Five Early Observations From The 2016 World Cup of Hockey


The 2016 World Cup of Hockey doesn’t officially begin until Saturday in Toronto, but we have had a number pre-tournament exhibition games over the past week to help the teams get some work in with one another in a game setting.

It has also given us an early look at what the teams are going to look like and how they are going to play.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the developments from these initial games.

Team USA cares about this tournament. A lot. The one thing that has stood out about the pre-tournament games is the players, at least as it relates to the United States and Canada, really seem to care about it and are taking it seriously. That intensity was on display in a pair of games this past week that did not resemble the exhibition games they were.

You can question the construction of the Team USA roster (in fact, you should question it), and there are a lot of reasons to doubt whether or not their desired style of play will actually work against teams that are more talented than them (unless they get amazing goaltending, it probably won’t). But whether it’s about winning and trying to get some sort of redemption for themselves after a disappointing showing at the 2014 Olympics, or just because they care about beating Canada and sending some sort of message to them, these guys have already bought into the style of play that the braintrust in charge of building and coaching this roster wants it to play.

If the first two pre-tournament games were played with that level of intensity, what are the real games going to look like?

Team North America looks like it can be scary good. Or at least really, really, really entertaining.

It certainly hasn’t hurt that their first two pre-tournament games were against what is probably the weakest team in the field (Europe), but the most impressive team so far has been the North American young stars team that has already scored 11 goals in two games and has played at an absolutely stunning pace.

While the United States team under John Tortorella is going to try to impose its will and inflict as much physical damage as it possibly can on its opponents, the North American team seems determined to just try and out-skate everybody.

They did exactly that in their first two games against Europe. Perhaps the most impressive thing about their goal output in the first two games is that they did it without their best player, Connor McDavid, recording a point. Don’t expect that goose egg to last next to his name much longer.

The idea of the North American and European teams has been a point of ridicule for critics of the tournament, but the reality is their creation has added a significant level of skill and entertainment to the tournament that may not have otherwise existed. A lot of these players would not have been playing in this if they were only eligible for the Team USA or Canadian rosters.

It has also been a great opportunity for Johnny Gaudreau to make a pretty big statement as he attempts to finalize a new contract with the Calgary Flames.

The Boston Bruins should probably be a little concerned about Zdeno Chara. While Team North America has looked great in its first two games, Team Europe, having been on the other side of those performances, has obviously looked like … well … kind of bad.

They just can not match the speed and skill of the North American team, and it is unlikely that is going to change when they run into any other top team in the tournament.

One player that seemed to especially struggle to keep up with the pace of the younger, faster skaters on the other side of the ice was Bruins defender Zdeno Chara.

Look, it’s only two exhibition games of a preseason tournament, so we don’t want to go overboard here. But Chara is 39 years old. He has already started to show signs of slowing down over the past year in the NHL. The Bruins, after doing almost nothing to fix a blue line that was by far the weak link of their team a season ago and significantly contributed to the team missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, are going to be relying heavily on him to still be a No. 1 defender. He just may not be able to physically play at that level anymore. That should be a pretty big point of concern with the start of the season just around the corner.

Team USA needs to just trust Max Pacioretty. At the 2014 Olympics Pacioretty was pretty much an afterthought when it came to playing time for team USA, mainly being relegated to fourth-line duty and only getting a little more than 10 minutes per game.

We’re not even into the actual tournament here and Pacioretty is already being challenged by Tortorella to show him more.

Together, it’s all a very weird approach to take with the player that has been — literally — the best the best goal scorer from your country over a five-year stretch. He has at least 30 goals in four of the past five NHL seasons, while his 154 goals are the fifth most in the entire NHL. He is tops among all American-born players and is one of only five American-born players in the top-30 of the entire league (and one of those five, Phil Kessel, is not even on the team).

Pacioretty is like any other goal scorer in hockey. He is not going to score every night, and when he doesn’t, it is easy to get frustrated with that and start picking apart other areas of his performance and concluding that you need more from him.

He is going to be streaky, and there are going to be a few cold streaks that you have to get through. Sometimes you need to be a little patient through the dry spells and wait for the inevitable hot streak where he can carry the offense. Especially when you are dealing with a roster that doesn’t really have a lot of players that are capable of putting together that type of hot streak.

Coaches and GMs around the league probably can’t wait for it to be over. At least the ones that aren’t involved in it. There have already been a handful of injuries in the tournament and more than a few scares, especially in the USA-Canada matchups, with top players like Shea Weber, Claude Giroux, and Logan Couture all taking massive hits. The Chicago Blackhawks, a team that really can’t afford to lose any forward depth, have also had a couple of players in Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa get banged up a little.

Hockey is a collision sport, and there are always going to be injuries. They are inevitable. But it still seems like it would be a little tougher to accept a potentially significant injury to a star player if it happened in a tournament game like this and not in a game for their own team and in a game that counts in the standings.

And as long as the USA and Canada try to beat each other up whenever they step on the ice together, there are probably going to be a lot of nervous coaches and GMs around the league.


Spencer Carbery hired as Capitals coach after 2 seasons as Maple Leafs assistant

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The Washington Capitals hired Spencer Carbery as their next coach, bringing back a favorite of the organization to fill the job he envisioned getting years ago.

The team announced the move, bringing Carbery back into the fold after he spent the past two seasons as an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Before that, Carbery was considered the heir apparent to veteran Capitals coach Peter Laviolette because of his time with Washington’s top minor league affiliate. Carbery coached the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears for three seasons from 2018-21 before getting his first NHL job on Sheldon Keefe’s staff with Toronto.

“Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”

Carbery, 41, went from a Capitals home-grown prospect who began with their ECHL team in South Carolina to one of the most intriguing coaching candidates in hockey. He interviewed with the San Jose Sharks for their vacancy last year and multiple others this spring.

