P.K. Subban

Getty

Grim times for Canadiens: Price struggles, surgery for Schlemko

3 Comments

Forgive the Montreal Canadiens if they feel beleaguered heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (which is part of NBCSN’s doubleheader).

After another captivating-but-polarizing summer of changes thanks to GM Marc Bergevin, the spotlight shone a little brighter on the Habs to start. Such magnification made it tough to hide the blemishes of what’s now a 1-4-1 start, even if abysmal luck takes the ugliness to an unrealistic extreme.

If getting beaten down in the local papers and in conventional wisdom didn’t leave them staggering, the Habs are also closing off a back-to-back set after dropping a fifth game in a row via last night’s loss to San Jose.

The hits keep on coming, too, with news that an already-shaky defense corps will lack savvy free agent addition David Schlemko for an estimated three-to-four weeks following hand surgery.

You know things are dreary when one of the more positive bits revolves around starting Al Montoya instead of Carey Price.

It’s true, though, that Montoya’s the right choice here. Most obviously, Price played last night, and you don’t want to lean too hard on any goalie, even one who will begin to cost $10M per season in 2018-19.

Price check

Price’s struggles feel like a microcosm of what this team is going through, as a whole, right now.

In the short term, it’s difficult to imagine things remaining this abhorrent both for the star goalie and his struggling team.

Price’s save percentage stands at .885 so far this season; he’s never been below .905 for a campaign. A 3.56 GAA won’t persist for a netminder who’s never averaged anything above 2.83 (and that was almost a decade ago).

The Canadiens are still easily the worst team in the NHL in both shooting percentage and save percentage perspectives at even-strength. They’re doing so despite grading well by Natural Stat Trick’s various metrics, including getting a friendly percentage of high-danger scoring chances (their fellow dour would-be contenders, the Oilers, feel their pain).

So, a lot of those patterns will just sort of work themselves out naturally.

Still, there are some nagging concerns.

Price already turned 30, and his new, massive cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet. While goalies have a decent track record of aging more gracefully than, say, snipers, Price’s history of knee issues provides some worry.

Even if he continues to be Carey Price in italics, there really isn’t a great comparable for his contract (Henrik Lundqvist‘s is the closest, according to Cap Friendly). Montreal could serve as a guinea pig for other NHL teams pondering building around an expensive goalie.

Growing pains or signs of a fall?

There are also unsettling questions about Bergevin’s vision, and the way Julien uses players.

Bergevin’s win-now mentality is the source of plenty of debate, but it’s objectively clear that many of his moves have made the Habs older. Shea Weber‘s considerably older than P.K. Subban, and even very young Jonathan Drouin is a grizzled veteran compared to Mikhail Sergachev.

Re-signing Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t ended that saga, and the Habs can’t just blame the media, either.

At the moment, Galchenyuk ranks ninth in even-strength ice time average among Canadiens forwards. He’s currently slated for fourth-line duty alongside Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky.

If the goal is to eventually trade him, this is a backwards way of doing so. If the goal is to “send him a message,” there seems to be a better time than when your team isn’t exactly setting nets on fire like “NBA Jam.”

***

When you break things down issue by issue, it’s reasonable to expect better times. Still, it’s tough to shake the worrying signs overall, whether you’re just looking at 2017-18 or beyond.

Things could at least look a little sunnier if Montreal can dig deep and come out of this California trip with a win or two.

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

PHT Morning Skate: The biggest surprises in the NHL so far

Getty
8 Comments

–Vegas Golden Knights players knew they’d be in for a unique experience heading into this year, but they could have never imagined that they’d be helping a city heal from a significant tragedy. “It’s special to be here and to try to rebuild this city,” said forward Reilly Smith. “We’re trying to be a team that this city can stand behind.” (Miami Herald)

–Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek scored his first two career NHL goals in last week’s game against the Penguins. His mom, Karen, may have given him the nudge he needed to start producing. (Tampa Bay Times)

–ESPN hockey writers make their selections for the biggest surprise of the 2017-18 season so far. Hint: There’s plenty of Leafs and Blackhawks love to go around here. (ESPN)

–The rivalry between Montreal and Toronto is still very alive, but it’s changed quite a bit. As Don Cherry points out, the Habs used to have the skill, while the Leafs used to be the ones to crash and bang. That isn’t exactly the case anymore. (NHL.com)

–Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has started the “P.K.’s Blueline Buddies Program” in Nashville this season. At every home game, he’ll host a member of the police department, an underprivileged youth and a few others. “I think it’s important for athletes to set a tone in a way that we’re looking to build bridges,” Subban said. “That doesn’t take away from anybody’s right to do what they want to do or how they want to exercise their rights as an American citizen, but I think it’s really important for us to be role models in terms of building bridges and being a part of the solution to social issues and different things that go on in our community.” (NHL.com/Predators)

Connor McDavid is already one of the fastest players in the NHL, but his skating coach, Joe Quinn, believes he can get even faster in the future. That should keep a lot of defensemen up at night. (The Hockey News)

–Former NHL goalie Ken Dryden has been looking at ways to prevent concussions in hockey. He wrote a new book about how concussions affected Steve Montador’s life and he also wrote this essay for the Globe and Mail. “It begins with a simple ripple – no hits to the head. This ripple then runs backward, getting bigger, until it becomes a wave. In today’s NHL, a stick to an opponent’s face is a penalty – automatic – no excuses. A puck shot into the crowd in a team’s defensive zone is the same, a penalty – automatic – no excuses. No big deal. Players adapt. The game goes on.” (Globe and Mail)

–USA Today took offence to a series of tweets the Golden Knights Twitter account posted prior to last night’s game against the Boston Bruins. USA Today suggested the tweets were loaded with “sexism”. (USA Today)

–Former NHL enforcer Shawn Thornton’s grandmother dealt with Parkinson’s disease until the day she died in 2008. Now, Thornton is doing his part to raise money for people affected by this dreaded disease. (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have been patient with top prospect Sonny Milano. Now, he’s rewarded them with some stellar production early on this season. It looks like he’s finally arrived. (jacketscannon.com)

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Lightning’s Koekkoek, Predators’ Girard shine on night of firsts

Getty
1 Comment

Maybe Thursday will see other patterns form, but one theme is young NHL defensemen scoring their first goals, and in many ways helping their teams secure wins.

Samuel Girard, 19, is already distinguishing himself with a Nashville Predators team suffering from some problematic injuries on defense. (That situation might get worse if Yannick Weber misses extended time thanks to this hit by Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal.)

Girard already had an assist in his debut, but Thursday was a real treat as his family was on hand; Girard scored the game-tying goal and picked up a primary helper on the game-winner as the Predators beat the Dallas Stars 4-1.

P.K. Subban looked almost as excited as Girard on that goal:

Girard isn’t a slam-dunk for “best night for a defenseman who scored his first goal,” though.

Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Slater Koekkoek didn’t just score the first goal of his NHL career, he actually scored two. This was the second, which ended up being the game-winner as the Bolts edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4:

Koekkoek, 23, had gone 42 regular-season games (and 10 playoff contests) without scoring that first tally, so this burst stands as a positive sign for Tampa Bay.

Finally, Ian McCoshen factored into the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues with his first-ever NHL goal. McCoshen, 22, got to this spot in his sixth contest at the NHL level:

Yep, this has been a pretty good night of firsts for NHL blueliners. If there are any more of note, this post will be updated.

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

It’s time for Athanasiou, Red Wings to make a decision on his playing future

Getty
11 Comments

The NHL season is underway and there’s still no sign of Andreas Athanasiou in Detroit.

The Red Wings and the restricted free agent still haven’t come to terms on a contract extension, which is unfortunate for both sides.

Athanasiou has been skating with HC Lugano over in Switzerland over the last few days. According to The Hockey News, there’s a lot of interest from Swiss League clubs and Omsk in the KHL has reportedly offered him $2.5 million this season.

One of the benefits to playing in Europe in 2017-18, is that he could suit up for Canada at the upcoming Olympics. He might never get an opportunity like that again.

Regardless of what the player, team and agent (Darren Ferris) decide, it’s time for them to make a decision on Athanasiou’s short-term playing future.

It’s clear that the young winger is serious about getting the right dollar amount he feels he deserves (if he’s bluffing, he’s a crazy-good bluffer), but it’s time for his camp to decide what his next move is going to be.

In recent years, players like P.K. Subban and Johnny Gaudreau have missed training camp and regular season games during holdouts. Even though they were around the same age as Athanasiou is now, they were still more established in the NHL than he is at this point.

Subban gave in to what Montreal was offering him back in 2013, as he accepted a bridge deal. Despite missing training camp and a couple of games, he went on to win the Norris Trophy that year.

As for Gaudreau, he held out last season, got a long-term deal, but saw his production dip quite a bit (he had 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games two years ago, and 18 goals and 61 points in 72 games in 2016-17).

Athanasiou is nowhere near as accomplished as those two players. Still, his numbers would indicate that there is some intriguing upside there. The 23-year-old had 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games with Detroit last season. He also has a ton of speed, which is an asset, especially in today’s NHL.

The Red Wings may hold firm with their current offer, but last time I checked, their roster isn’t loaded with offensive superstars. After all, they missed the playoffs in 2017, so they can use all the help they can get.

The other way they can parlay Athanasiou into immediate help is by trading him to another team in the league. Even though his value isn’t sky-high right now, there will be teams interested in his services for the reasons mentioned above (Montreal, Ottawa and Los Angeles have all reportedly shown interest).

So either Detroit forks out the money Athanasiou wants, they trade him away, or they decide to let him suit up in Europe (that doesn’t benefit them at all). Whatever the decision is, it’s time for both parties to put this story behind them.

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Predators complete ‘crazy comeback’ against Flyers

Getty
23 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The banner went up and the home team came back to win in a thrilling finish. All in all, a perfect night for the Nashville Predators and their fans.

Filip Forsberg scored his second goal with 35.6 seconds left and the Predators rallied by scoring twice in the final 1:17 to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-5 on Tuesday for their first victory of the season.

“This season, being down 0-2, it was a huge game for us,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Good start to the game and then let it slip a little bit and then a huge comeback. I feel like we’ve done that many times. It’s a pretty hard way to play. Emotionally and everything, it was a big win for us.”

On the night they raised their Western Conference championship banner, the Predators blew a 3-0 lead as the Flyers scored five straight goals.

Read more: Nolan Patrick’s first career NHL goal helps spark Flyers comeback

But then Forsberg scored his first of the game 50 seconds after the Flyers took a 5-3 lead, and Scott Hartnell jammed in his second goal tying it with 1:17 left on a 5-on-3 that was actually 6-on-3 with Rinne pulled. When Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol challenged for offside and lost, the Predators had the man advantage, and Forsberg scored the winning goal top shelf.

Hakstol was surprised he lost the replay review.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made the challenge,” he said.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said the team practiced the 5-on-3 situation Monday, with the sixth attacker a bonus.

“Our guys did a really good job,” Laviolette said.

Craig Smith and Nick Bonino also scored, and P.K. Subban had three assists for Nashville. Forsberg also had an assist on Hartnell’s tying goal as Nashville won its fifth straight home opener.

Valtteri Filppula scored twice for the Flyers, and Andrew McDonald, Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny each added a goal. Philadelphia finished 2-2 on its first four-game road trip to open a season since 1971.

The Predators, losers at Boston and Pittsburgh, raised the banner 19 years to the day of the first game in franchise history.

Mike Fisher , the captain who retired in August , joined current captain Roman Josi in unveiling the banner before it was raised to the rafters. Then country star Trace Adkins performed the national anthem, and Nashville’s mayor came out to wave a towel as the Predators continued their playoff tradition for at least the home opener.

Then the Predators gave their fans reason to keep cheering, with Smith scoring a power-play goal with a wrister past Brian Elliott at 4:17 of the first period. That gave Nashville its first lead this season, and the Predators took eight of the first 10 shots.

Nashville scored first in the second period, too. Hartnell beat Elliott with a slap shot off the rebound of teammate Pontus Aberg‘s shot at 3:08 for a 2-0 lead. Mattias Ekholm skated across the crease, and his backhand shot went off Elliott to Bonino, who easily tapped the puck in for a 3-0 lead and his first goal since leaving Pittsburgh for Nashville this offseason .

Then the Flyers turned the celebration into a game. McDonald scored his first goal on a slap shot at 10:19, and Patrick, the second overall pick in the June draft, got his first career goal 16 seconds later on a wrister. Philadelphia took advantage of its third power play in the period when Filppula scored on a wrister at 15:05, tying it at 3.

Konecny scored on a breakaway at 5:03 followed by Filppula’s power-play goal for a 5-3 lead that seemed safe until Forsberg pulled Nashville within a goal 50 seconds later to set up the amazing finish.

“Obviously, a crazy comeback,” Forsberg said.

The Flyers picked up two penalties on the same play with 2:41 left, giving Nashville a 5-on-3 advantage. Hakstol lost his challenge for offside, and a delay-of-game penalty gave Nashville the man advantage.

“We gave it away,” Elliott said.