Five Thoughts: Red flags for Boston, kudos for Tampa Bay

5 Comments

If anything, last night’s Game 1 between Tampa Bay and Boston proved to us that we probably don’t know as much about hockey as we think we do. Our predictions for the series might not turn out too well if the Boston team that came out in Game 1 keeps coming back. Tampa’s handy throttling of the Bruins sent a strong message that they are not to be trifled with. Five Thoughts today deals with what we saw last night.

1. One of the things we were concerned about in this series is how both Guy Boucher and Claude Julien’s defensive strategizing might slow things down and turn the series into a less-than-exciting brand of hockey. It then goes to figure that the Lightning would throw the Bruins a curveball and pressure them all night long instead of sitting back and waiting for them to attack.

Tampa brought the pressure and the Bruins seemed lost as to what they could do, in particular Tomas Kaberle. Changing things up like that clearly bothered the Bruins. Does Boucher keep switching things up to keep the B’s off guard or is this the game plan for the series? Julien’s a smart coach so he’ll find a way to counter but tonight they looked bad and the frustration boiled over at the end of the game with both Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton getting tossed from the game for roughing incidents. Losing their cool like that will only lead to Boston getting knocked out of the playoffs.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

2. Should the Bruins problems on the power play continue, and if Game 1 is any indication they will, then the first guy run out of town in Boston will be Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle was acquired to help an already rough Bruins power play unit and set them straight and turn their power play from a hindrance to a cohesive scoring unit. Instead, the Bruins are looking as lost as ever and Kaberle’s inability to help quarterback their unit  is exacerbating the problem.

For one reason or another, Kaberle is seemingly unwilling to shoot. Opting to pass is good to help guys get going, but when defenses aren’t even respecting his shot and dropping off to cover other players, it turns it into an awkward 4-on-4 situation instead of a power play. That kind of action won’t get it done and now the Bruins are looking like a team trying too hard when they get on the power play. If they were squeezing their sticks too tight, they’d have turned to dust by now. It’s late in the year to discover a magic power play elixir but the Bruins must find it fast.

3. The one guy that could help out on the power play isn’t getting the chance to play much at all. Rookie Tyler Seguin got to play in his first playoff game last night and scored a goal and added an assist. With that sort of production you’d think he would see more of the ice. Instead, Seguin only played 9:38 of the game, better than just Dan Paille and Shawn Thornton. Seguin is an offensive talent meant to do offensive things and he’s played power play time in the past. For a team that’s in desperate need of productivity on the power play and more offense, Seguin could be what they need.

Of course that leads into the question of why coach Claude Julien seems to shy away from playing Seguin at all. Julien’s shown more than enough love for veteran players over rookies in the past. We saw him butt heads with Phil Kessel over his effort level in the past scratching him from playoff games only to see Kessel respond by scoring in bunches when put back in. This isn’t the same sort of battle with Seguin, but Julien’s reticence to use him is head-scratching. Clearly Seguin has skills and he showed that in Game 1, let’s hope he gets to see more ice time because of it.

4. One area to give Tampa Bay credit for is their ability to resist the physical irritation of the Bruins and how they played the role of the wise guy and goaded Boston into taking bad penalties. The Bruins are a tough team and a very proud one and they won’t take kindly to any shenanigans going on on the ice. Last night we saw Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton all get goaded into going too far while the Lightning resisted the Bruins’ overly physical efforts to irk them. Tampa Bay was built to not be a fighting team and while some have accused them of being a team that dives to get calls, it’s clear that they won’t be retaliating the way the Bruins want them to. With the B’s so hot under the collar, they’ll have to learn to watch themselves when opting to mix it up with Tampa.

5. The most perplexing part to the Lightning is how they’re getting so much depth scoring. Everyone wants to focus in on Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Steven Stamkos but when their third line is getting just as many scoring chances and finishing their opportunities, it makes them a handful to stop. After all, when you’ve got three lines all evenly capable of scoring on you that makes defending against them a major pain.

Spending your effort defending that big three along with Simon Gagne and Teddy Purcell as well and then having to deal with Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, and Steve Downie who are all having huge playoffs is a nightmare. The Bruins will need to find ways to bottle them all up as well as not giving them a chance on the power play. Giving them power play opportunities means they can get guys like Marc-Andre Bergeron into the act as well so he can bomb away from the point… Just like he did in Game 1.

Avs a trendy pick for deep playoff run after busy offseason

1 Comment

DENVER (AP) — New arrival Nazem Kadri wasn’t with his Colorado Avalanche teammates very long before making a quick observation.

Definitely contenders.

”I’ve been around some good teams and this is certainly one that I think could compete to go the distance,” Kadri said. ”We’ve got a good mix of veteran leadership and youth and I think that’s a lethal combination.”

That lineup should be even more potent once forward Mikko Rantanen returns. The restricted free agent is away from the team as he tries to work out a new deal.

”We’re excited to have him here soon,” linemate Nathan MacKinnon said.

Following a second straight playoff appearance, general manager Joe Sakic decided to reshape his roster. Kadri was acquired in the deal that sent defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot to Toronto. In other trades, Sakic acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Arizona and left wing Andre Burakovsky from Washington.

Sakic also added veteran center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as a free agent and right wing Joonas Donskoi. They also selected defenseman Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft.

”Joe said it fairly early on in the offseason process that we’re going to be smart but aggressive,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. ”That’s what we were. We went out and got some really good pieces.”

That’s in addition to already having one of the top lines in hockey with Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen. Not only that, but a talented blue line buoyed by youngsters Cale Makar and Samuel Girard.

No wonder the Avalanche are on everyone’s radar as a team to watch.

”It’s nice to have some pressure,” MacKinnon said. ”We’re not just the bad Avs or whatever anymore. We’re a contender and that’s fun. We all want pressure. It’s no fun coming in as an underdog. The best teams have pressure on them.”

Here are things to know before the Avalanche open the season Oct. 3 against Calgary:

WHO’S HERE: Connauton, RW Valeri Nichushkin, Bellemare, Byram, D Calle Rosen, Kadri, Donskoi and Burakovsky.

WHO’S NOT: Barrie, Kerfoot, F Carl Soderberg, F Derick Brassard, G Semyon Varlamov, F Sven Andrighetto, F Gabriel Bourque.

KEY PLAYERS: Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen combined for 106 goals and 155 assists a season ago. The team was 24-6-5 when they each collected a point in a game. Philipp Grubauer enters the season as the primary goaltender after going 7-0-2 in his final nine starts of the regular season to get the Avalanche into the postseason. He was 7-5 in Colorado’s playoff run.

OUTLOOK: Colorado is a pick by some pundits to make it to the final of the Western Conference. Kadri already sees something building. ”I love the expectation and love the standard these guys hold themselves to,” he said. The Avalanche stunned the top-seeded Flames last season, winning the series 4-1, before falling in Game 7 to San Jose. ”It’s like every new season, you look back in the rearview mirror and learn from things, but you can’t dwell on them,” Landeskog said. ”You have to move forward. It’s a new year. It’s a new group. We’re super-excited what we have here.”

PREDICTION: The Avalanche stressed consistency as an important ingredient in taking the next step. Colorado was tied for the most points in the Western Conference after games on Dec. 7 and then went through a rough stretch that nearly cost the Avs a playoff spot before bouncing back. ”The guys that were here last year, we definitely learned from that,” Landeskog said. ”Because from Dec. 1 through whatever, we weren’t playing good enough. I don’t know how many games we managed to win, but it wasn’t enough. It nearly ended up costing us a playoff berth.”

Ducks hope to rebuild on fly, return to playoff contention

1 Comment

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — After the Anaheim Ducks’ six-year playoff run ended with a resounding thud last spring, they added almost no significant outside talent to their roster.

If the Ducks hope to return to their usual heights this season, they’ll probably have to do it from within. That migration starts behind the bench, where coach Dallas Eakins is moving up from their AHL affiliate in San Diego to the big leagues.

The former Edmonton coach proved his acumen over the last four years while guiding many young players who will get prominent roles this season in Anaheim. Even after last season’s faceplant, the Ducks’ organizational depth is enviable, and they’re counting on new blood to refresh the veteran core of this longtime Stanley Cup contender.

”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” said forward Adam Henrique, a rare offensive bright spot last season. ”(Eakins) is great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

So are the youngsters gunning for major roles in Anaheim: Forwards Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all 21 or younger. The Ducks need scoring after finishing last in the league in goals, and Eakins believes he has already coached the players who can help.

”This has always been an organization that’s hard to score against, and we don’t want to lose that,” Eakins said. ”We want that to be our identity. But if we don’t score, we can’t win, either. I’m a big believer that you can teach people how to score. It’s all about possession. We were near the bottom on shots last year, but telling players, ‘Hey, we need to shoot the puck more,’ is probably not a good plan. You’ve got to have the puck first.”

Anaheim is moving into the future after a bittersweet severing of its past. An era ended last June when the Ducks bought out Corey Perry‘s contract, ending his 14-year tenure alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf in parallel careers that started when the Ducks were still Mighty.

Perry scored just six goals in 31 games last year, but he was far from the only problem. Ryan Kesler will miss the upcoming season after struggling to return from major hip problems, and his career could be over even though he’s only halfway through his six-year, $41.5 million contract.

What’s more, a blue line that was once flush with elite homegrown talent is hoping for strong seasons from recently acquired defensemen Brendan Guhle, Michael Del Zotto or Chris Wideman.

But optimism currently runs high for the Ducks, who moved into a gorgeous new training complex in Irvine during the offseason.

Anaheim also has no problems in net. John Gibson is coming off another outstanding season despite his team’s woes, proving the Ducks were wise to lock him into a long-term contract, while they persuaded 39-year-old Ryan Miller to return as Gibson’s backup.

WHO’S HERE: Eakins, D Chris Wideman, D Michael Del Zotto, LW Nicolas Deslauriers.

WHO’S NOT: Perry, D Jaycob Megna, D Andy Welinski, C Ben Street, D Jake Dotchin.

KEY PLAYERS: Getzlaf’s connection with Eakins will be a key, and the captain appears to be completely on board. The Ducks badly need a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who slipped from 67 goals over the previous two seasons to just 18 last year. Daniel Sprong, 22, is a candidate for a breakthrough after showing ample promise while scoring 14 goals last year. And with trade rumors finally dying down around Ondrej Kase, the Czech forward is positioned to build on the tantalizing promise he showed in 2017-18 before injuries largely ruined last season.

OUTLOOK: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

PREDICTION: The Ducks are coming off their longest offseason since 2012 after going 35-37-10, and they’ve made no significant additions except behind the bench. Eakins will attempt to get improved results out of largely the same players – but the Ducks have more talent than they showed in their 5-21-4 collapse midway through last season, when they quit on Randy Carlyle. While it’s easy to categorize this as a rebuilding year, Anaheim hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2002. These written-off Ducks can muster a top-four finish in the Pacific Division, and maybe more.

Capitals Cup window remains open, though unknowns lie ahead

Leave a comment

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — When the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, they did so after their championship window was supposed to be closed.

Unlike when a roster shake-up and infusion of youth actually augmented the core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and John Carlson, the Capitals now face a more immediate challenge. With contracts for Backstrom and Holtby up after this season and Ovechkin after next year, it’s unclear how long this era of success will last.

”With the age of our team, every year is a sense of urgency in my mind,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. ”It took us a while to get to the point where we did win a championship, and I don’t know how long our window is here. We’re getting a little older, but we also have some good young guys coming up, so I think we can continue to compete at a high level.”

The Capitals still have a potential 50-goal scorer in Ovechkin , a perennial 70-point playmaker in Backstrom, an elite defenseman in Carlson and a Vezina Trophy winning goaltender in Holtby. And with the talent around them, including forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny, Washington is a threat to win the Cup again.

”We have a high expectation here,” second-year head coach Todd Reirden said. ”We expect to be extremely competitive. We expect to be amongst the league leaders in terms of wins and points. That’s the culture that we’ve established, and now we need to continue to build it.”

Ovechkin is 34, Backstrom 31 and Holtby 30. The same salary cap and aging questions that faced the champion Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins will soon confront the Capitals. MacLellan seems to know when to make free agency moves (defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in 2014), when to let key players go (Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams in 2017) and when to dole out big contract extensions (Kuznetsov and Oshie in 2017 and Carlson and Wilson in 2018).

The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning and defending conference champion Boston Bruins remain formidable challengers in the East . Just in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins and New York Islanders aren’t going away and the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers all got better.

But the Capitals are still an established power to be reckoned with.

WHO’S HERE

Free agent signings Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic were brought in to revamp the bottom six forward spots. Rugged defenseman Radko Gudas, acquired in a trade from Philadelphia, is the Orpik replacement on defense because of the size and muscle he brings.

”Some of the players we added were not by accident,” Reirden said. ”That’s what you can look to see: some guys that aren’t necessarily all that fun to play against.”

WHO’S NOT

Niskanen was a salary-cap casualty sent to Philadelphia for Gudas, and forward Brett Connolly left in free agency to sign a $14 million, four-year deal with Florida. Reirden will coach a team without Orpik for the first time in his decade in the NHL after the 38-year-old retired and moved into Washington’s player development department.

”His strength as a person and as a leader will translate well into the role he’s in,” MacLellan said. ”Most of the young guys in our organization already know him. There’s a comfort there with him. He’s just fresh out of the gate, so he’s up to date on all our coaches, all of the guys in our room, so it’s a great fit for the organization.”

Kuznetsov will miss the first three games of the season after being suspended by the league for inappropriate conduct stemming from a positive cocaine test at the world championships and a meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman.

KEY PLAYERS

This team is still led by Ovechkin and Backstrom, and also features Kuznetsov and backstopped by Holtby. The play6er to watch is Wilson, who is coming off a career year of 22 goals and 40 points in 63 games.

Wilson, 25, wants to be more consistent, and the sky’s the limit if he stays out of suspension trouble and plays close to 80 games.

”The offense obviously is everyone’s big thing over the years,” Wilson said. ”That’s got to continue to be there. If you’re playing (big) minutes and you’re playing on the first line you have to be able to chip in, and that’s what I plan to do.”

OUTLOOK

For the first time fans should get to see what Reirden hockey truly looks like. He took over for Barry Trotz after the Cup celebration and a short summer that didn’t give him much time to overhaul systems. The Capitals could look like a different team.

”You can expect us to be more aggressive in different areas of the ice,” Reirden said. ”You can expect us to play that type of style of game where our speed and skating is a really important factor for us.”

PREDICTION

Washington should win the Metropolitan Division for a fifth consecutive season and with better injury fortune make it out of the first round. In what could be Holtby’s final playoff run, his play in goal will go a long way to determining how far the Capitals go.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

Getty
1 Comment

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.