The Buzzer: Forsberg’s back; Giordano continues Norris chase

2 Comments

Three stars

1. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators

Two goals — including his first since Nov. 21 and the other the game-winner in overtime — highlights a solid effort from Forsberg, who played his second game since returning from a hand injury.

His first game may have been a bit rusty, but Forsberg was flying on Wednesday. His first goal was a pure snipe on the power play and his second was a lesson in not allowing him to walk in on your goaltender.

The Preds have won five of their past six.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators

Nilsson hasn’t been good this season, just check out his save percentages.

That said, he was great for the Senators in a 2-1 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks. Nilsson stopped 32-of-33 shots for an impressive .970 save percentage. In his 15 appearances this season, just five times has he topped .900.

3. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Giordano, who is being pipped as a Norris candidate this year, tallied three assists as the Flames knocked off the Colorado Avalanche 5-3.

Giordano is up to 37 assists on the season and 43 points in 43 games, which is good for third in defenseman scoring this season.

Highlights of the night

Big mistake to watch him:

Shorthanded perfection here:

Gotta keep two hands on that stick:

Factoids

Scores

Predators 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Flames 5, Avalanche 3
Senators 2, Ducks 1 (OT)


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

Canucks’ Bachman gifts Mikko Koivu with easy power-play goal

Twitter
1 Comment

Mikko Koivu won’t score an easier goal in his life.

And he can thank Vancouver Canucks goalie Richard Bachman for that.

Bachman was in a giving mood in the first period against Koivu’s Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. With the Canucks trying to kill off a Wild power play, Bachman tried to be a hero on an outlet pass from behind his net after Koivu dumped it into Vancouver’s zone.

What occurred next was less than heroic:

It is Bachman’s first start with the Canucks this season and just his 48th NHL game for the American Hockey League veteran. The 31-year-old is playing backup to Jacob Markstrom while Anders Nilsson has been on the shelf since late October with a fractured finger.

To Bachman’s credit, the pass was as good a tape-to-tape job as you’ll see from a goalie. He’ll just want to find a teammate’s stick next time.


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

PHT’s 2018-19 Pacific Division Preview

NHL On NBC

(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

• Atlantic Division Preview
• Metropolitan Division Preview
• Central Division Preview

At the start of the 2017-18 season there was an expectation that the Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Final would come from the Pacific Division. The oddsmakers, misguided as it may have turned out to be in hindsight, believed it would be the Edmonton Oilers, and that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights would be one of the league’s worst teams.

Not exactly how it all played out.

Once the games started getting played the Oilers turned out to be a season-long mess and disappointment, while the Golden Knights came out of nowhere, rolled to a division title, and then won the Western Conference before losing to the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Following an unexpected season on the ice, there was a ton of significant roster movement within the division with San Jose, Vegas, Los Angeles, Calgary and Arizona all making significant changes to their roster.

Who ended up getting better and who ended up getting worse? Let us take a look around the Pacific Division as we continue our PHT Divisional previews.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Better or Worse: Nobody stays the same in professional sports; you’re either doing something to get better or you’re doing something to get worse. And by not really doing anything to get better over the summer it makes me want to say the Ducks might be a little worse, especially given everything that happened around them in the division this summer where San Jose, Vegas, and Los Angeles all made big moves to strengthen their team. Still a good team, but not really much better than they were.

Strengths: The Ducks’ strength is definitely on the back end where they have Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson leading the defense, and then have the duo of John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net. When healthy Gibson is one of the best goalies in the league and Miller was outstanding last year as a backup when needed.

Weaknesses: Corey Perry‘s injury is going to be a major blow to a team that was already lacking in offense. They are going to need Ondrej Kase to take a big step in his development and get a little more out of Jakob Silfverberg to make up for it. 

2017-18 Highlight: Crushed by injuries down the middle the Ducks addressed it by trading Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. A few weeks after the trade Henrique scored one of the best goals of the NHL season against his former team when he did this.

MVP Candidate: Ryan Getzlaf may be entering his age 33 season but he is still an impact player and top-line center. He has scored at a point-per-game level the past two years and still makes everyone around him better.

Playoffs or Lottery: Even with the injury to Perry this is still probably a playoff team — especially in this division — but one that may be behind San Jose and Vegas within the the division.

ARIZONA COYOTES 

Better or Worse: They will be much better. They showed huge improvement in the second half of the 2017-18 season  just by having a healthy Antti Raanta in the lineup, and then they went and added Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Grabner over the summer. I also still have high hopes for Dylan Strome to be an impact player and they will also be getting a full season Jakob Chychrun on defense.

Strengths: Thanks to the additions of Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk over the past year the Coyotes have a pretty decent 1-2 punch at center. Combine them with the potential of Dylan Strome, the presence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, and Raanta in net and they have a nice foundation down the middle to build from.

Weaknesses: Depth is probably the big one, and it is not just related to any one position. It is almost everywhere except for maybe center. Depth on the wings, depth on the blue line, depth in goal. The talent at the top of the lineup is intriguing and very good, but there just is not enough to complement them just yet.

2017-18 Highlight: Once they got him in the lineup Raanta was everything the Coyotes could have hoped for him to be, and his highlight of the year was this post-to-post glove save against the Montreal Canadiens.

MVP Candidate: It is probably going to have to be the Raanta show for the Coyotes this season. How much of an impact did he make on the Coyotes a year ago? In the games where he earned a decision they played at a 90-point pace (21-17-6). In the games where he didn’t? They played at a 47-point pace. A lot of their problems in the overall standings came from that brutal 1-12-1 start, a stretch where Raanta only played two full games.

Playoffs or Lottery: They will be much better and there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about where this team can go and what it can be in the future but they still have a little more work to do before they get there. It will be another lottery season, but they will be at the back end of the lottery as opposed to the top of it.

CALGARY FLAMES 

Better or Worse: James Neal is a nice addition, but is he enough to make the team better than it was last year, when it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs? Something to keep in mind here: Neal scored 25 goals and finished with 44 total points in 71 games for Vegas a season ago. He is their big offseason addition. Micheal Ferland, who was included by the Flames in the trade that sent their best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, to the Carolina Hurricanes, scored 21 goals and finished with 41 points in 77 games. Add in the fact you lost your best defender and it’s hard to see how the roster is better.

Strengths: For all of the things that went wrong for this team a year ago they do have three outstanding young players to build around in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk. All three of them are age 25 or younger and were all among the team’s top-three scorers a year ago.

Weaknesses: It is an extremely top-heavy team offensively, and while Neal might help he is probably not enough of a difference maker to take them from 26th in goals scored to the level they need to be at offensively to contend. The defense without Hamilton is also going to be a question mark because T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic both struggled last season, while Mark Giordano is another year older.

2017-18 Highlight: This is a weird one, but their 2-0 win in Anaheim at the start of the season snapped what had been a 25-game losing streak at the Honda Center that dated all the way back to the 2004 season. That is a remarkable losing streak in one building.

MVP Candidate: How can it be anybody other than Gaudreau? He is one of the best offensive players in the league and is coming off of a monster season that saw him record 60 assists and 84 total points. He is also entering his age 25 season, typically the year players hit their peak offensive production in their careers.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were 11 points out of a wild card spot (and 16 points back of a top-three spot in the Pacific Division) and I don’t see enough improvement here to make up that much ground. They are a lottery team.

EDMONTON OILERS 

Better or Worse: They could really go either way here. If the fix the special teams units that ruined their 2017-18 season they should be better, especially if Oscar Klefbom is healthy and returns to form. But they didn’t really make any meaningful additions to a team that missed the playoffs by 17 points.

Strengths: They have Connor McDavid. Period.

Weaknesses: Perhaps the best way to put this would be to reference you to a story from the Edmonton Journal over the weekend that looked at the players on the roster bubble in training camp and point out the fact that every single player listed at right wing is listed as being on the bubble. My goodness, that is bleak. Also bleak: The defense. And the goaltending. And basically everything that is not Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

2017-18 Highlight: This assist by McDavid to set up Patrick Maroon is truly something to behold.

MVP Candidate: McDavid is the odds on favorite to win the MVP award at the start of the season, mostly because he is the best player in the world at the moment and is coming off of back-to-back scoring title and 100-point seasons. He is going for a third consecutive scoring title, an accomplishment that is incredibly rare in NHL history. To get another MVP award though he is going to need the team around him to be better.

Playoffs or Lottery: As incredible as it may seem for a team that has the best player in the league, they are probably a lottery team again. For the third time in four years. There just is not enough talent around McDavid to make them a contender.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Better or Worse: He may be 35 years old but Ilya Kovalchuk will be a big addition for an offense-starved team. Will he be a 50-goal, 90-point player? Not a chance. But he should be at least capable of 30 goals and 60 points, something that would make him one of the most productive players on the team.

Strengths: They are one of the best defensive teams in the league with one of the best defensive players in Drew Doughty. They haven’t finished lower than 10th in goals against since the 2009-10 season and are consistently in the top-five. No team in the league gave up fewer goals a season ago.

Weaknesses: Simply put, it’s offense. Even with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and the addition of Kovalchuk this is simply a mediocre at best offensive team and has been for a few years. They

2017-18 Highlight: Kopitar was the Kings’ best player all year and was perhaps at his most dominant in a 7-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche when he scored four goals.

MVP Candidate: The one that was the runner-up a season ago, Kopitar. He is one of the best two-way players in the league that offers a game-changing combination of top-tier offense and shutdown defense.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Kings have missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons and have not made it out of the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. They have been, pretty much, a bubble playoff team for the past four years and there really is not much to suggest that is going to change this season.

SAN JOSE SHARKS 

Better or Worse: Better. Much better. They should have a full season of Joe Thornton (injured) and Evander Kane (acquired at the trade deadline and signed to a contract extension) and they acquired a two-time Norris Trophy winner in Erik Karlsson. It would be a shock if they were not better.

Strengths: With Karlsson and Brent Burns they have three of the past seven Norris Trophies on their blue line and a player in Marc-Edouard Vlasic that gets votes every year. There is not a better top-three anywhere in the NHL on defense.

Weaknesses: They are not many. If we were to reach here we could say they were a middle of the pack team a year ago offensively, finishing 14th in goals scored and 16th on the power play, but you have to figure both of those numbers can easily go up this season given the additions.

2017-18 Highlight: Logan Couture scored 12 more goals than any player on the Sharks this past season. None of them looked better than this goal against the Winnipeg Jets.

MVP Candidate: Going to go with Karlsson here, simply because he is going to play a ton of minutes on what should be a Stanley Cup contender and assuming he is 100 percent healthy should have a monster year. Especially playing on a team that has Stanley Cup level talent around him.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were second round playoff team a year ago made some pretty significant additions to the roster, including one of the biggest pick-ups over the summer in Karlsson. They are not only a playoff team, they are a Stanley Cup contender.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 

Better or Worse: Even though Henrik and Daniel Sedin were at the end of their career and as good as they were in their prime, they were still two of the Canucks’ best players and among their top-three scorers. They are now gone. The players coming in from outside the organization to replace them: Jay Beagle and Antoine Rousell on long-term contracts to be fourth-liners. They are a worse team today.

Strengths: The biggest strength on this team will be getting Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat back for full seasons after both missed 20 games a year ago. Boeser is one of the league’s bright young stars and should be the Canucks’ best player for the foreseeable future.

Weaknesses: Goaltending is going to be a problem. Jacob Markstrom is the starter but has never really been anything better than average at any point in his career. The duo of him and Anders Nilsson is going to have to exceed any reasonable expectation anyone might have for them to help make this team competitive, especially playing behind the defense.

2017-18 Highlight: You could not have scripted a better farewell game in the NHL for the Sedins than this.

MVP Candidate: Brock Boeser finished the 2017-18 season as the Canucks’ leading goal-scorer and point-producer. He did that as a 20-year-old rookie in his first full season of NHL action, and despite missing 20 games due to injury. He is their best player by a mile.

Playoffs or Lottery: One of the worst teams in the league from a year ago that did not really get any better in the offseason. They are not only a lottery team, they are a potential Jack Hughes team.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 

Better or Worse: I don’t know if they will be “better” in terms of results on the ice, because that would mean actually winning the Stanley Cup, but the roster on paper certainly looks better with the additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Sure, they lost James Neal and David Perron, two really good contributors on the 2017-18 team, but the two players coming in to replace them are better.

Strengths: Their top line was one of the best in the NHL a season ago, and while there is every reason to believe that William Karlsson and Reilly Smith will regress a bit, they should still be very good. Jonathan Marchessault is also every bit as good as he showed. They also have an outstanding goalie.

Weaknesses: For as good as their top-six is — especially that top line — their bottom six is definitely lacking a little bit. The fourth line received a lot of praise in the playoffs, but I’m not sure how well it holds up over an 82-game season.

2017-18 Highlight: The whole season was a highlight, but their Western Conference clinching game against the Winnipeg Jets was the culmination of a truly remarkable, totally unexpected season.

MVP Candidate: Marchessault showed that his 30-goal season from the 2016-17 season in Florida was anything but a fluke by following it up with a dominant performance in Vegas, earning himself a long-term contract extension.

Playoffs or Lottery: Nobody should expect another run to the Stanley Cup Final, but this should still be a playoff team and probably even a strong contender in the Western Conference.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Three questions facing Vancouver Canucks

Getty
2 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

1. Will Elias Pettersson make the team out of training camp?

The Canucks hit a home run when they selected Petterson fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In his first season in the Swedish Hockey League, the 19-year-old led his team in scoring by a wide margin, as he racked up 24 goals and 56 points in just 44 contests. No other player on the team scored more than 41 points.

Pettersson doesn’t have anything left to prove over in Europe, so he has a legitimate shot of making the team out of camp. The Canucks aren’t necessarily the deepest team up front either. Brock Boeser was able to make an immediate impact in his first year, and the organization will have to hope the Pettersson is able to do the same thing during his first year.

If they want to ease his transition to the NHL, they could opt to put him on the wing instead of at center (at least for the first year), but that shouldn’t prevent him from earning on a top-six role on this team. It’s too bad that the fellow Swede won’t be able to play with Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but he should get every opportunity to help replace their production.

[2017-18 Review | Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser]

2. How soon before Thatcher Demko becomes the starting goaltender?

Heading into the regular season with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as your number one and number two goaltenders is less than ideal (unless you’re trying to lose). Markstrom was once considered to be one of the best prospects in the NHL when he was a member of the Florida Panthers, but he’s never reached those expectations. Even though he played in 60 games last season, he’s probably better suited as a backup netminder. As for Nilsson, he’s kind of in the same boat. There are moments when he looks like he can be a starter and then at other times, he looks mediocre. Consistency has been a problem for him. Both players are on one-way contracts, so there’s no reason to believe that they won’t start the year with the Canucks (Markstrom will earn $3.67 million, Nilsson will make $2.5 million).

From a talent perspective, Demko has the ability to become a starting goalie in the near future. How soon? That remains to be seen. But after spending two years in the AHL, you’d have to think that he’s close to being ready for the show. The 22-year-old improve his numbers from his first year to his second year in the minors. Last year, he posted a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage, which are pretty solid numbers by AHL standards.

Goalies always seem to take a little more time to develop than forwards do, but you’d have to think he’s close being ready for the next challenge. The Canucks aren’t going to be very good this year, so they might want to take it easy on a young goaltender. That doesn’t mean that he can’t get an extended look though. Once Nilsson’s contract expires at the end of the season, Demko could be in line for a full-time promotion.

3. How much will the team miss the Sedin twins?

For the first time since the 1999-00 season, the Canucks will be playing without Daniel and Henrik. Both players proved to be valuable contributors to the organization for the better part of two decades. They helped lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup Final and they carried them to the playoffs a number of times.

Even though they “only” combined for 105 points last season, there’s no denying that the Swedish twins will be missed. They weren’t the most vocal leaders, but they always managed to lead by example. With such a young roster, that type of experience would’ve been valuable to have around.

“You’re losing two Hall-of-Fame players out of your lineup,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You just don’t replace those elements to your game.

“You’re happy for them; they’ve had amazing careers. To see them go out on their own terms with the season they’ve had, I think, means a lot to them. It’s means a lot to me. But also, it’s sad.”

Veterans like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Jay Beagle will need to step up in that department, but none of those players can replicate the experience that the Sedins brought to the table. The Canucks have enough talented youngsters to replace the production, but it’ll be a while before any of them can fill the void in (quiet) leadership.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Analyzing the Blackhawks’ goaltending options

Getty
9 Comments

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.