Joonas Korpisalo

via NHL

2020 Global Series: Bruins-Predators in Prague; Blue Jackets-Avs in Finland

As the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning gear up for the first of two games in Sweden as part of the 2019 Global Series (airing live on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET; click here to stream) Gary Bettman announced some exciting matchups – and locations – for the 2020 version.

  • Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators open their 2020-21 seasons in Prague, Czech Republic: The two teams will face each other at O2 Arena.
  • Later in the fall, the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets will play a pair of regular-season games at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.

That set of games represents the 2020 Global Series, but do not cover all of the overseas action, as the Bruins and Predators will also conclude their training camps internationally as part of the 2020 Global Series Challenge.

Bruins will complete training camp in Germany, and then face Adler Mannheim in an exhibition game in Mannheim, Germany. The Predators will wrap up their training camp in Switzerland, and participate in an exhibition match with SC Bern in Bern, Switzerland.

Pretty cool, and I’d wager that plenty of hockey fans are already cooking up travel plans to kick off 2020-21.

The NHL points out some of the players who will get a chance to play in front of fans in their native countries:

The NHL is a global League, with more than 30 percent of NHL players this season having been born outside of North America. All four clubs feature a number of international stars on their rosters, including natives of the countries they are visiting. Next fall, Switzerland natives Roman Josi and Yannick Weber of the Predators, along with Czech Republic natives David Krejci and David Pastrnak of the Bruins, will be playing in their respective home countries. In addition, Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi of the Avalanche, as well as Markus Nutivaara and Joonas Korpisalo of the Blue Jackets will all being playing in their home country of Finland, which is also where Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is from.

Again, if you want a taste of NHL play overseas, Sabres – Lightning airs on NBCSN and streams here starting at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.

MORE:
• Lightning hope to use Global Series to turn things around.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Sharks’ goaltending gamble isn’t paying off

5 Comments

The San Jose Sharks had a major goaltending problem during 2018-19 season.

It was clearly the biggest Achilles Heel on an otherwise great team, and it was a testament to the dominance of the team itself that they were able to win as many games as they did and reach the Western Conference Final with a level of goaltending that typically sinks other teams.

Even with the struggles of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, the Sharks remained committed to the duo through the trade deadline and were ready to roll into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with them as the last line of defense. And while their play itself may not have been the biggest reason their playoff run came to an end against the St. Louis Blues, it still was not good enough and was going to be a huge question mark going into the 2019-20 season.

Instead of doing anything to address the position in the offseason, the Sharks gambled that Jones and Dell could bounce-back and entered this season with the same goaltending duo in place that finished near the bottom of the league a year ago.

So far, the results for the two goalies are nearly identical to what they were a year ago. And with the team around them not playing well enough to mask the flaws they are taking a huge hit in the standings with just four wins in their first 12 games.

As of Monday the Sharks have the league’s fifth-worst all situations save percentage and the second-worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only the Los Angeles Kings are worse in that category), while neither Jones or Dell has an individual mark better than .892. In seven starts Jones has topped a .900 save percentage just twice, and has been at .886 or worse in every other start. Dell has not really been any better. Say what you want about team defense, or structure, or system, or the players around them, it is awfully difficult to compete in the NHL when your goalies are giving up that many goals on a regular basis.

Sometimes you need a save, even if there is a breakdown somewhere else on the ice, and the Sharks haven’t been consistently getting them for more than a year now. Going back to the start of last season, there have been 52 goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games — Jones and Dell rank 48th and 51st respectively in save percentage during that stretch. The other goalies in the bottom-10 are Mike Smith, Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Cam Ward, Joonas Korpisalo, Cam Talbot, Keith Kinkaid, and Jonathan Quick. Two of those goalies (Luongo and Ward) are now retired, another (Kinkaid) is a backup, two others (Talbot and Korpisalo) are in platoon roles, while Smith, Schneider, and Quick have simply been three of the league’s worst regular starters. Not an ideal goaltending situation for a Stanley Cup contender to be in.

When it comes to Jones it is at least somewhat understandable as to why the Sharks may have been so willing to stick by him. For as tough as his 2018-19 performance was, it looked to be a pretty clear outlier in an otherwise solid career. He may have never been one of the league’s elite goalies, but he had given them at least three consecutive years of strong play with some random playoff brilliance thrown in. They also have a pretty significant financial commitment to him as he is under contract for another four years after this one. So far, though, there is little evidence to suggest such a bounce-back is on the horizon.

