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Marc Savard and the art of taping your hockey stick

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“Take care of your sticks and they’ll take care of you.”

That’s the advice that Marc Savard stresses to viewers in his YouTube videos where he recreates how various NHL players tape their hockey sticks.

The long-time NHLer, who announced his retirement in January, is obsessed with the finer details of a tape job and was known to retape the sticks of teammates if he was displeased with how they prepared it for games.

This leap into the world of YouTube was inspired by Savard’s Jan. 23 appearance on the “31 Thoughts” podcast with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman. Savard told the story about how he would retape the sticks of former teammate Jason York. A few days later, he sent out a Tweet to his 57,000-plus followers asking if his they would want to watch a video of how he prepares his sticks.

There was plenty of interest, and “Taping Twigs with Savvy” was born.

“It’s amazing. We had no idea how this would ever go,” Savard told Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday. “Me and my wife just went upstairs in our game room one night and shot a video and 40,000 viewers later we decided to do another one. Now people are writing in what they want to see.

“It’s just kind of taken off. We’re having a lot of fun with it. We’re going to keep doing it until it runs out of steam, but right now there’s plenty more tape jobs to do so we’re looking forward to it.”

As of Friday, Savard has over 4,500 subscribers to his channel and has made eight videos featuring the tape jobs of current players like Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak and William Nylander, and ex-NHLers like Mario Lemieux and his former New York Rangers teammate Wayne Gretzky. The sticks used are from his personal collection, which were acquired during his career or through connections he still has in the hockey world. The McDavid, for example, he received from Milan Lucic and there’s an incoming John Tavares stick, thanks to Johnny Boychuk.

The increase in popularity has also earned Savard a sponsor in Howie’s Tape, who hopped onboard with the latest installment.

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The videos are simple. Savard takes the viewer through every roll of the tape job, from the knob to the shaft to the blade, and explains in detail the how and why of it all. The obsession dates back to his youth street hockey days when he would play goal. It wasn’t odd to find him in the basement painting his pads to get the right look. He’d focus on every aspect of his equipment, and eventually that attention shifted to his sticks, which continued as his hockey career took him to the NHL.

(He’s so passionate about it that he used to tape the sticks of every kid on his son’s hockey team.)

Savard has two simple rules for a great tape job:

• Keep the tape nice and tight — a phrase you’ll hear him say often — as you go around the stick. Make sure there are no crevices or wrinkles.

• When you find yourself with excess tape around the toe, trim it neatly with sharp scissors. That can make or break a tape job, he stresses.

Some of the tape jobs Savard saw up close and in person, like the Gretzky or Phil Kessel. Others are based off what he sees from watching a game on television. He picks up the finer details and is then able to recreate it as close as possible on the sticks in his collection. “I’m not always bang on but I’m definitely always very close if you ask players,” he says.

It’s not just fans who are watching. Players check out Savard’s videos as well, according to some notes he’s received since his first video hit Jan. 29. The entire process is also a family affair. His wife films each episode while his son runs the YouTube channel.

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So whose hockey stick tape job does Savard admire these days? For one, he’s a fan of Artemi Panarin’s look, which he featured in episode two. The Panarin, which is black tape along the blade and white tape on the toe, he also uses in men’s league. Then there’s Jamie Benn, whose tape job Savard likes because it’s simple, right on the middle of the blade, and Kessel’s for his candy cane look.

Which ones drive him crazy? For one, David Pastrnak’s — just look at it:

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Then there’s McDavid. “His tape job is not that bad it’s just that he continues to do the same tape job throughout the whole game, which is amazing to me how he doesn’t in-between periods to retape it because it starts peeling up at the bottom. I don’t know how he uses it, but he does it.”

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When Savard announced his retirement in January, he also announced his desire to get into coaching, with junior hockey being his preferred starting point. There weren’t many gigs available in the middle of the season, so in the meantime he’s entered the world of broadcasting having appeared on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet, Fan590 radio and he has a weekly spot on SirusXM’s The Power Play every Wednesday.

“I’m kind of going in the broadcast direction right now in hoping that something jumps up for me in the coaching area,” he said.

For now, Savard will continue answering requests and tape sticks in the fashion of current and former NHL stars. Maybe down the line he’ll get into other hockey gear-related topics, but he’s happy to share this passion with others and educate players and fans on the dos and don’ts of a fine tape job.

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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.

Nylander already showing flashes of brilliance for Maple Leafs

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After a contract holdout that extended almost until the last minute on Dec. 1, William Nylander finally signed with the Maple Leafs, yet he was unable to generate a point in his first two games back. One could almost feel the restlessness build in Toronto, but there were breakthrough moments in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Granted, there were also some breakdowns on Nylander’s part, too. Some of that is just the nature of the beast when it comes to NHL hockey, but rust is a factor, as well.

Nylander generated his first two points of 2018-19 in Tuesday’s win, both being assists.

His first didn’t seem like an assist at all, as Morgan Rielly was credited with a goal after it became clear that Dougie Hamilton was guilty of a tragicomic own-goal. Nylander’s second assist came on a brilliant pass to Patrick Marleau, who converted on what was the hockey equivalent of a layup:

Nylander might just deserve that token assist, really, as he made another brilliant pass to Marleau that did not result in a goal.

That’s some great stuff, and the Maple Leafs have the potential to be truly terrifying if Nylander, Marleau, and Nazem Kadri can make for a strong line while Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner also confound defenses at different times. We’ve seen a lot of NHL teams load up with supreme top lines, hoping that the gains would offset any losses. Toronto could score a monumental advantage over most opponents if they can really leverage this depth.

As tantalizing as those thoughts are, it’s not as though Nylander is a finished product.

The 22-year-old experienced some sloppy moments during that same game against Carolina, finishing the night with six penalty minutes. Maybe his high-sticking penalty ranks as one of those things that just happens, but Nylander essentially had to take an interference penalty out of exhaustion, as he was caught out on the ice during a shift that went too long.

After the game, Nylander acknowledged that some shifts went too long, while Mike Babcock had an interesting take on what the winger is going through.

“It’s going to take some time, let’s not get carried away,” Babcock said. “They’re all fine as long as the ice is open. As soon as it is in contact and you’ve got to get your legs going and you can get stuck out on a shift. He took a penalty the one time he got stuck out on a shift … It’s going to take some time. We’ll be patient and he has to be.”

Maple Leafs fans should be heartened by that last sentence: the team will be patient with Nylander. That’s crucial, and it’s especially promising coming from a coach who can sometimes be … hard-driving, like Babcock’s known to be.

Now, about that patience: when should the Maple Leafs expect Nylander to be at full speed?

Ignoring the potential advantages that come with skipping months of bumps and bruises by beginning his season in December instead of October, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Toronto believes that a player gets truly up-and-running about 12 days after training camp.

By the best estimates of the Leafs sports science department, it typically takes a player 12 days after training camp before his heart rate levels out during exertion.

That would put Nylander on schedule to be functioning at his peak sometime in mid-January after hitting the ground running last week and so far playing more games (three) than he’s had full practices (two) with the Leafs.

As much as any other team, the Maple Leafs have the resources to research such sports science issues, so the league should keep an eye on developments like these. If any league could see a franchise exploit “rest versus rust” for, say, gains in the playoffs, it might be someone in the NHL. Plenty of franchises lack that eye for innovation, so those who do might enjoy at least a brief edge.

The thing is, it’s human nature to fixate on mistakes like Nylander’s interference penalty, and lose sight of the big picture (his assists, and strong overall play).

Consider that, according to Natural Stat Trick’s individual rates, Nylander’s Corsi For Percentage was 61.29-percent on Tuesday, the second-best mark of any Maple Leafs player in that game (Igor Ozhiganov topped all at 65.22). Perhaps you can nitpick that a bit being that Nylander didn’t face the toughest Hurricanes competition during much of the contest, but you’d be grasping at straws.

In other words, there’s already a lot to like about Nylander three games into his latest season, even if there are signs of growing pains. He could be a boon to the Maple Leafs in his current form, and chances are, he’ll get up to game speed and shake off all the rust, possibly quite soon.

Long story short, Nylander’s showing that he’s worth the wait.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins heavy NHL odds favorite against beleaguered Blackhawks on Wednesday

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It is rare for a road team in the NHL to go as deep into minus money as the Pittsburgh Penguins are for their game against the reeling Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m ET; NBCSN), meaning a trend could be shrugged off due to small sample size.

The Penguins are -195 road favorites on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with the host Blackhawks coming back at +155, while there is a 6.0-goals total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Penguins are only 1-5 in their last six road games as a favorite of -190 or greater on the moneyline, as well as 3-7 in their last 10 road games, but are 4-1 in five road games this season against Western Conference teams.

The Blackhawks’ trends are even more abject; they have surrendered the first goal in 11 consecutive games and are also 2-6 in their last eight home games at the United Center. Chicago also played Tuesday night, losing 6-3 against the Winnipeg Jets, and is 4-16 in its last 20 games when it played the previous day.

Pittsburgh is 13-10-6 on the season, including a 6-2-2 mark over its last 10 games. The Penguins are well off of their Stanley Cup form of two seasons ago, but still have a strong first two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both Pittsburgh special teams units are in the top 10 of the NHL, with the power play ranking ninth (23.2 percent) and the penalty killing unit ranking sixth (83.5).

With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray (lower body) close to a return to health, the Penguins could have a choice between him and Casey DeSmith, who is 3-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in five starts so far in December.

Chicago is 9-18-5, including 1-9 in its last 10 games, and there is little to suggest much in the way of an immediate turnaround. Captain Jonathan Toews‘ line is one of the least proficient first lines in the NHL and the next waves of attack, which include right wing Patrick Kane, have been just ok, which is why the Blackhawks have not scored more than three goals during any of their last eight home games.

The Blackhawks are also 31st, or dead last, in power play efficiency (11.6 percent) and 28th in penalty killing (74.4 percent).

Cam Ward played in the Winnipeg game, which would suggest the Blackhawks will start goalie Corey Crawford, who is winless in his last eight starts. Crawford is 5-14-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but his rate stats improve to 2.39 and .925 on home ice, which might provide a glimmer of hope for upset-minded bettors.

The total has gone UNDER in six of Pittsburgh’s last 10 road games against the Central Division, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. The total has gone UNDER in eight of Chicago’s last 10 home games.

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.

Rangers’ Shattenkirk out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers say defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be sidelined two to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Shattenkirk left in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa. He took a check around the left shoulder and had a sling on his arm postgame.

The 29-year-old was checked out on Tuesday. General manager Jeff Gorton announced Wednesday that Shattenkirk had a separated shoulder.

Shattenkirk has one goal, seven assists and zero penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He suffered a knee injury last January that ended his season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports