The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Olympic odds, Russia’s defense, King Henrik’s new deal, Fire Cappy? and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I just got Bovada’s latest odds to win Olympic gold. Here’s how they look:

Canada 2/1
Russia 9/4
Sweden 5/1
USA 11/2
Czech Republic 10/1
Finland 12/1
Switzerland 25/1
Slovakia 33/1
Norway 200/1
Latvia 400/1
Austria 900/1
Slovenia 900/1

No huge surprises, though it’s interesting that Russia was the favorite in July, and now Canada is. Personally I’d drop Russia even further down, below Sweden and USA. I know Russia’s got a ridiculously talented group of forwards, but I just can’t get past the candidates on defense, of whom a player by the name of Eugene Ryasensky is apparently one. I suppose it’s possible they could gain an advantage playing at home in Sochi. On the other hand, I could just as easily see them choking under the pressure, as a very unhappy, and possibly shirtless, Vladimir Putin watches on.

Mike Halford: Yeah, that defense. And it’s not like they’ll be able to hide their bottom guys. The Olympics is a bit different than the NHL. “Canada’s fourth line hops over the boards for a rare shift…let’s see what Matt Duchene, Patrick Marleau and Corey Perry can do.” The thing with Russia is you can get caught up playing fantasy hockey with its forwards and, in turn, overlook its glaring roster flaws. Like, yes, Russia could ice a top line of Malkin-Datsyuk-Ovechkin…which it would need, because Anton Volchenkov is anchoring (quite literally) the D. That’s why I really like the Swedes’ chances. They have three of the NHL’s top-10 defenseman scorers — Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and Kronwall — plus the likes of Brodin, Edler, Hedman, Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Ericsson. I’d argue only Canada has superior blue-line depth, and even then it’s close. But enough about the favorites. One country always seems to surprise at the Olympics — Slovakia in ’10, Belarus in ’02, and I seem to remember the United States playing well in ’80 — so, who’s your dark-horse pick? Are we all overlooking Slovenia, Jason? ARE WE?

JB: I think a lot of people would answer Switzlerland to this question, so I won’t. No disrespect to the Swiss, who won silver at the 2013 Worlds and nearly beat Canada in 2010. They’re like the international version of the 2003 Minnesota Wild. I just don’t want to pick the same dark horse everyone else is picking. For that reason, I think I’ll go with Austria. Not to win a medal, but I could see them pulling an upset and reaching the quarterfinals. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are pretty talented players, and I assume their goalies have all the necessary equipment — glove, blocker, chest protector, etc. Oh, and let’s not forget that Austria won gold at the 1927 European championships. So this is a team with a history of success at big tournaments.

source: APMH: How they beat Belgium that year, I’ll never know. I see you mentioned Grabner and Vanek, so congrats are in order — you wrote about the Islanders without questioning Jack Capuano’s job security. Why do you hate Jack Capuano so much, Jason? Is it his hair? His wardrobe? His charming Rhode Island accent? I just don’t get why you’re constantly writing about his potential firing. Is it because New York has lost seven straight and sits last in the Metropolitan Division, seven points back of a playoff spot? Oh, wait, I get it now. I guess I just feel bad for Capuano, who lest we forget isn’t far removed from helping the Isles snap a five-season playoff drought, for which he finished fifth in the Jack Adams voting. I fail to see how this year’s flawed team — terrible goaltending, no Streit/Visnovsky, etc. — lands at his feet, but I guess that’s the business. Garth Snow might have immense loyalty to Cappy but, as the old saying goes, you can’t fire the players, you can only trade them to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.

JB: You make it sound like I’ve been pushing for his firing. Not true. I feel for the guy, too. I’m simply wondering where Snow’s breaking point exists. It took a 10-game winless streak for Scott Gordon to get canned in 2010, and the Isles could easily get to that point with their upcoming road trip through St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, and Phoenix. I agree, the team has flaws — significant ones, and those fall on management and ownership — but that doesn’t mean Capuano should escape responsibility. Otherwise, why not just prop up a mannequin, or one of those water-drinking toy birds, behind the bench and call it coach? Actually, I wonder if the Isles might consider that. If there’s one NHL team that loves to save a buck, it’s the Isles. And I bet the water-drinking bird would work cheap, unless it has a really good agent. Anyway, maybe it’ll be good for the Isles to get out on the road, even if it’s to play five of the top teams in the league. At least there won’t be any “Fire Cappy” or “Snow Must Go” chants for a little while.

