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Devils open training camp with sense of excitement

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — As the New Jersey Devils arrived for the start of training camp Thursday, there was a sense of optimism for the first time in a while.

The Devils were 44-29-9 last season and finished with 97 points and the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Although the team was ousted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, it was the team’s first postseason appearance in six seasons.

Making the postseason last season is the main reason for the upbeat attitude among the team as new season begins.

”I think we were all looking forward to getting back here,” said forward Taylor Hall, the reigning NHL Most Valuable Player who had 39 goals and 54 assists last season.

”We created a buzz and excitement here. We had a little success under our belts. Getting everyone back again is exciting. There’s a lot more interest in us. I think it’s my job to get the younger guys ready to take the next step.”

One of the young guys that Hall is referring to is center Nico Hischier, the former No. 1 draft pick overall by the Devils in 2017.

Hischier had 20 goals and added 32 assists last season as a rookie, mostly playing on the same line with Hall. The 19-year-old Hischier was a contender for the Calder Award as rookie of the year, an award captured by Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders.

”I’m definitely excited,” Hischier said. ”I think we all want to keep how we finished last year. I just have to play my game. I just want to be stronger this year and improve my shot. I definitely know all the guys here. I didn’t know them last year. That definitely helps. It’s going to be a tough training camp, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Hischier is also looking ahead to a preseason trip to his native Switzerland Oct. 1.

”That should be fun,” Hischier said.

Although the Devils reached the playoffs last season, it isn’t the ultimate goal of this young team.

”We want to be better,” said veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who begins his 10th NHL season and third with New Jersey. ”We want to be better than eighth place in the conference. It starts with having a good training camp. We need to have a successful training camp. We were embarrassed the year before and came out last year, working hard in training camp. We’re going to continue to get better.”

At this point last season, veteran center Brian Boyle was feeling a little fatigued and went off to have blood tests that revealed he had chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of bone marrow cancer.

The 33-year-old Boyle received medication to treat the cancer, but did not return to the ice until November. He managed to finish the season with 13 goals and 10 assists and was the recipient of the Masterton Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the sport of hockey.

Boyle begins training camp this year with the illness in the rearview mirror.

”It’s a nice feeling to know that I don’t have to think about it and it’s in the past,” Boyle said. ”I’m feeling good and I’m excited to be back. We’re not satisfied with just making the playoffs. Yes, that was an accomplishment, but we want more.

”We want to finish higher in the standings and win in the playoffs. I look forward to every training camp. I hope I get about seven or eight more. I love doing this and I want to do it for a long time to come.”

Boyle’s contract is up at the end of this season.

Another prominent member of the Devils is goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who was the team’s starting goalie when Cory Schneider went down with an injury. Kinkaid responded by posting a 26-10-3 record and a 2.77 goals-against average.

While Schneider’s availability in training camp remains a question, the 29-year-old Kinkaid is now a proven commodity for the Devils.

”I want to pick up where I finished the season,” Kinkaid said. ”I’m very confident right now. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. Everyone has to buy into getting better. I’m pretty confident that nothing is going to get past me.”

Devils coach John Hynes said that he has one goal in mind with the start of training camp.

”We want to build a solid foundation,” said Hynes, who begins his fourth season as head coach. ”We want to work on fundamentals. Every training camp is the same. We have to work every day to establish that foundation. The guys we have in camp are expected to come here and work. It has to get to a point where they believe. I think we all have a long way to go.”

The Devils begin the season Oct. 6 against Edmonton in Sweden and their home opener is Oct. 11 against defending Stanley Cup champion Washington.

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

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    Tortorella drives Blue Jackets into showdown with Bruins

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Tortorella was being battered on social media a month or so ago by doubters who thought his act had gotten stale in Columbus.

    The 60-year-old Tortorella, the argument went, was having trouble getting his message across to a team that had loaded up with new talent at the trade deadline but was still stuck in the mud.

    Then the Blue Jackets caught fire down the stretch. They won seven of their last eight games to reach the playoffs, swept the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and are shipping up to Boston – the city that produced the fiery coach – to start the next series on Thursday night.

    Suddenly Tortorella is a genius and master motivator again to the chat room crowd, and strangers are waiting outside the gate at his house to tell him how much he means to the city.

    Torts doesn’t care what the keyboard warriors think one way or another or what the people in the stands think. He would rather spend time around homeless animals – he and wife Christine are passionate about dog rescue – than interact with most people. He doesn’t give a spit about social media and has no idea what an emoji is.

