The Morning Skate: Will Vokoun, Penguins rebound vs. Bruins?

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A quick look at the Eastern Conference finals and notes from Chicago’s impressive win against L.A., including Corey Crawford’s NHL first.

Game 2: No. 4 Boston Bruins at No. 1 Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Bruins lead series, 1-0

After a surprisingly dominant performance in Game 1, the Bruins will look to take a firm grip of their Eastern Conference Final series when they meet the Penguins tonight at Consol Energy Center.

In the series opener, David Krejci scored two goals (his first two since posting a hat trick in Game 4 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series vs. the Maple Leafs), linemate Nathan Horton added another, and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout. The Penguins got nine shots on goal combined from top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team as a whole appeared unfocused and largely frustrated by the Bruins for the last two periods. The captain told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the gameplan shouldn’t change too much in Game 2: “We have to do a lot of the same things. If anything, just eliminate a couple of mistakes and make sure our focus is in the right place.”

Coach Dan Bylsma was coy in his off-day press conference yesterday when referencing his starting goaltender. Tomas Vokoun was shaky at times in Game 1, allowing three goals on 30 shots, but there is no indication that Marc-Andre Fleury (the backup since Game 5 of the first round) will step in. Vokoun won two of the three regular-season meetings vs. the Bruins.

Despite not getting a goal from a defenseman for the first time in seven games, the performance of the Bruins’ defensive unit was exceptional in Game 1. The blueline corps, already boasting depth, was bolstered by the return of veteran Andrew Ference, who logged 17:27 after missing seven games with a foot injury.

DID YOU KNOW?

Only one team, the 1944-45 Detroit Red Wings, have lost Games 1 & 2 at home in a NHL semifinal or conference final, and gone on to win the series. The Wings’ opponent that postseason was the Boston Bruins.

WHO ON EARTH IS … TUUKKA RASK?

Mention Bruins trade acquisitions from Toronto, and most people will think of the first-round draft picks that became Tyler Seguin (2010) and Dougie Hamilton (2011), in exchange for Phil Kessel. Even more valuable during the Bruins’ 2013 playoff run, however, has been #1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was acquired from Leafs Nation in 2006 for fellow goalie Andrew Raycroft. This postseason, Rask is 9-4, with a 2.06 GAA, .933 save % and his first-ever playoff shutout in the Eastern Conference Final opener.

Rask served as the Bruins’ backup to Tim Thomas in 2011, and got his “Day with the Cup” in his hometown of Savonlinna, Finland, a town best known regionally for its abundance of lakes and annual summer opera festival. The 26-year-old netminder assumed the starting gig in 2012 when Thomas decided to take a leave of absence. During the lockout, he went to the Czech Republic and suited up for eventual Extraliga champions HC Plzeň, making it a possibility that he plays for two champions in one season.

In his off-day press conference yesterday, Bruins coach Claude Julien used the words “stable” and “normal” to describe Rask, as opposed to Thomas the “battler.” Judging by the meaning of his last name in the official languages of his home country, the 6’3”, 169-lb. goalie can be characterized in other ways. Rask means “quick” in Swedish, and raskas means “heavy” in Finnish. He has done some heavy lifting this postseason.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Chicago 4, Los Angeles 2 (Blackhawks lead series, 2-0)

The Blackhawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus, and cruised to a 4-2 win over the Kings in Game 2 to take a two-games-to-none series lead. Defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick was pulled for only the second time in 47 career postseason appearances after giving up all four goals in the first 29:20 of the game. Quick had gone an NHL-record 34 straight playoff games (since April 25, 2011) without allowing more than three goals before tonight. On the other side of the ice, Corey Crawford made 29 saves to become this postseason’s first 10-game winner.

The Kings’ leading scorer, Mike Richards (10 points), was scratched after pregame warmups with an upper-body injury sustained late in Game 1 on a hit by the Blackhawks’ Dave Bolland. Richards was replaced by rookie Tyler Toffoli, who contributed with a goal and an assist in the loss.

The series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday evening, on NBCSN. The Kings are a perfect 7-0 at Staples Center this postseason, outscoring their opponents, 18-8.

Player Team

Games

Last goal

Rob Scuderi Penguins/Kings

68

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 19, 2009) w/PIT
Shawn Thornton Bruins

55

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 20, 2009)
Michal Rozsival Rangers/Coyotes/Blackhawks

45

2008 ECQF, Game 5 (April 18, 2008) w/NYR
Niklas Hjalmarsson Blackhawks

44

2010 WCQF, Game 5 (April 24, 2010)
Mark Eaton Penguins

33

2009 ECSF, Game 6 (May 11, 2009)
Jarret Stoll Kings

24

2012 WCQF, Game 5 (April 22, 2012)
Matt Cooke Penguins

23

2010 ECSF, Game 2 (May 2, 2010)
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks

22

2011 WCQF, Game 2 (April 15, 2011)

LINKS

  • Matt Cooke faces the music for his hit on Adam McQuaid [CBC]
  • Angry birds crash in series opener [Postmedia News]
  • Penguins need to control emotions, faceoffs [Globe and Mail]
  • Corey Crawford adds new role in Game 2 win [CSN Chicago]

Previewing the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Oilers have a new GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett), but as far as personnel changes go, this was a very quiet offseason.

