Bruins assistant Geoff Ward resigns, takes job in German league

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Claude Julien is in the market for a new assistant coach.

Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced Geoff Ward has resigned from his position with the team and has taken the head coaching job with the Mannheim Eagles of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany.

Ward has been an assistant coach with the Bruins since 2007 and was part of the Stanley Cup-winning team in 2011. He was responsible for working the power play in Boston and that’s been a bit of a problem there in the postseason.

Seeing him leave to take a job in Germany isn’t shocking as he’s been a head coach there before including with Iserlohn in 2006-07 before he took the Bruins job. He’s also coached in the OHL with Kitchener and Guelph and the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

There isn’t a shortage of capable people to help out behind the bench and Julien and Chiarelli will have plenty of time to find a replacement.

‘It’s just a matter of time’ for Sidney Crosby to get going offensively

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PITTSBURGH — When you think of Sidney Crosby at his absolute best, you probably think of him as more of a playmaker and puck distributor, making his wingers better and more productive and making defenders look completely helpless along the walls or below the goal line because, well, that is what he does best.

All of that has made his ability as a goal scorer probably one of his more underrated skills, and it seems easy to forget that not only has he been a dominant goal scorer throughout his career (he is 37th all-time in goals per game and fourth among active players and players that started their careers after 1995 — the beginning of the “dead puck era”) but that he has actually finished as the league’s leading goal-scorer on two different occasions, something only 24 players in league history have done (and only 11 in the post-Original Six era). In short, on top of everything else he’s a pretty darn good goal scorer, too.

But like every other great goal scorer he is not immune to the occasional drought, and he has hit one at the start of the 2018-19 season by going the first five games without finding the back of the net. While he has had his share of slower starts throughout his career, this is only the third time in 14 years that he has gone at least five games to open a season without scoring a goal, with the 2008-09 and 2015-16 seasons being the other two.

(The 2015-16 season was the year he opened the season without a point of any kind in five games and only tallied a point in nine of his first 10 games.)

Even though the chances are starting to present themselves, the results have not yet followed.

One of the big problems has been the shots that he is taking aren’t actually getting to the net, let alone in the net. Of Crosby’s 24 total shot attempts so far only 12 have actually been on goal. Small sample size that it is, that is still only 50 percent. Just for comparisons sake, over the past five years he has managed to get more than 60 percent of his total attempts on goal. Can’t score if the puck isn’t hitting the target.

In the first period of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks he had a good look in the first period only to have Bo Horvat block it, and he had a similar miss during Saturday’s overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Those near-misses have been happening to him so far this season.

“I thought he had some grade ‘A’ chances tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Tuesday night. “He had a couple of real high-quality chances. He seemed to have a few in the last couple of games. The pucks just won’t seem to go in the net for him right now. He’s too good a player to keep off the scoresheet. I think it’s a matter of time we just have to stay with it. Just like our team, I think one of the things we are trying to encourage Sid to do is shoot the puck a little more and simplify his game. He’s just too good of a player to not break out of this. We just have to stay with it, keep working through it and not get discouraged. I think once he gets that first one things will start going in for him.”

The Penguins have tried a couple of things to get him going, from shaking up his linemates and dropping Patric Hornqvist to the third line and moving Derick Brassard, a natural center, up to the wing alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel, to a sit-down chat and film study session between him and head coach Mike Sullivan.

So what did Sullivan and Crosby take out of that meeting, and what does the coach want to see?

More of what makes Crosby at his best: Working below the hashmarks, hanging on to pucks, and wearing defenders down.

“When Sid is at his very best, I think he’s the best player in the game underneath the hashmarks. He might be the best player that ever played underneath the hashmarks. He’s that good with the way he protects pucks and creates offense from below the goal line. We have high expectations when it comes to that aspect of his game, and his line’s game for that matter. He tends to thrive with players that are good in those areas.”

