PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
For years, it’s felt like the Maurice Richard Trophy might as well have been called the Alex Ovechkin Award. Rick Nash is really having an amazing goal-scoring year in 2014-15, however, setting up quite the thrilling race between two of the NHL’s best snipers.
What’s especially cool is that the Capitals and Rangers play on April 11, setting up a potential final showdown. So who gets it? (The Hockey News)
The Avalanche are trying to find the right balance between winning and building. (The Denver Post)
Mike Richards seems to be making lemonade out of AHL lemons so far. (Los Angeles Times)
Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $50,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.
TSN notes that Steve Montador was a plaintiff in a concussion case against the NHL. (TSN)
A tweet can change someone’s life. Just ask Corey Hirsch. (Greatest Hockey Legends)
The San Jose Sharks have a challenge in bottling up the Tampa Bay Lightning attack on Sunday, but they appear to be getting a defensive reinforcement.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic appears ready to return to the lineup, prompting the demotion of Dylan DeMelo, according to CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz.
Vlasic, 27, has missed four straight games with an upper-body injury. While his scoring totals are generally modest (17 points in 52 games this season), he’s enough of a defensive stalwart to earn an Olympic nod. Many would agree that he’s the Sharks’ best defensive defenseman.
This won’t necessarily make facing Tampa Bay a cakewalk, but they’ll at least be easier to manage.
News and notes from around the crease …
No shame about Ray
The Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t have felt great about their slim playoff hopes when Steve Mason went down with his knee injury. For better or worse, it’s on Ray Emery, and Sunday is the kind of game he has to win.
Since taking over for Mason in February, Emery’s gone 1-0-2. The 30-year-old’s overall numbers aren’t much to brag about (9-9-3 with a .890 save percentage), but this stretch will probably make a big impact on how the league views the pugnacious puck-stopper going forward.
On the Buffalo side, Michal Neuvirth gets a chance to stretch his legs in the Sabres’ net with Jhonas Enroth shipped off to Dallas.
The situations are quite different, yet both netminders have plenty to prove today.
Blues at Panthers: Brian Elliott vs. Roberto Luongo
Lightning at Sharks: Expected starters are Ben Bishop against Antti Niemi
Capitals at Ducks: Expected starters are Justin Peters vs. John Gibson
On paper, a Chicago Blackhawks – Pittsburgh Penguins matinee screams finesse and high-end skill. It’s not to say there was a total deficit in either on Sunday, but Chicago also earned a 2-1 shootout win thanks to “sandpaper” and strong goaltending.
Corey Crawford earned his 23rd win of the season (and fourth in five games) by stopping 36 out of 37 shots.
Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t overcome some dazzling shootout work from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, but he was strong in regulation, turning aside all but one of the 32 shots he faced.
For teams that rarely see each other, there was a decent amount of bitterness in the air.
Maybe most memorably, Andrew Shaw caught a comically bruised Paul Martin with a big hit at the end of regulation.
There also seemed to be some competitive tension between Toews and Sidney Crosby:
One could argue that the Penguins carried some of the play with a slight shot and possession advantage:
(via Hockey Stats.ca)
The Blackhawks and Penguins largely find themselves where they were entering Sunday. The Penguins remain close – but still behind – the New York Islanders for the Metropolitan Division lead while the Blackhawks at least stay in the running for the Central Division crown.
In a way the game captured the two teams as they’re still showing promise, yet they also have some work to do to regain their all-world form.
Normally, if a player’s leaving the penalty box before two minutes are up, it’s because his team allowed a goal. That wasn’t the case with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are Sunday.
It appeared as if Crosby had been whistled for tripping Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya. Crosby was … unhappy.
Officials had a little on-ice meeting following that call and decided to spring Crosby out of the box, erasing the penalty in an unusual moment:
Mike Milbury was among those who believe that the right call was (eventually) made, with Jeremy Roenick going as far to say that he hopes this kind of thing happens more often.
The optics are a little odd, though, especially regarding a polarizing star like Crosby. What do you think, though?