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Yes, penalties are up in Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Players take note: Referees aren’t swallowing their whistles so far in the 2018 NHL playoffs.

Penalties are up more than 17 percent over the same time a year ago and are playing a substantial role in several series. Through 19 games in the first round, there have been nearly 10 penalties per game. Last year, there was an average of eight penalties called through 20 games.

“The penalties that have been called in the series so far is an indication of how the referees are calling the game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said Monday. “They’re calling it as they see it. I think discipline is of the utmost importance.”

While the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions haven’t been perfect in that regard against Philadelphia, they haven’t been derailed by a lack of discipline. Around the rest of the NHL, penalties and the ensuing power-play goals are making a big difference: There have been 38 power-play goals through Sunday’s games compared with just 21 in 2017.

The NHL wants officials to call playoffs at the same standard as the regular season, which is happening with penalties actually going up from the first period through the third. Each of the 10 pairings of referees working the playoffs has at least one who has worked the Cup Final, so the hope is having that experience helps maintain consistency.

The Washington Capitals blew two-goal leads in back-to-back overtime losses on home ice to Columbus because of ill-advised penalties and go into Game 3 on the road (7:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, NBCSN) knowing it’s a problem that needs immediate fixing.

“We need to be a little smarter,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We need to play with better discipline – especially when we have the lead twice. … It’s obviously going to hurt you in the playoffs. That’s the way it is. It’s just fact.”

Nine of the 14 regulation goals in the Washington-Columbus series have come on the power play. The Blue Jackets, who surged into the playoffs by not taking a lot of penalties to tax one of the worst special teams units in the league, lead the playoffs in penalty minutes per game.

Coach John Tortorella said the Blue Jackets “have to cure that” because it’s too dangerous to keep taking so many penalties. His players know it even if they’re unsure of the standard.

“We need to stay out of the box, but you never know what’s a call and what’s not anymore,” forward Cam Atkinson said. “But that’s the game right now.”

In the West, where Winnipeg leads Minnesota 2-1, the teams realize how tight things are being called.

The Wild took five penalties in the first 31 minutes Sunday night and stymied the Jets’ power play in a 6-2 comeback win. The teams combined for 19 penalties – including some fights and misconducts – in the second game of their series.

“We’ve just got to watch taking penalties,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Both teams were really emotional at the beginning and you’ve got to worry about taking penalties and getting behind the eight ball.”

It’s chippy between the Golden Knights and Kings, too, with Vegas up 3-0 going into Game 4 (10:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, NBCSN) in Los Angeles. All three games so far have been decided by a goal, L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty was suspended for an illegal check to the head of William Carrier and Kings coach John Stevens is none too happy about a missed call on Vegas forward Erik Haula for hitting Anze Kopitar in the face with the butt end of his stick Sunday night .

“We get a guy suspended for making a hockey play, and he butt-ends one of the best players in the world in the face,” Stevens said. “That’s an intent-to-injure play.”

COMEBACK KINGS?

Los Angeles is the most recent team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, doing so in 2014 against the San Jose Sharks on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. Stevens, who was an assistant four years ago, said his team has “had some resilience all year,” and the tightness of the games against Vegas combined with the excellence of goaltender Jonathan Quick certainly makes an turnaround possible.

INJURIES

The Jets lost Tyler Myers to a lower-body injury that coach Paul Maurice thought was avoidable, and the big defenseman’s status is uncertain going into Game 4 (8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, CNBC). Young Tucker Poolman could draw into the lineup in place of Myers if necessary.

The Capitals won’t have forward Andre Burakovsky for at least Games 3 and 4 in Columbus because of an upper-body injury. Coach Barry Trotz said Burakovsky is going to “miss some time” after being crunched into the boards by Boone Jenner in Game 2. Speedy winger Jakub Vrana, a surprise scratch for Washington on Sunday, goes back in for Burakovsky.

WHO STARTS?

Trotz said he has decided who will start in goal for the Capitals in Game 3 but hadn’t yet told Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. After Grubauer allowed eight goals on 49 shots before being yanked at the second intermission of Game 2, the smart money is on Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner.

BARTON OUT

Linesman Steve Barton, who was injured when he inadvertently clipped skates with Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson and had to be helped off the ice by trainers, dislocated his kneecap and tore a quadriceps muscle in his left leg. Barton will require surgery but didn’t tear ligaments in his knee, which doctors said is good news because they expect him to make a full recovery.

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

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Penguins won’t have Hornqvist; Flyers lineup murky for Game 5

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If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 tonight, they’ll do so without Patric Hornqvist.

The Swedish winger already missed Game 4 with an upper-body injury, and the team ruled him out for Game 5. Hornqvist had been playing quite well lately, including generating a point-per-game (three in as many contests) during this series. He’s also been a pain in the neck, riling up his opponents while amassing 16 penalty minutes in Game 2.