He continued: “Sid and I sat in my office yesterday after practice and we looked at a lot of the offensive zone stuff. He is such a student of the game, it sometimes gives you another vantage point. It’s a great learning opportunity to watch yourself in those situations. One of the things that I think came out of the conversation was just hanging onto pucks a little bit more. Sid is such a physically fit guy, he can wear players down by hanging onto pucks, and when they get tired, he doesn’t. He tends to have another gear because he’s so physically fit, and a lot of times that gives him a huge competitive advantage, so the longer he hangs on to pucks, and the longer his line hangs onto pucks, I think it’s a huge advantage for us, so we are trying to encourage all of our guys to force our opponents to have to defend us a little bit more.”

The Penguins haven’t yet found their game yet as a team, and that includes Crosby and the top line.

But Sullivan is right; Crosby is too good to get held off the scoresheet forever, and history does indicate that once he does get that first goal he probably will go on a run where he looks unstoppable. He followed up his five-game drought in 2008-09 with a three goal in four game stretch (that included nine total points) and when he finally got rolling in the second half of the 2015-16 season he helped carry the team to a championship.

We sometimes overreact to outlier performances at the start of a season because there is nothing else around them for any sort of perspective. You see a zero next to a player like Sidney Crosby’s name for a few games more games than you are used to and it seems like a big deal. And while there are definitely areas he and his linemates need to be better in, it’s also not something to be too overly concerned with.

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.

Capitals strong favorites on Wednesday Night Hockey

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Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will need to beat a division rival by a healthy margin to provide betting value on Wednesday.

The Capitals are a -300 favorite on the Wednesday NHL odds with the New York Rangers, who are on the second leg of back-to-back games, coming back at +240 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The total is set at 5.5 goals.

This is only the fourth time in the last nine seasons that the Capitals have been this deep into minus money on home ice. They are 10-3 in their last 13 games as a moneyline favorite of -250 or deeper, with six of those victories by at least two goals.

The Rangers, who are 2-4 on the season, have a quick turnaround after a 3-2 shootout win at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. New York peppered Colorado with 43 shots on goal, an encouraging sign for a team that takes an offense-by-committee approach with lines led by centers Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and Brett Howden, but it is 2-6 in its last eight games when it played the previous day.

Special teams can be a X-factor in an underdog win, but the Rangers are tied for 24th in both power-play and penalty-killing efficiency. New York are 4-16 in their last 20 away games against Metropolitan Division opponents according to the OddsShark NHL Database.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who had an extended outing on Tuesday, is 21-12-5 with a 2.66 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and four shutouts against Washington. Backup goalie Alexander Georgiev lasted fewer than nine minutes in his only career appearance against the Capitals last season, getting pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.

The Capitals, who are 2-2-1 on the season, have had three days off to freshen up and fine-tune their game since their last outing. In the here and now, Washington has scored just two goals over the course of two consecutive losses, but they are 10-4 in their last 14 regular-season home games against Metropolitan Division counterparts.

While Washington has elite forwards such as Ovechkin and his linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov, they are struggling to keep the puck out of their own net (3.8 goals against per game, 26th in the 31-team NHL). This could be the type of the game where they focus on becoming more shipshape in the defensive zone, especially since they have a long road trip with limited practice time starting next week. The Capitals come into the contest with the league’s fourth-best power-play, but share 24th spot in penalty killing with the Rangers.

Washington goalie Braden Holtby is 10-9-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and one shutout against the Rangers.

The total has gone UNDER in five of the Rangers’ last seven road games. The total has gone UNDER in four of the Capitals’ last six home games in October. The has gone UNDER in eight of the Capitals’ last 13 home games as a moneyline favorite of -250 to -500.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Senators lose prized rookie Tkachuk for one month due to torn ligament

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It seems the Ottawa Senators are not allowed to have nice things right now.

After entering the season with zero expectations due to the complete teardown of the roster over the past year, the team has actually gotten off to a better-than-expected start with a 3-2-1 record through their first six games, collecting seven out of a possible 12 points.

They have also been, perhaps even more shockingly, kind of fun to watch.

At the center of that start has been prized rookie Brady Tkachuk, the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, having already tallied three goals and three assists in his first four games.

Now he will be sidelined for at least the next month.

Senators coach Guy Boucher confirmed on Wednesday morning that Tkachuk will be out of the lineup due to a torn ligament in his leg that he suffered in Monday’s win over the Dallas Stars when he attempted to deliver a check. According to Boucher, the injury will not require surgery.

Tkachuk is an important player for the Senators not only because he was a top-five pick and should be a centerpiece for the ongoing rebuild, but also because of what he represents from an asset management perspective.

As a result of the Matt Duchene trade at the start of the 2017-18 season the Senators had the option of sending either their 2018 first-round pick or their 2019 first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche to complete the trade. It put them in a difficult position because they knew the 2018 pick was the fourth overall selection, but given the nature of the rebuild and what the roster was expected to look like this season there was always a chance the 2019 pick could be even higher.

There was an argument to be made (one that was made here) that the Senators should probably sent the 2018 pick to Colorado.

They did not, and instead opted to keep it and select Tkachuk. As of Wednesday he is third among NHL rookies in total points with six, trailing only Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson and Tkachuk’s teammate, defenseman Maxime Lajoie. Both players have played in more games than Tkachuk.

Overall it has been a tough week for the NHL’s best rookies.

Along with Tkachuk’s injury, Pettersson is also sidelined for at least the next week under the NHL’s concussion protocol after he was body-slammed to the ice by Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson over the weekend, a play that resulted in a two-game suspension from the league.

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Rangers vs. Capitals; Bruins vs. Flames

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Rangers head coach David Quinn hasn’t been shy about sending his team messages early on this season. He’s already scratched players like Kevin Shattenkirk and Pavel Buchnevich, so he won’t be shy about going head-to-head with any of his players going forward.

As many expected, the Rangers are off to a tough start. They decided to unload a lot of their veterans, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. They’re 2-4-0 coming into tonight’s clash against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. On a positive note, New York is coming off a 3-2 shootout win over the Avalanche on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, they’ll play their second of a back-to-back situation in Washington.

The biggest issue right now, is that they can’t seem to find much offense. The Rangers have found the back of the net 15 times in six games, but they’ve only scored more than two goals in regulation/overtime twice (they scored five goals in a loss to Carolina).

If there’s one thing you’ll have to do against Washington, it’s scoring. Can the Rangers keep up with the Caps’ high-flying offense?

The Capitals are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice. They’ve managed to score just twice in the last two games, but that just means that their offense is bound to erupt in the near future. One area the Capitals haven’t struggling in, is their power play. Washington has been clicking at 36.8 percent thanks to Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s four power play goals.

Kuznetsov has come out of the gate strong this season, as he’s already accumulated nine points in five games. Alex Ovechkin isn’t too far behind. He’s up to four goals and seven points in the same amount of contests. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson are also running at over a point-per-game clip.

In the late game, we’ll have the matchup between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Bruins will head into tonight’s game with the second best power play in the NHL, which is clicking at 41.7 percent. Incredible. As you’d imagine, their first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is a big reason for their success on the man-advantage, as the trio has combined for 11 power play points in just five games.

This will be the first of a four-game road trip that will take them through Western Canada (Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) before they finish off in Ottawa. None of those four teams made the playoffs last season, but they aren’t exactly easy places to play. This is going to be a tough road trip for them.

The Flames will have to be at their best to matchup against the Bruins are their top line. Thankfully for Calgary, it appears as though Sean Monahan will play. He blocked a shot on Saturday, missed Monday’s practice, but managed to return to the ice on Tuesday morning. Monahan is currently tied for third on the team in points with six in five games. His four goals in five games are tied for the team lead.

Calgary’s done a good job of finding the back of the net overall (they have 18 goals in five games), but keeping the puck out has been a different story. They’ve given up at least four goals in three of their five games. That’s a trend that can’t continue if they want to make it back to the playoffs after missing them last season.

Getting quality goaltending from veteran Mike Smith would go a long way in helping them bring their goals against down. Smith, who will start tonight, has a 2-2 record with a 3.57 goals-against-average and a .881 save percentage this season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.