Mike Babcock for coach of the year?
If the voting were done today, he’d probably get my vote. (Also, I’d need to be eligible to vote.)
Yes, I’m aware the Toronto Maple Leafs have only won six games. But here’s the thing: they’ve actually been pretty competitive this year. And with four wins in their last five tries — including victories in Dallas and Nashville — it’s starting to show in the results.
“It’s just a change of mentality,” said young defenseman Morgan Rielly, perhaps the key player on the current roster, given the Leafs haven’t had a truly elite blue-liner since, who, Borje Salming? Or maybe Larry Murphy, before he was run out of town? Whatever. It’s been a while.
“There’s no question it’s been different,” Rielly continued. “The guys are looking forward to coming in. (Babcock) is doing something that all the guys are agreeing with. We all want to win for him and compete every night. The credit goes to him. He’s done a really good job of keeping us driven and focused and the results are starting to come.”
Consistently one of the worst puck-possession teams in the NHL the last few seasons, the Leafs’ score-adjusted Corsi currently ranks 18th, per war-on-ice.com.
Hey, I didn’t say they were a great team. Just that they were getting better. And isn’t that what Babcock was brought in to do? Slowly but surely, make them better.
Toronto’s next game is Friday in Carolina.
The Montreal Canadiens seem to be losing their bet on Alex Semin.
Semin will be a healthy scratch tonight versus Arizona. And here’s the kicker: he’ll be replaced on the right side of the second line by a guy who was previously centering the fourth line.
Torrey Mitchell, 30, has never scored more than 10 goals in a season, but in the eyes of coach Michel Therrien, he’s a better option with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk than Semin.
“Part of our job is to try to find a solution from within our group,” said Therrien, per the Montreal Gazette. “I really like the way Torrey was playing in his role, but he’s capable of playing the right side. He has a lot of speed and he has the respect of his teammates because he plays the right way.”
Semin has one goal and two assists in 12 games, with just 14 shots total. Just about the only thing he’s been doing lately is unnecessarily putting his team shorthanded. (Caps fans: try to contain your surprise.)
Anyway, feel free to come up with some trade ideas, because this may be an area the Canadiens need to address before the deadline.
I’ve come up with one:
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic is “in play,” according to a report by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Well, that’s not quite clear. But Friedman cited two sources that insisted it’s not because Hamonic was unhappy with the team’s move to Brooklyn. Apparently, that had been rumored.
Hamonic signed a seven-year deal with the Isles in the summer of 2013. He’s under contract through 2019-20 for a cap hit just below $4 million.
This season, Hamonic has three assists in 19 games, while logging an average ice time of 23:20. His possession stats are good. A right shot, he’s been paired most often with Calvin De Haan, though he’s also skated with Nick Leddy.
Hamonic had a career-high 33 points (5G, 28A) in 2014-15.
Hamonic is from Manitoba. According to this 2014 article, he owns a condo in Winnipeg.
Carey Price is healthy enough to practice — which he did today with his Canadiens teammates — but he’s not going to rush to get back into game action.
“At this point I’m just trying to take it day by day,” Price told NHL.com. “I don’t want to step in when I’m not ready and put yourself in a bad position.”
Price has been recovering from a lower-body injury. The reigning NHL MVP hasn’t played since Oct. 29.
Not that the Canadiens have missed him too badly. Backup Mike Condon is 5-1-2 in Price’s absence.
Still, Condon has shown signs of wearing down. The 25-year-old rookie has allowed 10 goals in his last three games. He got the hook Saturday against Colorado, replaced by Dustin Tokarski.
There’s no exact timeline for Price’s return. Habs coach Michel Therrien said it’s “a bit too early to say” when his star netminder could play again.
Montreal hosts Arizona tomorrow. Condon is expected to start.
The last time Petr Mrazek got the call versus Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, he stopped 38 shots in a 1-0 Detroit win.
Ovechkin had 15 — fifteen! — of those 38 shots, not one of them good enough to beat the 23-year-old Red Wings goalie.
Tonight on NBCSN, just eight days after the last time, Mrazek will face the Caps again at Joe Louis Arena.
“He was good,” Ovechkin told NHL.com. “Sometimes you have those kind of nights when you don’t score goals.”
In fact, Mrazek has been good all season. His 5-4-0 record doesn’t do him justice. Four times he’s made at least 30 saves in a Detroit win. Once it was 44 saves. In nine starts, he’s yet to allow more than three goals. He has a .935 save percentage.
Jimmy Howard has been pretty good as well. He’s 4-4-1 with a .918 save rate.
But Mrazek has been the star. And on that note, as a pending restricted free agent, it’ll be interesting to see if the Red Wings try to lock him up long term. They’re already committed to Howard through 2018-19, for a cap hit just north of $5 million.
Braden Holtby will start for the Caps.
— Ryan Miller for the Canucks. Ondrej Pavelec expected for the Jets.
— Corey Crawford for the Blackhawks. Anders Nilsson for the Oilers.