Cam Tucker

Big ‘W’ for Dallas: High-flying Stars subdue the Wild

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The Dallas Stars, the top team in the Western Conference this season, took care of the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their opening-round series, and they made it look relatively easy, too.

Despite the absence of Tyler Seguin from the lineup for this game, the Stars came out flying in the opening period, carrying the play and dominating possession. But it took until the second period before they were able to get on the board. Once they did, this became an even longer night for the Wild, who were without their top scorer, Zach Parise, due to an upper-body injury.

Dallas took the series opener by a final score of 4-0, highlighted by a beauty second-period goal from veteran forward Jason Spezza.

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(Screen grab from hockeystats.ca)

For the Wild, they have now lost six games in a row dating back to the regular season. They had no answer for the speed and skill of the Stars, or for goalie Kari Lehtonen, who stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout.

Down by two goals entering the third period, Minnesota, also without Thomas Vanek, didn’t display much of an offensive push. They manufactured only nine shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. Devan Dubnyk made 28 saves on 31 shots in a losing cause.

Video: So, this Jason Spezza goal is pretty slick

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Give Jason Spezza enough room, and this can happen.

The talented Dallas Stars forward took a pass in the neutral zone at full speed, carried the puck in over the blue line given all the space he had entering the zone, faked the shot and then found just enough room on the glove side of Devan Dubnyk to go top corner for a goal that was a thing of beauty.

That goal also gave Dallas a two-goal lead over the Minnesota Wild in the second period of Game 1.

Report: Flyers’ Couturier done for the series with shoulder injury

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The Philadelphia Flyers were without forward Sean Couturier for the third period of Game 1 against the Washington Capitals due to an upper-body injury he suffered on a hit from Alex Ovechkin.

Now, the question becomes: How severe is the injury?

According to Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia, it looks bleak for both Couturier and the Flyers.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol didn’t offer much information on the status of Couturier following Philadelphia’s Game 1 loss to the Capitals.

From CSN Philadelphia:

Couturier did not return because of an upper-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced, and will be re-evaluated Friday. An official update is expected Friday.

However, league sources tell CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio Couturier will miss the remainder of the series with an AC sprain in his left shoulder.

If — and we stress if — Couturier is done for the series, that would be a huge loss for the Flyers, who already entered this series as the underdog and now trail 1-0.

A strong defensive presence up the middle, Couturier was also having a good season offensively, producing at a 2.0 points-per-60-minute clip at even strength, as per War-On-Ice.

‘That’s a crock’: Don’t ask NHL coaches to fix stagnant scoring, says Torts

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo
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Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is a big proponent of the NHL figuring out ways to increase scoring.

His only exception is any discussion that begins with the league placing the burden on coaches to solve the problem.

“That’s a crock,” Tortorella said, bluntly making his case that a coach’s job security relies on victories rather than how many goals a team scores.

“If everybody wants a wide-open game, guarantee the coaches a seven- or eight-year deal, and they’ll let them go play,” he said. “But when you struggle and you lose games, and you’re not winning, they’re looking at the coach. He’s the first one to go.”

Or as Sabres coach Dan Bylsma put it: “I don’t know of any coach that’s been fired because their team gives up zero goals.”

Concerns over a lack of scoring in what’s become known as the “Dead Puck Era” continue after offensive production remained stagnant during the regular season that ended Sunday. Teams combined to score 6,565 goals, just 16 more than the previous year, according to STATS. And it’s the fourth consecutive 82-game season the league has failed to top 6,600, which would mean teams were averaging at least 2.68 goals per game.

More troubling is this year’s total is a whopping 858 goals fewer than 2005-06, when the NHL revamped its rules to eliminate clutching and grabbing in a bid to open up offense. That was the last season goals averaged more than three goals per game.

What’s happened since is coaches have adapted to the new rules by devising ways to clog up the area in front of the net, and teaching defenders to steer puck-carriers toward the boards without interfering.

Another issue, which the league is set to address, is goalies wearing oversized equipment. The NHL is expected to introduce new rules next season in which the jersey and equipment worn by a goalie is based on a player’s individual size.

Talk of placing an emphasis on coaches teaching offense is not a new one.

The topic was brought up by members of the league’s competition committee in 2007, according to the minutes of the meeting released as part of the evidence in the class-action concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL by former players.

Former Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe proposed introducing some type of illegal defense rule to force teams to play differently. Former NHL goalie Marty Turco is noted as saying: “Drastic changes like bigger nets will be hard for most people to swallow. Agrees that illegal defense might be a possible solution.”

Former Atlanta Thrasher GM Don Waddell blamed the coaches in 2007, which is no different than what Sabres GM Tim Murray suggested in November, when he said: “Our coaches have to come up with offensive schemes to match defensive schemes.”

Murray, however, will acknowledge it’s easier said than done.

And like Tortorella, Bylsma said the inherent pressures that come with the job leads to coaches taking a more conservative approach.

“We can give lip-service by saying we need to coach more offense, but that’s not the reality,” Bylsma said. “It’s way easier to coach defense than it is it coach offense.”

Tortorella said reducing the size of goalie equipment should help. He also noted a proposal to redesign goal posts so they’re configured to angle pucks into the net.

The NHL’s offensive decline mirrors the drop in the number of penalties called.

In 2005-06, teams were averaging 5.85 power-play opportunities per game, which resulted in teams averaging 1.03 power-play goals. Last season, teams averaged just 3.11 power-play chances per game, which resulted in teams averaging 0.58 power-play goals.

On the bright side, the NHL’s decision to switch the four-on-four overtime format to three-on-three paid off with a large decrease in games being decided by shootout.

A league-high 168 games ended in overtime, while just 107 were decided by shootout last season. It marked the first time since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06 that more than half the games ended in overtime.

Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville called three-on-three good for the game.

“Goalies probably don’t like it, but as fans, we’re all fans of the game, I think it was really intriguing and fun to watch,” Pominville said.

Murray agreed.

“It’s only your better players that get on the ice, so your fans get an extra look at them,” Murray said. “A lot of open ice, so I’m good with it.”

 

Lundqvist prepares for challenge of backstopping Rangers versus high-scoring Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins score a lot of goals. They finished third in the league in that category, behind only Dallas and Washington.

The New York Rangers give up a lot of shot attempts at even strength. They finished seventh worst in the league in that category, as per War-on-Ice, and not one of the six teams worse than them in that category made the playoffs.

Henrik Lundqvist, well, this is where he makes a difference for the Rangers, posting a .920 save percentage during the season.

And in a series against the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel and Kris Letang, etc., Lundqvist will need to continue to provide stellar goaltending if New York is to advance.

(Check out the PHT staff predictions for the opening round. Not exactly flattering for the Rangers.)

“It’s always exciting to measure yourself against top players in the league and Pittsburgh has been a team over the last few years that has had a really strong team,” said Lundqvist, as per Sportsnet.

“They play a fast game, so for a team and especially for a goalie it’s always a lot of action, mentally and physically, technically you just have to prepare for that.”

According to reports, Lundqvist wasn’t feeling well and had to leave Monday’s practice. He returned to skate on Tuesday, with Game 1 of that series scheduled for Wednesday.

Related: With McDonagh (hand) uncertain, Rangers mull Diaz recall