    ”If I ever have to worry about what people think of me, one way or another, that’s a crappy way to live for a coach,” he said. ”So I don’t pay much attention.”

    Torts is the same as he ever was.

    He may have mellowed in subtle ways over 17 years as an NHL head coach, toned down some of the yelling or loosened up on the rigid discipline, but not that much. He’s still volatile, blunt and demands maximum, body-sacrificing effort. In an interview earlier this season he lamented that players are just too friendly to one another in today’s game.

    Not enough hate.

    Tortorella’s methods of motivating players take many forms, and anyone who has followed his career or watched him in YouTube videos knows that he’s an old-school shouter .

    The latest of his greatest hits came before Game 1 when a camera was recording in the dressing room before his team went out against the top-seeded Lightning.

    Tortorella came forth with an impassioned, f-bomb-packed rager that peeled the paint off the walls. A 26-second segment tweeted out by the local Blue Jackets TV affiliate (minus the profanities) quickly became social-media gold. The gist was that Columbus could beat the better team with the proper effort.

    ”I’ve seen him like that before,” 20-year-old center Pierre Luc-Dubois said, ”but it was a little extra.”

    The Blue Jackets were down 3-0 in the first period before rallying to an improbable 4-3 win to set up a stunning four-game sweep of the Lightning .

    ”I wish the camera was never in there, first of all,” Tortorella said. ”I said what I thought, and I still believe that. It’s such a mindset that you have to have collectively, not worry about how you match up on paper. If we’re going to keep proceeding here and be competitive and maybe win, the mindset and belief have to be that strong.”

    Columbus captain Nick Foligno said there is always a method to Tortorella’s mind games.

    ”I think Torts really enjoys the behavioral side of coaching, trying to get the most out of his athletes mentally,” Foligno said. ”I think he knows physically you’re already going to prepare and do the things necessary, but I think for the most part it’s, ‘How can I push the buttons to get more out of you than you ever thought possible?’ And I think that’s what he’s done with this group.”

    On Wednesday, Tortorella wasn’t in the mood to talk about Boston, which beat Columbus two out of three games in the last month of the season.

    ”Yeah, guys, I’m not going to spend my time talking about the Bruins and all that stuff there,” he said. ”We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, I can tell you that. We’re just going to concentrate on our team.”

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

    Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

    Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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    For the first time in franchise history the Columbus Blue Jackets will get to see what life is like in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    After pulling off a stunning upset in Round 1, where they not only beat the NHL’s best team, but completely dominated them, the Blue Jackets get to see if they can shock the world once again when they take on the Boston Bruins.

    The big thing to watch early in this series will be whether or not the lengthy, week-long layoff for the Blue Jackets will be something that helps or hurts them against a Bruins team that is coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs where they had to win back-to-back games to fight off elimination.

    From a big picture outlook the Bruins are the superior team on paper and based on their overall regular season performance, but the same thing was said about the Lightning in the previous round, and we all saw how that turned out.

    Going back to March 24 the Blue Jackets are 11-1-0 in their past 12 games, with that only loss coming at the hands of the Bruins, a 6-2 defeat on April 2.

    The two teams met three times during the regular season with each team winning once in a blowout, and the Bruins taking the extra game in a 2-1 overtime decision on March 16.

    [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Schedule

    Surging Players

    Boston: It should be no surprise that the three-headed monster of of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is leading the way offensively for the Bruins. They have been doing it for years, and they did it again in Round 1 against the Maple Leafs. What is really helping is they are getting a lot of contributions from players outside of that group. Charlie Coyle, one of the Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions, scored three goals in Round 1, Brandon Carlo didn’t record a point but was outstanding at times defensively, and their Game 7 offense came from a lot of their unsung depth players. The Bruins are a team with superstars at the top of the lineup (all playing exceptionally well) and has found some depth to go with the. That is a dangerous combination.

    Columbus: Instead of dealing away their pending free agents, the Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, and it not only helped produce the first postseason series win in franchise history, it helped them pull off one of the biggest Round 1 upsets ever. Duchene was one of the driving forces behind that four-game sweep of the Lightning, recording seven points in the four games. Artemi Panarin was also an impact player throughout the opening round, while young players Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand started to make a name for themselves.

    Struggling Players

    Boston: Marcus Johansson had what could probably described as an “up-and-down” series for the Bruins. He scored a huge goal in Game 7, but it was his only point in the five games he played while he also finished as a team-worst minus-4 in the series. Jake DeBrusk also had a quiet round, but that was mostly due to poor shooting luck (only one goal on 20 shots) than anything that he was or was not doing.

    Columbus: When you sweep the best team in the NHL in four games there probably are not many players on your roster that are struggling, and even if there are, you haven’t had enough time to figure out who they are. Still, the Blue Jackets would probably like to see a little bit more from Dzingel and Brandon Dubinsky in Round 2, as both were held off the scoresheet entirely in their first four games.

    Goaltending

    Boston: Bruins fans always seem to be waiting for an opportunity to criticize Tuukka Rask and make him the scapegoat for whenever the team falls short in the playoffs. While his regular season performance wasn’t consistently great, and there is reason to believe he is not the same goalie he was four or five years ago, he is still a very capable starter that has the potential to steal a game or two, and perhaps even an entire series should it come to that. He was outstanding in the first round with a .928 save percentage and was at his best in Games 6 and 7 when the Bruins needed him most.

    Columbus: This was always going to be the big question for the Blue Jackets. For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has been throughout his career he has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL come playoff time, consistently melting down at the worst possible time. He did a lot of work in Round 1 to quiet the doubters in helping to shut down one of the greatest offenses the NHL has ever seen. The Blue Jackets dominated the series so much that they didn’t even need Bobrovsky to be great, and he still finished with a .932 save percentage in what has been — by far — the best postseason performance of his career.

    Special Teams

    Boston: The Bruins’ power play can be a game-changer for them. It was among the best in the NHL during the regular season, and then absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs in Round 1 by scoring seven power play goals in the seven games (and they didn’t even get a power play in Game 7). And it wasn’t just any one player during the damage. They received power play goals from six different players in the first round (only Bergeron scored more than one) while eight different players recorded at least one point on the power play. The only flaw the unit has — and it is a big flaw — is that it is sometimes vulnerable to shorthanded goals against, giving up 15 during the regular season and another one in Round 1. The Bruins’ PK unit, on the other hand, is a tough group to figure out. With Bergeron, Marchand, and the defense they have behind them it should be a good group, at least based on the talent they have at their disposal. But they were only middle of the pack during the regular season and were just “okay” against the Maple Leafs, though they did kill have six in a row to end the series, including all five in Games 6 and 7 when facing elimination.

    Columbus: It’s not always about how many goals you score, but when you score them. That was the case for the Blue Jackets’ power play that was one of the worst in the NHL during the regular season, but went off in Round 1 by scoring on five of its 10 attempts against the Lightning. Nobody should reasonably expect them to continue clicking at 50 percent into Round 2, but if they can find a couple of goals on the man-advantage and continue their excellent penalty kill that could be a huge difference in the series — especially if they can keep staying out of the box. Columbus was tied for best PK unit in the league during the regular season and then followed that up by taking just six minor penalties in the four games against Tampa Bay. Their PK will probably get more use in Round 2, and they are going to be challenged by a Bruins power play that is not only good, but is white-hot right now.

    X-Factor for Bruins

    After scoring 27 goals in only 68 games during the regular season Jake DeBrusk had a mostly quiet series against the Maple Leafs, but he still showed some signs (like the fact he had 20 shots on goal) that he could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way at some point very, very soon. If he does that would give the Bruins just one more weapon that Columbus has to contend with and try to slow down. In his first two years in the league he has already shown that he can be a legit top-six forward and could be a huge X-factor in Round 2 for the Bruins.

    X-Factor for Blue Jackets 

    Alexandre Texier was a late addition to the Blue Jackets’ roster, and the 19-year-old has already made a sizable impact. He has only played in six NHL games (two at the end of the regular season, all four playoff games to this point) and has already scored three goals and an assist. That includes his two goals in the Blue Jackets’ series-clinching win over the Lightning where he opened the scoring with an early power play goal.

    Prediction

    Bruins in 6. The Blue Jackets are not going to be an easy out, and even though they entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed the roster they have now is very different from the one they had for most of the regular season. And all of the new additions seem to have found their place in the lineup. They are legit. But so are the Bruins, and they not only have a trio of stars at the top of their lineup that are probably superior to Columbus’ top players, but they have also found some depth to complement them.

