Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: On last night’s mascot violence in Minnesota

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— Up top, Scott Gomez and Mike Milbury try to digest Carey Price‘s rough night in Minnesota. With the seven goals allowed, Price’s save percentage on the season fell to .922, and his save percentage in January now sits at .877.

— Did last night’s mascot violence in Minnesota go too far? For the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc, the answer was a resounding yes. “My first thought when seeing the video — posted on the Wild’s official Twitter account that has more than 539,000 followers — was that I was glad I wasn’t in the stands with my 7-year-old son having to explain why his favorite mascot was just apparently beaten with a baseball bat.” (Chicago Tribune)

— A profile of Blue Jackets goal-scorer Cam Atkinson, whose lack of size (5-8, 182) isn’t such a problem in today’s faster NHL. “Obviously they’ll never take fighting out of (the NHL), but there’s not as much fighting. You don’t need those big fourth-line guys that all they do is fight now. You want fourth-line skilled guys too. The new age of hockey is my style and hopefully it continues.” (Canadian Press)

— There may be less fighting in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park for superstars like Connor McDavid. That’s why the Oilers added the likes of Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, and Zack Kassian to their lineup. Said one scout to ESPN: “McDavid has gained confidence, knowing he’s protected — no doubt. If someone takes a run at him, there will be an answer. You still need those guys who bump and grind and are a presence in your lineup. He knows he’s covered. He knows he can go and go about his business.” (ESPN)

— Speaking of McDavid, it’s his 20th birthday today. To celebrate, Sportsnet put together a list of the 10 highest-scoring teenagers in the NHL since 1987. To nobody’s surprise, Sidney Crosby is No. 1. “After being picked first overall in 2005, Crosby burst onto the NHL scene with a 39-goal, 102-point season… Crosby got even better in his second season, winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies with a 36-goal, 120-point season.” (Sportsnet)

— Is the “bye week” actually making players more tired? Because it was intended to do the exact opposite, argues Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. “The combination of the World Cup and the mandated bye week has compressed the schedule like no year before. … The irony is that the bye week is supposed to make the players feel more refreshed and rested, but the side effects of it have had the opposite affect. Talk about your unintended consequences.” (The Hockey News)

Enjoy the games!

Rask is good to go after taking Josi shot off jaw last night

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Feel free to start breathing again, Bruins fans — Tuukka Rask is fine.

Rask even said he’ll be ready to go tomorrow afternoon when the Bruins host the Flyers.

Boston’s starting goalie wasn’t looking too fine last night after he took a Roman Josi shot off his jaw and had to leave the game midway through the first period. The Bruins would go on to lose, 2-1, with Zane McIntyre between the pipes.

“He wasn’t well enough to come back, and we’ll see moving forward how he does,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rask after the game.

Today, Julien said this: “Tuukka is good.”

That’s a relief for the Bruins, who have the Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Lightning all on their tail for a top-3 spot in the Atlantic. Currently, the B’s are second in the division; however, they’re only one point up on third-place Ottawa, which has five games in hand, and they’re only three points up on fourth-place Florida, which has two games in hand.

 

Fixing the Avs’ defense through trades will prove tough

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Captain Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche warm up prior to facing the Los Angeles Kings during their preseason game at the Pepsi Center on September 20, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Kings 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Colorado Avalanche are desperate to upgrade their defense.

They aren’t alone.

And that right there is why Joe Sakic’s got such a tough job ahead of him. Yes, he’s got some big chips to play in Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, but the price of top-4 defensemen has perhaps never been higher. And the price of young top-4 defensemen is even higher.

Case in point, the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson out of New Jersey. The Oilers don’t regret giving up Taylor Hall, what with being on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But let’s be honest here: it’s not like they added a Norris Trophy candidate. Larsson provides next to no offense. He’s averaging 20:08 of ice time. He’s been, in a word… fine.

Another young defenseman that was traded in the last little while was Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets got him from Nashville for Ryan Johansen. That deal solved a problem for both teams. The Jackets needed to upgrade their back end; the Preds desperately needed a legitimate first-line center, and they had a relative surplus of d-men to go shopping with.

There are not many teams today with a surplus of quality defensemen. The Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks come to mind, and with the expansion draft looming, they would certainly be worth calling on. So would the Vancouver Canucks, after their GM admitted that “if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.” And we’ll throw in the Flyers and Bruins, each of whom has built up a nice stable of young d-men. That being said, the Avs can pretty much forget about landing Ivan Provorov or Charlie McAvoy. Those two are the future in Philly and Boston, respectively.

Read more: Is Anaheim getting close to trading a d-man?

The problem for Sakic is the same problem that Peter Chiarelli ran into last summer. Teams know the value of defensemen. It’s high, and it’s high for a reason. In today’s NHL, if you can’t move the puck, you’re not going to win. If you can’t stop the cycle, you’re not going to win. And with all the shot-blocking that goes on, defensemen get hurt all the time. So teams always need extras.

As of right now, there are multiple teams in search of blue-line help. The Maple Leafs need help. The Red Wings need help. The Sabres need help. The Rangers could use a good, young d-man. Heck, the Oilers still need a d-man to run the power play.

Let’s assume for now that the Avalanche aren’t going to trade Tyson Barrie or Erik Johnson, arguably their best defensemen. Those two both play the right side, so it’s lefties the Avs need most. It would be great if Nikita Zadorov pans out one day, but the jury’s still out on him. One thing’s for sure is that Francois Beauchemin, 36, and Fedor Tyutin, 33, aren’t long-term answers. As for prospects, there just aren’t any blue-chippers. Why? Because the last time the Avs drafted a defenseman in the first round was 2011.

And at the end of the day, the best way to build a defense is through the draft. Just ask the Blackhawks, who got Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson that way. Trades can certainly enhance a group, but if Sakic wants to reboot the Avs the right way, and for the long run, he should be accumulating picks and scouting the likes of Miro Heiskanen, Nicolas Hague, Timothy Liljegren and Juuso Valimaki. Those are the d-men of the future. And it’s well past time for the Avs to start filling the pipeline with more than blue-chip forwards.

Neuvirth earns a start after saving the day for Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers' Michal Neuvirth celebrates after Vancouver Canucks' Loui Eriksson failed to score during a shoutout of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 5-4. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start tomorrow afternoon in Boston.

He earned it last night.

Neuvirth gave the Flyers exactly what they needed after he replaced Steve Mason to begin the third period. At the time, the Flyers were trailing, 4-3. They ended up winning, 5-4, in the shootout.

Neuvirth stopped all 14 shots he faced in regulation and overtime. He then went three-for-three in the breakaway competition, which featured only one goal, by Claude Giroux.

The victory was just the second for the Flyers in their last nine games. Neuvirth’s record improved to 6-2-0 on the season — a pretty incredible mark considering his save percentage is just .876.

“(Mason) would probably admit there’s probably one more save he can make, but at least equal or more than that, it was time to make a change for our team,” head coach Dave Hakstol said afterwards. “(Neuvirth) went in and did a good job.”

As for Mason, well, let’s just say January hasn’t been his best month. In five starts, he’s allowed 16 goals on 127 shots for an .874 save rate.

“At the end of the day I just have to be better,” Mason said, per the Burlington County Times. “I am struggling right now and have to find ways to get back. Overall, I am just not happy with where the game is at right now. I have to find ways to work through this and like I said, to get back to where I normally can be.”

Blackhawks see all their one-goal victories as a positive, not a warning flag

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28: (l-r) Artemi Panarin #72, Artem Anisimov #15 and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate Anisimov's game winning goal at 1:15 of overtime against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Blackhawks defeated the Devils 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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All the games the Chicago Blackhawks have won by the slimmest of margins could easily be used against them.

But Artem Anisimov sees it differently. Chicago’s 17 one-goal victories, by far the most in the NHL, is good practice for the playoffs, when tight games become the norm.

“It’s easy to win the games when you’re up three goals early,” Anisimov said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “But tight games keep you in shape. This team knows how to respond in tight games — if we have to come back, or play with a one-goal lead, or a tie game. It’s all different situations, and we’ve been through everything. You learn to relax and play hard every shift, and I think it’s a good thing to play so many.”

Still, people will point to their record in one-goal games (17-6-5) and conclude the ‘Hawks aren’t as good as their place in the standings (third overall) suggests. Chicago’s goal differential (+17) pales in comparison to juggernauts like Columbus (+45) and Minnesota (+44). And based on Corsi, the ‘Hawks are a mediocre puck-possession team.

Yes, this is what happens when you win three Stanley Cups in less than a decade — you get nitpicked. Simply winning isn’t good enough. The wins have to be convincing.

But that’s the bar the Blackhawks have set for themselves. When they won the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, they were a dominant team. This year, more than ever, they’ve really needed their goalies to stand on their heads.

It’s why, if they want to win another Cup, they’ll need their rookies to keep improving.

It’s also why many expect GM Stan Bowman to be active leading up to the trade deadline, in spite of a tight salary-cap situation.

The ‘Hawks will face a big test tonight when they take on the Capitals, winners of seven straight, in DC.

ggs

Related: Coach Q wants Seabrook to ‘get back’ to what he does best