Jason Brough

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Wanna watch Matthews vs. McDavid? NBCSN adds Leafs-Oilers on Nov. 29 to schedule

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For the second time this season, NBCSN has added a game to allow American hockey fans to watch Auston Matthews.

But this time, there’s a bonus, because Connor McDavid is playing, too.

Tuesday, Nov. 29, is when Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs are in Edmonton to play McDavid’s Oilers. NBCSN will join the game in progress, immediately following the originally scheduled coverage of Bruins-Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. (The Leafs-Oilers game is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET.)

Toronto and Edmonton have already played once this season, last Tuesday at Air Canada Centre. The Leafs won it 3-2 in overtime, on a goal by Nazem Kadri.

As mentioned, this is the second time this season that NBCSN has added a Toronto game to its schedule. Viewers already got to watch Matthews’ ACC debut on Saturday, Oct. 15, when the Leafs beat the Bruins, 4-1.

The Coyotes are keeping Crouse, too

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Lawson Crouse has been told he’ll be staying with the Arizona Coyotes. He’ll play his 10th game tonight in Winnipeg, according to Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports.

The 19-year-old winger will be the second teenager that the Coyotes have decided to keep past the nine-game mark, thus triggering their entry-level contracts. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun was the other; the big 18-year-old has already played 11 games.

It remains to be seen about 19-year-old forward Dylan Strome. He’s only played six games, and unlike Crouse and Chychrun, still has some filling out to do.

As for Crouse, he only has one goal in eight games, but his ice time has been steadily increasing. He’s up to 10:41 per game, and he’s tied with Shane Doan with 21 hits.

If the Coyotes’ decision on Crouse is a disappointment for anyone, it’s the OHL teams who were reportedly willing to acquire him from the struggling Kingston Frontenacs.

Related: Crouse say’s he’s “mentally and physically ready” for NHL 

Canucks hope Virtanen can regain confidence in AHL

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The Vancouver Canucks finally did today what many felt they should’ve done much sooner.

No, not rebuild.

They sent Jake Virtanen to the AHL.

Virtanen has been a healthy scratch in Vancouver’s last two games, including last night’s slump-busting victory over the Rangers.

Related: Canucks need Virtanen, but he has to score, says Benning

Virtanen’s development has been watched closely since the Canucks drafted him sixth overall in 2014. Their new general manger at the time, Jim Benning, passed on the likes of William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers to select a player with the physical assets to become a power forward in the NHL.

But it has not been a smooth ride in that regard. In the wake of a bumpy rookie campaign, the 20-year-old winger has no goals and just one assist in 10 games this season. Along the way, questions have been raised about his attitude and commitment. 

Benning said today that Virtanen will only play a couple of games for the Utica Comets, on Friday and Saturday, and then he’ll return to the Canucks.

A couple of weeks ago, Virtanen made waves when he publicly complained about a lack of ice time. He also suggested he hadn’t had the chance to develop any chemistry with his linemates, since the lines were constantly changing as the Canucks struggled to score.

Ice time shouldn’t be an issue in Utica. He’ll play big minutes down there, where the organization hopes he can regain some confidence.

“Sometimes, our market looks down on us when we send a player down,” Benning said, per The Province’s Ben Kuzma. “Jake will get games, hopefully take off from there.”

To be sure, Virtanen has shown flashes of potential in the NHL, just not consistently enough for the Canucks’ liking.

The Canucks finish their six-game road trip tomorrow in Detroit. They kick off a four-game home stand Sunday against Dallas.

The curious case of the Carolina Hurricanes

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Maybe it’s their system.

Maybe it’s their goalies…or their defense…or their forwards.

Or maybe it’s just really, really bad luck.

Whatever it is, the Carolina Hurricanes are off to another tough start, and this start is looking a lot like last year’s start.

Recall last November when GM Ron Francis said of his 6-10-2 squad: “The frustrating thing for us is that in five of our losses we clearly were the better team but did not win.”

It’s a similar story this season. The ‘Canes are 3-5-4, dead last in the league, and in all five of their regulation losses, they ended up outshooting their opponents.

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Which — you guessed it — brings us to the goaltending. Cam Ward was good last night in New Jersey, but on the season his save percentage is just .899. That’s better than Eddie Lack‘s disastrous .856 mark, but it’s still not very good.

Now, before we bash the goalies too much, consider what head coach Bill Peters had to say a couple of weeks ago after a 4-2 loss in Detroit:

“They had some odd-man rushes, a few we would like back. (There were) too many easy goals; too many soft plays.”