    PHT’s Round 2 previews
    Stars vs. Blues
    • Avalanche vs. Sharks
    • Islanders vs. Capitals
    Round 2 schedule, TV info

    Questions for the final eight teams
    PHT Roundtable

    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 vs. Blues: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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    If you’re looking for a high-scoring second-round series, it might be best to find another game to watch.

    That isn’t to say the hockey will be bad, but this has gigantic defensive battle written all over it in what should look a lot like a good game of chess rather than checkers.

    And as good defensively both teams are, neither goalie will be giving up an inch either.

    The Dallas Stars vs. the St. Louis Blues will be a battle of the upsetters after both teams ousted teams seeded higher than them in Round 1.

    The Stars come into the series having handled the Nashville Predators with relative ease in six games. Dallas’ tight style of game stymied the Predators. And even though Nashville had the lion’s share of possession, they were faced with trying to solve Ben Bishop, which they couldn’t.

    St. Louis, meanwhile, rode a wave of momentum that began in January into their series with the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg struggled down the stretch and the Blues took advantage, including winning all three games they played on the road. The Blues just kept coming. Deficits were no big deal as the Blues showed tremendous resiliency in sticking within their structure.

    The series will also act as a rematch. Both teams collided in Round 2 in 2016, with the Blues edging the Stars in seven games. There’s a good chance we experience some deja vu, at least in that seven-game region.

    Dallas went 3-1-0 against the Blues during the regular season.

    [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Schedule

    Surging Players

    Stars: You look at the stats sheet and see all the regulars there for the Stars. Names like Alex Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin all perform well in the playoffs and this year is no exception. For Dallas, depth scoring is key. Outside of that top line, they need players who can step up and find the back of the net to alleviate some of the pressure that is placed upon that line merely because it’s so bloody dominant. Roope Hintz has taken a big step in these playoffs, both in terms of contributions (two goals, one assist) and the trust of coach Jim Montgomery, who played him nearly 20 minutes in the deciding Game 6. Hintz looks dangerous with the puck on his stick and is providing the Stars with a solid second-line center that has complemented Mats Zuccarello well.

    Blues: Jaden Schwartz could have had a more memorable Game 6 to knock out the Jets. He scored a hat trick in the game, which was a follow-up performance after he scored the game-winning goal to cap off a third-period comeback in Game 5 with just 15 seconds remaining in the third period. After going the first four games of that series with a single assist, Schwartz has burst onto the scene and will be riding a wave of confidence heading into this series. St. Louis’ top line is going to had a tough task with their counterparts on the Stars. A continuation from the latter half of Round 1 would go a long way for Schwartz and the Blues.

    Struggling players

    Stars: Paging that fourth line. Tyler Pitlick, Jason Spezza and Justin Dowling (or whoever is placed there) would most certainly be welcomed if they wanted to add some offense to this series. The trio above was together for the final three games, for the most part, and were run over possession-wise, and contributing nothing offensively. It’s the fourth line, I get it. but in a series where scoring will be at a premium, they could use a little from some unexpected places.

    Blues: Dare I say Vladimir Tarasenko? He scored two goals in the series vs. Winnipeg, with both markers coming on the power play. The Jets did a great job of neutralizing Tarasenko’s game-breaking ability in the first round and there wasn’t much the latter could do about it. Tarasenko finished the year with 33 goals and 68 points. We all know he has it in him. Tarasenko produced a team-high 23 shots in the series, so perhaps a few more well-placed ones could see a different result.

    Goaltending

    Stars: Bishop is a Vezina candidate this season and very deserving of the nomination. He paced the NHL with a .934 save percentage in the regular season and hasn’t skipped a beat — and really, has only gotten better — in the playoffs with a .945 mark in six games against the Nashville Predators, allowing just 12 goals in the series. Only Robin Lehner has been better statistically speaking.

    The Stars’ backbone, Bishop will be relied upon once again. The thing he gives his team is confidence, especially if Dallas engages in a track meet at times.

    Blues: Binnington has been the story of the season in the crease, and perhaps the entire NHL, given what he’s done to help turn around the St. Louis Blues.

    Many (including myself) thought Binnington, although seemingly very good, was going to suffer from inexperience and a stout offense against the Winnipeg Jets. And it appeared after Game 3, that was going to be the case. But Binnington recovered, posting a .949 and a .935 in Games 4 and 5, respectively to put the Blues ahead. Binnginton is going to be called upon again to shut down a high-powered offense. He can do it, he’s proven. But can he keep it up?

