Gaudreau, Peters have Flames cruising toward playoffs

2 Comments

Bill Peters deadpanned that it was the first time he had heard the question.

What did you learn about Johnny Gaudreau that you didn’t know before you started coaching him? Midway through his first season with the Calgary Flames, Peters has his answer scripted by now.

”Just his competitiveness,” Peters said. ”Everyone fully understands his skill set and the vision, and what they don’t understand is the competitiveness. And what he’s added to his game a little bit more than what he’s had in the past now is good defensive awareness and commitment.”

A well-rounded ”Johnny Hockey” and Peters have been a perfect match for Calgary, which is atop the Pacific Division and cruising toward a return to the playoffs despite an unheralded goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and David Rittich. While Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are floundering again, their Alberta rivals lead the Western Conference and can be considered Stanley Cup contenders in large part because of Gaudreau and what Peters has unlocked in him.

Gaudreau had already tied his career high with 84 points with more than a dozen games left. The point total far and away leads the Flames and is tied for sixth in the NHL. General manager Brad Treliving thinks the 5-foot-9 winger from Carney’s Point, New Jersey, has always had that kind of offensive talent and that this season is evidence that Gaudreau’s game has matured to the point he can play against anyone.

”(It’s) his play away from the puck,” Treliving said. ”When you play against top lines, you’d better be smart without it because you can get hemmed in. So I think his play away from the puck, as crazy as it seems with all the points, I think it’s helped him obviously get the puck more and have it more.”

The notion that the best defense is having the puck is right out of the Mike Babcock school of coaching, not surprising because Peters spent three seasons as an assistant in Detroit before getting a head job in Carolina. The Hurricanes finished in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring in three of Peters’ four seasons there and never made the playoffs. His Flames are scoring at the NHL’s fourth-best rate (3.55 per game through Tuesday).

Elite offensive talent helps, though Peters also deserves some credit for how his style suits his personnel, from Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to an active defense led by Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano.

”He’s a real student of the modern game in terms of how you have success now,” Treliving said. ”You have to play fast, your D have to be part of your offense, your attack has to be five men not three and you have to defend fast.”

Rod Brind’Amour, who worked four seasons under Peters in Carolina before succeeding him as coach, said the 54-year-old implements a lot of structure with his teams. Gaudreau figured out fast that Peters demands 200-foot play from everyone as a prerequisite for ice time, a recipe that has worked for Calgary.

”He knows how to win,” Gaudreau said. ”It doesn’t matter if you’re top line, bottom line, if you’re not playing well you’re not going to be on the ice. He’s not going to put you over the bench there. He expects a lot out of his players and it’s been great playing for him this year.”

Gaudreau is already on his third coach in just his fifth NHL season after mixed success with Bob Hartley and Glen Gulutzan. A playoff appearance under each was fine, but Peters has already proven to be a better fit as a tactician and as a communicator who knows how to squeeze the most out of his talent.

”There’s no gray area with Bill,” Treliving said. ”He outlines very clearly how he wants our team to play as a group, how he wants individuals to play and I think that’s probably his greatest strength is he’s very clear in his communication and very strong in his beliefs. I think that structured approach I think has really helped our group.”

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

Getty Images
2 Comments

It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

6 Comments

The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

Leave a comment

If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.