Risk Factors: Detroit Red Wings edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Detroit Red Wings 

1. Who steps up if Daniel Alfredsson retires?

It hardly seems like a good idea to rest your goal-scoring hopes on a 41-year-old to begin with – Alfredsson was tied for the team-lead in points last season (49) along with defenseman Niklas Kronwall – then there’s the concern over the health of Alfredsson’s back, which has kept him out of camp and predominantly off the ice. If one had to guess, at this point, it seems as though the 18-year NHL veteran has played his final game. So where does the offence come from? Obvious choices are Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but Datsyuk will start the season injured reserve nursing his shoulder injury suffered in the preseason and Zetterberg is coming off an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign (more on that below).

Detroit finished the 2013-14 season second in the league with 421 man games lost due to injury. As a result, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening were all given significant looks by the Red Wings last season. Nyquist, Tatar and Sheahan finished in the Top 10 in Wings scoring. However, the five aforementioned players are all 24 years of age and younger. As is always the case with young players, growing pains occur.

Detroit finished 16th last season in both goals-for per-game (2.65) and total goals scored (217) – only the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens finished with less total goals scored and wound up in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season. With veteran players such as David Legwand, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson not returning for 2014-15, it’ll be interesting to see whether the five youngsters can take another step forward. Otherwise Detroit’s streak of 23 consecutive seasons in the playoffs could be in serious jeopardy.

2. Finding a puck-moving defenseman

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock recently told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, “I like when we move the puck. I like when the puck gets going in a hurry. I like guys who can make good decisions and move it. We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our D, so is that the guys who’ve been here in the past? Is that someone new? I don’t know the answer for sure but I got two more opportunities to watch before we got to make decisions.”

The Wings still have Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko and Nick Jensen on their roster, but asking too much from, or relying on a young defenseman to make an immediate impact, is a recipe for disaster. The trio have a combined five NHL games played on their respective resumes.

As Khan points out in his piece, Ouellet, who leads all Red Wings in average ice time (over 24 minutes) in the preseason is the furthest along in his development.

“He’s just kind of an old-time player; he’s got great hockey sense,” Babcock said. “The sum of the parts add up greater than anything. He just thinks so good. You look at him, he’s not huge (6-1, 190), he’s not an elite skater, he’s just an elite thinker and plays right all the time.

“He just looks like a hockey player to me, looks like he’s played here 10 years.”

But before Red Wings fans go pondering the idea of placing someone like Brian Lashoff or Jakub Kindl, who despite putting up career-highs in assists (17) and points (19), was a minus-4 last season, on waivers consider that Ouellet has just four career NHL games under his belt.

Losing a veteran like Lashoff (106 NHL games) or Kindl (213 career NHL games) could be a disaster down the road should the injury bug hit. And if anyone knows how bad the injury bug can bite, it’s Detroit.

3. How will Henrik Zetterberg’s back hold up? 

One of the hardest hit by the injury bug was Zetterberg. The Wings captain was limited to just 45 games in 2013-14 due to an on-going back injury which finally needed surgery causing him to miss the final 24 regular season games and first three playoff games.

Zetterberg has had a slow start, albeit in preseason action, but even Babcock called out his top dogs this week.

“They’ve got to get going, just like everybody in exhibition. A lot of your veteran players, it takes them awhile to get going; the urgency isn’t quite there, even though they know they’ve got to be ready to go,” Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. “Our kids have won three, our big dogs 0-1. That’s all part of whether you’re engaged or not.”

Zetterberg turns 34 next week, is he on the decline? Its difficult to say that since he still managed 48 points in 45 games last season, but the key for Zetterberg will be to stay healthy. He’s only played 82 games once in his career (2011-12).

Despite being without both Zetterberg and Datsyuk for 16 of the final 24 regular season games last spring, the Red Wings still managed to cobble together a 13-8-3 record to snag the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

This season Detroit’s young stars won’t surprise anyone. If the Red Wings are going to make the playoffs, both Datsyuk and Zetterberg will need to stay healthy and contribute regularly. If not, like Babcock’s reign in Detroit, the Wings’ playoff streak could come to a screeching halt. Babcock of course is heading to the final year of his contract and says he’s not interested in negotiating once the season begins.

Interesting, or should we say concerning, times could be ahead in the Motor City.

Darcy Kuemper slams Matthew Tkachuk to ice, nearly sparks goalie fight (Video)

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You can add Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper to the lengthy list of players around the NHL that has snapped in the presence of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.

Late in the second period of the Coyotes’ 3-0 win on Saturday afternoon, Kuemper came to the defense of his teammate, defenseman Jason Demers, and slammed Tkachuk to the ice setting off a chaotic line brawl that nearly ended with a goalie fight.

It all started when Demers knocked Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau to the ice away from the play.

Gaudreau responded by skating up behind Demers and cross-checking him in the back, knocking him to the ice. While Demers was down on the ice, Gaudreau and Tkachuk each got in a little extra shot and it was at that point that Kuemper decided to enter the situation.

Once that happened, Flames goalie David Rittich stormed the length of the ice and tried to come to the defense of his teammate. The two goalies never actually fought, but they did both receive their share of penalties. Kuemper was assessed two roughing minors, while Rittich was given a two-minute penalty for leaving the crease to join an altercation.

Kuemper now has 20 penalty minutes since the start of the 2017-18 season which is by far the highest total of any goalie in the league. Rittich (now with 10) is the only other goalie with more than eight.

Tkachuk was also given four minutes for roughing, while Gaudreau received two minutes for cross-checking and Demers was assessed two for roughing.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

As for the actual game itself, it was a huge day for Kuemper as he stopped 38 shots to record the shutout and help the Coyotes improve to 12-7-2 on the season.

It is his second shutout of the season and improved his save percentage to an outstanding .937 in 14 appearances.

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.

 

Paul Bissonnette to get chance to back up lacrosse boast

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Paul Bissonnette will have a chance to back up his lacrosse boast.

Two days after tweeting that he could make a National Lacrosse League team without having ever played a game, the former NHL player signed a professional tryout Friday with the Vancouver Warriors.

”Bissonnette will be given every opportunity to make the Vancouver Warriors,” Warriors coach Chris Gill said. ”Paul talks a pretty big game. Let’s see if he can back it up and be a part of our team.”

The 34-year-old Bissonnette, now the radio color commentator for the Arizona Coyotes, played 202 NHL games with Pittsburgh and Arizona. He had seven goals, 15 assists and 340 penalty minutes in his six NHL seasons.

He’s gained notoriety more for his outspoken and often humorous tweets commenting on hockey and others sports.

Bissonnette will join the Warriors for their final week of training camp at Rogers Arena on Nov. 22 and 23.

The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 1

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.

Alex Ovechkin lights up Habs’ Drouin with huge hit

via NBC Sports Washington
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Alex Ovechkin is known for scoring goals (my personal favorite, which was nearly replicated by a Penguins prospect), but the Washington Capitals superstar is so fun to watch because he’s also perfectly willing to throw his body around for a big check. It’s one of those things that made you believe that maybe he’d wear down, yet that Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin received a painful reminder that you need to keep your head on a swivel when Ovechkin’s on the ice, as the Capitals winger leveled Drouin with a huge hit on Friday.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Drouin was shaken up almost as much by the second impact:

Drouin left immediately for the locker room, but he’s taken some shifts afterward, so he might be OK … we’ll have to see.

There’s at least some debate about the legality of the hit, for what it’s worth:

Sometimes big hits like that light a fire under teams. Maybe Ovechkin was hoping it would do so for Washington, but instead Montreal might channeled that anger into getting even on the scoreboard, as they rattled off a 4-0 lead in response, and ended up winning 5-2.

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.