Considering some of the blunders of the Peter Chiarelli era, there might be a feeling of “no news is good news,” although try telling that to Connor McDavid, who didn’t get much of a bright side to look on beyond hoping that Mike Smith channels his solid playoff production, rather than Smith’s more troubling body of work.

The Oilers are almost the same team as last year, although James Neal could be a nice upgrade over Milan Lucic.

Strengths: McDavid! OK, thanks for coming!

Alright, the Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe some help coming – eventually – with prospects such as Evan Bouchard.

And, hey, having the best player in the world is a pretty big strength.

Weaknesses: … And squandering McDavid’s talents almost takes talent in itself.

You know you’re weak on the wings when people are hoping that James Neal is a solution, and crossing their fingers that Alex Chiasson can approach last season’s numbers.

This team is weak on the wings, and that’s far from their only issue. Their defense doesn’t play the sort of modern game that you’d want to propel McDavid in transition, and lacks elite skill overall. Maybe Tippett can scheme this group to competence, but it’s unclear how much potential has been untapped after Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan tried their hands at the same.

Oh yeah, their goaltending duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen is a bowl of “meh,” too.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Consider this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to enter his ninth season in the NHL, and Tippett will be his ninth head coach.

The Oilers have been the definition of dysfunctional for a distressingly long period of time, and while there’s the feeling that McDavid and others are far beyond the point of being tired of losing, it’s time for some stability. That’s what Tippett represents: a steadying presence, something that must appeal to the deliberate approach Holland also seems to prefer.

That said, Edmonton’s also subject to about-faces, as that seems to be their M.O. Let’s put Tippett at a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: McDavid, Koskinen, Darnell Nurse

Number 97 would be a pick every year based on his captivating speed and skill alone. Maybe eyes are fixed on him a bit more now, though, as he’s shown signs of frustration, occasionally actually letting that be known in vague media comments. If the Oilers unravel again, will McDavid vent in an even bigger way?

Re-signing Koskinen tied a baffling bow around the Chiarelli era. Along with Smith, it’s tough to know what exactly we should expect from Koskinen. If Tippett’s system dumbs games down and makes it all a slog, that might actually set the stage for some redemption. (James Neal is another fascinating redemption story.)

The Oilers have precious few defensemen of merit, so it’s crucial for them to see Nurse take additional steps forward. Then again, he’s entering a contract year, so they also probably don’t want to break the bank for the RFA. That should make Nurse intriguing to watch.

Playoffs or Lottery: It’s tough to pick against McDavid, especially since Draisaitl and RNH give him some support. One can imagine a decent formula of McDavid + stingy defense and goaltending = grinding out wins.

Hockey teaches us time and time again that one superstar rarely is enough to mask a ton of blemishes, though. While a weak Pacific gives some hope for Edmonton sneaking in, I’d lean closer to the lottery than the playoffs with Edmonton.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Agent surprised Point, Lightning are so far apart ‘this late’

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The thought was that Mitch Marner finally signing with the Maple Leafs would set off a flurry of other big RFA signings, but that appears to only be partially true.

Much like the Winnipeg Jets with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be at an impasse with star forward Brayden Point. Point’s agent Gerry Johannson admitted as much to Sportsnet 650 on Thursday.

The interview is a mix of good and bad for anxious Lightning fans. The bad is that Johannson said more than once that the two sides aren’t very close to a new deal. On the other hand, Johannson didn’t seem to give the threat of an offer sheet much merit. He comments on both subjects around the three-minute mark, while Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston transcribed this key bit:

“We’ve been sort of ready to go since last July,” Johannson said. “It’s just I’m a little surprised we’re this far apart this late, but on the other hand every negotiation is a bit different and there’s different pressures and different circumstances and all sorts of different things.”

Johannson didn’t give much of an indication regarding whether Point preferred a longer-term contract like something Marner received, or a “bridge” deal like what Brock Boeser signed for with Vancouver.

Via Cap Friendly, the Lightning have about $8.477M in space as of this writing. That honestly feels a little bit low for a 23-year-old forward who generated 41 goals and 92 points in 79 regular-season games last season, even if you account for Point losing less money playing in a tax-friendly state like Florida.

Marner is younger, and Toronto doesn’t have that state tax edge, but you could make some very reasonable comparisons between the two players, especially since Point is a center while Marner is a winger. They’re both impact scorers, and Point may be a little bit more well-rounded, as you may believe when considering metrics such as Evolving Hockey’s RAPM even-strength comparison charts:

Of course, where the Maple Leafs have been paying premiums for Auston Matthews and John Tavares, multiple Lightning players are receiving AAVs below their perceived value, including Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman.

Combine that notion with the feeling that Point very much wants to stay with Tampa Bay – Johannson doesn’t deny that at all – and you can see why the Lightning might be almost brazen about nickel-and-diming Point.

Johannson is right in saying it’s fairly late, with less than two weeks remaining until the 2019-20 regular season starts. Yet Point’s agent himself said that a deal can get done if the will is there, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if Point and the Lightning hash something out soon. Maybe media appearances like these might even speed things up ever so slightly?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Jaromir Jagr is still scoring goals at age 47

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Jaromir Jagr can’t quit playing hockey, and we’re all better off for it.

After saying years ago he’d like to play beyond 50, Jagr can’t stay away from the ice. After returning to Rytiri Kladno, his hometown club that he owns, in 2018 after injuries ended his time with the Calgary Flames, the future Hall of Famer tried to get healthy but managed only 27 total games in a year as he helped the team get promoted from the Czech second division, which included a four-goal game.

An injury kept him out of the lineup early this season, Kladno’s first in the Czech Extraliga since 2014, but on Friday the 47-year-old (!) Jagr was back in action. Playing over 22 minutes, the fifth overall pick in the 1990 (!!) NHL Draft scored a goal during a 7-4 loss to HC Energie Karlovy Vary.

Kladno is winless through three games early in the season.

As for Jagr, the stories of his dedication to training are legendary, which makes the fact he’s playing so late in his 40s not entirely a surprise. Hockey is his life, as he told Sportnet’s Kristina Rutherford in 2015.

“The time between when I quit hockey and I die, I want it to be the shortest,” Jagr said. “It’s not going to be as exciting, that time. So as long as I can play, that’s what I’m doing. If I can play ’til I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you will still have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t want to look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to.”

Stick-tap Derek O’Brien

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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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: This was an offseason of mostly lateral moves for the Flames, exemplified by Calgary bringing in an uncertain but slightly younger goalie (Cam Talbot) for an aging and all-over-the-place netminder (Mike Smith).

The Milan LucicJames Neal trade seems like a loss for the Flames, but then again, Neal just didn’t fit for Calgary, to the point that things bordered on awkward.

Let’s consider the Flames marginally worse. In all honesty, the biggest hits came in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were embarrassed by the Avalanche.

Strengths: When you look at the best of the best in Calgary, the Flames boast talent that can hang with just about anyone. Mark Giordano‘s been considered an uncrowned Norris Trophy defenseman for some time, and he finally sat on that throne after 2018-19. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most sublimely gifted playmakers in the NHL, and thus helps his top line usually rank among the best in the league most seasons. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t just an antagonist; like Brad Marchand, he’s also a player who annoys opponents because he’s also really good.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Flames are still a bit lacking when it comes to depth at both the forwards and defense positions. If Gaudreau’s line falters and Tkachuk’s trio cannot score, the Flames are in trouble — and there’s quite a bit of a drop from Giordano to other blueliners.

Goaltending remains a big question, too. Can Talbot form a strong tandem with David Rittich?

[MORE: Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 QuestionsTalbot the X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): For the most part, Bill Peters’ first season in Calgary was a success, although the postseason was rough, and you wonder if some blame Peters for lacking answers as Colorado mopped the floor with his Flames.

Peters’ seat warms up in part because his “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving has made a lot of big bets, and many some are wondering if Calgary should cash out. Coaches often get sent out with fired GMs, so that’s something to consider.

Overall, I’d put Peters at about a four.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Cam Talbot, Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic.

Talbot went from being a fantastic backup with the Rangers to a workhorse early on for the Oilers — to the point that Edmonton wore him out like an NFL RB who saw far too many carries. Talbot’s stature in the league plummeted, yet at 32, he’s not so old that a rebound is totally out of the question.

Tkachuk stands with a handful of high-profile RFA stars who still need new contracts. He’ll be fascinating to watch as those negotiations play out, whether we’re debating the merits of a deal soon, or watching as things drag out into the season. Either way, he’ll draw attention, especially when he has that mouthpiece dangling obnoxiously out of his maw.

Every now and then, a “change of scenery” really does work out, at least if you keep expectations in check. The Flames may end up playing to Lucic’s strengths more effectively than the Oilers, or Lucic may simply have needed a reboot. Or he’s just washed. It could be that last one.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. It seemed like a few Flames played over their heads, and Giordano’s getting up there in age at 35, so there’s a risk that Calgary lags behind the Sharks and/or Golden Knights during the regular season. Still, with the Pacific being as weak as it is, it would be a surprise if the Flames missed the postseason altogether.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.