More Devils injury woes: Volchenkov out with lower-body injury

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Zach Parise might be facing his old team on Sunday night, but don’t blame him if he notices a lack of familiar faces. Anton Volchenkov is the latest New Jersey Devils player to be added to the injured list with a lower-body issue, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

This comes on the heels of word that fellow blueliner Peter Harrold had an MRI and will be out “a while.”

And the team is already without Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, who didn’t even travel with the team to Minnesota. Oh yeah, Ryane Clowe and Bryce Salvador have been banged up for a while, too …

Devils head coach Peter DeBoer admits this is about as bad as things have been for him in New Jersey, injury-wise.

“I think so. I think that’s fair to say,” DeBoer said. “We’ve been fairly healthy. It seems like when it rains it pours. With Salvador out and Clowe out, and Zajac and Elias going down.The unfortunate part is a couple (injuries) aren’t even game-related. They’re either practice or pre-game ritual related.”

Those must be some dangerous rituals.

Sharks vs. Avalanche: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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The San Jose Sharks entered the season as one of the serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, but they are a team with a major concern and it nearly resulted in them losing to Vegas in Round 1. That concern is goaltender Martin Jones.

Certainly Round 1 wasn’t all bad for Jones. He was solid in Game 1 and stopped an incredible 58 of 59 shots in Game 6. In between that though, he was a disaster. Vegas chased Jones out of Games 2 and 4 and beat him six times in Game 3. One of the things that stretch also demonstrated is Sharks coach Peter DeBoer’s lack of faith in backup Aaron Dell, who struggled this season. If Dell was ever going to start in a playoff game this year, it would have been after those three ugly starts by Jones. For better or worse, the Sharks will stick with Jones.

Regardless, the Sharks deserve credit for rallying. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit against Vegas and had a Game 7 that will be discussed for years to come. With San Jose down 3-0 midway through the third period, Cody Eakin crosschecked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, resulting in a scary injury and a five-minute major to Eakin. The Sharks scored four times during that power-play en route to a 5-4 overtime victory.

Colorado’s series against Calgary was far less dramatic. Although the Flames were regarded as the heavy favorites, the Avalanche surged to get into the playoffs and weren’t slowed down by Calgary. Colorado eliminated the Flames in five games thanks to hot goaltending and two very effective scoring lines.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were everything the Avalanche could have hoped for in Round 1 while on the Flames side, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan combined to score just a single goal. Colorado has emerged as a great Cinderella story, but this is a year where there have been plenty of Cinderella stories to chose from.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Sharks: Erik Karlsson was unavailable for most of the last third of the season due to a groin injury, but he has excelled in the playoffs. He’s tied with Jaccob Slavin for the league lead in assists with nine and has averaged 27:15 minutes per game in the postseason. Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture were also major factors in Round 1. Each forward finished with six goals and eight points and both are entering Round 2 on a three-game goal scoring streak.

Avalanche: As mentioned above, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon did everything possible for Colorado in Round 1. With the exception of Game 1 where the Avalanche were shutout, the Flames simply couldn’t contain them. Rantanen had five goals and nine points in the five-game series while MacKinnon finished with three goals and eight points. In Rantanen’s case, he’s also on a four-game multi-point streak.

Struggling Players

Sharks: Gustav Nyquist was fine in the regular season after being acquired by the Sharks, but he was quiet in Round 1. He had no goals and three assists in the seven-game series and was held off the scoresheet in Games 6 and 7. They could certainly use more from him going forward, especially if Pavelski’s injury ends up sidelining him for a significant amount of time.

Avalanche: Colorado was led by its star forwards in Round 1, but in Round 2 the Avalanche will likely need more from their supporting cast. Carl Soderberg and Alexander Kerfoot each had just one assist against Calgary. There were only nine forwards in Round 1 that averaged at least 17 minutes and finished with no goals. Of them, only four are playing on teams that advanced to Round 2 and Colorado has two of those four forwards in Soderberg and Kerfoot.

Goaltending

Sharks: Martin Jones has been the Sharks’ main weakness this season, but it wasn’t always that way. He was a solid netminder for San Jose from 2015-16 through 2017-18, but he was horribly inconsistent in 2018-19 and finished with a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts. Among goaltenders who started in at least 40 games, only Jonathan Quick on the Western Conference-worst Los Angeles Kings finished with a lower save percentage.

