Five Q’s: Canadiens-Senators preview

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1. Can Carey Price pull it together?

Price got off to a fantastic start this season, but has been on the decline ever since. Among goaltenders that got at least eight starts in April, only two finished with worse GAA’s than Price’s 3.49. No team can get particularly far in the playoffs without good goaltending — just ask the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers — and Montreal isn’t above that. On the plus side, no playoff team scored fewer goals in the regular season than the Sens, and Price was strong against them in the regular season. Perhaps this series is just what he needs to bounce back.

2. What should we expect from Erik Karlsson?

Karlsson playing just two months after cutting his Achilles tendon was surprising, but the fact that he logged over 27 minutes in all three of his games since his return was miraculous. The Sens’ defenseman had four assists over that span. It’s worth noting that New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, who suffered a similar injury, urged Karlsson not to return so soon while another player that’s been through the same thing, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo, predicted that Karlsson would come back stronger than ever. Either way, the Senators aren’t putting any meaningful limits on his playing time and they’re a far more dangerous team now that he’s back.

3. Will Ottawa need Craig Anderson to be brilliant?

Even with the return of Karlsson, the Senators aren’t a team that can win a lot of high-scoring affairs. The Senators were an anemic 27th in the NHL when it came to goals scored per game. Still, if Anderson plays anything like he did in the regular season, that might not be an issue. He missed 18 games in the middle of the season due to a sprained ankle, but stayed strong in his return, finishing first among netminders with a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage. The wild card in all of this is goaltender Robin Lehner. The ideal for the Senators would be for the 21-year-old rookie to just observe this series from the bench, but Lehner has been great this season and if Anderson falters, he should be seen as a viable Plan B.

4. Montreal PP or Ottawa PK?

The Ottawa Senators are one of the most undisciplined teams in the NHL, but they could get away with that in the regular season because they also killed penalties better than any other team. When they play Montreal though, they might pay for those mistakes. The Canadiens have gone from one of the worst power-play teams in 2011-12 to the fifth best this season. Getting defenseman Andrei Markov back for a full season after battling knee problems was a huge boost. Markov and fellow Canadiens blueliner P.K. Subban have been two of the league’s most successful players with the man advantage.

5. Will the Sens actually get an advantage at home?

When the Senators hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 20, Senators coach Paul MacLean joked that his goal was to “take the crowd out of it” early, according to The Globe and Mail. The Senators have long struggled to keep fans of opposing loyalties out of their stadium for home games. Given the relative proximity of Montreal, you can bet there will be plenty of Habs fans invading Scotiabank Place to cheer passionately for the visitors.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Sidney Crosby makes emphatic statement in best player debate

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Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid.

That is the discussion some folks around NHL have been trying to hold regarding which one of them is the new best player in the NHL.

Well, Sidney Crosby would like to remind you that … yeah … it might still be him.

If nothing else, he has made a pretty compelling argument for himself over the past week.

Crosby scored his first two goals of the season on Tuesday night to help lead his Pittsburgh Penguins to a wild 6-5 win over McDavid and the Oilers.

It’s not that McDavid didn’t also show up in this game; because he did, scoring a goal and assisting on another. But Crosby delivered the emphatic punch in overtime when he scored one of the most ridiculous goals of the season (so far) when he completely obliterated Ryan Strome (not a defenseman! And he was tired at the end of extended shift!) and did this … with McDavid standing right next to it all.

My goodness.

This has been a fascinating week for Crosby as it relates to the “best player” debate, because his past two games have come against Toronto (Matthews) and Edmonton (McDavid) and he spent an awful lot of ice-time going head-to-head against both of them.

For the most part, he completely dominated them.

On Thursday night in Toronto he spent eight minutes of even-strength ice-time going against Matthews (more than any other Toronto forward).

Not only did Matthews fail to record a point or a shot, the Maple Leafs as a team didn’t even get a shot on goal during those minutes.

Over the two games total Crosby spent more than 20 minutes of even-strength ice-time going head-to-head against McDavid and Matthews. During those minutes the Penguins scored the only goal (Crosby’s overtime winner on Tuesday) and controlled more than 65 percent of the shot attempts.

At this point Sidney Crosby has entered the “latter day Steve Yzerman” phase of his career.

When Yzerman was a young player in Detroit he was such a monster offensively that if he played in any other era that didn’t have Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux playing at the exact same time he probably would have been regarded as the best offensive player in the league.

He was incredible.

Then around the time he hit his 30th birthday the offense started to drop off. It was — and still is — often times looked at as him sacrificing offense to improve his defense for the betterment of the team; but the more likely explanation is that he just got a little older and simply was not capable of scoring 120 points anymore.

So his game evolved and he became a ferocious two-way player that could take over games in other ways.

This is where Sidney Crosby is now.

He is in his age 31 season, and as such he is simply not going to be the offensive force he was when he was 24 or 25. He is still going to be capable of doing things like he did on Tuesday night when he ruined Ryan Strome’s night and posterized him, but he is not going to be the 110-point scoring champion every year. I mean, he has been an 89-point player pretty much four years in a row, and while that is still in the top 1 percent of the entire league, it is probably not going to result in a scoring title. This is what he is as an offensive player at this point, and that is fine.

But he is going to find other ways to impact the game and dominate it even when he is not lighting up the score sheet the way he once did. That is pretty much what he did the past two games when he went against the latest two players the hockey world has attempted to elevate above him, and completely outplayed them. If your best player can go against the other team’s best player and shut them down and cancel them out, you are going to have a lot of success.

He is also still on occasion going to do things like that overtime winner on Tuesday night.

(Stats 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.

 

Sharks storm back, stun Predators with late rally

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Tuesday’s game in Nashville seemed like it could have been a potential Western Conference Final preview between the San Jose Sharks and Predators, and for 50 minutes it looked like the Predators were going to continue to assert their dominance as the elite team in the conference.

Maybe they still are and ultimately still will be, but on this particular night everything fell apart for them in the blink of an eye as they let two points slip away in the standings.

The Sharks scored three consecutive goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation, including two less than 40 seconds apart to erase a two-goal deficit, to come back for a stunning 5-4 win.

Brent Burns‘ goal with just 2:52 to play proved to be the game-winner, and it was made possible thanks to quick goals from Brendan Dillon and Joe Pavelski just a few minutes earlier to tie the game.

Burns’ goal can be seen in the video above.

Here are the two goals to tie the game.

After acquiring Erik Karlsson over the summer and re-signing Evander Kane to a long-term contract extension the Sharks, a team that was already good enough to make the second-round of the playoffs a year ago, entered the season as one of the hot picks to win the Western Conference this season and compete for the Stanley Cup.

Through their first eight games entering play on Tuesday they had been a little inconsistent but it seems they may be starting to hit their stride a little bit. The win in Nashville is their third in a row and comes on the road against one of the league’s best teams. After winning the Western Conference two years ago, then taking the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago as the NHL’s best team during the regular season, the Predators stormed out of the gate again this season with wins in seven of their first eight games, and looking particularly dominant in the process.

Tuesday’s game was a great test for both teams, and all they did was show that they are two evenly matched, great rosters that are going to have a chance to play very far into the spring.

If this game was any preview of what is to come it would be one heck of a best-of-seven series (if it happens).

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.

Bruins rookie Vaakanainen concussed by Borowiecki; Discipline coming?

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Already playing without a couple of defenders (Torey Krug, Kevan Miller) the Boston Bruins lost another one on Tuesday night when rookie Urho Vaakanainen, playing in just his second NHL game, had to leave their game against the Ottawa Senators after he was elbowed in the face by Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki during a scramble around the front of the Ottawa net.

The Bruins later announced that Vaakanainen has already been diagnosed with a concussion.

You can see the play in the video above.

He was not penalized on the play, but that is not a good look for Borowieckiy because you can clearly see him look at Vaakanainen as he skates in and deliberately raise his elbow to hit him in the head.

I get that the front of the net is a tough area, but this isn’t 1980 anymore and that type of needless play should not be looked at as “okay” just because there is a scramble.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety will almost certainly review that play and he could be be facing some discipline for it. If the NHL determines it is a play worthy of discipline that could be bad news for Borowiecki because he has been suspended once before and the player on the receiving end of his hit was injured. Those two things always factor into the punishment.

Vaakanainen was the selected by the Bruins in the first-round of the 2017 draft with the No. 18 overall pick.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Winning streaks on the line as Predators host Sharks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Pekka Rinne is on injured reserved, opening the door for Juuse Saros to take the reins as the starting goalie for the Predators. When Nashville hosts the Sharks on Tuesday, it’ll be the first time that the 23-year-old netminder will have started consecutive games in his young NHL career.

Saros has 46 starts in his career, and working with Rinne for the past couple of seasons has provided him plenty of confidence to handle an extended workload when called up.

“Juuse is very calm,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette via the Tennessean. “He’s got a great guy to sit next to him in the room in Pekka. Approaches life the same way. They lead with their work ethic.”

As the Predators look to extend their five-game winning streak, they’ll face a Sharks team have won two in a row and scored nine goals over their last two games. Logan Couture has scored four of those nine goals and is one of the bevy of weapons that head coach Peter DeBoer can deploy every night.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23rd, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiKevin Labanc
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Marcus SorensenAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay GoodrowRourke ChartierMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsFrederick Gaudreau

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

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