Here’s what they’re saying about the Tampa Trap/Philly Stall

8 Comments

Some reactions from around the interweb to last night’s Flyers-Lightning fiasco…

Scott Burnside, ESPN: “Anyone who thinks having 10 guys go rigor mortis is going to happen every night, well, those same people also likely think the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the right track.

“Of course, there will now be debates about whether a penalty should be imposed for inertia. Go ahead. It will be called about as often as the so-called ‘Sean Avery penalty’ that was rushed into existence after he did his stick shimmy in front of Martin Brodeur in the playoffs.”

Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo! Puck Daddy: “While we don’t favor reactionary rule changes, we do acknowledge the necessity to occasionally close loopholes. So is it time for an NHL “shot clock” to prevent what the Flyers did last night? Last night’s first period was a car wreck; the next time we see it, we may not feel the need to ogle so intently.

“So what to do? Put a 20-second clock on teams in their own zone, mandating they skate or pass out of the zone in the time period or else face a penalty? Well, then we might have teams skating over the blue line and then back into the zone, like a wrestler breaking a referee’s count by rolling in and out of the ring. You can’t be that specific about it.

“Which is why the ‘Shot Clock’ — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — needs to be up to the discretion of the referee, rather than a ticking countdown on the scoreboard. It needs to be a matter of intent.”

Tim Wharnsby, CBC: “But can the league do anything? There is little doubt that this will be a topic at the NHL general managers meeting in Toronto on Tuesday. Maybe they can come up with a rule to make the team without the puck to engage in its forecheck a little more than the Lightning do. But unless what the Flyers did last night becomes more prevalent in games the Lightning decide to sit back, why succumb to the hasty reaction out there?”

Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star: “If the NHL is serious about increasing scoring and making a skill-based game more aesthetically appealing, it will think hard about finding a way to make it illegal. Kudos to Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette for creatively exposing one of the game’s banes.

“As Jaromir Jagr said of the game, which ended in a 2-1 Tampa overtime victory: ‘It was like a chess match.’

“Waiting for a checkmate has never been a TV-ratings smash for a reason. Minimizing the impact of coaching strategy while maximizing the exposure of the game’s highly skilled stars should be the NHL’s next move.”

Mark Spector, Sportsnet: “There are tactics that exist, however, that can pry a trap open far enough for a player to dart through with the puck. Then the pendulum swings, and a group of Tampa forwards who are standing still are apt to take a penalty on a speedy Philly puck carrier.

“Score on the resulting powerplay and you’ve got the lead, and like Tylenol for a headache, the surest way to stop your opponent from trapping is to get ahead of him on the scoreboard.

“But, either [Peter] Laviolette does not have the confidence in his team to use speed and skill to attack the trap. Or (gasp) he hasn’t game-planned a way to do it.”

Mike Halford, PHT: Hopefully there’s no knee-jerk reaction to this. Last night was a perfect storm — nationally televised game, two headstrong coaches and one guy (Pronger) who is completely comfortable being booed while in possession of the puck. Everything was in place for it to be a PR nightmare. Which it was.

Thing is, I just can’t see it happening all that often. If Tampa’s 1-3-1 was truly an impenetrable force, the Lightning would be 15-0-0 rather than 8-5-2. They also wouldn’t have lost games by scores of 7-4, 6-5, 5-1, 4-2 and 4-1.

I liken this to 2008, when the Wildcat Formation gained huge notoriety in the NFL. For a while the Wildcat was the greatest, most innovative scheme the football world had ever seen (even though it’d been used since the 90s) and it looked almost impossible to figure out.

Then it took about eight weeks for defensive coordinators to figure out how to stop it. Now ask yourself: When’s the last time you’ve seen a Wildcat Formation?

And that’s the thing — eventually, NHL coaches will figure out how to break Tampa’s 1-3-1. On that note, I leave you with this tweet from Sportsnet’s Arash Madani:

source:

Two goals, two extremes: Pastrnak beauty and Murray blunder

Leave a comment

You don’t often hear the phrase “keep your eyes on the puck.” Greg Wyshynski basically wrote a hockey book about watching how things develop away from the puck, for instance.

Tuesday presented one great highlight reel moment, and one for the bloopers, and you may note that the key figures involved either kept their eye(s) on the puck or couldn’t quite manage it.

To start, you have Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak in the moment that will probably linger in the memories of more hockey fans beyond Tuesday. After being robbed of an impressive goal thanks to an offside review early against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pastrnak made a tremendous between-the-legs move to score for Boston, and add to his gaudy goal-scoring start.

Also notice that Pastrnak was able to keep his eye on the puck as it went into the net, as he gestured as such while others seemed bewildered — maybe by him being audacious enough to make that move.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray. He allowed a goal he’ll undoubtedly want back against Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers, and it’s about as close to hockey’s version of “losing a baseball in the lights” as I think you’ll see:

It’s hard not to feel for Murray there, and one cannot help but feel pity for any goalie facing Pastrnak lately.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

NHL over/under: How many goals will Pastrnak, Neal finish with?

Getty
1 Comment

Entering play on Tuesday night David Pastrnak (Boston) and James Neal (Edmonton) sit on top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard with nine goals each. They have been two of the hottest players in the league to start the season and are in action on Tuesday looking to increase their lead.

Pastrnak’s climb to the top isn’t all that surprising given how good he has been the past few years. He is coming off of his third consecutive 30-goal season and is part of one the league’s top lines alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He scored 38 goals in just 66 games last season, a pace that would have had him pushing the 50-goal mark had he stayed healthy. Including his start this season, he has scored 52 goals in his last 82 regular season games played dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

He is simply one of the best finishers in the league and is just now entering what should be his peak years for offense.

Neal’s early success is a little more surprising.

He has always been a good goal scorer, but was coming off by far his worst season in the league in Calgary, scoring just seven goals in 63 games. He has already blown past that number this season.

With both players pacing the rest of the league so far, let’s try to project what they might be capable of for the entire season.

Let’s start with Pastrnak — As already mentioned, he has a recent track record of being a lethal goal scorer and is surrounded by two elite players in Boston. Their line is driving all of the offense in Boston right now and Pastrnak is at the center of it. He entered the season looking like a lock for at least 35 goals as long as he was able to stay healthy. Nothing he has done so far has shaken that belief. As is the case with most players on a nearly goal-per-game hot streak, he is carrying a shooting percentage well north of 30 percent, a number that is no doubt going to drop as the year goes on. Even the best players don’t shoot above 20 percent (and even that is an outrageously high number for a full year) for a full season, while Pastrnak himself has consistently settled around the 14 percent mark.

So let’s use some simple math here: If Pastrnak maintains his current 3.38 shots per game average (he easily could) and shoots at his normal 14 percent on those shots, that would be an additional 35 goals on top of what he already has this season. That would give him 44 goals, just shy of the pace he was on last year without the injury and that seems like a pretty fair projection.

Can he hit that? Or exceed it? And can he continue to make a run at knocking Alex Ovechkin from his goal scoring throne?

What about Neal? — Everything disappeared for Neal in Calgary last season. His shot volume plummeted, his shooting percentage cratered, he seemed like a player that was just totally out of it and had seen his career wash out. But given his track record there was always a chance he could rebound, and the Oilers are the team that is benefitting from it.

He is back to averaging close to three-and-a-half shots per game (up a full shot from Calgary) and so far is riding the same shooting percentage wave that Pastrnak is in Boston. He also has the added bonus of getting to play on Edmonton’s power play (an area he has always excelled) alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That is going to help a lot, but not so much that he keeps scoring on 30 percent of his shots.

The Oilers have 72 games remaining on their schedule. With his same shot rate and career average shooting percentage that would put Neal on a 35-goal track for this season, a number that the Oilers would have almost certainly signed up for in the preseason when they made the trade.

Can he get there? Or will he exceed it?

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.

Flyers remain one of NHL’s biggest mysteries

Getty
5 Comments

General manager Chuck Fletcher spent his entire offseason overhauling the Philadelphia Flyers organization.

New coaching staff, new players, big trades, a big free agent signing, and everything else the team’s ownership was looking for when it wanted a “bias for action” in its new GM. Even with all of the changes the Flyers remained a gigantic mystery because it wasn’t entirely clear if they were actually any better than before all of the movement started. If anything, it seemed like a perfect representation of everything the Flyers have come to represent over the past decade where they have enough high-end players on the roster to make you want to buy into them, but just enough questions to give you pause in doing so because there were so many “ifs” attached to their success.

If Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere can rebound and take big steps forward as top-pairing defenders.

If Carter Hart can be a star in goal.

If Kevin Hayes is actually worth $7 million per year.

If Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun still have something left in the tank.

Usually the more “ifs” you throw at a team the worse it tends to turn out for them because pro sports is rarely kind enough for every “if” to work out in a team’s favor. Through the first seven games of the season there still isn’t much clarity on what the Flyers are. On Monday night they snapped a four-game losing streak with what was perhaps their best all-around performance of the season, completely demolishing one of the league’s best teams — the Vegas Golden Knights — in a 5-2 win to bring their record to 3-3-1, the type of record you might expect from the type of mediocre team you expect the Flyers to be. Still, there are some early signs that maybe this team has played better than its early record might indicate and that there could be some hope here.

The process has been good — And by “process” I mean there are strong signs that they are controlling games even if they are not yet turning into wins. They are third in NHL in shots on goal per game, they are allowing the fewest shots on goal, they are the NHL’s best team in both shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential at 5-on-5 (via Natural Stat Trick), and they dictating the pace of almost every game they have played. This is, at the very least, a positive sign because the most important part of scoring goals is generating shots, and the most important of preventing goals is preventing shots. It’s common sense, and if you can keep doing that over a full season the odds are going to be in your favor. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they might be a little unlucky at this point. And not to make too big of an excuse here, but their early schedule was about as brutal as it could have possibly been playing three games, in three different countries, in three different time zones (going from Switzerland, to Philadelphia, to Vancouver for a three-game Western Canadian road trip) across the stretch of one week.

Hart hasn’t been all that good (yet) — This was always the big wild card for this Flyers team. He is supposed to be the savior of the position and the one to finally stabilize the position long-term. His rookie season was extremely promising and expectations were high entering the season. Through his first five starts, he hasn’t yet found his game yet with an .890 save percentage. The fact the Flyers are still 2-2-1 in those games is kind of accomplishment. He can be better, he needs to better, and there is every reason to believe that he will be better. Once that happens, and if the Flyers are still able to play in front of him the way they have, this could be an interesting team.

Some of their top forwards have been unlucky. There are three forwards in the NHL this season that have recorded at least 24 shots on goal and failed to score — two of them (Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk) play for the Flyers. Add Jakob Voracek (two goals on 17 shots) and three of the team’s top offensive players have scored on two of their first 76 shots on goal this season. That is a shooting percentage of just 2.6 percent. All three may be on the wrong side of 30, but none of them have completely fallen off a cliff yet as players and are still capable of producing like first-liners (as they did as recently as a year ago).

Basically, everything that could have gone for the Flyers right now has gone wrong. Their travel schedule has brutal, their starting goalie and arguably their most important player has struggled, and their best forwards have been unable to find the back of the net. Through all of that they have still managed to collect points in four of their first seven games and continue to tread water.

In the end, it still leaves the Flyers right where they were when the season started — a team that has given us plenty of reason to buy into them, yet one that we still don’t fully know anything about with a lot of “ifs” following them around.

Such is life with the Flyers.

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.

Bruins place David Krejci on injured reserve

Getty Images
1 Comment

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins have placed forward David Krejci on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Krejci has missed the past two games since he was hurt in the first period of a 4-2 win over Anaheim on Oct. 14. He has one assist this season.

General manager Don Sweeney also said Tuesday the team has recalled forward Anders Bjork from Providence on an emergency basis. Bjork leads Providence of the AHL with three goals and five assists.

Boston (5-1-1) hosts Toronto (5-3-2) Tuesday night.