Jason Brough

Mike Hoffman
AP

Could the hiring of Boucher help the Sens sign Hoffman?

After scoring 27 goals in 2014-15, Ottawa winger Mike Hoffman went to arbitration and was awarded a one-year, $2 million contract.

At the time, the Senators wanted to see if Hoffman could “do it again.” Which is to say, they weren’t 100 percent convinced. Otherwise, they might have tried harder to get him signed long term.

Well, Hoffman did it again. Despite the odd benching by Dave Cameron, he scored 29 goals in 2015-16, and that means decision time again for the club. The 26-year-old has rights to arbitration, and now he’s just one year away from unrestricted free agency.

Cameron, of course, isn’t around anymore. He was replaced by Guy Boucher, who just so happens to be Hoffman’s old junior coach.

So, could Boucher’s hiring help the Hoffman negotiations?

“I think it’s a bonus,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said on Ottawa radio this morning. “I think our fans know that the relationship between Mike and the previous coaches wasn’t the greatest.

“But this team isn’t built around Mike Hoffman. This team is built around 20 players. So we’re going to do what’s right. … We’re going to work hard at it, but at the end of the day, if they want $10 million a year, well, we’ll say, ‘Mike, good luck, best of luck moving forward.'”

Dorion also said that he doesn’t want to go to arbitration again with Hoffman, so these next few weeks could be key in determining whether there’s a long-term relationship between player and club.

Boucher, by the way, was asked about Hoffman on Monday.

“Does he have things he can improve? Of course, but I’m so excited to be coaching him again. I know him,” the coach told Postmedia. “I know what to do with this guy and I know how to surround him.

“The questions that are asked are definitely on the negative side. I can see there’s some question marks about Mike. I just know in the past we’ve had a great relationship. Yeah, I pushed him, but I pushed him with respect because I cared like I did with all the other players and it turned out to be something good.”

Who woulda thunk it? Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin line has been quite the accidental discovery for the Penguins

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Combine hydrogen and oxygen and you get water. That’s been a scientific fact for ages.

Combine Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, and Carl Hagelin and you get one of the main reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins just advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.

Science only recently discovered that one — just the latest in a long, rich history of accidental discoveries.

Perhaps Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin could be called the Penicillin Line.

Or not.

But you’ll recall when Kessel was traded to Pittsburgh on July 1, the big debate was whether he was a better fit with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Those were the two Penguins’ star centers, and Kessel was a star winger.

Bonino? He wasn’t even an option at the time. He wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh until a month later, because the Pens needed cap space and the Canucks felt Brandon Sutter was a “foundation piece.”

Hagelin wasn’t a Penguin yet either. He didn’t come to Pittsburgh until January — dealt mid-season from Anaheim, where he’d never really found his place.

And now? Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin comprise the hottest line in hockey. Naturally, the trio combined to eliminate the Capitals in overtime last night.

What does it mean for the Penguins’ Stanley Cup chances? It means opponents can’t just focus on shutting down Crosby and Malkin anymore. Heck, those two barely hit the score-sheet in the second round.

“When we have the balance that we do, I think it [provides] a lot of match-up challenges for our opponents,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said last night, per Yahoo Sports. “Sid’s line usually get the top defensive assignment. Geno’s line gets one as well. I think Bones’ line is a really good line. And they present a match-up challenge, and that’s one of the things as a coaching staff that we really like the makeup of our lines.”

As the Sporting News’ Sean Gentille writes, the Penguins are no longer being done-in by their lack of depth:

If you rely too heavily on a pair of players to carry you, from a point-production standpoint, you are going to fail.

And that’s what Pittsburgh did, due to either injuries or errant roster correction, for years. Teams with sustainable playoff success can’t rely on guys like Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling, Tanner Glass and Brian Gibbons to score goals. They can’t rely on Brandon Sutter to center a point-producing line.

They can rely on Matt Cullen, though, They can rely on young, cheap whirlwinds like Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary. Those are the sorts of players that, when your two superduperstars can’t find the net, tend to pick up the slack; they don’t just drive play. They score.

In this series, most of all, Pittsburgh relied on Kessel, Hagelin and Bonino.

Not so coincidentally, the Penguins will face the Tampa Bay Lightning next.

The Bolts have been showing off their own impressive depth in these playoffs, winning two rounds without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman.

Related: Sullivan jumbles the lines, hoping to ‘stumble on’ a solution

A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

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Ken Hitchcock slept on it, then made the obvious choice — Brian Elliott will start in goal tonight for the St. Louis Blues.

Elliott, of course, was pulled in Monday’s Game 6, after allowing three goals on just seven Stars shots. Jake Allen came in and didn’t let anything past him, but then, he only had to face seven shots himself. The Blues lost, 3-2, sending the series back to Dallas for Game 7.

Suffice to say, it would’ve been a massive surprise if Hitchcock had gone with Allen tonight. Elliott has been mostly excellent in these playoffs, compiling a .926 save percentage in 13 games. That’s why Game 6 was Allen’s first appearance of the postseason. The backup hasn’t been required yet.

Still, Hitchcock refused to commit right away to Elliott, and that meant the slimmest of a very slim chance that Allen could get the nod in one of the most important games in franchise history.

“I wanted to talk to Brian,” Hitchcock told reporters today, per the Post-Dispatch. “Brian showed up at the rink yesterday to stop pucks, which surprised everybody. He wanted to go on the ice. I think he earned the right to go at it. He had a tough start to the game like our team. He had the tough seven minutes and paid for it.

“But he’s given us a chance to get to the Game 7 again and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for him or for us. Really, a no-brainer to be honest with you, but I wanted to talk to him and be sure he was feeling good about himself.”

So, it’ll be Elliott. The same goalie who stopped 31 of 33 shots in that nerve-wracking Game 7 win over Chicago. The same one who has a .942 save percentage in the three games the Blues have played in Dallas. The same one who’d been lauded for his poise prior to Game 6.

Now, that Hitchcock made the obvious choice doesn’t guarantee that Elliott will play well tonight, but for those who believe it should be Allen, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Caps’ window has one more year, then all bets are off

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What should the Washington Capitals do now?

It’s a popular question today, for obvious reasons. Last night, the Caps fell painfully short of their postseason expectations, falling in the second round to Pittsburgh.

But if what Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in February is to be believed, don’t expect massive changes to the roster.

“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at.”

Looking at their payroll, the Caps don’t have many expiring contracts. Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Dmitry Orlov are pending restricted free agents, while Jason Chimera, Mike Richards, and Mike Weber are unrestricted.

So there’s a bit of work for MacLellan to do this offseason, but nothing too drastic.

It’s the following summer that the tough decisions will need to be made. That’s when Evgeny Kuznetsov will need a big, new deal, and also when T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner can become UFAs.

Now, this is not to say that MacLellan won’t try to tinker this summer. There are some who feel he should try and upgrade the blue line, that the Penguins exposed it with their speed. But then, even if the defense could stand to be improved, that’s no easy task, as it’s probably easier to list the teams that won’t be trying to upgrade their blue line this summer.

The real improvement may have to come from within. Kuznetsov, for instance, had a great regular season, but just two points in 12 playoff games. Andre Burakovsky is still only 21; he has room to grow. Wilson, 22, wasn’t drafted in the first round to be a career fourth-liner; do the Caps still expect more from him? On the back end, Orlov, 24, probably has the most upside.

So, the Caps window hasn’t closed yet. If they can get past this latest disappointment, they should be back for another legitimate shot next year.

After that, though, all bets are off.

Home-ice advantage hasn’t meant much in Blues-Stars series

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DALLAS — Home ice belongs to the Dallas Stars for Game 7 of their second-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.

The advantage? Well, the visiting team has dominated (4-2) so far.

“I have the benefit of the match at home,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I don’t know if that’s going to make any difference in the game, though.”

Dallas hosts Game 7 on Wednesday night (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) after avoiding elimination with a 3-2 win at St. Louis on Monday. The Stars led 3-0 in the first period and held on for the third consecutive victory in the series by the visiting team – and fourth overall.

“We’ve been able to put some good road games together, some simple road games together,” Blues right wing Troy Brouwer said.

The Blues, who finished only two points behind Dallas in the regular-season standings for the Western Conference’s top seed, are 4-2 on the road this postseason and have already played a seven-game series. St. Louis won its first-round clincher at home, when Brouwer scored the Game 7 winner against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.

“We obviously know the stage,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s going to be a little different now that we’re on the road, but I think overall, we know what the pressure is, we know what it’s going to be.”

Brouwer is playing in his NHL-record eighth consecutive playoff series to go seven games. He also had Games 7s with Washington and Chicago the previous five seasons.

“Same mindset we had last series, going to take one more win to finish the series and it’s what we want to do,” Brouwer said.

The Blues won 4-1 in Game 5 at Dallas to go home with a chance to clinch the series. But now they need a third win this month at the American Airlines Center, which hadn’t even opened the last time the Stars hosted a Game 7 – on May 27, 2000, when St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock was still coaching the Stars, and they beat Colorado at Reunion Arena in the Western Conference final.

Dallas has played only one seven-game series since, losing at Vancouver in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. That was just weeks before the Stars used their fifth-round pick in the draft to select Jamie Benn, now their captain and with a NHL-high 15 points this postseason.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some nerves for the first couple shifts,” Benn said. “But after that, I think it’ll be fun.”