MH: Funny you mention the financial limitations the Islanders face, because they were only accentuated by their hated rivals, the Rangers, who just dropped nearly $60 million to retain Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a lot of scratch, but I guess when you’re negotiating with the NHL’s most consistent goalie over the last eight years, you gotta pay that man his money. The goalie market is blowing my mind a little bit right now. Lundqvist, Rask, Rinne, Quick and Luongo are all on mega-deals, to the point where the contracts for Price, Smith and Howard — which are all six years and worth at least $31 million — seem conservative. At this point, I don’t know whether a guy like Ryan Miller is in a good position or a bad one. He could capitalize on the “good goalies get paid” trend, but where? So many teams have locked into their guys, it’s not like he’s going to have his choice of places to play. Same goes for other pending UFA goalies like Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak and Tim Thomas.

source: Getty ImagesJB: The Rangers were always going to pay Lundqvist. He’s arguably the best goalie in the world, and you don’t let a player like that walk away. Especially if you’re one of the league’s financial powerhouses. And especially when he’s so handsome. Wait, what? But you’re right, the goalie market is fascinating. For GMs, it’s a question of paying for certainty with a proven veteran, or rolling the dice on a youngster or reclamation project. Personally I’d be wary of giving a goalie a lengthy contract. Look at what happened in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo. Look at Pekka Rinne’s health issues. Not to mention, so much of goaltending is mental, and a goalie’s mind can be a fragile thing. They’re a bit like golfers and NFL kickers in that way — one day they look amazing, the next you wonder if they can tie their shoes. Yet having said all that, if a team doesn’t get good goaltending, it’s pretty much finished, so I fully understand the desire to get the good ones locked up. Do you get the feeling I’d be a very indecisive general manager?

MH: Yes, but I don’t think you have to worry about it.

Pens’ Justin Schultz out four months with fractured leg

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be without Justin Schultz for a while.

Schultz underwent successful surgery on Sunday to repair a fracture in his lower left leg, according to the team. Schultz was injured on Saturday night in a game against the Montreal Canadiens after falling awkwardly on his leg.

He’s expected to miss four months, pegging his return in the middle of February at the earliest.

Fair warning: the video isn’t for the faint of heart.

Schultz had been producing at a point-per-game rate before getting injured, with four assists in Pittsburgh’s first four games. That was good for second on the team in terms of defensemen scoring behind Kris Letang while averaging over 17 minutes during his first three games.

It goes without saying, but it’s a big blow to the Penguins’ back end.

With Schultz out, the Penguins are going to be looking for players to step up, including his partner Jack Johnson, who signed a five-year deal with the club this summer. Johnson has yet to produce a point so far this season. Olli Maatta is also another candidate that needs to jumpstart his season in a hurry. Maatta has already been a healthy scratch this season, and like Johnson, has yet to put up a point.

The Penguins started the season with Maatta and Johnson together so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them give that a go again.

The injury will also mean more time for rookie Juuso Riikola and Jamie Oleksiak, who could be paired together going forward. Both players have spent time in and out of the lineup early on. Riikola could stand to benefit most from Schultz’s absence, so there’s a big opportunity there for him to grab some extra minutes.

Schultz was the second man over the boards on the power play after Letang. Perhaps Riikola gets a look there as well.

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

What’s behind Hurricanes’ early-season success?

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The Carolina Hurricanes are off to a mighty fine start, eh?

A 4-1-1 record, with their lone regulation loss coming against the Winnipeg Jets in a game they thoroughly dominated but lost on a late third-period hiccup. The Hurricanes have been a pleasant surprise in the NHL in the infancy of the 2018-19 season.

As PHT’s Adam Gretz pointed out last week, the team is young, fun and worth watching.

They are all three of those things, and they’re doing so in such dominant fashion thus far. Case and point: Over the past two games, Carolina has logged a whopping 100 shots on goal. They peppered Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild into submission on Saturday night, finally winning the game in overtime on sheer volume alone on their 57th shot.

On Sunday night in Winnipeg, a team playing the second game of a back-to-back put up 43 more against a team that’s touted as a Stanley Cup contender. The Hurricanes enjoyed 61 percent of the possession in the game, producing 34 scoring chances, with 14 of those being of the high-danger variety.

Their loss on vs. the Jets was bad luck more than anything. Winnipeg didn’t deserve to win the game. The Hurricanes didn’t deserve to lose.

And while the ‘L’ might be a sobering reminder that life isn’t always fair in the NHL, Carolina’s play as a whole has put the league on watch.

The Hurricanes roll four lines that control the game’s shot share. Here’s a handy-dandy chart to explain:

Source: Natural Stat Trick

Carolina has been overwhelming teams thus far and it’s coming from everywhere. There’s little drop off no matter who’s on the ice.

There’s a disclaimer here and that is that the season is young. These are far from concrete numbers over the course of an 82-game season, but what they do show is how well the Hurricanes are clicking together amongst their four lines and how it’s having a direct effect on their results, even with the small sample size.

Are these numbers likely to regress? Yes.

But while they may fall closer to the earth going forward, they could get covered off if Carolina’s goaltending improves. Petr Mrazek was sensational against the Jets, and Curtis McElhinney has allowed eight goals in three starts. That’s good. But with the Hurricanes controlling so much of the offense, they’re giving up just 25 shots per game. Their team save percentage is sitting at .886 through six games, which is hardly world-beating.

The return of Scott Darling at some point could help that if he’s the re-invigorated man he claimed to be over the summer. And while regression will set it at some point, league-average goaltending would go a long way into mitigating its effects.

For now, the Hurricanes sit atop the NHL in possession, tied with the San Jose Sharks. They’re sixth in goals-for percentage, which is simply the percentage of goals-for vs. goals-against, third in scoring chances for, second in high-danger chances for, which is shots that occur in the slot in front of the net, and first in high-danger goals for, meaning goals scored from those high-danger areas.

In layman’s terms: The NHL’s most exciting team is also one of its most dangerous.

And the plan is for that to continue.

“We’re going to continue to try to play like that,” said forward Jordan Staal Sunday night. “It’s been our aggressive style. Obviously, we’re a quick team and we’re trying to play that way and create turnovers. Our [defense] has been really good with good gaps and creating a lot of shots, too, to kind of create seconds. We’re going to continue to try and pepper goalies and try to get some more goals.”

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

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak’s rise to superstardom; Gritty now in costume form

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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.

William Nylander hasn’t asked for a trade nor have the Maple Leafs been shopping him. (Sportsnet)

• An inside look at the Calgary Flames’ decision between Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm at the 2013 NHL Draft. (Calgary Sun)

• Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen sported Anaheim Ducks-inspired cleats this weekend. (NHL.com)

• Can you guess who leads the NHL at 24 minutes a night? (Edmonton Journal)

David Pastrnak coming into his own as a superstar in the NHL. (Metro US)

• Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly’s failed fist bump is the NHL’s GIF of the year. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Tyler Seguin talks misconceptions about some of the NHL’s most controversial players. (SportsDay)

• Gritty is now a Halloween costume because of course he is. (NHL.com)

• NHL players come from all ends of the earth. Here’s a breakdown. (The Hockey News)

Austin Watson and his curious case. (Toronto Star)

• Ottawa Senators veterans opening their homes to the team’s future. (Ottawa Sun)

Lars Eller doesn’t believe in the Maple Leafs. (TSN.ca)

Frederik Andersen is doing something he doesn’t normally do: get off to a good start. (Toronto Star)


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

The Buzzer: Brossoit leads Jets; Palmieri’s historic double

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Three Stars

1. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets. While earning his first win as a Jet, Brossoit stopped 42 shots during a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For the fifth time in seven games, the Hurricanes fired at least 40 shots on net, but the 25-year-old netminder stood tall to help Winnipeg to their second win in three games.

2. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. Continuing his hot start to the season, Palmieri netted two goals during the Devils’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. His second period power-play goal was followed up by another tally early in the third period even the score at two. Palmieri now has six goals on the season, scoring twice in each of New Jersey’s three games this season. And per the NHL, Palmieri is the fourth NHL player to score multiple goals in three straight games to begin a season, joining Patrick Marleau (2012-13), Cy Denneny (1917-18) and Peter Stastny (1982-83).

3. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks. Miller made 29 saves, including 10 in the final period to help the Ducks to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Dating back to the end of last season, Anaheim has won its last four games Miller has started.

Highlights of the Night

Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on a 2-on-0 would result in a goal probably 99.9 percent of the time. Not this time, thanks to Petr Mrazek:

• Patrik Laine. From the circle. One-timer.

Bryan Little‘s first of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 2:09 to go to help the Jets to a victory. What a pass by Josh Morrissey:

Andrew Cogliano also picked the right time to score, breaking a 2-2 deadlock on the power play with 5:16 left in the third period:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 3, Sharks 2
Ducks 3, Blues 2
Jets 3, Hurricanes 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.