The Capitals got him back in the role they envisioned for him before a rival team could scoop him up. They chose Carbery from a pool of candidates that also included former captain-turned-Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Halpern, Philadelphia associate coach Brad Shaw and others with more experience.

“I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team,” Carbery said. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years.”

Carbery will be tasked with trying to get Washington back into the playoffs after the end of the organization’s eight-year streak. He takes over an aging team still headlined by Alex Ovechkin, who was playoff MVP in 2018 during the first Stanley Cup run in franchise history and is now chasing Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record.

Ovechkin is 73 away from breaking the record, and from owner Ted Leonsis down to general manager Brian MacLellan, the goal is to continue contending for as long as the Russian star is under contract. Ovechkin is signed for three more seasons, making that the most likely window before the start of a rebuilding process.

Golden Knights reach second Stanley Cup Final after Game 6 win over Stars

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — William Karlsson scored two goals and had an assist as the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to their second Stanley Cup Final with a 6-0 rout over the Dallas Stars, who had extended the Western Conference Final to six games after losing the first three.

William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Michael Amadio each had a goal and an assist for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had a goal. Carrier, Marschessault and Karlsson were all part of the inaugural 2017-18 Knights season that ended in their Cup Final.

Adin Hill stopped 23 shots for his second career playoff shutout – both against the Stars. The other was 4-0 in Game 3 last Tuesday, when the Knights were already within one win of clinching the series before Dallas overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in both Games 4 and 5.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Florida will be Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Vegas led the Western Conference in the regular season with 51 wins and 111 points. The Panthers completed a four-game sweep of Carolina in the East final last Wednesday, but their 40 wins and 92 points in the regular season were the fewest among the 16 teams that began these NHL playoffs.

Instead of having to face a do-or-die Game 7 at home against the Stars, coach Bruce Cassidy and the Knights got off to another fast start and never left any doubt about the outcome of this series that included three overtime games.

It was the most lopsided playoff loss for the Stars since the franchise moved south from Minnesota before the 1993-94 season.

“You just expect more from yourself in a game like this,” said Stars forward Joe Pavelski, the 38-year-old veteran still without a Stanley Cup after 17 seasons.

The Stars got captain Jamie Benn back after his two-game suspension for a cross-check to the neck area of Vegas captain Mark Stone early in Game 3. But Benn already had a minus-2 rating without a shot after playing only 3:46 in the first period, and finished minus-2 with only one shot his 12 1/2 minutes on the ice.

Vegas led for good when Carrier scored 3:41 into the game after a puck poked from behind the net in the vicinity of three Dallas players. Carrier skated across the front of the crease and put a backhander in the net, the ninth time this postseason the Knights scored in the first five minutes of a game.

Karlsson’s power-play goal came midway through the first period made it 2-0, and after a penalty that likely had prevented him from scoring.

Nicolas Roy took a shot that deflected off Jake Oettinger’s glove and popped up in the air behind the goalie. Karlsson was charging into the crease when Stars defenseman Esa Lindell raised his stick and swatted the puck out of play, drawing a delay of game penalty.

With the man advantage, Reilly Smith took a shot from the circle to the left, which was deflected in front by Roy and then off Oettinger’s extended skate before Karlsson knocked in the rebound.

After Kolesar made it 3-0 in the first, and Marchessault scored his ninth goal in the second, Karlsson’s franchise record 10th goal for a playoff series extended the lead to 5-0 only two minutes into the third period.

Oettinger had been 3-0 when the Stars were facing elimination this postseason, including Game 7 in the second round against Seattle before stopping 64 of 68 shots the past two games against the Knights.

That was after Vegas had scored three goals on five shots in the first 7:10 to chase him from Game 3, which was the only lopsided game in the series until the finale. Two of their three regular season game went to shootouts.

Dallas was only the fifth team to force a Game 6 in an conference final or NHL semifinal after being down 0-3, and the first since the Stars lost to Detroit in a sixth game in 2008. Only two teams got to a Game 7, which both lost – the New York Islanders to Philadelphia in 1975; and the New York Rangers to Boston in 1939.

Vegas avoided a Game 7 at home against the Stars and coach Peter DeBoer, who is 7-0 in such do-or-die games, including the Seattle series finale two weeks ago. DeBoer was the Vegas coach for its only Game 7 wins – in the second round in 2020 against Vancouver and 2021 in the first round against Minnesota. But he was fired by the Golden Knights after they missed the playoffs last season for the only time in their short existence.

Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

“I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

“Drop the puck,” he said.

DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

“I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

“We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

“There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.

Sabres sign Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnston to 2-year rookie contract

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy wait by signing Ryan Johnston to a two-year, entry level contract more than a month after the defenseman completed his senior college season at Minnesota.

Johnston will report immediately to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, whose best-of-seven Eastern Conference final playoff series against Hershey is tied at 1.

From Southern California, Johnston is listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds and was selected 31st in 2019 draft.

His puck-moving skills fit Buffalo’s style of play, Johnston finished his college career with nine goals and 59 points in 143 career games, including four goals and 18 points in 40 games this year. He reached the NCAA’s Frozen Four in each of his final two seasons, with the Gophers losing in the semifinals last year, followed by a 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the championship game last month.

He also had a goal and three assists in seven games representing the U.S. team that won gold at the 2021 world junior championships.

Johnston, who turns 22 in July, had the option to wait until August when he would’ve become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with any team. Because Johnston was first-round pick, the Sabres would’ve been compensated with a 2024 second-round selection had he signed elsewhere.

Both sides are banking on the player’s age and college experience to enable Johnston to make the jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. The Sabres will still control Johnston’s rights as a restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires.