Ducks forward Bobby Ryan to get tried out at center during training camp

bobbyryan4.jpgDucks forward Bobby Ryan’s summer was one that was a bit distracted by contract negotiations and discussion over whether or not he might be traded because of said negotiations. Now that he’s signed on for the next five years and ready to go, the Ducks and GM Bob Murray have a new challenge in store for him: They’re going to try him out at center during training camp.

Murray said the rationale for the Ryan experiment at center is to have three strong lines. “Bobby played a few games at center at the end of last year, and Randy (Carlyle, Ducks coach) and I both liked what we saw,” Murray said Friday at Honda Center, while players were undergoing their annual pre-camp physicals and fitness tests. “It gives us more options.”

Murray didn’t say which players would fill out the lines if Getzlaf, Ryan and Koivu center the top three lines, respectively, but he and Carlyle  obviously want to look at different combinations.

“Like in baseball, you have to be strong up the middle,”  Murray said.

Ryan is a 30-goal scorer with potential to do more as he gets older and moving him to a playmaking position at this point in his early career is a fascinating decision. Whether or not this means the Ducks may have concerns with their depth at center or if they’re worried about the workload on Saku Koivu is really unknown here but something you have to wonder about.

The team does have enough at center to fill out four lines, but after that, the depth gets a bit scary. Getzlaf, Koivu, Todd Marchant and Kyle Chipchura make up the current center roster and adding Ryan into the mix relieves one of Marchant or Chipchura from their duties and likely to the wing.

Then again, maybe this is just a comfort move for Teemu Selanne. After all, with Paul Kariya sitting out this season due to concussion issues, maybe Teemu just wanted to have anyone wearing #9 riding shotgun with him this season. If Bobby Ryan keeps getting called “Paul” I hope he’ll understand why.

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    The Buzzer: Kane’s streak hits 19 games

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    Three Stars

    1. Anthony Mantha

    This edition of three stars will consolidate a would-be top six into three. Go ahead and play some thematic Judas Priest.

    While the Red Wings fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Blackhawks, Mantha was the most impressive part of a great effort by Detroit’s top scorers. Mantha generated a whopping four assists, also firing a robust seven shots on goal. The massive winger’s really been assertive lately, as he’s fired 20 SOG in his past three games. Even Alex Ovechkin thinks Mantha’s being a handful for goalies, right?

    (As a bonus, three of Mantha’s four assists were primary ones.)

    Dylan Larkin probably ranks as the real second star, but let’s just mention him in the Mantha entry. Larkin scored two goals and one assist, and actually topped Mantha with nine SOG. Lakin now has 58 points in 60 games, leaving him just five away from last season’s career-high of 63.

    Andreas Athanasiou rounded out that dominant output from that top Red Wings line with two goals, including the one that sent that game to OT.

    2. Carl Soderberg

    You have to grasp straws to make much of a difference between the most productive Avs of the night, as both Soderberg and Tyson Jost enjoyed one-goal, two-assist Wednesday evenings as Colorado crushed Winnipeg 7-1.

    Soderberg’s numbers are slightly better, though. Soderberg’s plus/minus (+4) was one up from Jost’s +3, and Soderberg fired five SOG to Jost’s 3.

    If the likes of Soderberg and Jost can take the heat off of top scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, that the Avalanche become pretty scary. (That combo was pretty deadly in their own right on Wednesday, though.)

    3. Erik Gustafsson

    It’s tempting to name Patrick Kane as the third star of the night, at least while “Breaking the Law” here with actually-a-more-than-top-three.

    Let’s consider this the last double-starring, then, because Gustafsson generated more points (three, all assists), while Kane scored two nice goals, including a swaggery OT-winner.

    We’ll get deeper into Kane’s honestly kind of mindblowing achievements later on, so this seems like a nice opportunity to note that the Blackhawks have unearthed another gem in Gustafsson. The 26-year-old somehow has 41 points in just 58 games this season. While his 12 goals come from some luck (11.4 shooting percentage, which is very high for a defenseman), you can also clearly see that he’s a slick, creative player.

