Babcock explains how the Red Wings have to play now

2 Comments

Those of you who enjoy the X’s and O’s of hockey will probably enjoy this MLive.com article in which Detroit coach Mike Babcock explains how the loss of puck-moving defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart has changed the look of the Red Wings.

No longer, Babcock explains, can they rely so much on stretching the ice with long passes; instead, they have to move more as a five-man unit if they want to push the play and keep control of the puck.

“We have to be closer and tighter and more available and better defensively, and sometimes it’s not very pretty, but that’s just the way it is,” Babcock said.

The key, he says, is to be able to hit the opponent’s blue line with speed, which either produces an entry while maintaining possession or a dump and chase with a good chance of retrieval.

“The game’s real simple, the more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush,” Babcock said.

“If you’re efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right once, you’re coming with speed, you don’t have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back. Dumping the puck is awful when you’re just dumping it in and changing. You spend the whole game in your own zone wearing yourself out.”

In a related story, if Babcock can help keep the Red Wings (7-4-2) in the upper echelon of the Western Conference and extend the team’s consecutive playoff appearances streak to 22, he should be right there in the coach of the year discussions.

Related: Zetterberg ‘may be as good as I’ve seen him,’ says Kronwall

Couturier’s hat trick, Hart’s 39 saves help Flyers hold on against Bruins

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s not a sustainable winning formula — getting wildly outshot — but the Philadelphia Flyers will take wins any way they can get them these days.

It certainly helps when their players are scoring hat tricks, however. And just scoring in general.

James van Riemsdyk notched his hat trick in a 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on Monday, and it was Sean Couturier’s turn with his first career hatty in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

And it helps to have Carter Hart, who has now won three of his past four starts (and has seen 35 or more shots in four of his past five).

Hart stopped 39 of the 42 pucks sent his way as the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Hart’s now responsible for two wins on the trot, something the Flyers haven’t experience since Dec. 20. Winning hasn’t come easy in the City of Brotherly love. It’s been a tough season, so silver linings are are the small victories in what appears to be a lost season.

[RELATED: NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. goes between the benches]

The Bruins were largely unlucky in the game after controlling two-thirds of the possession, creating 62 shot attempts five-on-five.

Boston had won six of their past eight coming into the game but lost 3-2 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

With David Backes made a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, Boston jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period, including the first NHL goal by Backes’ replacement, Peter Cehlarik.

The Flyers would go on to score four unanswered, with Oscar Lindblom getting the ball rolling and Couturier’s natural hat trick putting the Flyers into a 4-2 lead in the third.

Cehlarik added to his impressive debut by scoring with 56 seconds left in the game but wasn’t enough to get the Bruins to overtime.


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

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit on Coyotes on NBCSN

Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Seven games in 2019 have equated to seven straight wins for the San Jose Sharks, who own the longest active winning streak in the NHL.

The Sharks are doing so well that they’ve climbed into second place in the Pacific Divison and can take top spot if the first-place Calgary Flames lose to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sharks come into the game having played on Tuesday, with Tomas Hertl scoring a hat trick to down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

It might be time, then, for the Coyotes to capitalize.

Arizona has won three of its past four and sends Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Kuemper has won four straight starts

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Coyotes stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joonas Donskoi
Melker KarlssonBarclay GoodrowKevin Labanc

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Tim HeedJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Aaron Dell

COYOTES

Clayton KellerJordan WealChristian Fischer
Richard PanikDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza
Alex GalchenyukNick CousinsConor Garland
Lawson CrouseMario KempeJosh Archibald

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunIlya Lyubushkin
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. goes between the benches on Wednesday Night Hockey

2 Comments

One thing hockey and NASCAR have in common is speed.

Martin Truex Jr. knows a thing or two about going fast, and he saw similarities in the pace of both sports when he joined NBCSN’s broadcast of the Philadelphia Flyers and visiting Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey.

“These guys go with everything they have every single minute of the game,” Truex said. “We have to do the same. When they’re on the ice, they’re going wide-open all day, and that’s kind of how we do it.”

The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champ is gearing up for the 2019 Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 on a new team after making the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing during the offseason following five years with Furniture Row Racing.

But on Wednesday, he was between the glass in Philly with NBCSN’s Brian Boucher.

Truex watched the two teams warming up prior to puck drop. His goal?

“Just to see how close I can get to the puck without it actually hitting me would be a good start,” Truex said, smiling. “Just to see the size and the speed of these guys is going to be insane up close.”

As to who he was rooting for, the Philadelphia-area native was clear.

“Flyers all the way,” he said.

Truex got a good taste of what today’s NHL is all about: goal-scoring.

The Bruins and Flyers combined for three goals in the first period.

“I feel like this is a NASCAR race,” Truex said 15 minutes into the period. “It’s so intense. You got to be here to see it in person. TV is awesome, but when you get down here by this ice, it’s amazing what these guys are doing. NASCAR fans would say the same thing about racing all of the time.”

Truex was especially impressed by the goaltenders, who saw a combined 19 shots in the period.

MORE: 2019 NASCAR schedule on NBC and NBCSN 


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

Surging Sergachev gives loaded Lightning yet another weapon

Getty
1 Comment

The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of the rest of the NHL, it’s almost insulting, and the scary part is that we might not have seen this team at its best.

Or, at least, there’s mounting evidence that the Bolts are uncommonly well-suited if injuries or other curveballs head their way.

Such a thought comes to mind – and maybe puts a damper on trade deadline daydreaming for other teams – when you see Mikhail Sergachev starting to heat up.

Overall, it’s been a slightly disappointing season for the 20-year-old, at least as far as counting stats go. Last season, Sergachev inspired a ton of “Sergachev has x points compared to Jonathan Drouin” comments on his way to 40 points in 79 games despite averaging just 15:22 TOI. This season, those jokes have dried up (Drouin’s at 35 already), as the Russian defenseman’s been limited to 18 points.

But things are really coming around lately.

With a goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against the Stars, Sergachev now has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games. He also has six in his past seven.

That’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s remarkable just how much swagger you can see in Sergachev’s game. Consider this goal from Jan. 12, when Sergachev made a saucy fake-slapper before setting up an Ondrej Palat tally:

Sergachev is being bold, and good things are happening when he’s being bold:

Maybe just as importantly, Sergachev is clearly gaining the trust of Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Consider what he said on Jan. 12, via Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required):

“It’s night and day from last year to this year,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s funny, he pointed a lot last year and was scoring goals. But there was so much about the game he had to learn, whether it was at the defensive end, where you’re supposed to be, and he’s done a great job this year. Last year, you had to dress seven ‘D’ to manage his minutes, there’s no need to do that anymore.”

Here’s a wild assumption: maybe Cooper needed that time as much as Sergachev did?

Cooper gives off the vibe of one of the NHL’s more progressive head coaches, yet he also struggled with the risk/reward part of Drouin’s game, and a lot of coaches tend to fixate on mistakes made by young players while letting similar mistakes go when it comes to veterans.

After all, Sergachev’s possession numbers were quite impressive last season, too — to the point that it was almost a little frustrating to see the Lightning struggle against, say, the Capitals and not loosen Sergachev’s leash a bit.

Either way, there’s no denying that Sergachev is more trusted. After starting a lopsided 70.2-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2017-18, he’s down to a still-offense-leaning but more reasonable 54.3 percent this season, and he’s still a strong possession player, even relative to his talented teammates.

The Lightning should really see how far they can push things with Sergachev, actually.

With such a robust lead in the East, this should be a great opportunity for Cooper to experiment with different lineup combinations.

From a handedness perspective, it would likely irk Cooper to pair Sergachev with fellow left-handed shot Victor Hedman, but then again, would the end result still be more effective than limited, veteran RHD Dan Girardi? If RHD Anton Stralman has lost one too many steps, could Sergachev instead make for an upgrade alongside Tampa Bay’s other standout LHD, Ryan McDonagh?

Heck, would the Lightning’s already-deadly power play be even scarier if it bucked 4F/1D trends and went with Sergachev and Hedman on the top unit, instead of Sergachev on the second PP?

It’s perfectly plausible that the Lightning have already found all the correct answers in their current alignments, but what better time to experiment than now, when you have that buffer — yet you may never be in a better position to win a Stanley Cup with this core?

(After all, re-signing Brayden Point won’t be cheap, while Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s will be slated for substantial raises after 2019-20.)

Some of these factors present challenges for the Lightning, but if Sergachev’s growth and other factors tip toward Tampa Bay, this already-formidable team could be that much more terrifying.

That thought is almost as scary as trying to stop Sergachev when he’s improvising in the offensive zone.

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.