    What was interesting about Binnington in Round 1 was how tough getting that first goal by him was. That can be a soul-sucking endeavor. But if you can get to him, he’s shown some cracks.

    Special Teams

    Stars: You can’t do much better than going a perfect 15-for-15 on the penalty kill against the Central Division’s best team in the regular season. It would be something special for them to replicate that against the Blues, who were five-for-19 against the Jets. The power play for Dallas was less than ideal, scoring just four times on 22 attempts (and were just one-for-18 if you take away a three PP-goal first period in Game 4). The Stars could take a big edge here if they’re able to find the back of the net more when up a man.

    Blues: This is potentially where the series could be won for St. Louis. Breaching the walls on the power play will be a good start, and then repeating a bit of what Nashville was able to do to keep the Stars power play at bay will be critical. The Stars top line was simply too good five-on-five to allow them to continue that on the man-advantage, where all three of them line up on the first power-play unit. Binnington has seen a stout power play from Winnipeg, so he knows what’s coming. He was their best penalty killer and will be tasked in that role once more.

    X-Factor For Stars

    Their top line. Radulov, Benn and Seguin came as advertised in Round 1, combining for seven goals and 18 points as Nashville struggled to deal with their pace. They’ll be called upon once again to produce at a similar rate. If Dallas has a flaw (and they do) it’s that scoring depth drops off a cliff outside of that line. Zuccarello has helped, and contributions have come from other spots in a timely manner, but if Dallas’ top line went cold, what would happen? Simply, they can’t afford that, even with how good Bishop has been.

    X-Factor For Blues

    Binnington. Take away a six-goal burst from the Jets in Game 3 and Binnington would be sitting pretty with a save percentage in the .930 range. What the Jets did well in that game was build off of each goal. It took just four minutes in the second period for the Jets to amass three goals as Binnington didn’t adjust well to Winnipeg’s pressure. This, of course, was just one game in a series where Binnington was otherwise very, very good. Like I said, take away this blip on the radar screen and you get a Binnington that looked calm and collected against a high-powered offense. Dallas doesn’t have the scoring depth of Winnipeg, either. Binnington stole the will from the Jets on multiple occasions and there’s no reason to think he can’t do so again vs. the Stars.

    Prediction

    Stars in 7. Dallas has grown on me since the start of the playoffs. They were meshing down the stretch and seemed to benefit from the meaningful games they had to play to secure their first wild-card spot. But it’s that goaltending that has me hooked. Bishop has looked infallible. Unless that changes, I think Dallas can once again withstand getting out-possessed again.

    PHT’s Round 2 previews
    Round 2 schedule, TV info

    Questions for the final eight teams
    PHT Roundtable

    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

    Kane, Kucherov, McDavid are the 2019 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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    The National Hockey League Players’ Association has announced its finalists for the 2019 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL,” as voted by fellow members of the NHLPA.

    The 2019 nominees are Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid has won the award the last two years.

    Formerly known as the Lester B. Pearson Award, the TLA will be presented less than four months after the passing of its namesake and NHLPA pioneer, Ted Lindsay.

    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 Patrick Kane: He led the Blackhawks in goals (44), assists (66) and points (110), and tied Kucherov for the second-most even-strength points (80) in the NHL. This past season was the second time Kane has topped each of the 40-goal, 60-assist and 100-point marks. The last time he did that was the 2015-16, which saw him win the Lindsay that year, making him the only player in franchise history to receive the award.

    The Case For Nikita Kucherov: Kucherov helped the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning tie a league-best record of 62 wins, while capturing his first Art Ross Trophy. He scored a career-high 128 points to set a new single-season scoring record for the most by a Russian-born player, topping Alexander Mogilny’s 127 points from 1992-93. His 87 assists also led the NHL and tied the single-season record for the most by a winger (Jaromir Jagr, 1995-96). Kucherov could become the first Lightning player to receive the award since Martin St. Louis (2003-04).

    The Case For Connor McDavid: McDavid led the Oilers (116 points), setting a career high in the process. He tied his goal total (41) from 2017-18 to finish sixth in the NHL. His 75 assists ranked second in the league and set a new career-high. If he wins the award, McDavid will become the first three-time recipient before the age of 23, and the first player to be deemed most outstanding by his peers in three consecutive seasons since Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin (2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10).

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

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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.