Calgary Flames

Video: Bennett gets first point on first NHL shift

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Sam Bennett made his NHL debut for the Calgary Flames today and it didn’t take him long to record his first point. More precisely, it took him 33 seconds.

In his first career shift, Bennett was able to steal the puck from Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson behind the net and then attempted a wraparound shot. Hutchinson managed to block it with his stick, but that put Michael Ferland in a position to complete the scoring play:

This game represents the end of a difficult journey for Bennett to reach the NHL. Although it initially looked like he might participate in the Flames’ season opener after being taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery made that impossible. Instead Bennett had to work his way through a lengthy recovery process and once he was healthy enough to play, he went back to the OHL Kingston Frontenacs.

Bennett was finally able to rejoin the Flames after scoring 11 goals and 24 points in 11 OHL games.

Three reasons for Ottawa’s improbable playoff berth

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The Ottawa Senators capped off their Cinderella story on Saturday, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a fairytale, to say the least.

Seven weeks ago, the idea of Ottawa playing past Apr. 11 was pure fantasy. The Sens were 10 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 17, but then proceeded to go 21-3-3 — not a typo — to surge into the postseason.

So, how did they get it done?

1: The Hamburglar

The biggest and most obvious reason is the play of Andrew Hammond, the 27-year-old undrafted goalie that took the starting reins in mid-February and proceeded to go on the run of a lifetime. Saturday’s win in Philly pushed Hammond to a remarkable 20-1-2 on the year — yes, just one regulation loss — with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Oh, and three shutouts.

“It’s unbelievable,” Ottawa center Kyle Turris said, per Yahoo. “I’ve never seen a guy come in and make an impact like that and change the season around.”

2: The coaching switch

Remember, this wasn’t a popular move at the time. The Senators took plenty of heat for turfing head coach Paul MacLean on Dec. 8; though they appeared listless at times — and had just an 11-11-5 record — MacLean was held in high regard and just two years removed from winning the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

But the switch to Dave Cameron paid dividends.

Sens GM Bryan Murray described Cameron as “a teacher,” and projected he’d mesh well with a young Senators team that MacLean often chided. The overall sense was Cameron would better relate to young players, whereas MacLean’s tell-it-like-it-is style — though entertaining — started to wear on the group.

“I thought when [MacLean] came here he was a guy that related very well to the players,” Murray explained. “He had been a player himself. He understood what it took to play in the NHL. But it seemed that kind of drifted. Maybe it’s the pressure of the business here. Maybe you guys are too tough on our people.

“But very definitely he became more demanding of some of the players, and more critical of some of the players.”

Cameron took over with 55 games left in the regular season. Since then, the Sens have gone 32-15-8.

3: The kids

This one’s in lockstep with No.2. Whereas MacLean was nervous about his roster — “I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing,” he infamously uttered just prior to his firing — Cameron embraced Ottawa’s youth and gave the kids bigger roles.

The biggest beneficiary? Mark Stone.

Stone, Ottawa’s rookie forward, has blossomed under Cameron — he scored 35 points over Ottawa’s last 31 games of the year and pushed himself into a Calder Trophy conversation that, for most of the season, had been comprised of Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad and Filip Forsberg.

As the season went along, Stone became a vital part of this team. He got decent minutes from MacLean, but nothing like what he’s received from Cameron; Stone had at least 20 minutes in four straight games from Mar. 31 to Apr. 7, and seemed to thrive with the increased workload — in Saturday’s win over Philly, he scored the opening marker and insurance tally for his 25th and 26th goals of the year.

“Stone has definitely developed into a solid player,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, per the Sun. “He just keeps raising the bar for himself and that’s what you want from a player to keep challenging yourself.

“I really think he has done that and we can’t really ask him to do much more than he has.”

To be fair, the Sens relied on more youngsters than just Stone. Fellow rookie Mike Hoffman has been great while the likes of Curtis Lazar (19 years old) Mika Zibanejad (21), Cody Ceci (21) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (22) all found increased roles under Cameron, and responded well.

Also — in the interest of fairness — credit has to go to Ottawa’s scouting department. While Ceci, Lazar and Zibanejad were first-rounders, the likes of Stone (178th overall in 2010), Hoffman (130th overall in 2009) and Pageau (96th overall in 2011) were all late-round finds.

