Five Thoughts: The strange twists and turns of Game 5 between Boston and Tampa Bay

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Two games in a row between Boston and Tampa Bay we’ve seen one team dominate the first period of play only to get the script flipped on them and the game taken in the other direction. It happened to Boston in Game 4 and Tampa Bay last night in Game 5. With the Bruins overcoming the Lightning in Game 5 to earn a tough win, they’re in control of the series but they’ll need to stay strong to resist Tampa Bay in Game 6 in order to prevent a Game 7.

1. After such a one-sided first period that saw Tampa Bay control the play and pepper Tim Thomas with 14 shots, as opposed to four Boston shots, it looked like Thomas was going to have to break out an otherworldly kind of performance in order to help the Bruins to victory. While the pace of the game swung in Boston’s favor over the final two periods, Thomas still had to be sharp when Tampa Bay got their chances and he did so with aplomb. It’s amazing what a team can pull off when they’ve got a goaltender playing above and beyond the call of duty to help you win. The Bruins rally in the second period can be singled out on how well Thomas held it together in the first. While the Bruins have had their ups and downs, Thomas has been as steady as ever.

2. Speaking of goaltending, it appeared that Guy Boucher put himself in a hole after Mike Smith’s incredible play in Game 5. After all, you couldn’t hang the loss on Smith’s play as he allowed two goals in 19 shots leading many to believe there might be a goalie controversy heading into Game 6. Boucher put all that talk to a stop today by saying Dwayne Roloson would start Game 6.

What we won’t stop talking about here is what kept Roloson from starting Game 5. After all, Roloson was the guy who got the Lightning to the playoffs and held strong for them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, why change that up? We’ll have our own theories all the while but you have to wonder if Roloson at age 41 just maybe needed a night off. There’s some speculating that perhaps Roloson is banged up and others saying that Roloson needed a break after putting up some subpar performances in this series. If it’s an injury we’ll find out about it when Tampa Bay’s playoff run is over. If it’s not… We’ll have even more questions for Guy Boucher.

3. One guy for Boston that’s doing nothing to dispel the talk about his lack of importance is Tomas Kaberle. While Kaberle showed some signs of doing things positively (blocking shots for instance) that’s not the total role he’s there to play for the Bruins. He’s there to generate offense and lead the power play and he’s doing neither of those things, leading to some people wondering if he should be benched.

In Game 5 he had just 13:06 of ice time and 3:43 of that was spent on the power play. The 9:23 of even strength time he had was the fewest amongst Bruins defensemen by a lot and towards the end of the game Claude Julien shortened his defensive bench up excluding Kaberle from situations and opting to double up the minutes for Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference.

In a time when the Bruins were hanging on to a one goal lead that makes some sense, but considering how important Kaberle was meant to be to this Bruins team, it’s a huge disappointment to see him being buried as essentially the team’s sixth defenseman. With Kaberle set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, his marketability is shrinking dramatically in these playoffs.

4. It’s a fascinating study to see what’s going on with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie just in this series alone. We’ve seen him wrongly get busted for diving in Game 4 and last night we saw him get questionably called for boarding Johnny Boychuk while an obvious trip by Andrew Ference on Downie went uncalled late in the game. We understand that as a player’s career goes on they can earn a bad reputation and not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to penalties, but Downie this season has been a bit of a different player.

He’s not as abrasive as Sean Avery can be and he’s not the cheap shot artist the way Matt Cooke can be, he’s able to play with an edge and be productive as well. He’s sort of a modern day Pat Verbeek in that way but with the way he acted out early in his career in Philadelphia, he’s not getting any of the breaks. It can be tough to see from a Tampa perspective because when Downie is wronged, there’s no sympathy for him because of past aggressions. That doesn’t make it right that he’s still apparently judged by them.

5. One thing that we never counted on seeing this year is how Tampa Bay would be counting on Marc-Andre Bergeron in all their big offensive need situations. Whether it’s on the power play or late in the game with an extra attacker, Bergeron is being counted upon heavily by Guy Boucher. We know that Guy Boucher has some familiarity with Bergeron previously in his days with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but Bergeron’s been a bit of an NHL nomad existing with a big shot from the blue line and the ability to help produce on the power play. That said, seeing him on the ice in a dire situation with an empty net behind him and the desperate need to get another goal is tough to watch.

Tampa Bay doesn’t exactly have a big offensive producer on the blue line so the job basically falls to Bergeron but as we’ve seen from him in the past he’s got a penchant for turnovers. Seeing him give up the puck that led to Boston’s empty net goal to ice the game wasn’t exactly a shock. If there’s a hole in Tampa’s game it’s that they don’t have that big offensive threat on defense. Perhaps it’d be a bit different if Pavel Kubina were healthy.

Latest round of roster decisions should make Islanders fans angry

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We have spent some time here this offseason chronicling the adventures of the New York Islanders as they attempt to rebuild their roster in the post-John Tavares era. It has mostly revolved around them plugging the roster full of assorted fourth-liners and depth players on long-term contracts, having them join the other fourth-liners and depth players that are returning … also on long-term contracts.

There are a couple of problems with this approach.

First, it creates a roster that is just not particularly good or deep by NHL standards. Fine people that play hard, go about their business as professionals, and can each probably carve out a niche for themselves in the NHL. But also not a collection of players that should be making up a significant portion of your roster.

Second, all of those long-term contracts and additions mean those veteran players are all but guaranteed roster spots, making it even more difficult for younger, potentially more impactful players to make the roster. Younger, potentially more impactful players that might be able to make your team better.

We saw the latter point play out on Monday with the latest round of roster cuts from the Islanders as they continue to trim their roster toward the 23-player opening night group. Among the cuts on Monday were 2016 first-round draft pick Kieffer Bellows, 2018 first-round pick Noah Dobson, and the talented Josh Ho-Sang, who seems to have been unable to gain the trust or win the approval of a new coaching staff and front office.

Along with them, there were also other young players Sebastien Aho and Michael Dal Colle assigned to the American Hockey League.

In speaking with the media regarding the decisions, general manager Lou Lamoriello had nothing but praise for his young players (video here):

“Well I thought they played extremely well,” said Lamoriello. “They have a bright future, all they have to do is continue to grow. Bellows certainly showed up well — better than I thought he would. But right now we have to make some decisions with the people we have here, and we have to give the ice time to them. It’s best for him to go to the minors, play a lot, play in key situations and just grow as a player.”

And on Ho-Sang:

“I thought he was excellent,” Lamoriello said. “I thought he worked hard, I thought he gave us everything he had. He’s worked on his game without the puck. He’s just got to go to the minors, he has ability, just go there and get over all these issues, that I haven’t seen, that transpired in the past, he’s been excellent in camp. Just go grow there and get better. He’s young.”

At that point Lamoriello was asked if he wanted to have a more veteran roster to open the season, something the team will now no doubt have. He downplayed that, before coming out and saying that none of the players being sent down deserved to be in the NHL over the veterans that are on the roster right now.

“I don’t think it’s a case of wanting to see a veteran team, we have a lot of players under contract,” said Lamoriello. “We have to find out who they are and if they can play before any major decisions are made. So you have to give an opportunity. I think to ourself and our coaching staff we are still learning about them. They have contracts, that’s why sometimes the business gets into it. But these players who are going down, they don’t deserve to be here right now. They haven’t played that well that they should be taking a job away from the veterans at this point.”

That response leads to an important question — Why?

As in, why do you need to find out what you have with a bunch of these veterans? At this point in their careers everyone in the NHL should know exactly what every single one of those players is, and what they are capable of. This should be true whether the coach or GM has had them on their team or not.

Leo Komarov is 31 years old with 327 games in the NHL.

Matt Martin is 29 years old with 590 games.

Tom Kuhnhackl is 26 years old with 168 games.

Valtteri Filppula is 34 years old with 876 games.

Luca Sbisa, just signed on Monday the same day that Dobson and Aho were sent to the AHL/Juniors, is 28 years old with 495 games.

These are just the players the Islanders brought in this offseason from outside the organization, almost all of whom seem to be overkill in their roles when you consider the team already had Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Ross Johnston (who got a four-year contract over the summer) on the roster.

There are no secrets with any of these players. At this point in their career you are getting exactly what you have seen from them over the past several years.

All of this leads to another why question — why don’t the young players deserve to be there over some of the veterans that have a stranglehold on a roster spot to open the season?

Maybe Ho-Sang didn’t have a great camp (though, that’s not what Lou himself said) and struggled in the one preseason game he did play in. But over the past two years on the rare occasion when the Islanders have allowed him to play at the NHL level, he has done the one thing too many of the players on the roster haven’t been able — and won’t be — able to do.

He has produced.

He had 12 points in only 22 games a season ago, which is more than Kuhnhackl had in 69 games for the Penguins. It is the same number of points that Martin had in 50 games for the Maple Leafs, and more than he had in 82 games the previous year (Martin, for his career, has averaged 15 points over 82 games). It is only seven fewer points than what Komarov had in 74 games for the Maple Leafs. It is more than Johnston had in 38 AHL games a year ago, and double what Johnston produced in the NHL in the same number of games. It is only five behind what Cizikas had in 64 games.

No, it is not all about points. And maybe Ho-Sang does still have areas he needs to work on away from the puck.

But are those shortcomings going to hurt the Islanders more over the course of the season than the offensive shortcomings that half of the roster has? When you already know what almost every player on that roster is capable of?

But okay, fine. He didn’t earn a spot on the roster this year. What is the excuse for sending down Bellows, who was quite literally the most productive — and arguably best — player the team had in camp and the preseason? In three exhibition games he had two goals, an assist, 12(!) shots on goal, and a 52 percent shot attempt share during 5-on-5 play.

Look at it another way: Mathew Barzal had one goal, four assists, only six shots on goal, and a 53 percent shot attempt share in his preseason performance a year ago. Barzal was the same age that Bellows is now, and had a similar pedigree in terms of where he went in the draft and his production in the Western Hockey League. He also did not play a single game in the American Hockey League. Barzal not only made the Islanders roster a year ago, he went on to put together one of the best rookie seasons in league history, win the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, and almost instantly make himself the new franchise cornerstone.

That is not to say that Bellows was destined to duplicate Barzal’s rookie year. But it is also preposterous given the comparison, as well as the players that are still on the roster, to say he does not “deserve” to at least get a look at the opening night lineup.

But to put it all even more simply: If you’re an Islanders fan players like Ho-Sang or Bellows might have just been something to look forward to and get excited about at the start of the year. In time they will be there (well, Bellows will — at this point it might just be best for the Islanders to give Ho-Sang a fresh start somewhere else because nobody there seems to want to play him), but look at where this organization is right now, at this moment, with the season just a week away. You just lost your best player from a team that missed the playoffs by 17 points. It is a team that is probably going to be bad and miss the playoffs again. Now instead of maybe having a couple of young, talented forwards to give you some optimism — including at least one that should have played his way onto the roster — you get to instead watch a bunch of grinders try to scratch and claw their way a 1-0 win every night.

It remains to be seen where the Islanders go in the Lamoriello era, and with all due respect to everything he has accomplished in the NHL as an executive, things are not off to a promising start.

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.

Brian Gionta retires after 16-year NHL career

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Brian Gionta announced his retirement from the NHL on Monday, officially putting an end to an incredibly successful 16-year career.

The 39-year-old Gionta made the announcement in Buffalo, where he will be taking on a small, unspecified role with the team that will allow him to remain involved with the sport.

Gionta spent three of his 16 NHL seasons in Buffalo (he was born in Rochester, New York) and was the captain of the team each year. Along with his time in Buffalo, Gionta also spent a significant portion of his career with the New Jersey Devils (the team that drafted him) and Montreal Canadiens.

He did not open the 2017-18 season on an NHL roster and instead spent time preparing to play for the United States Olympic team. Even though he did not record a single point in his five games, he was able to land a contract with the Boston Bruins to close out the regular season where he appeared in 20 regular season games, scoring two goals and adding five assists before appearing in just one playoff game.

For his career, Gionta scored 291 goals and 595 total points in 1,026 games. He was a member of a Stanley Cup winning team with the Devils in 2003 and represented the United States at the Olympics two different times (2006 and 2018).

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL’s most absurd mascots

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Summer is over and with the regular season approaching next week, why not one more fun edition of the PHT Power Rankings. This week we look some of the most absurd mascots — and mascot stories — in NHL history. 

The Philadelphia Flyers unleashed their new mascot, Gritty, on the world on Monday and it would be very fair to say that it caused quite a reaction.

For as wild as it might be it is still, at its core, a typical mascot — goofy looking, ridiculous, and something to mostly laugh at. It is not the first, nor will it be the last, such creation.

Still, it is pretty ridiculous even by NHL mascot standards.

So let’s take a look at where it ranks among the most absurd mascots in NHL history.

1. Boomer (Columbus Blue Jackets) 

At the start of the 2010-11 season the Columbus Blue Jackets attempted to introduce a secondary mascot that went by the name, “Boomer.” When talking about ridiculous mascots there is Boomer, and then there are the rest. Boomer is simply in a category all his own.

He was supposed to be an anthropomorphic cannon, but the actual design resembled something more along the lines of … well … let’s just say Boomer didn’t make it through the entire season before being quietly retired unceremoniously at mid-season.

He was only supposed to be at games where the team was wearing its new third jerseys for that season, and upon his introduction he was described by the Blue Jackets as “a kid-friendly, cushy cannon character with a friendly face and fluffy moustache reminiscent of a Civil War-era general.”

Nope. That is not what he looked like, Columbus.

2. Penguin Pete (Pittsburgh Penguins)

In their early years the Pittsburgh Penguins were never-ending series of bloopers, mishaps and even tragedy. Everything they did had a way of going wrong, including their first experience with a mascot.

During their inaugural season the Penguins introduced Penguin Pete, an actual Humboldt Penguin that was on loan from the Pittsburgh Zoo. He made his initial debut in a February, 1968 game against the Boston Bruins and then made a handful of other appearances that season before dying of pneumonia the following November.

Everything about this experience was baffling.

First, there was the fact that the Penguins had wanted to teach him how to ice skate and had tried to have custom CCM hockey skates made for him.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1968:

This, of course, failed.

Eventually, Pete came down with pneumonia and his saga and become emblematic of the team’s on-ice struggles.

The whole Penguin Pete experience was told in the team’s 50th anniversary documentary a few years ago, right down to the fact he was stuffed and temporarily kept in the team’s offices.

3. Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers) 

It’s a combination of factors. It’s the look. It’s the way it was introduced. Everything about is just absurd, in the most amazing way. Read all about the cuddly fellow here.

4. Harvey the Hound (Calgary Flames)

At the end of the day there is nothing really too outrageous about Harvey, the Calgary Flames’ mascot, other than the fact he’s an animal that wears a funny hat and has on pants (but, for some reason, no shirt). But I’m including him on this list because of an incident that happened in January of 2004 when, in a Battle of Alberta game against the Edmonton Oilers, he took to heckling the Oilers’ bench with the Flames leading 4-0.

That resulted in then-Oilers coach Craig MacTavish ripping Harvey’s tongue out of his mouth and throwing it into the crowd.

A trash-talking mascot that gets a part of his costume ripped off by an NHL coach during a game? Sign me up.

5. NYisles (New York Islanders)

In the pre-Charles Wang Islanders days their lovable(?) mascot was NYIsles, who was simply described as a “seafaring Islander.”

He had a big head and wore a hockey helmet with a goal-light on top of it and was just … kind of funny. Honestly, this is what you think of when you think of 1980s or early 1990s sports mascots.

Here he is in action.

Dishonorable mention: Howler the Yeti (Colorado Avalanche)

Howler the Yeti was the first mascot for the Avalanche following their move to Colorado, and he was a giant Yeti that was … kind of cool looking. He was ultimately retired though after he was involved in a “fracas” in the stands of the McNichols Sports Arena in 1999 that left a Chicago Blackhawks fan injured. Both the fan and Howler were ticketed for disturbing the peace. The Avalanche eventually replaced him with Bernie the St. Bernard.

While I can appreciate a mascot having a bit of an edge, getting into fights with opposing fans is probably not for the best. Absurd, yes. But not good.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Meet Gritty, the Flyers’ horrifyingly delightful new mascot

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Oh man. Where to start with this one. Let’s just jump right into it, shall we?

The Philadelphia Flyers introduced the newest member of their organization on Monday morning and it might be my new personal favorite part of the team.

Say hello to Gritty, everyone!

Perhaps even better than the image of something that appears to be the demon spawn of The Looney Tunes monster and Grimace is that it comes with its own backstory, including the fact that it, according to legend, sustains itself on hot dogs and Zamboni snow.

Via the Flyers:

His father was a “bully,” so naturally he has some of those tendencies – talented but feisty, a fierce competitor, known for his agility given his size. He’s loyal but mischievous; the ultimate Flyers fan who loves the orange and black, but is unwelcoming to anyone who opposes his team. Legend has it he earned the name “Gritty” for possessing an attitude so similar to the team he follows.

He claims that he’s been around for a lot longer than we know it, and recent construction at the Wells Fargo Center disturbed his secret hideout forcing him to show his face publicly for the first time. He has some oddities that are both humorous and strange. A number of times he’s been caught eating snow straight from the Zamboni machine, and unbeknown to most, his love of hot dogs has been inflating the Flyers Dollar Dog Night consumption totals for years.

 That being said, there’s no denying that he’s one of our own.

The ultimate Flyers fan that is unwelcoming to anyone opposes his team? Does this mean it’s going to yell at Capitals, Penguins, and Rangers’ fans and boo Sidney Crosby?

[PHT Power Rankings: The NHL’s most absurd mascots]

But the absolute BEST part about it? It has googly eyes. More mascots need googly eyes. All mascots should have googly eyes.

Welcome to the NHL, Gritty. The league is certainly different now that you are in it.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.