-28, they play three road games, then they get that Coyotes home match, and then begin November with a four-game trek through Western Canada. So that’s seven of eight games on the road, with a back-to-back nestled (against Oilers and Canucks) in that four-game trip.

With that opener in the books, only four of the Red Wings’ next 16 contests take place in Hockeytown.

Panthers (lost opener against Lightning)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 12 vs St. Louis
Sat, Oct 14 @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 17 @ Philadelphia
Fri, Oct 20 vs Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 21 @ Washington
Tue, Oct 24 @ Montreal
Thu, Oct 26 vs Anaheim
Sat, Oct 28 vs Detroit
Mon, Oct 30 vs Tampa Bay

Emotionally, the Panthers have to really want to get back at the Bolts to close out this home-and-home. If not, they’ll need to wait until Thursday to try to win their first game of the season.

After that, Florida faces what could be a harrowing five-game stretch. Four of the contests are on the road, two games against the Penguins (making that one home game potentially feel like a road one), and a back-to-back against the Penguins and Capitals.

The Panthers have an opportunity if they can weather the early storm. That Oct. 26 date against the Ducks begins a five-game homestand.

Canadiens (won opener vs. Sabres)

Sat, Oct 7 @ Washington
Sun, Oct 8 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 10 vs Chicago
Sat, Oct 14 vs Toronto
Tue, Oct 17 @ San Jose
Wed, Oct 18 @ Los Angeles
Fri, Oct 20 @ Anaheim
Tue, Oct 24 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 26 vs Los Angeles
Sat, Oct 28 vs NY Rangers
Mon, Oct 30 @ Ottawa

Counting Thursday’s season-opening win, the Canadiens start 2017-18 with a three-game road trip and play six of their first eight on the road. They play their first back-to-back set this weekend against the Capitals and Rangers, providing intriguing barometers for all three teams.

That Oct. 30 visit to the Senators also kicks off a four-game road trip, so Montreal faces some early challenges.

They’ll be rewarded in November, though. After that late October/early November trip, they play six straight and nine of 11 at home. So the Habs just need to grind through this early bump in the road. At least they have fresh legs to start, right?

Senators (lost opener to Capitals)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Detroit
Tue, Oct 10 @ Vancouver
Fri, Oct 13 @ Calgary
Sat, Oct 14 @ Edmonton
Tue, Oct 17 vs Vancouver
Thu, Oct 19 vs New Jersey
Sat, Oct 21 vs Toronto
Tue, Oct 24 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 26 vs Philadelphia
Fri, Oct 27 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 vs Montreal

The Senators need to brush off injuries and early stumbles soon, because their early schedule opens up with a lot of home games once they get through that Western Canada kick in mid-October.

As you can see, there’s that five-game homestand starting on Oct. 17. It goes deeper than that; the Senators play 11 of 13 games in Ottawa from Oct. 17 – Nov. 18.

That’s about a quarter of their home games for the regular season. Botching that could really make life difficult for a team some expect to regress.

Lightning (beat Panthers in opener)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Florida
Mon, Oct 9 vs Washington
Thu, Oct 12 vs Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 14 vs St. Louis
Mon, Oct 16 @ Detroit
Tue, Oct 17 @ New Jersey
Thu, Oct 19 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 21 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 24 @ Carolina
Thu, Oct 26 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 28 vs Anaheim
Mon, Oct 30 @ Florida

The Lightning will take care of their in-state rivalry, as they’ll end October having played three games against the Panthers, continuing with tonight’s road contest.

Tampa Bay gets to avoid some of the extremes that many in the Atlantic seem to endure early on. Only facing one back-to-back set is nice. That’s not to say it’s a cakewalk, as that early three-game homestand comes against three potentially potent opponent in the Capitals, Penguins, and Blues.

Still, it seems pretty manageable early on.

Maple Leafs (dominated Jets in opener)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs NY Rangers
Mon, Oct 9 vs Chicago
Wed, Oct 11 vs New Jersey
Sat, Oct 14 @ Montreal
Tue, Oct 17 @ Washington
Wed, Oct 18 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 21 @ Ottawa
Mon, Oct 23 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 26 vs Carolina
Sat, Oct 28 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Oct 30 @ San Jose

After quieting the crowd in Winnipeg, the Maple Leafs play three consecutive games in Toronto in front of what is certain to be an exhilarated fan base.

There’s another three-game home run late in October, so the month now stands as friendly: seven home vs. four road games. That Oct. 30 game against the Sharks does begin a four-game road trip, however.

Scanning the full season, things seem balanced early. The big challenges (road-heavy) come in December, but then comparable opportunities come with a robust home slate to begin 2018 in January.

Melnyk threatens to move Senators if ‘disaster strikes’

Getty Images
5 Comments

If you’re looking for someone to spoil an upcoming function, you may want to give Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a call.

On the eve of the Senators’ outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and on the night when Ottawa’s greats from yesteryear took the ice with Parliament Hill as a backdrop, Melnyk did his best to steal the spotlight from the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, Melnyk threatened to pull the plug in Ottawa and relocate the team if disaster struck.

“If it becomes a disaster, yes,” Melnyk said. “If you start not seeing crowds showing up, yes. But, for now, we are on the cusp of doing OK.”

The doom and gloom continued, with Melnyk suggesting he isn’t going to waste a “lifetime of working hard” to support the Senators.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?”

Melnyk reiterated that he’s not looking to sell the team, a statement he made earlier this week in the Ottawa Sun, and used McDonald’s as an example on Friday. 

“It won’t. It just won’t happen,” he said. “It’s a franchise. Imagine if you own a McDonald’s franchise, but you can move it. But why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy.

We’re doing OK here. Not great, but we’re doing OK. It’s just too much fun. What else do you do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan, fanatically a hockey fan, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

Melnyk said the Senators have “cut everything to the bone,” saying the Senators have one of the thinnest management groups in the league.

“We want to keep and maintain great players,” he said. “You can’t keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues. It doesn’t work.”

According to CapFriendly, the Senators are at just over $73 million in projected cap space.

Melnyk called the Senators disaster on the ice this season a “crappy streak” that every team goes through.

“We have way too much talent with this team not to perform,” he said.

When asked if his comments on Friday could take away from the luster of the event taking place in Canada’s capital this weekend, Melnyk said no.

“It keeps the newspapers selling and the radio people listening,” he said.


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

Marian Gaborik plays game No. 1,000 on Friday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marian Gaborik has already hit two milestones that end in double zeroes this season.

On Friday night, and at the world’s most famous arena, he hit his first that ends in three.

Gaborik took to the ice at Madison Sqaure Garden in his 1,000th NHL game as the Los Angeles Kings took on the New York Rangers.

It’s not a bad backdrop for the veteran of 19 NHL seasons.

Gaborik played 255 games with the Blueshirts between 2009 and 2013, hitting the 40-goal plateau twice and recording his career-best season in 2009-10, scoring 42 goals and adding 44 helpers for 86 points in 76 games played.

Gaborik has only played 11 games this season after starting the year on the shelf with a knee injury. Gaborik only returned to the lineup on Nov. 24, but he set two milestones in his return, hitting 400 career NHL goals and 800 career NHL points earlier this month.

Coming into Friday’s game, his stat line read 800 points in 999 NHL games.

As Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston points out, perfect symmetry could be achieved if Gaborik finishes with a plus-one in the plus-minus column in the game and he is held without a point.

I’m sure he’d rather have a new puck to add to his mantle… but think of the stats, Marian.

UPDATE: He didn’t think of the stats. 


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

Check, mates: NHL top lines are expected to do it all

Getty Images
2 Comments

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Tyler Seguin doesn’t consider it a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.

Every time Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock sends Seguin and his linemates over the boards against an opponent’s top line, he knows he has a job to do.

”Out-check the other line and let the skill kind of take over,” Seguin said. ”It’s fun.”

Fun? Sure. It’s also increasingly common in the NHL as coaches seek to put their top lines on the ice against the other team’s best forwards to create matchup problems that often lead to goals.

Goodbye to the likes of Bob Gainey and hello to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. All can help keep the puck out of the net almost as well as they can put it in.

”We’re seeing less of the old Don Luce, Craig Ramsey, Brent Peterson lines,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, referring to defensive-minded forwards of yesteryear. ”We have guys like Bergeron; Sid goes up against top guys. So I think you’re seeing more of the power against power than we have in the past.”

Power against power is the name of the game in hockey today as players such as Bergeron, Crosby, Backstrom and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews embody the kind of top-line stars who can double as shutdown centers. Crosby was so good in that dual role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Canada won a gold medal – and he was so dominant offensively the past two seasons that the Penguins won consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Crosby is well aware of the modern duties of a top-flight center.

”You have more responsibility defensively,” he said. ”You’re covering a lot of space, so it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Before the season, reigning MVP Connor McDavid of Edmonton cited defense and faceoffs as areas he wanted to improve. He already has the dynamic offensive capabilities and sees that as the next step in his evolution.

”It’s more rounding out your game,” McDavid said. ”Being a defensive guy, being able to be put out there in the last two minutes to defend a lead, just to be able to be trusted by your coach out there.”

Coaches have to be able to trust their top players in all situations, particularly since the days of strict shutdown lines are dwindling.

”The systems are about defense, and everyone needs to play it,” Backstrom said. ”That’s what the mindset is – to be good defensively and offensively.”

