PHT Morning Skate: Lightning, Stamkos feel better prepared for Habs

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

After being swept in first round of last spring’s playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning feel they’re better prepared for this year’s rematch.

“We weren’t ready to play at that level. We had a lot of young guys,” Stamkos said per The Associated Press. “We have another year under our belt. Now we have a series win, and a Game 7 win under our belt. Guys get more confidence.” (AP)

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Having won just three bronze medals in the past 20 years at the World Hockey Championship, Ken Campbell writes it’s time for the Americans to pay a little more attention to the international competition. (The Hockey News)

A St. Louis Blues fan won an unfortunate radio contest. Prior to the Blues being eliminated in the first round, a fan had a St. Louis Blues 2015 Stanley Cup champions tattoo paid for by 105.7 the Point. (Bar Down)

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson made good on his bet with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi following the Canucks first round loss to the Flames. (Yahoo)

With it being Thursday, here’s a little throwback highlight pack. The pack features Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Pietrangelo, Jordan Eberle, Travis Hamonic, Martin Jones and Tyler Johnson participating at the 2000 Super Novice Brick Hockey Tournament at Edmonton’s West Edmonton Mall.

Poll: Are there any worthy Hart Trophy snubs?

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Whenever you’re talking about an award that seeks to recognize the best player in the league, any decision is going to be contested. The same can be true for the list of finalists. Now that we know that Montreal’s Carey Price, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and the Islanders’ John Tavares are this year’s Hart Trophy finalists, was there anyone that deserved to be on that list that was excluded?

Below are three potential alternatives. Each of them had great seasons, but there are also understandable reasons why they didn’t make the cut. Do you agree with those reasons though?

1) Devan Dubnyk – Perhaps the most obvious snub. When the Wild acquired Dubnyk on Jan. 14, they were a struggling franchise that seemed doomed to fall short of the playoffs. Then Dubnyk posted an incredible 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 contests to make Minnesota one of the best teams in the second half. He was likely excluded in part because he wasn’t with Minnesota for the full 2014-15 campaign and partially due to the presence of Price on the list. Goaltenders tend to be a tough sell for the Hart Trophy and having them take up two of the three slots might have been asking for too much.

2) Jamie Benn – This year’s Art Ross Trophy winner (35 goals, 87 points in 82 contests) didn’t end up warranting a spot among the Hart Trophy finalists. It’s easy to see why though: The Dallas Stars weren’t a playoff squad and MVP awards take the success of the team into consideration. Still, he had one of the best seasons out of this year’s crop of forwards.

3) Sidney Crosby – Crosby is the latest Hart Trophy winner, but he wasn’t able to defending his spot as the MVP. He took a noticeable step back offensively, going from 104 points to 84 in 77 contests in 2014-15. His team’s struggles in the second half of the campaign likely didn’t do him any favors either. He had a great season though with his 84-point total being good enough for third in the league’s scoring race.

Ovechkin, Tavares, Price are Hart Trophy finalists

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Montreal’s Carey Price, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and the Islanders’ John Tavares have been revealed as the finalists for the 2015 Hart Trophy.

For Ovechkin, this is an opportunity for him to take home the award for a fourth time. That would put him in an elite group that currently consists of just Eddie Shore, Gordie Howe, and Wayne Gretzky.

There are some arguments in favor of Ovechkin being named the league’s MVP. The single biggest one is his dominance of the goals category as he netted 53 markers while the next best player, Steven Stamkos, had 43 goals. Ovechkin also arguably had his best defensive season in years, as evidenced by his 53.7% Fenwick For in 5-on-5 situations. That’s plus-3.2% better than his team did when he wasn’t on the ice, which represents the biggest gap since 2010-11. In other words, by that measure, you could suggest that his presence on the ice had a greater positive impact for Washington than it had in recent years.

Tavares has never won the award before, but he had a strong campaign with 38 goals and 86 points in 82 contests. After a difficult 2013-14 campaign for the Islanders, the captain played a big role in guiding the franchise back to the playoffs. The Islanders’ 47-28-7 record was also their best since 1983-84.

Since being selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Tavares has helped turn the Islanders’ franchise around, but there was arguably a player that had an even bigger impact on his team this year. Montreal owes its success in 2014-15 in large part to Price. He was consistently dominant throughout the campaign and ended up with 44 wins, a 1.96 GAA, and a .933 save percentage in 66 starts.

Goaltenders are typically at a disadvantage when it comes to the Hart Trophy and the last netminder to overcome that was Jose Theodore in 2001–02. However, Price’s dominance combined with a relatively lackluster campaign for top-end forwards might have set the stage for him to claim this year’s award.

Habs rule out Beaulieu (upper body) for first four games of Round 2

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The series-ending injury Montreal d-man Nathan Beaulieu suffered against Ottawa will carry over to Round 2, per TVA Sports.

Beaulieu will miss the first four games of the next round, with an upper-body injury suffered during Game 3 of the Sens series on this hit from Erik Karlsson:

Beaulieu, 22, remained in that contest but didn’t play in the third period or overtime, and missed the final three games of the series.

It’s likely that Montreal head coach Michel Therrien will continue to play Greg Pateryn on defense in place of Beaulieu, as he did for the second half of the Ottawa series. That said, Therrien has options: Sergei Gonchar and Mike Weaver, a pair of veterans, are currently sitting as healthy scratches and could draw in.

2015 Norris Trophy finalists: Doughty, Karlsson and Subban

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The NHL named the three finalists for the 2015 Norris Trophy on Monday: Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban.

To review, the Norris goes “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.” The Professional Hockey Writers Association is responsible for the ballots.

All three blueliners rank as familiar faces.

Doughty hasn’t won a Norris at this point in his career, which is a point that comes up often (especially during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run last year). Injury and suspension issues forced the 25-year-old into the heaviest action of his career, as his 28:59 TOI average barely trailed perennial workhorse Ryan Suter. Doughty is aiming to be the first Norris winner whose team didn’t make the playoffs, at least according to Sportsnet.

Also:

Subban, 25, won the 2013 Norris. Here’s a little more on his great season from the Habs:

Subban, who previously claimed the award in 2013, enjoyed another remarkable campaign on the Canadiens’ back end. In his fifth full NHL season, the Toronto native finished in the Top 10 in multiple offensive categories among defensemen, registering career-highs with 15 goals, 45 assists, 60 points and a plus-21 differential in 82 games played. He also ranked second in the League among defensemen with eight power play goals, while logging a team-leading 26:12 of ice time per game. He was also the Canadiens’ most-utilized player with the man advantage.

Karlsson, 24, won it in 2012. His 27:15 TOI average trailed Doughty by a significant margin, yet it was a career-high and ranked third in the NHL. The splendid Swede’s 66 points led all defensemen while Subban was tied for second with 60 and Doughty finished with 46.

Notice that all three blueliners are in their prime years? A stat like this shows how advanced Karlsson is, yet they’re all at an elite level, which is confirmed by these nods: