PRO HOCKEY TALKPHT Select Team

PHT Morning Skate: Is Alex Ovechkin’s production on the decline?

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–After scoring over 50 goals in each of the last three seasons, Alex Ovechkin is “only’ on pace to score 33 in 2016-17. Based on his Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire believes that this could be the start of the 31-year-old’s decline. (Sportsnet)

–Yvan Cournoyer won 10 Stanley Cups during his career, but he still thinks about the one that got away. In 1967, Cournoyer’s Canadiens dropped a six-game series to the underdog Toronto Maple Leafs. “When you’ve already won the Cup (which the Canadiens had the previous two years), you think you’re going to win it again. The mistake we made is that we didn’t respect the Leafs. It was a good lesson for me to think, ‘Hey, I know you can win the Stanley Cup, but you’re going to have to work harder for it.'” (NHL.com)

–It’s no secret that the Avalanche have been brutal this season. The people at BarDown have accumulated four stats that show just how bad they’ve been. For example, they’re on pace to lose more games in regulation (56) since the Atlanta Thrashers lost 57 games in their expansion season. (BarDown)

–The Chicago Blackhawks picked up a big 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens last night. The victory allowed the ‘Hawks to jump ahead of the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Central Division. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had some tie troubles during last night’s game against the Washington Capitals, and the internet totally freaked out. (The Score)

–Islanders minority owner Charles Wang believes that to grow the game in China, kids need to be playing the sport. “The love of any sport…it really starts with the children playing the sport. When they play the sport, they become the best.” Check out Wang’s one-on-one interview with ESPN.

–Hockey players are known for their weird superstitions and Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw is no exception. Between periods, Shaw is always the first one out of the locker room. He does some stretching, performs a few phantom faceoffs and he lunges out with his stick. “I guess I started it about eight years ago back in juniors. I just smash my stick on my shin pads seven times. Go down and get in the faceoff position, do two on the backhand, one on the forehand. Spin the stick to loosen up the wrists. Get a good stick going … just trying to loosen up everything.” (Montreal Gazette)

Back to normal? Capitals win and Ovechkin scores vs. Wild

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Things had not been quite right for the Washington Capitals lately.

The team, which had run roughshod over the NHL for much of this season, had lost four games in a row. Alex Ovechkin was on the sort of goal slump that usually only affects mere mortal goal-scorers. The goals, in general, hadn’t been coming.

So Tuesday stands as a huge relief for the Capitals, who also enjoyed the bonus of beating former head coach Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild 4-2.

Ovechkin? He scored the sort of goal he generates when someone asks you to close your eyes and imagine an Ovechkin goal.

For Capitals fans, Ovechkin scoring from “his office” is almost as comforting as the team getting back on the winning track.

Wild are ‘nowhere near as physical’ as Bruce Boudreau wants them to be

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The Minnesota Wild have never been one of those teams that play a nasty, physical style of hockey, but that may change under new head coach Bruce Boudreau.

Boudreau, who was hired by the Wild this summer, likes for his players to play with an edge to their game.

He had his share of physical players in both Washington and Anaheim and it sounds like he’s going to demand that his new group of players play in a similar way.

On Friday, the 61-year-old put his team through an ‘exhausting’ practice, according to the Minneapolis StarTribune.

“We’re going to have an awful lot of practices like that,” Boudreau said, per the Tribune. “We went over a lot of video [Friday] morning, more than I like to do, but it shows that you can’t play the game without making contact with people. You just can’t do it.

“But what is taking time to get used to a little bit is we’re nowhere near as physical as the teams I’ve coached. So I’m trying to find sort of a halfway medium that they become more physical but don’t get out of what they’re good at. Like, I can’t make them into a bunch of Alex Ovechkins hitting everything that moves.”

Finding that balance will be key because asking his team to change their style of play will be difficult given the roster he has at his disposal.

He’s also concerned about the lack of depth he has up front. He’s comfortable with his top three lines, but he’d like to add to his fourth line. Being able to roll four lines is key in Boudreau’s eyes.

Now that teams will be making cuts, it’ll be interesting to see if the Wild feel the need to pick up a player or two on waivers.

Boudreau doesn’t believe superstars are needed to win

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Bruce Boudreau has coached some pretty good players in his time behind an NHL bench.

In fact, he’s coached some of the best.

In Washington, there was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In Anaheim, it was Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

But with all due respect to those guys, the new head coach of the Minnesota Wild doesn’t think superstars are an absolute requirement to win the Stanley Cup.

“As much as I like Ovechkin and Getzlaf and Perry, you don’t need those guys to win,” Boudreau said today, per Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press.

“You can do it the old-fashioned way. You do it as a team,” he added, per Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune.

At the risk of discounting the importance of coming together and working as a cohesive unit, recent history disagrees with Boudreau’s notion. The last team to win the Cup without a genuine superstar was…ummm… the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006?

And to buy that argument, you’d have to believe that Eric Staal, who finished seventh in league scoring with 100 points that season, wasn’t a superstar back then. (Sidney Crosby, for comparison’s sake, had 102 points.)

Now, granted, it’s not like the Wild are completely bereft of stars. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter may be on the wrong side of 30 now, but they remain very effective players. Suter just completed the best offensive season of his career, with 51 points in 82 games.

The real point that Boudreau was trying to make — and perhaps it was mostly a motivational ploy — is that the team is more important than the individual, and also that his experience can help put Minnesota over the top.

On Sunday, Boudreau told NHL Network that he thinks the Wild “can win in the next two years.”

With that sort of timeline, he understands the pressure is very much on. His new job isn’t like the “massive, massive challenge” that Mike Babcock accepted in Toronto. The expectations in Minnesota are to win, and win now.

“I’ve been in the business a long time, and we’re in a winning business,” Boudreau said, per NHL.com.

“So you have to win.”

Related: With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet

With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet

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When the Minnesota Wild announced they’d agreed to terms with Bruce Boudreau, they made sure to note the great records he had in Washington (201-88-40) and Anaheim (208-104-40).

In the first paragraph of the press release, it mentioned how Boudreau became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach the 400-win mark and how he leads all active NHL coaches in winning percentage.

The Wild were not wrong to highlight all that. They’d just spent a lot of money on a new coach, and a 409-192-80 record is definitely something to be trumpeted.

That being said, what the press release didn’t mention is all the talent that Boudreau had been lucky enough to coach in his two previous NHL stops. When he took over in Washington, Alex Ovechkin was just entering his third season, and Nicklas Backstrom was only a rookie. When he got hired by Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were still a few years away from 30.

In that sense, what he’s got now in Minnesota is different. The two core guys, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, are each 31 years old. The captain, Mikko Koivu, is 33. Those three can still play — they were the Wild’s top three scorers during the regular season — but hockey players don’t typically get better in their 30s.

It’s why questions like the following are being asked in the local newspaper:

In retrospect, would a coach like Boudreau have been a better fit four years ago — a year after Yeo was hired, when the Wild made a bold push forward by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — than he is now?

That is to say, do you have more confidence that the Wild’s window for winning a championship was wider in the past four years than it will be in the next four based on roster construction — including the fact that Parise and Suter will both be 32 by the middle of next season?

Fair questions, both of them. Unfortunately, time machines don’t exist, making them tough to answer.

But considering the aging core, perhaps Boudreau’s biggest challenge will be to take the young players on the roster — guys like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba — and make them even better. Because for all the talk about making the Wild “accountable,” the real upside on most teams is found in their youth.

To illustrate, take a team like San Jose, where Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are each 36 years old. While those two can still play, a big reason for the Sharks’ success has been 27-year-old Logan Couture, their second-line center. Without him, where they would be? The answer is, probably not where they are right now.

So, can Coyle reach the level that Couture has reached? It’s a big ask, we realize that. But the Wild, as Thomas Vanek so helpfully pointed out in September, “don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”

Depth down the middle wasn’t the issue in Anaheim, where Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are the top two centers. 

Boudreau won’t have that luxury in Minnesota.

For that reason, and a few more, turning the Wild around might be his toughest task yet.

Related: In Minnesota, skepticism greets Fletcher’s optimism

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