It’s worth noting that Hornqvist scored the Penguins’ last series-clinching goal. He found the net late in Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, stunning the Nashville Predators as Pittsburgh repeated as champs.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Kessel gets boost with Hornqvist sidelined

The Penguins won Game 4 against the Flyers by a score of 5-0 after rearranging lines.

Hornqvist was lining up with Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, while Phil Kessel climbed to that second-line spot in Game 4 after pairing with Derick Brassard. Brassard’s wingers changed to Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust, while Sidney Crosby anchors a line of Dominik Simon and Jake Guentzel.

Those configurations worked well, but a desperate Flyers team could provide a different look.

That’s especially true if Sean Couturier can return to the mix for Philly after missing Game 4 himself. The team considers the Selke finalist a game-time decision, while he was seen wearing a knee brace during this morning’s optional skate.

Shuffling with Couturier hurt

The Flyers fiddled around with some interesting combinations with Couturier in doubt. Nolan Patrick centered Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux during much of Wednesday’s loss, while Left Wing Lock indicates that Valtteri Filppula could replace Patrick between Voracek and Giroux if Couturier is out.

Couturier playing or sitting is pivotal, as he’s been carrying a huge workload for Philly. That was especially true in Games 2 (27:15 minutes of ice time) and Game 3 (26:18), when Couturier logged big minutes. He also benefited the Flyers from a balance standpoint, as they were able to place Giroux and Voracek on different lines at even-strength with Couturier available.

That’s not the only big question mark for the Flyers (and perhaps for the Penguins’ hopes of prepping for the Flyers). Head coach Dave Hakstol didn’t name the starting goalie for Game 5, generating speculation that Michal Neuvirth may step in for Brian Elliott.

For all we know, the Flyers are aware of their starting goalie situation, along with Couturier’s status, but we might need to wait to actually find out. Then again, when you consider Patrice Bergeron‘s late scratch for the Bruins in Game 4 of their series, it could indeed be a coin flip for Couturier, too.

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Game 5 airs on NBCSN tonight, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

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.

Capitals lose Burakovsky for rest of Blue Jackets series

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Capitals coach Barry Trotz shared bad news with reporters (including the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan): Andre Burakovsky will miss at least the remainder of the series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Burakovsky required “minor surgery” for an upper-body injury suffered thanks to a Boone Jenner hit during Game 2 of the first-round series. (Game 4 took place last night, with the Capitals tying things up 2-2.)

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

NBC Sports Washington shared footage of Jenner’s hit on Burakovsky in GIF form:

On the bright side, the Capitals aren’t ruling out the possibility of Burakovsky returning during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least if they can advance beyond this first-round series against Columbus. Khurshudyan noted that Trotz said Burakovsky will be out at least through April 25, but the full window of recovery seems hazy.

This marks another daunting setback for Burakovsky, a 23-year-old who hasn’t had much injury luck lately. He only played in 56 games this season and 64 in 2016-17, totaling 25 points each time. It’s a bummer to see him not be able to take the next step after scoring 17 goals and 38 points in 2015-16, particularly since Burakovsky consistently churns out strong possession stats.

Trotz spoke of Burakovsky’s bad luck shortly after Game 2:

“For [Burakovsky], it’s frustrating,” Trotz said, via NBC Sports Washington’s Tarik El-Bashir. “Our mentality is the next guy up. Next guy up will be Jakub Vrana. I feel bad for Andre because everything for a young player is about getting confidence and building on that. So, every time he’s played very, very well he’s had some injuries. This is a setback but he’ll come back strong.”

Burakovsky had been lining up with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie during the Blue Jackets series. In his absence, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson have been getting looks with Backstrom and Oshie. With Oshie also banged up right now, it certainly stings to realize that Burakovsky won’t be back for what’s been a difficult series, even though the Capitals deserve credit for hogging the biscuit lately despite being without one of their best puck-hoarders.

Game 5 shifts back to Washington on NBC/NBCSN on Saturday. Puck drop is slated for 3 p.m. ET. Here is the livestream link.

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.

Players claimed off NHL waivers making most of 2nd chances

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DENVER (AP) — Colorado defenseman Patrik Nemeth set career highs this season in goals, games and perhaps even grudges.

See what a little chip on the shoulder can do?

Waived by Dallas in October, he was claimed by Colorado soon after and has played an integral role in helping the Avalanche return to the postseason. He’s not alone: These playoffs are filled with castoffs who were put on waivers, only to find a revamped role with a new team.

It’s not personal. It’s just business. Players realize this. But still, being waived goodbye is hard to swallow.

”Of course you want to prove them wrong,” said Nemeth, whose team trails 3-1 heading to Nashville for Game 5 on Friday night. ”You want to prove you can play and that they were wrong. That’s always going to be in the back of your head – at least for me.”

