Three reasons for Ottawa’s improbable playoff berth

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The Ottawa Senators capped off their Cinderella story on Saturday, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a fairytale, to say the least.

Seven weeks ago, the idea of Ottawa playing past Apr. 11 was pure fantasy. The Sens were 10 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 17, but then proceeded to go 21-3-3 — not a typo — to surge into the postseason.

So, how did they get it done?

1: The Hamburglar

The biggest and most obvious reason is the play of Andrew Hammond, the 27-year-old undrafted goalie that took the starting reins in mid-February and proceeded to go on the run of a lifetime. Saturday’s win in Philly pushed Hammond to a remarkable 20-1-2 on the year — yes, just one regulation loss — with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Oh, and three shutouts.

“It’s unbelievable,” Ottawa center Kyle Turris said, per Yahoo. “I’ve never seen a guy come in and make an impact like that and change the season around.”

2: The coaching switch

Remember, this wasn’t a popular move at the time. The Senators took plenty of heat for turfing head coach Paul MacLean on Dec. 8; though they appeared listless at times — and had just an 11-11-5 record — MacLean was held in high regard and just two years removed from winning the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

But the switch to Dave Cameron paid dividends.

Sens GM Bryan Murray described Cameron as “a teacher,” and projected he’d mesh well with a young Senators team that MacLean often chided. The overall sense was Cameron would better relate to young players, whereas MacLean’s tell-it-like-it-is style — though entertaining — started to wear on the group.

“I thought when [MacLean] came here he was a guy that related very well to the players,” Murray explained. “He had been a player himself. He understood what it took to play in the NHL. But it seemed that kind of drifted. Maybe it’s the pressure of the business here. Maybe you guys are too tough on our people.

“But very definitely he became more demanding of some of the players, and more critical of some of the players.”

Cameron took over with 55 games left in the regular season. Since then, the Sens have gone 32-15-8.

3: The kids

This one’s in lockstep with No.2. Whereas MacLean was nervous about his roster — “I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing,” he infamously uttered just prior to his firing — Cameron embraced Ottawa’s youth and gave the kids bigger roles.

The biggest beneficiary? Mark Stone.

Stone, Ottawa’s rookie forward, has blossomed under Cameron — he scored 35 points over Ottawa’s last 31 games of the year and pushed himself into a Calder Trophy conversation that, for most of the season, had been comprised of Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad and Filip Forsberg.

As the season went along, Stone became a vital part of this team. He got decent minutes from MacLean, but nothing like what he’s received from Cameron; Stone had at least 20 minutes in four straight games from Mar. 31 to Apr. 7, and seemed to thrive with the increased workload — in Saturday’s win over Philly, he scored the opening marker and insurance tally for his 25th and 26th goals of the year.

“Stone has definitely developed into a solid player,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, per the Sun. “He just keeps raising the bar for himself and that’s what you want from a player to keep challenging yourself.

“I really think he has done that and we can’t really ask him to do much more than he has.”

To be fair, the Sens relied on more youngsters than just Stone. Fellow rookie Mike Hoffman has been great while the likes of Curtis Lazar (19 years old) Mika Zibanejad (21), Cody Ceci (21) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (22) all found increased roles under Cameron, and responded well.

Also — in the interest of fairness — credit has to go to Ottawa’s scouting department. While Ceci, Lazar and Zibanejad were first-rounders, the likes of Stone (178th overall in 2010), Hoffman (130th overall in 2009) and Pageau (96th overall in 2011) were all late-round finds.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

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.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

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.

Report: Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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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.