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Analyzing the Blackhawks’ goaltending options

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There are lot of reasons the Chicago Blackhawks run of nine consecutive postseason appearances came to a sudden end during the 2017-18 season.

Those reasons included, but were not limited to, the fact Jonathan Toews has started to slow down offensively (don’t deny it, it’s happening) with several other core players joining him.

Marian Hossa‘s career came to an abrupt end.

The front office badly whiffed on the trade that saw them send Artemi Panarin to Columbus for a Brandon Saad reunion.

But the biggest issue was probably the fact starting goalie Corey Crawford was limited to just 27 games and none of the five — yes, five! — goalies they used in an effort to replace him where able to provide the team with anything close to adequate NHL goaltending.

The numbers speak for themselves: With Crawford in the lineup the Blackhawk were 16-9-2, a record that would have put them at a 103-point pace over 82 games. Crawford’s .929 save percentage, which was among the best in the NHL, was a significant part of that.

Without him in the lineup they were just 17-30-8, a record that would have put them on a 65-point pace over 82 games. In other words, one of the worst teams in the league. The combined .902 save percentage from Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, Jeff Glass, Collin Deila, and emergency fill-in Scott Foster (to be fair, he did stop all seven shots he faced!) contributed significantly to those struggles.

On Wednesday, Berube was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Obviously the return of a healthy Crawford will be significant factor in whether or not the Blackhawks are able to rebound in 2018-19.

The problem: Nobody really knows anything about where Crawford is in his recovery from what the team will only refer to as an “upper-body injury.” Prior to the NHL draft this past week the Blackhawks offered an update on Crawford which really wasn’t much of an update at all.

Here is general manager Stan Bowman in a conference call with reporters, via the Chicago Sun Times:

“What I said at the end of the year is still the case now. We expect Corey to be back,” Bowman said during a pre-NHL draft conference call with media. “We don’t have any reason to think that’s not going to happen.”

“All the players are preparing for next season. Corey is in that same preparation mode. … Nothing has changed.”

Bowman all said the Blackhawks expect him to be available for the start of training camp in a couple of months. Until Crawford is back on the ice and actually taking shots in the Blackhawks’ net the entire situation will remain a mystery. And even when — if? — that does happen the Blackhawks should still probably be in the market for some sort of capable backup or insurance policy, because the quintet of players they used this past season was obviously not good enough.

[Related: PHT Power Rankings: The top-20 NHL Free Agents]

The question, of course, is where they go to find that insurance policy.

Scott Powers of the Athletic reported this week that the Blackhawks have reached out to Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton and Cam Ward, while TSN’s Pierre LeBrun mentioned that Ward could be a “strong” possibility to land in Chicago on July 1.

Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score also reported that a deal may already be in the works.

The concern there if you’re a Blackhawks fan is that Ward hasn’t been very good for the better part of the past six years.

Another way of putting it is that Ward has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL.

Just consider that since the start of the 2012-13 season there have been 59 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games in the NHL.

Cam Ward’s .906 save percentage during that stretch ties him for the worst mark in the league with Mike Condon, Anders Nilsson, and Ben Scrivens.

His .913 save percentage in even-strength situations again puts him in a tie for the worst mark along with Condon.

On one hand, the argument could be made that Ward has spent almost all of that time playing behind a team that hasn’t had much success and that joining the Blackhawks might help him. But for the past few years the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams when it comes to suppressing shots against (the Blackhawks in recent years have become only mediocre in that area) and hasn’t had to face an extremely heavy work load. There is a strong argument to be made that goaltending is one of the biggest reasons the team has not had more success on the ice, with Ward being the primary goaltender for most of that run. He also is 34 years old and turns 35 in February, which isn’t exactly a prime age for goalies — especially ones that do not have a track record of consistently strong play.

The other potential free agent options are far more appealing.

On Wednesday, our Joey Alfieri argued that Robin Lehner, who was not extended a qualifying offer by the Buffalo Sabres, would make a lot of sense for the Detroit Red Wings. I would argue that he would probably be an ideal fit in Chicago. He is coming off of a down year in Buffalo — who wasn’t? — but had a lot of success in the two years prior while playing behind what has been a mostly dreadful team. He is not a star by any means but he might have the most upside of any of the free agents available.

Bernier is also an intriguing option because you know exactly what you’re going to get, and in a perfect world it is exactly what the Blackhawks might need — a solid, capable backup that can fill in for an extended period of time if Crawford’s situation remains what it is.

Among the same 59 goalie sampling mentioned above with Ward, Bernier finds himself sitting 30th and 25th in save percentage and even-strength save percentage out of that group. In other words, he is not going to steal you many games, but he probably will not lose you many games, either.

Even that would be a massive upgrade over what the Blackhawks were using in net a season ago. It would also be a far more intriguing option than a soon-to-be 35-year-old Cam Ward.

More NHL Free Agency:
• Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings agree to terms on three-year deal
• John Carlson gets $64 million payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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.

Stars’ top line firing on all cylinders, push Predators to the brink

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It would appear that the Dallas Stars have emptied the Nashville Predators’ well of ideas on how to stop them.

After three close games where Nashville walked away victors of two of them, the Predators have succumbed to a relentless forechecking team that’s clogged the neutral zone and found solid goaltending from Vezina nominee Ben Bishop.

There are just so many little things the Stars are doing right at the moment, and they now hold a 3-2 series lead after a 5-3 win against the Preds on Saturday afternoon, their second straight win in the series and second game in a row where they’ve pumped five goals into the twine.

There’s one team left in these Stanley Cup Playoffs that has yet to give up a power-play goal. That team currently has its foot on the throat of the Predators.

The Stars are 11-for-11 now on the penalty kill through five games of their Western Conference First Round series. It’s been a big boon for the Stars in a series that was tight through the first three games.

Scoring for the Predators has come at a premium in this series, and having a completely misfiring power play has made it much worse.

Nine goals against in his past two outings isn’t what you’d expect from Pekka Rinne, but that’s the reality right now as the reigning Vezina winner isn’t making the saves required. The Predators can’t handle Dallas’s forecheck when it’s going full steam ahead and Rinne is taking the brunt of it.

Nashville’s offense has fallen off a cliff, which is saying a lot for a team that wasn’t a high-scoring offense during the regular season.

Rocco Grimaldi‘s third goal of the series to give the Predators a 1-0 lead was just the sixth goal by a Nashville forward in the series up until that point.

Grimaldi has been great, but he shouldn’t be leading the team at the moment. Ryan Johansen finally picked up his first of the series later in this one. Kyle Turris, too.

Radulov’s brace to open the second period opened up a 3-1 lead. Johansen’s goal pulled the Predators back one, but Tyler Seguin snatched the two-goal cushion back before the second was over.

Dickinson’s second of the game put Dallas up 5-2 and other than Turris’ response 28 seconds after that, the Predators didn’t show their teeth much.

Jamie Benn finished with three assists and his line with Seguin and Radulov combined for seven points. Bishop made 30 saves.

Game 6 goes Monday at American Airlines Arena. The time for the game is TBD. 


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

Bishop, Lehner, Vasilevskiy are the 2019 Vezina Trophy finalists

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Awards season shifts to the crease as the three finalists for the NHL’s top netminder were unveiled on Saturday.

The nominees, voted by the league’s 31 general managers, including Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars, Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The award was first presented by Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens,1926-27 in memory Georges Vezina, who died in 1925 from tuberculosis. Prior to the 1981-82 season, the goaltender(s) of a team with the fewest number of goals allowed during the regular season was awarded the trophy.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Ben Bishop: Bishop was superb all season, leading all goalies with a .934 save percentage, finishing second in goals-against average with a 1.98 and third in shutouts with seven. Bishop came to life down the stretch, going 8-0-1 in his final 10 appearances as the Stars grabbed the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference. He had three straight shutouts during that span, setting a franchise record for longest shutout streak at 233:04. His .934 save percentage was also a franchise record and the eighth-best by any goalie in league history. Bishop was 27-15-2 in 46 games.

The case for Robin Lehner: Lehner had a turnaround season for the ages, overcoming some personal demons and switching teams from Buffalo to the New York Islanders. Lehner thrived in his move across state, posting the second-best save percentage in the league at .930, third in goals-against at 2.13 and tied for fourth with six shutouts. Lehner’s season play really shined between Dec. 18 and Jan. 10 where he won eight straight games. He, along with Thomas Greiss, formed a formidable one-two punch in the Islanders’ crease, one that ultimately helped the Isles into the postseason after losing John Tavares to free agency last summer. The Islanders went from worst in goals-against to first, a feat only done once before in NHL history. Lehner was 25-13-5 in 46 games.

The case for Andrei Vasilevskiy: Vasilevskiy posted 39 wins in 53 games and was a big reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning tied an NHL record for most wins in a season with 62. Vasilevskiy won 18 of the first 21 games he appeared in to get Tampa to the feat, including a 10-game winning streak between Feb. 9 and March 5. Vasilevskiy’s best play came after a loss. In fact, he only lost consecutive outings once all season, posting a 13-0-1 record following a defeat. He finished third last season and has a good chance to take home the hardware this year.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
• Selke Trophy
Lady Bing Trophy
Masteron Trophy


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

WATCH LIVE: Jets face elimination; Capitals, Preds look to go up at home

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Game 5: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators, 3 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
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Call: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti, AJ Mleczko
Series preview
Stream here

Game 6: Winnipeg Jets at St. Louis Blues, 7 p.m. ET (Blues lead 3-2)
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Call: Brendan Burke, Ray Ferraro
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
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Call: John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Series preview 

Stream here

Team USA women’s hockey Olympic gold medalist Hilary Knight will join NBC Sports’ Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage as a guest studio analyst this Saturday, April 20, on NBC and NBCSN. Knight will contribute to studio coverage of Jets-Blues on NBCSN and Hurricanes-Capitals on NBC.

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Rookie coaches enjoying chess match that comes in playoffs

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Rod Brind’Amour does not think what he is doing is anything special.

Brind’Amour not only has the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs in his first season as coach but has made the necessary adjustments to tie their series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at two games apiece. Along with Washington’s Todd Reirden and Jim Montgomery in Dallas, Brind’Amour is one of the rookie NHL coaches in the playoffs whose decisions are playing major roles in the first round.

Just don’t tell him that.

”The coaching thing is fun. I think it’s a little overrated,” Brind’Amour said earlier this week. ”You open the door and you say, ‘Go play.”’

Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes are playing at their peak with the chance to put the champs on the brink of elimination if they win Game 5 Saturday night in Washington (8 p.m. EDT, NBC). Carolina has already dealt with a concussion to 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov and an upper-body injury to big winger Micheal Ferland, and is expected to be without Jordan Martinook because of a lower-body injury that happened in a 2-1 Game 4 win Thursday.

The Capitals have a major injury concern of their own now after a hit from behind from Warren Foegele knocked winger T.J. Oshie out indefinitely. Devante Smith-Pelly was recalled from the minors and will go directly into the lineup. There could be more changes from Reirden after his team failed to score a 5-on-5 goal the past two games.

”That’s the game within the game,” Reirden said Friday. ”It’s up for me and our staff to decide how to fill those voids in different areas and put players in situations to succeed and if it’s not working you’ve got to also know when to stop and try something new.”

Craig Berube knew that moment had come in the middle of the St. Louis Blues’ Game 5 against the Winnipeg Jets. The interim coach who took over in November moved David Perron on to the top line in place of Brayden Schenn, and the savvy change helped the Blues come back from a two-goal deficit to win in regulation and take a 3-2 series lead going into Game 6 at home (7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN).

”Our team responded to it,” Berube said after the comeback win. ”You don’t score, you’ve got to change it up a little. It was a good time to make the change.”

Montgomery, who played with Brind’Amour for a brief time with Philadelphia in the 1990s, hasn’t had to make big-time changes but saw the Stars finally break through on the power play and find some offense in Game 4 against the Nashville Predators to tie that series. Dallas goes into Game 5 at Nashville (3 p.m. EDT, NBC) with the chance to put the Central Division champions on the ropes.

”They feel like we’re challenging them, for sure,” defenseman John Klingberg said. ”We’re giving them a tough fight.”

Montgomery instills that fight in his team after joining the ranks of college coaches to jump directly to the NHL. This isn’t the Frozen Four, where he led Denver twice and won a national title, but Montgomery is adjusting on the fly quickly in his first Stanley Cup playoffs.

”I’m like a baby learning how to walk right now,” Montgomery said. ”The downs have been like, ‘OK, how do we get better.’ The ups have been, ‘Let’s keep getting better.’ I feel we continue to get better in this series, which is a good feeling for all of us.”

Carolina has gotten better and better since allowing three goals on eight shots in the first period of Game 1. Brind’Amour credits his players, including goaltender Petr Mrazek for some timely saves, but he clearly made some tactical switches to turn the series around – even if he won’t say what.

”Can’t tell you that,” Brind’Amour said with a laugh. ”I think it’s just wet got to our game a little better.”

And there’s Brind’Amour, again, sounding like the veteran coach he already looks like.

BATTLE OF ATTRITION

Injuries played a role in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ shocking sweep of Tampa Bay, and they could tip the balance for Nashville-Dallas, too.

The Predators have been without forward Brian Boyle since Game 1 after an appendectomy, and forward Wayne Simmonds has been out since taking a one-timer from Roman Josi off the inside of his left knee. They’re considered week-to-week, but Boyle and Simmonds skated with the team Friday.

”I had my appendix out when I was in high school, you’re literally out for months and months,” Laviolette said. ”That was a long time ago. Now it’s somebody being able to be back and playing in less than a week is unbelievable. So he looked really good out there today. Wayne the same thing. When it first happened, we were thinking it might be that long and it’s never an exact science. But they’re both out there and they look good.”

Dallas could have forward Mattias Janmark back in the lineup after a lower-body injury caused him to miss the past two games.

The Capitals know they won’t have Oshie for a while. And while Brind’Amour quipped after Game 4 that the Hurricanes are dealing with more injuries, Oshie’s absence will take a chunk out of Washington.

”He’s a heart-and-soul guy,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. ”The thing with Osh is no matter what he’s going to find a way to have a positive impact on our team. … He’s a leader and he’s a guy that guys want to fight for.”

Whoever wins the Carolina-Washington series will face a shorthanded New York Islanders opponent in the second round. General manager Lou Lamoriello said defenseman Johnny Boychuk will miss three to four weeks with a lower-body injury.

AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon in Dallas, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Joedy McCreary in Raleigh contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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