Garrison (groin) cleared by Canucks

2 Comments

Yesterday we learned that Canucks defenseman Alex Edler had been cleared from injured reserve after struggling with a bulging disc in his back. At the same time we wondered when another Vancouver d-man, Jason Garrison, would be deemed healthy enough to, um, stop getting paid.

Well, ask and ye shall receive – according to The Province, Garrison (groin) has been cleared.

“I’m feeling good and skating better every day and it’s definitely progressing,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s going to be sore for a long time, so that’s something everybody deals with. It’s more with getting the strength going.”

Garrison is coming off two solid seasons in Florida that earned him a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Canucks.

Safe to say the 28-year-old late-bloomer will face a tad more scrutiny in Vancouver than with the Panthers.

Just ask Roberto Luongo.

And Keith Ballard.

And David Booth.

Blackhawks’ defense still has long way to go

AP
Leave a comment

The Chicago Blackhawks have been off to a better-than-expected start this season, especially when you consider they had Corey Crawford, arguably their most important player, for just two of their first seven games entering Sunday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That surprising start has been primarily due to Jonathan Toews‘ offensive resurgence, Alex DeBrincat‘s continued rise to stardom, and some good fortune in a bunch overtime/shootout games. They still have their flaws, particularly on their defense, and wow did a lot of those flaws get exposed on Sunday night against one of the league’s best teams.

The defense should have been viewed as the weak link on the roster heading into the season, and so far there has not been much to change that perception.

That is especially true after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Entering Sunday’s game the Blackhawks were 26th in the NHL in goals against and 25th in terms of shots allowed per game. Neither number is anywhere close to good enough, and they are almost certain to be looking even worse after Sunday’s game that saw the Lighting set an NHL record and completely overwhelm the Blackhawks in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.

At times it looked like two teams playing two completely different sports.

Just consider these two numbers: 55 and 33.

What do those numbers represent?

The former is the number of shots on goal the Blackhawks surrendered to the Lightning for the entire game, while the latter is how many they gave up in the second period alone, setting an NHL record for most shots on goal in a single period. During that second period the Lightning outshot the Blackhawks by a 33-5 margin and outscored them 3-0. It was, to say the least, the difference in the game.

It also helped show just how far the Blackhawks’ defense has to go to make them a serious contender in the meatgrinder that is the NHL’s Central Division.

It is only the ninth time since the 2010 season that a team recorded 55 shots on goal in a game that did not go to overtime.

The Blackhawks have been trending in the wrong direction defensively (both from a shots and goals perspective) for several years now as that core on defense has gotten older or moved on to new teams. Once a team that dominated opponents territorially and never let them set up shop in their end, the Blackhawks are now a team that consistently bleeds shots and scoring chances against and needs its goaltenders to be great to have a chance.

There are several problems with the unit.

First, Connor Murphy has not played a singe game this season as he recovers from a back injury. He was probably one of the team’s best defenders a year ago and has been a major loss at the start of the year.

Gustav Forsling, who has shown promise over the past two years, has also not played yet this season due to a wrist injury.

When it comes to the players that are in the lineup there just isn’t enough high end talent here.

At the top you have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both of whom were cornerstone pieces of the Blackhawks’ mini-dynasty between 2010 and 2015, but are now on the wrong side of 33 and are a fraction of what they once were (especially Seabrook). Once you get beyond them there is just a stunning lack of quality depth as they have tried to piece together a makeshift unit of various veteran free agents like Jan Rutta, Brandon Mannning, Erik Gustafsson, and Brandon Davidson.

None of them are particularly great.

Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, has shown a ton of promise this season and is already playing some big minutes and being given a major role at the age of 19. But he’s still 19, and he’s going to have some growing pains at times and he had a particularly tough time on Sunday matching up against the Lightning.

Jokiharju and 2018 first-round pick Adam Boqvist are going to be the future of that unit, and the return of a healthy Murphy at some point should help at least a little bit in the short-term.

But they are probably a few years and a lot of help around them from being where they need to be as a unit. Even with the strong start to the season the Blackhawks’ best hope to contend this season is going to be continued strong play from their forwards and the return of a healthy and productive Corey Crawford.

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.

Ducks retire Paul Kariya’s No. 9

2 Comments

Before the Anaheim Ducks played host to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night they honored the career of one of the best — and most important — players to ever wear their uniform by officially retiring Paul Kariya’s No. 9.

Kariya, the No. 4 overall pick in the 1993 draft, was the first player ever selected in the NHL draft by the franchise and quickly became the organization’s first superstar, playing nine seasons with the club between the 1994-95 and 2002-03 seasons. During his time with the Ducks he scored 300 goals and 369 assists (669 total points) in 606 games, and was a central figure in the team’s run to the 2002-03 Stanley Cup Final.

It was during that series where he was knocked out by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens. Concussions and injuries would later derail his career and ultimately lead to his early retirement following the 2009-10 season.

He is among the top-five players in Ducks history in games played, goals, assists, and total points, while his 1.10 point-per-game average with the team is first in franchise history.

After playing for the Ducks he also spent time with the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, finishing his Hall of Fame career with 402 goals and 989 points in 989 games.

His number is now in the rafters in Anaheim next to his longtime linemate and teammate, Teemu Selanne.

Prior to Sunday’s game all of the current Ducks players wore jerseys with the No. 9 on the back.

You can see highlights of the jersey retirement ceremony in the video above.

Later this season the Ducks will also retire Scott Niedermayer’s No. 27.

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.

Maple Leafs looking for their ‘mojo’ after back-to-back losses

Associated Press
4 Comments

“We got to get our mojo back.”

The sky is far from falling in Toronto, but Mike Babcock knows the secret of his Maple Leafs is finally out.

The Leafs dropped their second straight game for the first time this season on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

That loss followed a 3-0 shutout defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the week, the first time Toronto’s dominant offense had been blanked this season.

There have been a few firsts over the past two games, but perhaps for every team in the league, there’s finally a blueprint out there on how to find success against Toronto.

The Leafs have constructed high-danger chance after high-danger chance since the start of the season (they’re third in the NHL with 92 of them) but over the past two games, they haven’t converted on any of them.

Toronto generated 20 high-danger opportunities over the two games but just couldn’t sort pucks into the back of the net in those contests.

Since getting zero goals off 20 chances over their first two games, Toronto had been on a tear, converting 10 goals off chances over their next five games in five-on-five scenarios.

In simpler speak, the likes of Auston Matthews and Co. haven’t been scoring at the same rates they were before their mini-slump here. The well has run dry when playing five-on-five right now and it’s been detrimental to Toronto’s success.

Babcock said after Saturday’s game that his team is finding out it’s hard to score in the NHL. And team’s adjust.

The better you are, the bigger the bullseye when another team takes the ice across from you. And the book on the Maple Leafs is that they’re fast, they transition well and they work well in space.

“The last couple nights, [we] haven’t won enough battles and races. You don’t feel very good about what’s going on,” Babcock told TSN on Sunday. “You have to get back to work, [and hopefully] let your ups be longer than your downs.”

Clog those lanes, play a little tighter and bog the game down seems to be doing the trick over the past two games.

Toronto’s schedule doesn’t get much easier with back-to-back games against the Winnipeg Jets in a home-and-home mini-series next week. The Jets won their second straight game for the first time this season and are beginning to find scoring from all four of their lines.

Winnipeg is a big and bruising team that can frustrate opposing offenses. Quickly righting the ship will be a stiff challenge in the coming days.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kings hold closed-door meeting after latest embarrassing loss

Associated Press
10 Comments

This isn’t quite the start the Los Angeles Kings were hoping for.

A crummy record out the gate (2-5-1) was exacerbated further by an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres in their own backyard on Saturday — their fourth straight loss.

Seemingly a breaking point, the Kings held a 20-minute closed-door meeting after the game (general manager Rob Blake included) to try and get a handle on why they’ve been so lousy.

The problems in L.A.? Well, they run deep.

Ilya Kovalchuk‘s addition to the lineup over the summer and the return of Jeff Carter after missing most of last season hasn’t translated into higher numbers on the Kings’ side of the jumbotron so far.

L.A. sits 29th in the league in goals-for with 15, keeping company with fellow Pacific Division misfits in the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes, who sit below them.

Stopping pucks has been an issue, too. The Kings have allowed 28 goals in eight games so far, fourth-most in the league. Jonathan Quick‘s layoff due to injury didn’t help matters, but consider that the Kings allowed the fewest goals of any of the 31 NHL teams last season.

You can add in the fact that Los Angeles is in the bottom third in the league in terms of power play (10.7 percent) and penalty kill (71.4 percent).

It’s not good enough.

“We’ve accepted being OK and it’s not OK . It’s not working,” defenseman Jake Muzzin told the Los Angeles Times. “It would be a long year, and guys would be moved if this continues. It’s not what we want, so we’ve got to take a look in the mirror and turn this ship around.”

If the Kings were losing to top teams, that would be one thing (and they played the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost that game, so there’s that). But some of their losses have come against teams that were supposed to be disasters this season.

– 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators
– 7-2 loss to the New York Islanders
– 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres

That’s four goals in three games against opponents they should, at the very least, put up a fight against.

Add in the 4-1 loss against Toronto and they’ve been outscored 21-5 during their losing streak.

Kings head coach John Stevens doesn’t have the answers, either.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have an answer at this second,” Stevens said after the game. “I thought after the way we played the other night we’d have come and ripped the doors off the hinges tonight. We have great fans here, and guys love playing at home because of the support we get at home here. I don’t have an answer right now.”

Where’s the fight back?

“It’s missing,” Stevens said.

Stevens might want to sort that out soon. His job could be on the line. But while he has a job to do, so do the guys on the ice.

Anze Kopitar had 92 points last season. He has two goals in seven games thus far.

Adrian Kempe has a single goal.

Tanner Pearson has an assist.

Quick has a .793 and .840 save percentage in his two games since returning from injury, respectively.

Score more, defend better and stop more pucks — the Kings simply need to be better.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck