Author: Jason Brough

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.
Getty

Wings not willing to sacrifice defense to generate more offense

11 Comments

The Detroit Red Wings play a lot of close games.

Fortunately for them, they win a lot of close games, too.

In fact, no team has played more one-goal games than the Wings have this season (30), and no team has won more (18).

The Wings have even gained points in a bunch of one-goal losses; eight times they’ve lost in overtime and the shootout. That means, of their 30 one-goal games, they’ve only lost four of them in regulation.

This, by the way, is how a team with a negative goal differential (minus-6) can find itself in a playoff position. Detroit is 5-11 in games decided by two or more goals.

Knowing how slim the margin of error has been for the Wings in most of their victories, it’s understandable that their head coach, Jeff Blashill, has been somewhat loath to give his players more offensive freedom — despite an offense that ranks 22nd in the league.

“We’ve talked lots about trying to add reward without added risk,” Blashill told MLive. “Certainly we could create a situation where we probably could generate some more, but we’d give up a lot more and it’s almost impossible to win in this league that way.”

What Blashill was willing to do after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Blues was shuffle his lines. Tonight in Buffalo, Dylan Larkin is expected to skate with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader on one top line, while Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist will be a trio on the other.

“Pav likes playing with Helmer; Helmer does a lot of the work in terms of getting the puck,” Blashill told reporters. “Larkin, Z and Abby had great success through lots of the year.”

The Wings have scored just 12 goals in their last seven games. Yet thanks in large part to goalie Petr Mrazek, they’ve managed to go 4-2-1 over that stretch.

All four wins were by one goal.

wings

Krejci activated, expected back tonight versus Vancouver

David Krejci, Mike Smith
AP

The Boston Bruins have activated center David Krejci ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver. In a corresponding move, the B’s have assigned forward Frank Vatrano to AHL Providence.

Krejci hasn’t played since Dec. 27 when he suffered an upper-body injury against Ottawa. The B’s went 5-4-1 in his absence. They enter tonight’s contest having won three in a row.

Though officially considered a game-time decision, Krejci is expected to center a second line of Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson, with Ryan Spooner dropping down to play between Joonas Kemppainen and Jimmy Hayes.

Spooner, who in the past has drawn the ire of Claude Julien, received some high praise today from his coach.

“Ryan has taken some huge strides here in this time where David Krejci’s been out,” said Julien. “You hope it makes our team better and that’s what we talked about, taking advantage of the opportunity and make yourself a better player.”

The Canucks, meanwhile, will be icing an even younger lineup than the young one they iced Tuesday at the Rangers. With Jake Virtanen, 19, and Mike Zalewski, 23, coming in to replace Brandon Prust and Adam Cracknell, Vancouver will have seven forwards under the age of 25.

‘Hawks-Bolts is ‘going to be a good one’

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 03: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning battle for the puck during Game One of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 3, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of their longest winning streak in 12 years, though they’ve once again been outdone by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Last season’s Stanley Cup Final participants stand as the NHL’s two hottest teams entering Thursday night’s marquee matchup, with the Blackhawks on a franchise-record 12-game run and the resurgent Lightning vying for a seventh consecutive win.

No buildup was really necessary for the Blackhawks’ first visit to Tampa since their pivotal 2-1 victory in Game 5 of a finals series it won in six, but both teams’ stellar recent play has added to the hype.

Chicago (32-13-4) has outscored opponents 47-22 since last losing Dec. 27, with Tampa Bay (25-17-4) nearly as impressive in compiling a 24-13 margin over its best stretch of the season.

The Lightning can earn their longest streak since winning a club-record eight straight during their 2003-04 championship season by halting a four-game skid against Chicago including last year’s finals. The Blackhawks earned a 1-0 home win Oct. 24 on Jonathan Toews‘ goal 17 seconds into overtime.

“We turned the page on last year, but the storyline is going to read, ‘the Stanley Cup Finals a year later’,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “But they won (Tuesday) and their streak is at 12 and we’re at six so that’s 18 wins between us. It’s going to be a good one.”

