Aleksander Barkov

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Big centers back: Getzlaf in for Ducks, Panthers regain Barkov

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The Anaheim Ducks would probably qualify as unlucky so far in 2017-18 even beyond an extremely unfortunate bounce of a puck fracturing Ryan Getzlaf‘s cheekbone.

That loss was especially severe with Ryan Kesler already recovering, as Getzlaf missed 19 games, last appearing in a contest on that painful night of Oct. 29. The Ducks get quite the treat, then, as both Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg are slated to return as they host the Carolina Hurricanes.

Check out how much better everything fits together with the returns of Getzlaf and Silfverberg, not to mention the recent addition of Adam Henrique (line combos via the Ducks website):

Rakell-Getzlaf-Perry
Cogliano-Henrique-Silfverberg
Blandisi-Vermette-Kase
Wagner-Grant-Shaw

The Ducks are still without Kesler, and Patrick Eaves is fighting a serious physical battle that puts hockey on the backburner, so there’s still some mystery to how the Ducks might look if they can get anywhere near full-strength this season.

As is, they look a whole lot better going into Monday’s game, something the Florida Panthers could relate to.

While Anaheim’s dealt with bad luck, you could chalk up Florida’s troubles to a mix of unforced errors (jettisoning depth, particularly to Vegas) and tough breaks of their own (Roberto Luongo‘s injury issues). Either way, management will look infinitely smarter when Aleksander Barkov is in the lineup than when he’s not, so the Panthers must be happy to welcome him back tonight.

Interestingly, Left Wing Lock lists Barkov along with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, rather than Denis Malgin taking Bjugstad’s spot (Malgin received looks, at least, once Evgenii Dadonov suffered an injury).

That would be quite the top-heavy approach for Florida, even if Malgin can mesh well with Vincent Trocheck.

While the Panthers have floundered at times, the Ducks seemed like they were finally starting to crater under the pressure of all those injury losses, as Anaheim only boasts two wins (2-4-4) in its last 10 games.

It’s true that the return of Barkov and Getzlaf would be important in just about any context for their teams, but each team likely feels especially relieved on Monday, as they can use all the help they can get.

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.

Aleksander Barkov on Panthers’ season, the shootout, playing with Jagr (PHT Q&A)

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While things are pretty bleak in South Florida, Aleksander Barkov is continuing to shine for the Florida Panthers. The 22-year-old center is having another productive season, which has been buoyed by an increase in ice time.

Over the summer new Panthers head coach Bob Boughner told Barkov that he wanted to give him more time on special teams, and so far through 28 games he’s at career highs in power play (3:39/game average) and shorthanded minutes (1:51/game average). Known for a strong two-way game, being handed more responsibility was music to the young Finns ears.

“I don’t mind it. I like to be on the ice in every situation and try to help the team,” Barkov told Pro Hockey Talk this week. “That’s why I play hockey. I want to be good anywhere, if it’s our own end or offensive zone or face-offs or whatever. I’m trying to get better every day.”

In order to prepare for the bump in ice time and because of injuries that caused him to miss 36 games over the last two seasons, Barkov changed his summer training a bit. He wanted to make himself lighter and faster in order to not expend as much energy on the ice. He focused on running and sprints and increased the amount of stretching, all of which he believes has helped him this year, and he has 10 goals and 27 points to show for it.

We spoke with Barkov earlier this week about his two-way game, his success in the shootout and playing with Jaromir Jagr.

Enjoy.

Q. The team is currently sitting in a position you don’t want to be in at this point of the season. What hasn’t clicked so far?

BARKOV: “Sometimes we’ve been playing pretty well, but that’s not enough. We need to play well all 60 minutes. It’s so tough to win in this league if you [only] play a 40-minute game instead of 60. We have such good teams in this league that can find a way to win games. We just need to concentrate on our own game and try to play our best game every night and give everything.”

Your two-way game is very noticeable and that’s led to some Selke Trophy talk. How much of your off-season work focuses on the defensive aspect of the game?

“It comes with the territory. If you’re in good shape, you can play anywhere, not just offense or not just defense. If you play in your own end for 30 seconds you still have that energy to go in the offensive zone or in the offensive zone you still have energy to go and play in your own end and not let them score on you.”

Along with your minutes your face-off win percentage (55 percent) is up quite a bit as well. Are you approaching face-offs this season using a different technique?

“Actually, I don’t think it’s a different technique, just we have a pretty good coach, Paul MacFarland, who is helping us a lot with face-offs and he’s telling us about other players and how they take face-offs and what should work against them. Of course, a lot of practice and confidence, too. You need that confidence in the face-off [circle] when you’re taking it, you know you’re going to win or at least tie him up.”

You’re at 51 percent for your career in the shootout. Before an attempt, do you have a move in mind that you want to do or do you just react to how the goalie is moving?

“I should have a move in my mind, otherwise it will probably not [be a] goal. If I take the puck and I know what I’m going to do, it gives me a lot of confidence that I can score.”

Is there a move that you’ve worked on in practice and haven’t pulled it out in a shootout yet?

“There’s a couple move but I still need to work on them in practice a couple more times to get confident with the move. Maybe we’ll see one day.”

You’re pretty good with that Kent Nilsson/Peter Forsberg/Jussi Jokinen move.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty good one. I have a long reach so it’s tough for the goalies. I know the goalies are watching videos too and they know that I like to do that so they try to play that way, so I need to create a lot more moves so they won’t know what I’m doing.”

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You got to spend parts of three seasons playing with Jaromir Jagr. With the time you spent on and off the ice, what kind of things did you learn from him?

“He might be the guy I learned the most from. A guy like him, when he came into our team you just couldn’t believe it happened. He was my favorite player when I was growing up and now we’re playing on the same team and maybe even on the same line. It was a dream come true. Of course, playing with him and practicing with him and just being around him, you learn so much, especially about living the life of a professional hockey player and what it takes to be a good player and to get to the top.”

When a guy like Jagr enters the room, a living legend, someone who won Stanley Cups before you were even born, were you nervous around him at first?

“When I first heard he got traded to our team we had a game that night, he wasn’t there yet but still I was thinking about that the whole game. I don’t remember anything about that game except that he got traded to our team. Then he came in an hour before the next game, so they put us in the same line and we never talked before, never did anything before, just go on the ice and I think we created two or three good chances with him during the first shift. Then we just noticed it was so much fun to play with him. He tried to get us a lot better and we tried to get him a lot better, and that’s how we had success.”

Was there one piece of advice that he gave that’s stuck with you ever since?

“If I want to be the best I have to work more than anybody else. It doesn’t mean that I have to go and skate with him at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m., whatever he does. All the time, try to work on your game, try to work on your body and try to be better all the time. Of course, rest is a good thing too. But try to work as much as you can.”

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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.

Roberto Luongo out for ‘extended period’ as Panthers turn to Reimer

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A forgettable start to the season got even worse for the Florida Panthers when goaltender Roberto Luongo went down during Monday night’s loss to the New York Islanders. Head coach Bob Boughner announced Wednesday morning that the netminder is will miss an “extended period of time” with a lower-body injury. He did not give a specific timetable.

“Whether that’s three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, we’re going to see how his rehab goes, that kind of thing,” he said via the Sun-Sentinel. “Definitely out for a while.”

This is the second injury that’s sidelined Luongo this season after he missed six games while nursing a hand injury in October. James Reimer will once again step in with Harri Sateri recalled to back up. Reimer has made 12 starts this season and posted a .901 even strength save percentage, via Corsica.

“This is a pretty big loss for us. [Luongo’s] been awesome for his whole career with Florida,” Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov told Pro Hockey Talk on Tuesday. “Of course it kind of sucks, but that’s the luxury of having James Reimer as a second goalie for us. That’s a pretty good thing that we have two goalies that can be first goalies in the league.”

The Panthers are currently tied for the third-fewest points in the NHL with 24 and wrap up a homestand later this week before hitting the road for a five-game trip. They’ll also be facing a pair of back-to-backs over the next three weeks, and since Luongo won’t be returning any time soon it could be Sateri making his NHL at some point, or maybe general manager Dale Tallon dips back into the market for an option other than the 27-year-old Finn.

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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.

Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have the Kings back on top

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After missing the playoffs in two of the past three seasons and getting bounced in the first round in the one year they did make the playoffs it seemed as if the Los Angeles Kings’ run as one of the NHL’s elite teams was coming to an end.

They were still posting consistently great possession numbers and were a strong defensive team, but the offense was a mess and the roster seemed to lack any sort of quality depth. Even worse, the talented players that were on the roster were starting to get older and had shown signs of slowing down.

Dustin Brown‘s career had seen him produce like a third-liner, while Anze Kopitar, one of the best two-way players in the NHL and the foundation of two Stanley Cup winning teams in Los Angeles, was coming off  worst offensive season of his career. It was hard to envision (at least for me) a scenario where the Kings could bounce back in a meaningful way without making any significant changes to a roster that seemed to be losing its luster and seemed to be short on talent outside of a very select group of players.