The best defense is good puck possession because often the most productive players aren’t as sound in their own end. Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella considers it essential to make elite offensive players spend time in their defensive zone, figuring they’re more apt to try to do too much in the neutral zone and turn the puck over.

Good two-way players also have that mindset when they’re matched up against top skill guys.

”They’re so good offensively that sometimes they can forget about their defense, and that’s when you can take advantage of them,” Philadelphia Flyers No. 1 center Sean Couturier said. ”They’re thinking so much offense that once they turn the puck over they’re going to try plays to get turnovers. That’s when you can take advantage of them most of the time.”

That’s the danger of going skill on skill. Few see Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreauand Sean Monahan as defensive stalwarts, but coach Glen Gulutzan continues to put them on the ice against other top lines.

Gaudreau said ”sometimes the best offense comes from playing against other top lines.” And the strategy has multiple benefits.

”It makes sure that your top guys, they’re aware that they’re out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league,” Gulutzan said. ”Now they’re a little more conscious defensively. And what you hope is that, through a course of a season, you’re making your guys more defensively aware and come playoff time those things will come in handy.”

Seguin said he thinks the playoffs lead to concerted defensive efforts to shut down certain players, though that largely comes from coaches leaning on their top defensemen. Hitchcock and other coaches said putting their best defensemen against opponents’ top forwards is the most important matchup no matter the situation.

Of course, it helps to have forwards who thrive on tough matchups and understand balancing priorities.

”A lot of times you’re getting matched up with better players, so I think playing offense the whole game isn’t realistic,” Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. ”Most of the time it’s just being in the right places and knowing where you are on the ice as opposed to chasing everybody around and that whole ‘shadow’ thing. You’ve just got to be in right areas and right zones.”

Playing responsible defense is one piece of the transition to offense, whether it’s winning board battles or faceoffs or taking the puck away. But top players are counted on and paid to score, so keeping others off the board simply isn’t good enough.

”If it’s 0-0, we’re still kind of mad as a line,” Backstrom said. ”We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

Russia aims for Olympic hockey gold despite turmoil

Getty Images
2 Comments

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia can’t win Olympic hockey gold in Pyeongchang, but the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” will have a great shot at the title.

OAR is the moniker imposed by the International Olympic Committee as part of Russia’s punishment across all sports for doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

That’s likely to mean neutral-colored jerseys – though Team Russia executives are battling to keep the traditional red – but still a roster boasting some of the best players outside the NHL.

Asked if the Russians consider themselves gold medal favorites in South Korea, captain Ilya Kovalchuk said: ”We always are.”

The OAR name is no big deal for Kovalchuk. ”Everyone knows where we’re from. It doesn’t matter. The flag is in our heart.”

Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings are among the stars available to Russia ahead of the first Olympics since 1994 without NHL players.

The commercial power of the Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League – fueled by Russia’s state-run oil and gas companies – has allowed it to compete financially with NHL teams for Russian talent.

Along with Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, the Russian team has forward Vadim Shipachyov, who walked out on the Las Vegas Golden Knights last month, and two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Slava Voynov, who is banned from the NHL indefinitely after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.

Russia showed its potential Thursday with a 3-1 win over Sweden – a key Olympic rival – on two goals from Sergei Kalinin in a Moscow exhibition tournament game.

Russia recorded 34 shots against 22 for Sweden in front of a passionate home crowd, many in red shirts hailing the team as ”Red Machine Reloaded” in honor of the legendary Soviet rosters. Datsyuk sat out the tournament for fitness reasons.

”We just tried to play simple and hard,” defenseman Sergei Andronov said. ”We’re trying to play every game for a victory.”

The Russians haven’t won Olympic hockey gold since 1992, when an almost entirely Russian lineup of players from the recently collapsed Soviet Union competed as the Unified Team.

Under the Team Russia name, its best result is silver in 1998. The last Olympics on home ice in Sochi were a disappointment, as Finland beat Russia 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

The Sochi Games have come back to haunt Russia, with 31 athletes across six sports banned for doping and other sanctions from the IOC.

There’s no allegation of doping by the men’s hockey team, though six women’s team players were suspended.

The key Russian whistleblower, former laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, has stated in an affidavit that men’s hockey players were not included in a doping program as they would have been harder to keep track of across multiple clubs, and could have given the game away if they failed tests outside Russia.

Not everything has been smoothed out just yet though for Russia ahead of Pyeongchang.

The KHL leadership has yet to confirm it will release players, though any obstruction by the Russia-based league would face fierce opposition from the players and the Russian Hockey Federation leadership, which includes wealthy businessmen close to the Kremlin.

Months of uncertainty over whether Russia would be allowed to compete at all in Pyeongchang haven’t worn team morale down, coach Oleg Znarok insists.

”We’re feeling great and it’s always been great,” he said Wednesday. ”We’ve been working and getting ready. We had no doubts.”