The Sharks continued to lean on Jones though because Aaron Dell was even worse. Dell, who had been a solid backup in his previous two seasons, finished 2018-19 with a 3.17 GAA and .886 save percentage in 25 contests.

As mentioned in the intro, those goaltending woes extended into Round 1 and are something the Avalanche will need to exploit in Round 2.

Avalanche A hot goaltender can take you far in the playoffs and right now Philipp Grubauer is very hot indeed. He’s certainly had rough patches this season, but he’s also a big part of the reason the Avalanche were even able to make the playoffs. From Feb. 23 onward, he posted a 9-2-2 record, 1.44 GAA, and .956 save percentage in 14 contests.

Grubauer proved to be a big problem for Calgary in Round 1 too. The best the Flames did against him was in Game 1 when he allowed three goals on 31 shots. After that, Grubauer surrendered just seven goals over the final four contests, giving him a 1.90 GAA and .939 save percentage in five postseason starts this year.

He also had a chance to lead the Capitals at the start of the 2018 playoffs, but struggled out of the gate, resulting in Braden Holtby taking over in Game 2 and leading Washington the rest of the way. Grubauer has taken advantage of this second chance to show that he can be a strong playoff goaltender.

Special Teams

Sharks: San Jose had eight power-play goals in Round 1, but four of them came on that major penalty to Eakin. While it was a dramatic way to end the series, it has also skewed their power-play numbers. That said, the Sharks ranked sixth in the regular season with a 23.6% power-play success rate and they’re certainly capable of continuing to be very effect with the man advantage going forward. Their ability to kill penalties is a far bigger question mark. The Sharks were a mid-tier team in that regard in the regular season with an 80.8% success rate and their PK was heavily exploited by Vegas in Round 1. Of the teams that advanced, San Jose has the worst playoff penalty kill percentage at 72.4%.

Avalanche: Colorado was 5-for-25 on the power play in Round 1. Unsurprisingly, it was MacKinnon and Rantanen leading the charge there too. The duo combined for four of the five markers and MacKinnon got a point on all five power-play goals. In the regular season, the Avalanche ranked seventh on the power play with a 22% success rate. The Avalanche killed only 78.7% of their penalties in the regular season though, making them one of the worst teams in that regard. Colorado wasn’t any better in Round 1, killing 77.3% of their penalties. It’s looking like this is going to be a series where both squads will be able to frequently take advantage of their power-play opportunities.

X-Factor For Sharks

Not to be a broken record about it, but their goaltending. There’s just so much else to love about this team. They have both star power and depth up front. They have two Norris Trophy winners on defense. They have veterans loaded with playoff experience and plenty of reason to be hungry. The one element that’s potentially missing here is goaltending.

Jones doesn’t need to be great, he might not even need to be good. It’s hard to see the Sharks getting through without him being at least passable though. San Jose managed to just barely recover from Jones’ meltdown from Games 2-4. The Sharks might not be able to survive if he endures a similar slump going forward.

X-Factor For Avalanche

Everything beyond the Avalanche’s big three. Rantanen and MacKinnon couldn’t have been asked to do more in Round 1 and while Gabriel Landeskog wasn’t as effective as that duo, he certainly contributed too with a goal and four points in five games. The larger question is if the Avalanche have the offensive depth to go deeper into the playoffs. If the Sharks manage to shutdown the Avalanche’s stars, can the supporting cast step up?

The Avalanche don’t have a lot of offensive weapons beyond their big three, which made Soderberg and Kerfoot’s quiet first round all the more alarming. They ranked fourth and fifth respectively in Colorado’s forwards scoring race in the regular season. They’re also the only two forwards on the Avalanche that recorded at least 40 points outside of the big three.

The silver lining is that the Avalanche did get some secondary scoring from other sources in Round 1. Matt Nieto, who had 23 points in the regular season, scored two goals and four points in five playoff contests. After finishing 2018-19 with 27 points, Colin Wilson came up big in Game 5 with two goals and an assist.

Prediction

Sharks in 6. I think I’ve made it clear at this point that Jones gives me pause and there’s also the question of Pavelski’s status, which at the time of writing is still unknown. Even with that though, San Jose is far closer to the complete package than Colorado. I can certainly envision scenarios where the Avalanche win this series — especially in what is becoming the year of the upsets — but if you’re asking for what I believe is the most probable outcome, it would have to be San Jose advancing.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

On the defensive: Avs no-name blue liners raising their game

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DENVER (AP) — In between homework assignments this season at Massachusetts, Cale Makar brushed up on the Colorado Avalanche blue line.

The rookie defenseman studied as much film as he could of his soon-to-be teammates in order to lessen his learning curve.

His takeaway from his crash course: No one tries to take on too much.

Colorado may not have anyone up for big awards among its blue liners or even a name that casual fans might recognize. Instead, the defense relies on a strength-in-numbers approach, with everyone filling a different role.

”On championship teams, everybody has to know their role they play in order to succeed,” said Makar, whose squad starts a second-round series on Friday at San Jose after dispatching Calgary, the top seed in the West. ”They’re a very consistent ‘D-core,’ always good night in and night out.”

Tyson Barrie provides the offensive force; Nikita Zadorov, the big hits; Erik Johnson, the glue; Ian Cole, the bruise-leaving blocked shots; Samuel Girard, the flash; and Patrik Nemeth, the consistent tenacity. As for Makar, he’s the playmaker in training who made his NHL debut in Game 3 and scored a goal .

”Everyone’s playing to what they’re capable of,” Barrie said. ”We all have roles and we’re all accepting of it.”

The Avalanche held the high-scoring Flames to just 11 goals in the five-game series and shut down Johnny Gaudreau. Now, they turn their attention to Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns and the rest of the Sharks. It’s a team they went 0-3 against in the regular season and were outscored by a 14-9 margin.

But that was pre-Makar. He’s been a welcome addition since joining the team after his college hockey season concluded with a UMass loss in the Frozen Four championship game.

”Adding a guy like Cale mid-playoffs, that’s a big boost. It’s not every day you can do that,” Barrie said. ”We’re playing real solid team defense. It’s a good feeling right now.”

Typically, the Avalanche headlines center on Nathan MacKinnon and the offense. Rightfully so, with MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen among the playoff scoring leaders.

”It’s nice to have a ‘D-core’ that’s getting a little recognition because I think it’s been questioned in the past,” Barrie said. ”So we’ll take some spotlight.”

A glimpse at some of the defensemen’s achievements this season:

– Zadorov topped the team in hits for a third straight season.

– Barrie scored a career-high 59 points in the regular season, the most by an Avs defenseman since Ray Bourque had 59 in 2000-01.

– Johnson led the squad in shifts per game.

– Nemeth finished second on the squad in average short-handed ice time.

– Girard played in all 82 games and committed just three minor penalties. He could be back for the Sharks series after missing the last three games with an upper body injury.

– Cole registered a team-high 178 blocked shots.

”The old stereotypical defenseman that bangs it off the glass and out, there’s no real role for that guy in the NHL anymore,” Cole said. ”In today’s NHL, you have to be able to defend, have to be able to skate, have to be able to make plays, have to help produce offense. Everyone knows the template that we play as a team.”

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer helps keep things running smoothly in the back. He’s constantly calling out orders – ”You’ve got time.” Or ”Go up the wall with the puck.” Or even ”Watch out!”

”Just small, simple commands,” said Grubauer, who posted a 1.89 goals-against average against Calgary. ”I try to help point them into the right direction.”

To make sure he fit in seamlessly, Makar learned as much about the Avalanche as he could. The fourth overall pick in 2017 signed a three-year deal on April 14 and was instantly thrown into the playoff race.

He proved to be as speedy as advertised.

Off the ice, he’s feeling right at home, too, thanks to being taken under the wing of veteran Matt Calvert. Makar is living in his basement.

”Amazing family,” Makar said. ”It makes my days a lot easier.”

The Avs have weathered their share of trying times this season. During a particularly rough patch starting in January when the squad went 0-5-3, they were allowing an average of 4.4 goals. But down the stretch – facing must-win games when they were 8-0-2 – they allowed 1.8 goals a game.

In the Calgary series, the defense held firm in surrendering 2.2 goals.

”It’s always a growing process,” Cole said. ”You start to learn the tendencies and what guys look for in certain situations and you build that chemistry. Maybe we don’t have the flashiest numbers as far as points or whatever, but we do a lot of good things to help our team win hockey games. That’s really all that matters at this time of the year, right?”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

The Wraparound: Islanders, Hurricanes set to battle in the series of the unlikely

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Prior to the opening of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no teams had bigger odds of hoisting the trophy than a contingent of Metropolitan Division teams.

No one believed in the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ditto for the Carolina Hurricanes at the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. And despite their second place finish in the division, not many were sold on the New York Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All three of those teams were handed 30/1 tags. All three made it to Round 2. And at least one of those teams will progress to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Islanders (100/1 at the beginning of the season) will host the Hurricanes (who were 60/1 in October) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series tonight (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), the first game in 10 days for the Isles, who move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the season after playing in Nassau Coliseum in Round 1.

“I don’t think anyone gave either of these teams a whole lot of credit, and they deserve a lot of credit,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “The way they battled the second half of the year to kind of get in [the playoffs], I think resiliency is a good word for them. I think it’s going to be a great series. They’ve got some speed, they’ve got some talent, they work really hard. We need to be ready and at our best.”

The Hurricanes enter the series with far less rest after a seven-game series with the Capitals wrapped up less than 48 hours ago. It had been 10 years since the Hurricanes even sniffed the playoffs and now have a chance to reach the conference final as they did back in 2009.

“I know they’re sitting there, probably licking their chops,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’amour said. “I think we all would be the way this series went, seven games, overtimes, the grind that this series was, injuries that were racked up, and they’re just sitting there for 10 days, or I don’t know how long. I know they’re a great team, and that’s why they had a pretty easy [first] round. They know how to win, and they do it right.”

No one fired more shots on goal per game during the regular season than the Hurricanes while no one allowed fewer goals per game than the Islanders. The Isles, particularly, kept true to their regular-season form, allowing just six goals in the series against the Pens, including just one goal in each of the final three games.

Friday’s game, and the series in general pits one team that’s looking to remain on the high they experienced a couple nights ago against another than handily dispatched a team that had won two of the previous three Stanley Cups.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 1: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET. Speaking of teams no one gave much of a chance… The Avs come into this one having knocked off the Western Conference’s best Calgary Flames in five games while the San Jose Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win in dramatic (and controversial) fashion in Game 7 to advance. San Jose owned the Avs in the regular season, winning all three games they played. Not that any of that seems to matter this year. The Sharks have to contend with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, something the Flames couldn’t do as the top-line duo combined for eight goals and 17 points in the series. This means Martin Jones will need to be in Game 5 to 7 mode and not Game 2 to 4 mode where he was pulled twice and allowed six in the game he was allowed to remain in. (NBCSN; Live stream)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable


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

PHT Morning Skate: Meaning of NHL regular season; Kadri regrets cross-check

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Format not to blame for wild Round 1 upsets. (Sportsnet)

• The cascade of issues that not having a Canadian team in the playoffs creates. (Angus Reid Institute)

• Perhaps your favorite team is out and you’re looking to cheat on them with a new team. Here’s a bandwagon guide. (CBC)

• The regular season means nothing. (FiveThirtyEight)

• Torn ACL likely to mean Zach Hyman will miss the beginning of next season. (NHL.com)

• Mike Modano getting himself into eSports. (TSN)

• A timeline of the recently-ended Calgary Flames season. (Calgary Sun)

• The tragic consequences of the NHL’s science denial. (The Atlantic)

• The seve…. eight deadly sins of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Deadspin)

• The Washington Capitals’ Russian contingent heading to the World’s after their shocking playoff exit. (TSN)

Craig Smith is none too pleased with the Nashville Predators season ending in Round 1. (Tennessean)

• Game 7 controversy could have a ripple effect in the college game. (Jamestown Sun)

• Dubas not playing games after Maple Leafs tossed. (The Score)

Nazem Kadri regrets his silly cross-check. (TSN)


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