It turns out the scenario that could spark a change was pretty simple: Kopitar and Brown returning to being elite offensive players.

That is exactly what has happened so far for the Kings this season.

Entering play on Monday Kopitar is averaging more than a point-per game (31 points in 28 games), is in the top-10 in scoring, and is still playing a dominant two-way game in all situations. His 22 minutes of ice-time per game are second among all forwards (trailing only Aleksander Barkov).

In hindsight, we should have seen his bounce back season coming.

A lot of his decline last season can be attributed to the fact that he was absolutely crushed by percentages last season.

His shooting percentage dropped all the way down to 8 percent, not only a career low but also the first time in his career he shot below 10 percent in a single season.

Had he shot at his career average of 12 percent it would have been an additional six or seven goals to his total, and that doesn’t even take into account the six games he missed. With just slightly better shooting luck he could have easily been a 20-goal scorer. When an elite player like Kopitar goes through a season where they are hurt almost entirely by percentages they are usually a great candidate for a bounce back the following year.

Players that have that sort of track record don’t just suddenly lose their ability to score. Hockey can be a cruel game sometimes in that no matter what a player does or how well they play the puck sometimes just doesn’t go in the net.

This season Kopitar has experienced the percentage bounce back and it has him back to being the player he’s always been.

The far bigger surprise has been Brown’s return to glory.

For the past four years he had the look of a player that was, quite simply, finished as a top-six offensive player in the NHL. He was entering his age 33 season and had not topped 36 points in any of the previous four years. Only once during that stretch did he record more than 28 points.

So far this season he has already scored as many goals in 28 games (11) as he did in three of his previous four seasons and has already had a hand in 23 Kings goals.

He has probably been a little fortunate from a shooting percentage standpoint (14 percent this season after being under eight percent in the previous four years … and sometimes around five percent) but you can not take away what he has already done. And right now he and Kopitar are driving the Kings’ offense in a huge way, especially as Jeff Carter remains sidelined.

The interesting thing about this season for the Kings is that this is a team that has finished higher than 20th in goals scored just twice in the past six years, and only once higher than 14th.

As of Monday they are eighth in the NHL, and while Kopitar and Brown have seen a significant jump in their personal shooting percentages, the Kings as a team aren’t really benefitting from an unsustainable shooting percentage. As a team they are right in the middle of the pack across the league.

It is worth asking how much of an impact the coaching change from Darryl Sutter to John Stevens has had on the offense.

Under Sutter the Kings were a defense-first team built around suffocating and suppressing offense. So much so that it took away from their own offense. Almost immediately after the team named Stevens the new coach the message was about improving the team’s offense. Over the summer Stevens and general manager Rob Blake talked about how the Kings were near the bottom of the league in controlled zone entries and getting shots from the middle of the ice and how they wanted to improve all of those areas.

Given how little the roster has changed and how much the results have changed from one year to the next it seems at least possible that the Kings have succeeded in a lot of those areas.

It seems to have helped two of their top players return to form, which has helped the team start to look like a contender again.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panthers’ lethal top line lost their Dadonov

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Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is thankful that his vision guides the franchise once again, but the results for his renovation have often been pretty unappealing so far in 2017-18.

That said, the Panthers’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov has been electric, with Dadonov’s return to the NHL being a smash success. Even with some slow production for Dadonov in his past few games, he’s been outstanding by metrics both fancy and simple, including generating 18 points in 22 games. Dadonov’s addition/return sure seems to be the no-brainer highlight of an otherwise polarizing (if not just flat-out poor) summer.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury really spoils the fun for “Dad,” however, as he’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. That news comes from a variety of reports, including Panthers play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein.

Dadonov probably suffered his shoulder injury thanks to this hit by Cody Franson of the Chicago Blackhawks:

Early on, it looks like the dynamic duo of Barkov and Huberdeau will see Denis Malgin as their new winger. Malgin, 20, was recently recalled from the AHL; he scored 10 points in 47 games last season and was unable to generate a goal or an assist in five regular-season contests in 2017-18, though he was receiving less than 10 minutes of ice time per night.

Dadonov, Barkov, and Huberdeau were essentially attached at the hip at even-strength so far this season, so if there’s a drop-off with Malgin/assorted other forwards, it will be that much easier to see how much of a difference Dadonov makes.

The Panthers are taking on the Devils in New Jersey tonight. Florida’s currently ranked second-to-last in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 18 points (8-12-2). On paper, losing Dadonov will only exacerbate this team’s issues, and it must sting to see Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith stand as such strong contributors for the Vegas Golden Knights.

(Marchessault was named the NHL’s first star of the week. Ouch.)

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.