The Blackhawks’ dominant stretch has been led by the same core that carried them to their third title in six years last spring. Patrick Kane has 21 of his league-leading 71 points during the streak, Toews has eight goals and five assists and Duncan Keith 12 points and a plus-11 rating.

Rookie Artemi Panarin has done his part as well by amassing six goals and eight assists, including two of the latter to support Corey Crawford‘s 38 saves in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Nashville that opened a three-game trip.

“We’re getting contributions from everybody, all four lines, all six (defensemen),” Keith said. “It’s one game at a time. I think we’re trying to be smart and playing a good team game.”

Crawford owns a 1.88 goals-against average in winning nine consecutive starts.

“He’s been amazing,” said Kane, who scored his 30th goal Tuesday to already match a career high. “He just seems like he’s got a whole new focus in the net, and some nights he looks unbeatable. It’s pretty fun to watch. I think he’s very underrated as far as goalies go around the league, but we feel we have the best kept secret with him.”

The Lightning are well aware of Crawford’s talents, as he held them to 10 goals in the finals and stopped 21 shots in this season’s previous meeting. The steady goaltender helped Chicago limit Steven Stamkos to one assist in the 2015 championship series.

Stamkos leads Tampa Bay with 20 goals but has taken a back seat of late to young Russians Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. Both had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Edmonton, giving Namestnikov 10 points over the unbeaten run highlighted by a hat trick Friday against Pittsburgh.

Kucherov has five goals and four assists over a six-game point streak and 26 points in 20 games since Dec. 5, second only to Kane (30) over that span.

Ben Bishop figures to be back in goal after Andrei Vasilevskiy worked the Edmonton game. The All-Star has yielded three goals over a three-start winning streak to lower his GAA to 1.97, second in the NHL.

As Wild’s offense goes dry, Parise feeling the pressure to produce

3 Comments

The Minnesota Wild didn’t play a terrible game last night in Anaheim — the entire contest was fairly evenly matched — but the bottom line was that they lost again, this time by a score of 3-1.

It was the fifth straight defeat for the Wild. They’ve scored just four goals in those five games.

Tonight, they play in Los Angeles; Saturday, in San Jose.

They’ll be underdogs in both.

“We’re pushing, but I think the execution just isn’t there,” coach Mike Yeo told reporters. “Whether we’re tight or we’re holding the sticks a little too tight. You can see there are opportunities for shots and pucks are bouncing over our sticks.”

This morning, the Wild announced they’d called up forward Jordan Schroeder from AHL Iowa. He’s expected to be in the lineup against the Kings, assuming there are no travel snafus.

Schroeder has appeared in 11 games for Minnesota this season. He’s only scored once, with no assists. So, no, not the most likely of saviors, though he does have 10 goals and 10 assists in the minors.

Minnesota’s only goal against the Ducks came courtesy Jarret Stoll, a fourth-liner.

Meanwhile, Zach Parise, the Wild’s leader in goals (16), managed just a single shot while skating on a line with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund.

“Our line’s not scoring, and our job is to score, and we’re not,” said Parise, who couldn’t say why that was. All he knew was, “We need to shape up a little bit.”

Of course, it won’t be easy to break out tonight. The Kings have the second-lowest goals-against average in the NHL.

Therrien gets vote of confidence; Price recovery ‘slower than we expected’

6 Comments

Michel Therrien isn’t getting fired. Marc Bergevin said so this morning.

The vote of confidence from Montreal’s general manager came after his head coach’s job security became a hot topic as the Canadiens’ slump extended into January.

Since starting the season 19-4-3, the Habs have won just four times in their last 21 games.

“I’m responsible for everything that happens with this team,” Bergevin told reporters.

Now that the coaching staff’s status has been assured, the big question becomes whether Bergevin will try to improve his roster prior to the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

He doesn’t seem to be interested in any rentals:

Bergevin’s trade-deadline strategy may also depend on the status of injured netminder Carey Price, who won’t be back until February at the earliest.

“It’s slower than we expected,” Bergevin said of his star goalie’s recovery. “There hasn’t been a setback. I don’t know exactly the date, but I don’t think he will be back (before) three weeks or a month.”

The Canadiens are back in action Saturday in Toronto.

Related: Therrien was ‘disappointed’ by Habs fans who booed Markov