When Avs defenseman Mark Barberio was cut by Montreal last year, so many thoughts swirled through his head: What went wrong? Next stop, the minors? Is there still even a role for him in the league?

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

It was a whirlwind 24 hours – the amount of time teams have to make a claim – before the Avs picked him up.

”Colorado saw something in me and decided to give me a chance,” Barberio said. ”I’ve gotten a chance to play regular minutes, and a coaching staff I feel believes in me. I’m trying to repay that faith every time I play.”

That sort of feeling is shared by center Ryan Carpenter, who was claimed by Vegas from Anaheim on Dec. 13. He’s now heading to the second round with the expansion Golden Knights. Carpenter had a key assist in a Game 3 win over Los Angeles.

”It’s amazing … how things can change in pro hockey,” Carpenter said on the team’s website. ”I feel like a little kid right now playing in playoffs. It’s exciting and we want to keep this thing going. It’s nice when you feel like you’re contributing. I never would’ve though in the middle of December I’d be playing right now.”

Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser was in a similar boat. He was claimed after St. Louis put him on waivers in late November, returning the nine-year NHL veteran to his home-state team for another stint. The Wild previously claimed Prosser off waivers from St. Louis on Oct. 2, 2014, after he had signed with the Blues that summer but was let go just before the season.

A reliable defenseman, he has taken on added responsibility after an injury to Ryan Suter.

”It puts the onus on the rest of us to amp up our game a little bit,” Prosser said. ”Just different parts of the game we’ve got to make sure we’re honing in on.”

Then there’s Stefan Noesen, who’s had quite a path to wind up with the New Jersey Devils. Drafted by Ottawa in the first round in 2011 and traded to Anaheim in ’13, he was claimed by the Devils on Jan. 25, 2017. He had his first playoff goal in Game 3 against Tampa Bay.

”Just because you get put on waivers doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t play,” Nemeth said. ”Sometimes the situation is the way it is and you need a new opportunity.”

That was the case for Nemeth, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2010. He played in a career-high 68 games for Colorado, with three goals, 12 assists and a plus-27 rating, which was the highest by an Avalanche defenseman since Adam Foote in 2002-03 – the benefits of a change in scenery.

”It could be different scenarios,” Nemeth said of factors leading to being placed on waivers. ”Sometimes, it’s just too many guys. Sometimes, your coach might not like you or might not appreciate what you bring to the table. It’s just different, depending on what situation you’re in. For me personally, it was good.”

Avalanche defenseman Duncan Siemens went through the experience last fall – with his own team. He was reassigned to San Antonio in the American Hockey League before spending the last seven weeks with Colorado. He made his playoff debut in the Predators series.

”This is such a competitive league,” said Siemens, a first-round pick by Colorado in 2011. ”There are so many good hockey players out there. Your first chance could be your last chance. Anytime you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of it because you don’t know if you’re going to get another one.”

AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.

More AP hockey: http://www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey

Bill Peters opts out of contract to leave Hurricanes; next stop Calgary?

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Bill Peters had until Friday to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, freeing him from the final year of his deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. He did just that, and will now hit the open market with the Calgary Flames a heavy favorite for his next landing spot.

“I have a lot of respect for Bill as a person and coach,” said Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in a statement. “We thank him for his time with the Hurricanes and wish him success in whatever comes next.”

With $1.6 million guaranteed for next season if he stayed in Carolina, Peters wouldn’t be leaving without having a good idea that he’ll be able to step into another job this off-season. At the moment, there are head coaching openings with the Flames, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers.

Dundon wasn’t against Peters staying for the duration of his contract, as he’s shown he prefers keeping people around who have term left rather than firing them (Hi, Ron Francis!). But with Peters resigning, the Hurricanes are off the hook now for that $1.6 million.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

So where will Peters land? Well, the Flames have been the big favorite for a while, and the rumor mill sped up on Tuesday when Calgary decided to fire Glen Gulutzan after two seasons. General manager Brad Treliving said he wanted someone with NHL experience as a replacement and Peters would come to Alberta with a 137-138-53 record in four seasons with the Hurricanes, which includes zero playoff appearances.

It’s easy to tie Peters to the Calgary job. He’s from the area, worked with Treliving during the 2016 World Championships and got his start coaching in the Western Hockey League. It seems like it’s only a matter of time now.

As for the Hurricanes, they now have openings at GM and head coach. Team president Don Waddell is acting as interim GM during the search process. Rod Brind’Amour, who was one of Peters’ assistants, has seen his name out there as a potential replacement, same for the team’s assistant GM and AHL head coach Mike Vellucci. Both would come cheaper than what Alain Vigneault, Dave Tippett, Dan Bylsma or potentially Barry Trotz would command, so given Dundon’s methods so far, that just might be the direction they go.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.