Jacob Markstrom

Getty

Canucks’ kids smoke Crosby, Letang, Penguins

3 Comments

With nine points in nine games so far this season, 20-year-old Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser couldn’t keep this up.

It turns out he decided to pick up that pace at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ expense. Boeser generated a hat trick and an assist in the Canucks’ 4-2 win, and he actually probably robbed himself of a fourth goal when he selflessly tried to set someone else up for an empty-netter.

Boeser isn’t the only member of the Canucks’ kids line (does it have an agreed-upon nickname yet?) who stood out on Saturday. Bo Horvat, the more established member, scored a goal and three assists. While Horvat is 22, Sven Baertschi is the grumpy old man of the trio at 25. Baertschi collected a trio of helpers himself.

So, Boeser is now at 13 points, Horvat has 11, and Baertschi also has 11 over 10 games. They were involved in all four of Vancouver’s goals tonight. They’re a huge part of the Canucks improving to 7-4-2, while Jacob Markstrom helped to curb the Penguins’ push to get back into the game.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this dominant performance was that it came against stars like Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang:

This continues a passing of the torch in Vancouver, as consider this: Daniel and Henrik Sedin received less than 10 minutes of ice time apiece on Saturday. This was all-youth, and a brave decision by head coach Travis Green, who seems to be accelerating the Canucks’ ascent toward credibility.

Now at 8-6-2, you could see Crosby’s frustration, and not just due to a missed call late in the game. The Penguins mercifully end a five-game road trip with a 1-3-1 record.

Speaking of being on the road a lot, the Canucks will face a serious test this month. Vancouver will deal with 10 of its next 14 games away from home:

Mon, Nov 6 vs Detroit
Tue, Nov 7 @ Calgary
Thu, Nov 9 @ Anaheim
Sat, Nov 11 @ San Jose
Tue, Nov 14 @ Los Angeles
Thu, Nov 16 vs Vegas
Sat, Nov 18 vs St. Louis
Tue, Nov 21 @ Philadelphia
Wed, Nov 22 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Nov 24 @ New Jersey
Sun, Nov 26 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Nov 28 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Nov 30 @ Nashville

The Canucks are off to a shockingly solid start, but we’ll get an even better idea of this team through that run.

Nights like these might be frustrating for the Penguins and a beautiful one for the Canucks, particularly their rising top trio of forwards. Time will tell if Vancouver can keep it going and if Pittsburgh can shrug off these early peaks and valleys.

Besides, it’s a long season, so Penguins fans should enjoy some comic relief:

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Are the Rangers bad enough to win the lottery?

Getty
4 Comments

–Sharks defenseman Paul Martin inspired this young fan to raise money for his anti-bullying foundation. “The reason I wanted to do this was because Paul had an event and I was too young. But then when I gave him the check, he invited me, my friend, and my mom and my dad.” (fearthefin.com)

Joe Thornton did a Q&A with ESPN.com about a number of hilarious topics, including his current love of Netflix and that ESPN body issue. Thornton is awesome.  (ESPN)

–Wayne Gretzky asked Dr. Murray Howe (Gordie’s son) about his dad’s life. “One of the best lessons Dad taught me was how to be a good hockey parent. He never pushed me to play. After each game he’d ask me, “Did you have fun?” He didn’t point out my mistakes or my teammates’. Instead, he’d identify at least one thing that I did well. Then he’d buy me ice cream.” (mcleans.ca)

–This young Chicago Blackhawks fan that has a muscle disorder in his legs dressed up as the United Center’s Zamboni for Halloween. “Some nights I was working on it ’til two a.m.,” Jim DelGenio said. (abc7ny.com)

–Players from the CWHL and NWHL feel like they need to merge the leagues for the benefit of women’s hockey. “We always talk about it — the best in the world have to merge,” Team Canada’s Laura Fortino said . “We hope the commissioners of both sides come to that reality, that in order for women’s hockey to get to the peak where we want it to be, we all have to be playing with the best.” (New York Times)

–The New Jersey Devils are one of the biggest surprises in the league this season, but they need to find a way to keep it going in November. They kicked off November with a bang last year, they just couldn’t keep it going. (pucksandpitchforks.com)

–Like the Devils, the Canucks are off to a surprising start as well. One reason they’ve had some success is because of strong goaltending from Anders Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom. But which one of these two goalies should be the starter based on advanced stats? (thecanucksway.com)

–The Leafs’ roster is filled with promise this season, but they’re still missing a number one defenseman. But do teams really need a top defender to win a Stanley Cup? Even if they fall short of that goal, they shouldn’t feel too bad about it because the future is bright. (Vice.com)

–The Rangers have been pretty underwhelming this season, but are they actually bad enough to win the draft lottery? Getting the first overall pick could help push them toward a Stanley Cup. (nhlnumbers.com)

Derek Dorsett is off to a crazy start for the Canucks. He has six goals (first on the team) and eight points (second on the team) this season. How long can this keep going? (dailyhive.com)

–University of Denver head coach Jim Montgomery interviewed for the Panthers job this off-season, but he didn’t get it. Instead, he’s back at the University of Denver. The fact that he returned is huge for the team and the hockey program. (collegehockeynews.com)

–You may not recognize Ryan Zapolski’s name, but you might in the near future. Zapolski, who plays in the KHL, is one of the favorites to represent Team USA between the pipes at the upcoming Olympics. He never would’ve imagined that this would be possible. “It’s disappointing for fans that the NHL wouldn’t be there [in PyeongChang],” Zapolski said. “but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.” (NBC Sports)

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.

Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

Getty
6 Comments

The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Cam Ward ready for backup role with Hurricanes

Getty

For the better part of the past 12 seasons Cam Ward has been a constant in the Carolina Hurricanes’ net. He is the longest tenured member of the team and a Stanley Cup champion.

This season, however, his hold on the starting job seems to have finally come to an end with the arrival of Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hurricanes acquired Darling’s free agent rights in a trade, then acted quickly to sign him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract.

That is not a commitment you make to a player that you intend to sit on the bench, and Ward knows this.

In an interview with the News & Observer this week Ward talked about his new role with the team and how he is willing and ready to accept it after being a starter for more than a decade.

From the News & Observer:

“I’m realistic,” Ward said in an interview at Raleigh Center Ice. “I understand the situation. I know he was brought in here to sign a four-year deal for pretty good money not to be a backup.

“I know where I am in my career. … Certainly I’m a competitive guy and I still want to be able to play and I’ll do whatever I can to earn that ice time, but I’m hopeful he can make that next step. He deserves that.”

The unfortunate reality for Ward is that it is a move the Hurricanes had to make.

Goaltending has been one of the single biggest issues plaguing the Hurricanes in recent seasons, and Ward has been the key player at that position. He has not finished a season with a save percentage higher than .910 since the 2011-12 season. In the five years since then his .907 save percentage is 43rd out of 47 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games, ahead of only Ondrej Pavelec, Ben Scrivens and Jacob Markstrom.

The Hurricanes have been assembling a talented, young roster in recent seasons and finally look like a team that is on the verge of becoming a player in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They have an outstanding young defense that has already made them one of the best shot suppression teams in the league, as well as some young high-end forward talent up front. The only ingredient that has been missing has been more consistent play in net.

The Hurricanes have also taken chances on backups Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack over the years in the hopes they could push Ward and help solidify the position. None of them worked out.

Darling is the latest top backup that they have tabbed to be their solution in net. He has been one of the best backup goalies in the league in recent seasons and will be getting his shot to be a starter this season.

In signing with Anaheim, Ryan Miller chooses family and chance to win

Getty
3 Comments

Ryan Miller was one of the busiest goalies in the NHL last season, when he routinely faced over 40 shots per game as the Vancouver Canucks’ starter.

But things should change considerably next season, after the 36-year-old signed with the Anaheim Ducks today.

Miller is well-aware that his role is going to be different, since the Ducks already have a starting goalie in John Gibson.

For Miller, though, the opportunity is two-fold. First and foremost, he’ll be closer to his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, and their young son. Second, he’ll get the chance to win something he’s never won.

“I really wanted to maximize my time and maximize my chances in winning a Stanley Cup,” Miller told reporters, per Eric Stephens of the O.C. Register.

The Canucks did want to keep Miller, who may have left money on the table in agreeing to a two-year, $4 million deal with Anaheim. Vancouver signed Anders Nilsson instead. Nilsson will compete for starts with Jacob Markstrom.

In Anaheim, it’s possible that Miller ends up playing more than a typical backup. After all, Gibson has had trouble staying healthy, and Miller did play well last year.

In fact, Miller was often Vancouver’s best hope for a win. He finished with three shutouts and a respectable .914 save percentage.