For example, this breakaway by Dylan Larkin:

And here’s Thomas Vanek getting wide open in the slot for a one-timer:

So it’s not all on the goalies. It never is.

But let’s face it, every team has defensive breakdowns, and that’s when the goaltender has to step up. Francis gambled when he brought Ward and Lack back, and right now it doesn’t look like a very smart gamble.

That’s the goaltending story. Let’s talk about the forwards now, because you have to score in order to win, and that’s another area where the ‘Canes and their 21st-ranked offense are again falling short.

Elias Lindholm has 27 shots, but no goals.

Sebastian Aho has 24 shots, but no goals.

Joakim Nordstrom has 17 shots, but no goals.

In fact, of all the NHL forwards who have yet to score a goal, three of the 10 with the most shots play for the Hurricanes.

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Typically, we’d chalk this up to bad luck, and we’d say it was due to even out over the long run.

Except, as mentioned, the same sort of stuff happened last year, when the ‘Canes finished with the second-lowest shooting percentage (8.0%) in the league. This season, it’s slightly higher (8.5%), but not by much.

So, are the shooters not good enough at shooting? Are they not getting to the scoring areas? Is the system too conservative?

All good questions. We’re just not sure of the answers.

What we can say is this:

There’s a stat called PDO that combines shooting percentage with save percentage. It’s mostly used as a measure of luck, because over an 82-game season it’s expected to settle in the neighborhood of 100.

Last season, the highest PDO finished at 101.7, by the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals, the lowest at 98.0, by the 30th-place Maple Leafs.

Here’s where the ‘Canes have ranked in PDO the last few years:

2012-13: 28th (97.9)
2013-14: 25th (99.1)
2014-15: 28th (97.4)
2015-16: 29th (98.2)
2016-17: 29th (95.9)

When it keeps happening, it’s probably not just bad luck.

So whatever it is, the ‘Canes need to figure it out, because the fan base is clearly tired of all the losing. Sunday against the Devils, just 8,650 bothered to show up to PNC Arena, and that’s not going to quell the relocation speculation.

‘Carey is good,’ but the Habs know they need to be better

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When you’ve got the best goalie in the world, you can afford to get outshot the odd time, or even more often than not.

But the Montreal Canadiens are really pushing that theory lately. Last night, they were outshot 43-23 by the Bruins, and of course Montreal won the game, 3-2. The aforementioned best goalie in the world, Carey Price, improved to 8-0-0 on the season, with a .953 save percentage.

The Bruins game was practically a carbon copy of Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Flyers, who outshot the Habs, 38-17.

And the Flyers game was practically a carbon copy of last week’s 3-0 shutout over the Canucks, who finished with 42 shots to Montreal’s 21.

Price was in goal for both of those, too.

The only other time Montreal played in the last week was Friday in Columbus, and we all know how that went for poor Al Montoya.

So, despite his team’s 11-1-1 record, is head coach Michel Therrien concerned?

You bet he is.

“We’re getting into trouble lately with the quality of our play with the puck,” Therrien told reporters last night. “We need to win battles for the puck and protect the puck, and that’s what we’re having trouble with right now.”

As we saw in 2014-15, Price is fully capable of carrying his team to a playoff spot. He won 44 games for the Habs that season, for which he was awarded the Hart Trophy.

But the postseason did not go so well. The Habs took care of Ottawa in the first round, but ran into a red-hot Ben Bishop in the second round. Price, for whatever reason, struggled against Tampa Bay, allowing 16 goals on 154 shots, for a save percentage of .896.

It was eerily reminiscent of 2001-02, when another Montreal goalie, Jose Theodore, won the Hart. The Habs got to the second round, but that’s as far as their goalie could take them.

The fact is, most teams that make the playoffs have a pretty good goalie. And teams that go on a deep run usually have a goalie who’s in excellent form, like Bishop was. And because of that, the advantage of having a goalie like Price is lessened.

Even in 2006 when Carolina won the Stanley Cup and Cam Ward‘s brilliance earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Hurricanes still finished the playoffs with a positive shot differential (+1.8).

Ditto for the Kings in 2012 (+3.6), when Jonathan Quick was the MVP.

And while Tim Thomas and the Bruins had a negative shot differential in the 2011 postseason, it wasn’t wildly negative (-2.9). Thomas was the MVP, no doubt about that, but Boston was a reasonably good puck-possession team, and right now you can’t say that about Montreal.

“I know we’re winning but we can’t give them 43 shots on net,” Alexander Radulov said, per the Montreal Gazette. “Carey is good but we have to do more on offense. There are a lot of games left and we have to be better.”