    Gustafsson’s assist on Kane’s OTGWG illustrates that, so enjoy these highlights:

    The Swede is now the first European-born defenseman in Blackhawks history to break the 40-point barrier in a single season.

    Highlight of the Night

    The Nate Schmidt goal that sent Bruins – Golden Knights into OT probably takes the cake for the best goal of Wednesday, but enjoy the full highlights of that game for your trouble:

    Questionable hit

    Should Cal Clutterbuck receive supplementary discipline for this hit?

    Factoids, Kane on fire edition

    Patrick Kane didn’t just extend his point streak to 19 games, he did it with aplomb. Kane scored two goals against the Red Wings, including the overtime game-winner.

    When you think of a 19-game point streak, you probably picture quite a few games where a player barely gets there, like having one hit during an epic baseball streak. Instead, Kane keeps knocking it out of the park; he has an astounding 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points. That’s more than he managed during a longer 26-game point streak earlier in his career, when he managed 40.

    There are other ways to break up Kane’s red-hot streak. He also has an 18-game road point streak going; only six different players have enjoyed longer road-runs.

    Kane’s now at 350 goals for his career, and his 920 points is the most for a U.S.-born player through their first 12 seasons.

    Scores

    CHI 5 – DET 4 (OT)
    COL 7 – WPG 1
    CGY 4 – NYI 2
    BOS 3 – VGK 2 (SO)

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Bruins increase chances of home-ice with 7th win in a row

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    The Boston Bruins are pushing to begin the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with home-ice advantage, likely against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even if that doesn’t pan out, at least the Bruins have been red-hot on the road, too.

    It wasn’t easy, but the Bruins made their four-game road trip a perfect one by slipping by the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in a shootout. This pushes the Bruins’ current winning streak to seven games, and they’ve also generated at least one point in 12 consecutive contests.

    Boston generated two one-goal leads in Wednesday’s game, but the pace was often frenetic, and the Golden Knights refused to go down without a fight. This splendid Nate Schmidt goal sent the contest beyond regulation:

    The Bruins were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty during the overtime period, but Patrice Bergeron made some key plays and Jaroslav Halak cleaned up the rest to force the contest to what would end up being a lengthy shootout.

    Ultimately, the Bruins won, and strengthened their lead over Toronto for the Atlantic’s second seed, although the Maple Leafs hold games in hand.

    Bruins: 36-17-8, 80 points in 61 games, 34 ROW
    Maple Leafs: 36-19-4, 76 points in 59 GP, 36 ROW

    The Maple Leafs would need to win their two games in hand to tie the Bruins from a points perspective, while they’d lead in ROW even if both of Toronto’s wins came via shootouts. That could very well happen, but this Bruins surge certainly increases the odds of a potential Game 7 taking place in Boston instead of Toronto. For all we know, that could make an impact on what is setting up to be a fantastic first-round series.

    Boston made a significant tweak on Wednesday by trading Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-rounder for Charlie Coyle, possibly strengthening their depth in the process. This outcome reminds the hockey world that they’ve been pretty outstanding even when their top-end players have to do most of the heavy lifting.

    More on that Coyle – Donato trade.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Sabres GM fires down talk of firing coach Housley

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    Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill gave head coach Phil Housley the “vote of confidence” on Wednesday.

    In an interview with reporters including The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington and The Athletic’s John Vogl, Botterill said that he is not looking to make a coaching change.

    “We’ve made progress as an organization compared to last year. We’ve been in a position where we’ve been in games,” Botterill said. “I see the results on the ice. I see the communication that we’re going through here. There’s not going to be a coaching change.”

    No doubt about it, there are Sabres fans who are frustrated with a team that looks like it will see a playoff drought extend to eight seasons. Buffalo also hasn’t won a playoff series since 2006-07, having lost in the first round in their two postseason appearances since.

    Still, Housley hasn’t exactly had a ton of time to turn things around.

    That 10-game winning streak and brief spell at the top of the NHL’s standings raised expectations, so seeing Buffalo trail eight-seed Columbus by six points stings. It’s probably not much comfort that the Sabres have already exceeded last season’s 62 points by generating 63 standings points in 59 games.

    Such an improvement comes from a lowly point, no doubt, but it’s fair to argue that Housley might deserve one more season.

    This is only Housley’s second campaign with the Sabres, and it’s tough to ignore the instability this organization has struggled with. Housley joins Dan Bylsma, Ted Nolan, and Ron Rolston as the fourth coach the Sabres have hired since dismissing mainstay Lindy Ruff in 2013. Botterill’s also only been in place since 2017, so a big front office change would serve as a pretty sudden swerve.

    On one hand, you don’t want to keep doing something that isn’t working, and plenty will argue that the Sabres would be guilty of exactly that if they stuck with Housley behind the bench.

    On the other hand, when you look at some of the most troubled organizations in sports, a big chunk of them seem to keep changing regimes. For all the benefits that can come with new methods and voices, it can be rough on players, whether that means useful contributors getting shipped out for the sake of change, or merely incumbent players having to learn new systems and connect with new coaches.

    With Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin leading the charge, there seems like some light at the end of the tunnel for Buffalo. Like it or not, it seems like Botterill is giving Housley more time to prove that he can be the vehicle who can transport this franchise out of that darkness.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Patrick Kane powers another Blackhawks win

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    Patrick Kane is unstoppable right now, and he continues to bring the Chicago Blackhawks with him.

    Chicago couldn’t have been happy to see a 4-1 lead evaporate into a 4-4 tie against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Overtime provided another opportunity for Kane to exert his dominance, though, as he netted the overtime game-winner.

    Not a bad way for Mike Tirico to end his first NHL foray:

    With that, Kane’s now on a 19-game point streak, and even if it was just for a little while, the Blackhawks climbed into a playoff spot. The Avalanche bumped them back out of the top eight by clobbering the Jets 7-1 later on Wednesday, but the difference is small enough that Chicago can gain some confidence.

    With two goals, Kane’s ridiculous run is at a mind-boggling 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in those 19 games. That’s absurd stuff, even by the standards of this high-scoring season.

    This isn’t his longest point streak ever, but it is Kane’s most explosive.

    Kane’s now at a scorching 92 points in 60 games. Those 92 points stand as Kane’s second-highest ever, and with Chicago having 21 games remaining, his career-high of 106 from 2015-16 being in sight. The milestones continue to pile up, as Kane now sits at 350 career goals and eight OT tallies.

    The Blackhawks improved to 26-26-9 on the season, giving them 61 points (25 regulation/overtime wins) in 61 games. The Blackhawks slipped back to outside the second wild-card spot, but the goal is within reach.

    WC 1: Stars: 29-25-5, 63 points, 59 GP, 29 ROW
    WC 2: Avalanche: 25-24-11, 61 points, 60 GP, 25 ROW

    Blackhawks: 26-26-9, 61 points, 61 GP, 25 ROW
    Wild: 27-27-6, 60 points, 60 GP, 26 ROW
    Coyotes: 27-28-5, 59 points, 60 GP, 24 ROW
    Canucks: 26-27-7, 59 points, 60 GP, 23 ROW
    Ducks: 24-27-9, 57 points, 60 GP, 21 ROW

    As you can see, the Avalanche have the same number of points and ROW, while holding a game in hand over Chicago. The Blackhawks also don’t have much of a buffer ahead of Minnesota, among the other bubble teams.

    Even so, it’s pretty surreal that Chicago’s even in this spot, as they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games. You could say they’re almost as hot as Kane himself.

    More: Could Blackhawks be a threat if they make the playoffs?

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.