FIve Thoughts: Alex Burrows’ Game 2 heroics a very bad sign for Boston

8 Comments

Just as it goes with virtually every Stanley Cup finals game there are tons of thoughts that pop up in the aftermath of the game. Game 2 between Boston and Vancouver is no different and with the Canucks winning the game 3-2 in overtime. Storylines abound after such a turn of events.

1. There’s obviously a lot of outrage in Boston today after seeing Alex Burrows play perhaps his best game of the playoffs scoring two goals and adding an assist. It’s very clear to us that the NHL erred in not suspending Burrows for one game and while Bruins coach Claude Julien said the right things after the game there’s no doubt they and the rest of the Bruins have to be furious about it. They must put it out of their heads and then focus that anger into making sure Burrows doesn’t beat them on the ice again.

Allowing Burrows to essentially have his way with them the Bruins looked sadder than anything else. Think of it like seeing the movie “The Karate Kid” and instead of Daniel LaRusso crane kicking Cobra Kai into defeat, Johnny sweeps the leg and ends his miraculous run. If the Canucks continue to outwork, outhustle, and outplay the Bruins and take Game 3 the fans in Vancouver can start calling for that body bag for the Bruins as well as calling for the Stanley Cup.

2. One thing that’s been a severe disappointment for the Bruins is the play of their defense. Last night’s overtime goal came thanks to a bad play from Andrew Ference followed by Zdeno Chara’s inability to cover ground fast enough to catch up with Burrows. The kind of speed that Vancouver has is a major issue for a lot of players the Bruins have and while we’ve seen this be a problem for them in past seasons (think back to Boston getting bounced out by Carolina in 2009) what the Canucks do with their speed and their physicality is something Boston didn’t really deal with too often during the regular season.

The Bruins are used to wearing down teams by roughing them up. Vancouver enjoys that part of the game and even feeds off it at times. That kind of stubborn resilience can be mentally defeating to deal with. Guys like Chara, Ference, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton are delivering physically but the hits aren’t enough to get Vancouver to slow down and fall more in line with Boston’s strengths to grind the game out. Vancouver fights through the checks and keeps on motoring. Since there’s nothing legally the Bruins can do to stop them, every game turns into a war of attrition for them. That’s hard to deal with.

3. One thing the Canucks did right last night was get under Tim Thomas’ skin. While Thomas plays great when he’s fired up for a game and playing aggressive, he’s seen moments in the past where his fiery nature got the best of him and caused him to give up a bad goal. While that didn’t happen last night, Thomas got a bit more jumpy and agitated with the way the Canucks buzzed the net and found ways to make contact with him.

Late in the game, Thomas was even complaining at one point about Henrik Sedin’s presence in front of the net while other times the Bruins defense helps shove Canucks forwards into Thomas. The Bruins defense has to do a better job of putting up the wall to protect Thomas. They want him locked into the game but not to the degree where he’s looking to get his own shots in on opponents to avenge previous misgivings. Intensity is good but not when it turns into reckless play.

4. The Bruins’ top line will need to have more of a presence if they’re going to come back in this series. David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic combined for seven shots on goal in Game 2 after piling up 13 all together in Game 1. While Lucic was able to get a goal thanks to their work in front of the net, seeing Krejci come away with four shots while Horton had just one is disappointing. When you’re the top line you have to do more, always. Vancouver’s top line was lights out in Game 2 in leading the way to victory. That sort of effort and skill is what it takes to win. While Roberto Luongo is having a lot to say about that line’s lack of success for Boston, they’ll need to do more of what they started in Game 2 from here on out. Scoring a grimy goal on a rebound by holding your ground looks just as good on the scoreboard as the highlight reel one does.

5. Vancouver’s work in the third period is becoming the thing of legend for them. Their depth and the way their lineup has been juggled this year have provided them with many challenges this year but they’ve been resilient all year long and their stamina late in games is astounding. Vancouver continues to find ways to battle hard to the end and pull games out late. Coming back to beat Boston in overtime is something no team had done to them yet in the playoffs. Boston was 4-0 in overtime games in the playoffs before last night. That’s a rough time to take your first defeat.

Vancouver, however, has been doing this sort of thing all playoffs long in either finding ways to comeback late in games or finishing teams off. That sort of toughness is what makes them so hard to beat and Boston is now finding this out the hard way. Giving up the game-winning goal with 18 seconds left to play in Game 1 and now Game 2’s overtime winner coming just 11 seconds in are excruciating ways to lose.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin already at 8

Getty
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Mark Scheifele

Scheifele helped Winnipeg stay in Monday’s game when it seemed like St. Louis might be pulling away (scoring the Jets’ first goal to shrink a deficit to 2-1, tying the game at 3-3) and then generated an assist on Jacob Trouba‘s overtime game-winner.

Overall, Scheifele generated two goals and two assists, with the tiebreaker being that none of his points came via an empty-netter.

Scheifele logged defenseman-like minutes (25:55), fired five shot on goal, and even was slightly above-.500 at draws with a 14-13 mark. He helped remind the Blues (and the hockey world) that few leads are safe against the high-octane Jets.

2. Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin probably could have had a hat trick if he really wanted it, but instead he set up T.J. Oshie‘s empty-netter, which elicited some laughter from Oshie.

That empty-netter slightly downgrades Ovechkin’s night in comparison to Scheifele’s Monday, but you could make an argument for the superstar winger’s all-around night. He ended up with two goals and two assists, firing an Ovechkin-like seven SOG. With a +2 rating and a hit credited to him against Vancouver, The Great 8 filled up the peripheral categories, as he’s wont to do.

Ovechkin now has eight goals in eight games in 2018-19. Don’t count him out for yet another Maurice Richard Trophy.

The Capitals have some other worthy mentions, with John Carlson standing out as one of the better choices. (He’s having quite the start to his first season with that fat new contract that looks pretty justified at the moment.)

3. Ryan O'Reilly

You could make a strong argument for other players – again, Carlson stands out – and you might ding “ROR” for being on the losing team.

O’Reilly was pretty excellent in defeat, however. The two-way center scored one goal and two assists, showing that he can produce plenty of chances on the second line with David Perron (when he’s not running shotgun on the top trio with Vladimir Tarasenko).

As you’d expect from a guy who could be a dark horse candidate for the Selke, ROR was strong from an all-around standpoint. O’Reilly had a +2 night (not bad in a defeat), went 13-12 on faceoffs, fired four SOG, and managed three takeaways. O’Reilly also shook off a Brandon Tanev boarding hit that bloodied him early in the contest.

This has been a frustrating start to the season for St. Louis, but don’t blame O’Reilly.

Highlight of the Night

Justin Faulk scored a goal as the Hurricanes dominated the Red Wings, yet his best moment came when he auditioned for Carolina’s goalie position:

Factoids

Ovechkin moves up the all-time power-play goals ranks. How high will he finish by the end of this season? Could he end up being the all-time leader when he clears out his “office?”

Monday was a pretty big night for a few Capitals, it seemed.

Click here for plenty of numbers about the red-hot top Avalanche line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog.

Faulk moved up the ranks with his goal:

Again, the Hurricanes really dominated the Red Wings for most of Carolina’s eventual win.

Scores

Avalanche 4, Flyers 1
Hurricanes 3, Red Wings 1
Jets 5, Blues 4 (OT)
Capitals 5, Canucks 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Flyers can’t stop Avalanche’s red-hot top line, either

Getty
1 Comment

The Colorado Avalanche’s top line has to slow down at some point, right?

A cold streak certainly didn’t begin on Monday night, as the dominant trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog powered a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

MacKinnon was the subject of this fawning piece on Saturday, and he did his part by extending his season-opening point streak to nine games (now 15 points), as he collected a primary assist. His wingers were the bigger stars on this night, however. For one thing Rantanen extended his own point streak with two goals, which actually places him one ahead of MacKinnon for the team lead. MacKinnon and Rantanen continue to make history for the Avalanche franchise:

[MORE: Rantanen’s becoming a “driving force” for Avs.]

Avs captain Landeskog is a few strides behind those two as far as season totals go (“just” 10 points in eight games), yet he’s been red-hot lately. The hearty Swede now has a four-game goal streak (seven tallies) and five-game point streak (10 points) going after collecting a breakaway tally and an assist in this one.

The Avalanche didn’t need much more from their non-stars to win against the Flyers, with a nice Matt Nieto goal being the only tally that wasn’t generated by one of Landeskog, MacKinnon, or Rantanen.

Colorado is now on a three-game winning streak, bumping its record to 6-1-2.

One of the impressive things about this outstanding start is that the Avalanche haven’t even really had many opportunities to leverage what can potentially be the best home-ice advantage in the NHL: that mile-high elevation.

Only three of the Avalanche’s first nine games have come at home, and this victory against Philly concludes a highly successful (3-0-1) four-game road trip against East teams.

The Avalanche’s early road challenges aren’t over yet, as you can see from their next month of work:

Wed, Oct 24 – vs Tampa Bay
Fri, Oct 26 – vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 27 – @Minnesota
Thu, Nov 1 – @Calgary
Fri, Nov 2 – @Vancouver
Wed, Nov 7 – vs Nashville
Fri, Nov 9 – @Winnipeg
Sun, Nov 11 – @Edmonton
Wed, Nov 14 – vs Boston
Fri, Nov 16 – vs Washington
Sun, Nov 18 – @Anaheim
Wed, Nov 21 – @Los Angeles
Fri, Nov 23 – @Arizona

As you can see, eight of the Avalanche’s next 13 games are on the road. That’s not the sort of stretch that is so heavily weighted against Colorado as to throw things out of balance by itself, but it’s still another test for a team some expected to hit the wall after last season’s breakthrough.

If the Avalanche enter December with a strong record, then look out, particularly if that top line’s maintaining even a portion of this red-hot chemistry.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Seth Jones return reunites one of NHL’s top defensive pairs

Getty Images
3 Comments

Huge news for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday as the team announced it has activated defenseman Seth Jones from injured reserve, and that he is expected to make his season debut on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Jones has missed the first seven games of the season recovering from an MCL injury.

This is a huge development for a Blue Jackets team that has been, to say the least, inconsistent at the start of the year.

First, Jones is one of the NHL’s top defenders and a rising star in the league after finishing fourth in the Norris Trophy voting a year ago. Since arriving in Columbus as part of the one-for-one swap involving Ryan Johansen his game has taken off.

But it’s not just Jones himself that is a difference-maker for the Blue Jackets. When paired with Columbus’ other top young defender, Zach Werenski, the two help form one of the best and most productive defense pairings in the league, and Jones’ return might be just what Werenski needs to help bust him out of what has been a little bit of a slow start to the season.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season (when Werenski made his NHL debut) the two have spent almost all of their 5-on-5 ice-time together as a defense pairing, and they have been as good as any other duo in the league.

Coach John Tortorella said over the weekend that when Jones returns the plan is to put him back on the top pairing with Werenski.

In more than 2,500 minutes of ice-time the Blue Jackets control more than 56 percent of the shot attempts and outscore teams by a 95-69 margin. When neither player is on the ice that shot attempt share drops to below 50 percent, while the goal and scoring chance differentials also see a drop. But it’s not just the team that sees a drop without Jones — Werenski himself sees his play drop off when Jones is not next to him. Given how much time they spend together it’s not a huge sample size, but Werenski’s production and overall play has taken a hit without Jones by his said, especially at the start of this season. Understandable given how good Jones is, but it’s a testament to how well the two play alongside one another and how big of a difference they can make.

The Blue Jackets are fascinating team this season because there are so many different directions they can go in. When they are fully healthy they have a chance to be a really good team because they have two top-tier players in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky at the top of the lineup, and as mentioned here, one of the best defense pairings in the league in Jones and Werenski, a duo that can eat up 25 minutes per night and dominate.

But given the contract situations with Panarin and Bobrovsky and their uncertain future in Columbus no one really knows if they will be there beyond this season — or even at the end of this season.

If everything clicks just right this will almost certainly be a playoff team, and perhaps one that could even make some noise. Or they could be big-time sellers at the deadline if they stumble and find themselves on the playoff bubble and are not confident they can keep their top two players.

We have not seem them at their best yet so far this season.

Now that they are getting Jones back we should finally be able to see what they are really capable of.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.

KHL player maintains rep, scores again from center ice (Video)

3 Comments

If you’re a goaltender in the KHL you ought to have your head up when Andrei Kuteikin is carrying the puck through the neutral zone.

You see, Kuteikin established a reputation for himself during the 2017 Gagarin Cup playoffs as a Stephen Curry type shooter. Like the Golden State Warriors star, the longtime KHL defenseman isn’t afraid to fire the puck from anywhere. Two seasons ago, he scored three times from center ice for Dynamo Moscow in the postseason.

On Monday, now with Spartak Moscow, the 34-year-old Kuteikin drilled home the eventual game winner versus his old team from way downtown.

That’s Ivan Bocharov between the pipes for Dinamo. A teammate of Kuteikin’s last season, he may not have realized who had the puck or was just feeling super confident he could stop the long-range blast before the shot skipped through his five hole.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.