Sam Bennett set to debut in Flames’ finale

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Sam Bennett’s season hasn’t gone as scripted, but he can’t argue with its finish. The 18-year-old forward will get to make his NHL debut this afternoon with the Calgary Flames. Based on the team’s pregame warmups, he’ll skate alongside David Wolf and Drew Shore in Calgary’s contest against the Winnipeg Jets.

After being taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, it looked like Bennett had a good shot of making the Flames for at least a nine-game trial. However, he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and was consequently sidelined until late February.

When he was finally able to play, Calgary felt it was best to send him to the OHL Kingston Frontenacs, where he excelled with 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games. He was recalled by the Flames on April 3, but until now he had been serving as a healthy scratch.

Calgary has secured a playoff berth and will face the Vancouver Canucks in the first round no matter what happens today. That being said, who will have the home-ice advantage in that series remains to be determined and while Vancouver has the clear edge in that regard, a win by the Flames will at least keeps them in the running for it.

Video: Sens rookie Stone reaches 25-goal mark

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The Ottawa Senators’ late season rise has been led by unlikely heroes and Mark Stone is among them. The 22-year-old rookie has been on fire during Ottawa’s incredible 20-3-3 run and entered this afternoon’s season finale against the Philadelphia Flyers on an eight-game point streak.

It didn’t take long for Stone to extend that streak to nine and give the Senators an early lead as he took advantage of Flyers goaltender Steve Mason’s mishandling of the puck:

That was Stone’s 25th goal of the campaign. Although for much of the season Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Nashville’s Filip Forsberg have been dominating the Calder Trophy discussion, Mark Stone deserves to be in that conversation as well. After that marker, Stone is just a point behind Gaudreau and Forsberg in the rookie scoring race.

If Ottawa gets at least a point against Philadelphia today then the Senators will secure a postseason berth. That being said, a win would give them a chance to take the third Atlantic Division seed away from Detroit.

Discipline has been key for Flames (also, how the NHL has changed since obstruction crackdown)

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Of all the things to admire about the surprising Calgary Flames — from the way they’ve overcome the loss of Mark Giordano, to all the shots they’ve blocked, to the skill and speed they’ve displayed off the rush all season — one of the more under-reported keys to their success has been discipline.

Did you know the Flames haven’t taken a single minor penalty in their last three games, all of them victories?

Did you know they’ve had eight games when they haven’t gone shorthanded, and that they’re 5-1-2 in those games?

Did you know they’ve only been shorthanded 182 times in all, the fewest in the NHL? (In contrast, they’ve had 253 power-play opportunities.)

The Flames aren’t the only disciplined team in the NHL. The Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Islanders don’t take many penalties either.

Of course, compared to 2005-06, which was the season following the lockout when the league made a commitment to crack down on obstruction, no team takes too many penalties these days.

Consider: The Winnipeg Jets have been shorthanded an NHL-high 306 times this season. That would’ve made them the most disciplined team in 05-06, when the Devils had to kill the fewest penalties (348) and the Capitals the most (550!).

Part of it is the players getting the message. But another part is the officials letting more go. The NHL can deny the latter, but it’s clear to anyone who’s watching that the standard has slipped, for better or worse.

For example, this wasn’t an interference penalty the other night in Vancouver:

source:

For the record, Alex Burrows wasn’t upset that Drew Doughty didn’t get penalized there. He was actually happy with how the officials let the Kings and Canucks play. How closely the game is called is a personal preference. It’s a balancing act. Too many power plays can ruin the flow. A little obstruction may help reduce injuries too.

But here’s another stat to consider:

In 2003-04, the season before the crackdown on embellishment, the Devils were shorthanded 266 times, the fewest in the NHL, and way fewer than the Flames will be in 2014-15.

That same season, the Ottawa Senators led the NHL with 80 power-play goals, and the 30 teams combined to score 1,717 power-play goals.

With two days left in the 2014-15 season, the Detroit Red Wings lead the NHL with 70 power-play goals, and the 30 teams have combined to score just 1,391 power-play goals.

Related: GMs to consider a “re-set” for obstruction rules