It’s enough to wonder if the Sharks will be as patient with their goalies as they were a year ago and what over moves could be made. Make no mistake, this is a team that is built to win the Stanley Cup right now and one that is still trying to capitalize on the window it has with its core of All-Stars. A bad start should not do anything to change that ultimate goal because there is still a championship caliber core here. And while not every team is capable of an in-season turnaround like the one the Blues experienced a year ago, the Sharks are one that could theoretically do it if their goaltending performance significantly changes for the better. But that might require some kind of move from outside the organization if the returning duo does not soon start showing some sort of progress.

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.

Blue Jackets haven’t fallen apart without Panarin, Bobrovsky

4 Comments

After Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all walked in free agency, outside expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t very high. Why would they be? Panarin was their most talented player and Bobrovsky was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. But through 10 games, they’ve found a way to keep their head above water.

The Jackets head into this weekend with a 5-3-2 record, which is good enough to put them in a Wild Card spot right now. Yes, we’re 10 games into the season, but that little factoid is important when comparing their work to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Without Panarin, the offense has produced exactly the way you’d imagine. They don’t have anybody that’s scored more than six points in 10 games, but they have received plenty of contributions from different players. As of right now, nine players on the roster have scored at least two goals and 14 players have found the back of the net at least once.

Pierre-Luc Dubois leads in the team in goals, with 4, and he’s tied for the scoring lead with six points. That puts the 21-year-old on pace to score a solid 33 goals and 49 points this season. The only way to have success when your leading scorer is on pace for under 50 points is for everyone behind him to contribute too. So far so good in that respect.

The fight this team has shown has been nothing short of impressive. For example, in last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus found themselves down 3-1 after the first period. Thanks to goals by Ryan Murray and Sonny Milano, they managed to even the score before Cam Atkinson won it in OT.

“It was another opportunity presented to us as far as not blowing up starting that second period,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said after the game, per NHL.com. “We need to stay patient, not try to score. We just need to stay above the puck. It’s such a fast team over there.

“So we kept our patience, played above the puck and probably played, out of all the minutes we’ve put in this year, probably the fastest we’ve played as far as our transition.”

The other pleasant surprise is Joonas Korpisalo, who has done a good job between the pipes for the Jackets this year. The 25-year-old has won four of his last five games. If he can continue to keep them in games, they’ll be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot near the end of the season.
It’s important to note that this is a small sample size, but 10 games isn’t insignificant either. Most of the hockey world may have been guilty of overlooking players like Dubois, Atkinson, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski coming into this season, so it’s up to them to continue to prove people wrong.
Even though the Blue Jackest are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to goals scored (16) and goals against (32), they’re finding the way to get the job done with a committee of contributors. That’s definitely not a the sexy approach, but if it’s effective enough to get them back into the playoffs, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
“I don’t know what we are yet,” Tortorella said via The Athletic. “It’s 10 games. You can’t say ‘You are this’ after 10 games, but we certainly have shown some resilience here.”

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.

New-look Blue Jackets figuring out what they have

Getty Images
3 Comments

Given all of the talent that walked away from the Columbus Blue Jackets this summer it was pretty obvious they were going to have a very different look this season.

Not only on paper, but also in the way they play on the ice.

They lost a franchise goalie with two Vezina Trophies to his name (Sergei Bobrovsky) and replaced him with two relative unknowns (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins). They lost their biggest superstar (Artemi Panarin) and a couple of trade deadline acquisitions (Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel) that were supposed to help make them contenders.

That is a lot of talent to replace, especially in net. Because of that, and because of the uncertainty around their two goalies, they were going to have to adjust the way they played and take a more patient, conservative approach. The old “safe is death” mindset John Tortorella’s teams used to employ was never going to work with this roster. They not only do not have the skill to trade chances with other contenders, but they also don’t yet know if they have the goalies to help cover up for chances coming back the other way.

Safe is probably the only way for this team to play.

Through the first two games of the season (a 4-1 loss to Toronto and then an ugly 7-2 loss in Pittsburgh) they are still trying to figure out how they have to play and what they have to do to win.

Patience was the big word used after Saturday’s loss in Pittsburgh.

“We had a lot of good minutes in there,” captain Nick Foligno said after Saturday’s game. “I know it’s weird to say that, but we did some good things. It’s just the patience, it’s the understanding of how we need to play and being okay with a 1-0 game or a 0-0 game for 59 minutes if it has to be that, and sticking with that. We are almost over-anxious and our patience is getting away from us right now and it is costing us. We are doing so many good things throughout the game that are being negated by poor decisions because we don’t want to do the necessary thing in that moment. Sometimes it’s not the prettiest thing, but it’s the necessary thing.”

“I think it gives us an opportunity to teach a little bit here,” said coach John Tortorella, echoing Foligno’s thoughts that were still some positives mixed in with the early struggles.

“I thought our first 25-35 minutes or so were pretty good. I thought we were fast, I thought we were right there. They end up scoring a few goals and we end up losing our composure as far as how we have to play. So for me it just gives us a great opportunity to start teaching what the patience of our game needs to be.”

In recent years the Blue Jackets had Bobrovsky to mask a lot of flaws on the back end and serve as the last line of defense. A franchise goalie can change a lot for a team and allow the team in front of them to maybe take more chances and play a bit more aggressively. They no longer have that proven safety net behind them. Korpisalo has been a backup his entire career with varying degrees of success, while Merzlikins is getting his first taste of NHL action. Saturday’s game was his NHL debut and went about as poorly as it could have gone.

“I think it’s going to help him in the long run,” said Tortorella. “I thought he looked really calm in the first period, just the way he handled the puck the outside the net, stopped some wraparounds, broke us out. I thought he was right there. But it’s an unforgiving league. It’s a good lesson for him, and we knew there were going to be lessons like this for us. The most important thing now is how we handle it. It’s an opportunity for us right away at the beginning of this year to teach about patience, to teach about how we have to play. Hopefully we go about it the right way.”

They get a chance to start doing that on Monday against a white-hot Buffalo Sabres team.

It has been a frustrating start for sure. They had a tough draw out of the gate getting two of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league as their new goalies get settled, while the team in front of them hasn’t exactly adapted in trying to protect them. But there is still enough talent on the roster to get it figured out.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 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.

Blue Jackets look to Swedish players for scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to Sweden to help fill the scoring void left by departed star forward Artemi Panarin.

More specifically, the Blue Jackets are relying on a quartet of Swedes – two of them rookies who haven’t played in North America before – for some scoring punch as they open the season Friday night against Toronto at Nationwide Arena.

Twenty-year-old Emil Bemstrom and 26-year-old Jakob Lilja played together on the same Swedish elite league team last year, and both made the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster out of coach John Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp.

Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2017 draft, was a scoring machine in Sweden. Lilja was signed as a free agent and impressed the Blue Jackets in the prospects tournament in Michigan. Both could end up skating together on the fourth line on either side of veteran Riley Nash.

”It’s a really different game,” Lilja said. ”Smaller ice, so like if you lose the puck in the wrong places it’s creating scoring chances right away. The players are really skilled, so you don’t want to lose the puck to them. Overall, it’s like a high-speed game. Even at the pro level in Sweden it’s really defensive. So just better players and smaller ice, so everything goes a little bit faster.”

The other two members of the Swedish coalition will be expected to bear more of the burden as the Blue Jackets try to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Center Alexander Wennberg, 25, will try to fulfill the great promise he showed three seasons ago when he put up 59 points for Columbus and seemed poised to break out. Veteran Gustav Nyquist is a solid top-six forward who was signed as a free agent after registering 60 points last season with Detroit and San Jose. The two are slated to skate together on the second line.

Rookie Alexandre Texier is expected to take Panarin’s place on the top line with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and winger Cam Atkinson . Team veterans including captain Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson all will have to step it up to compensate for the loss of Panarin’s team-leading 87 points a season ago.

No worries about the blue line, though.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones continue to make up one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and there is some good depth behind them.

Joonas Korpisalo will be given a chance to be the everyday goalie after the free-agent departure of Vezina Trophy-winning stopper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with Florida. Rookie Elvis Merlikins also will see time in the net.

Last season was filled with drama surrounding the pending departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. Tortorella said none of that is hanging in the air anymore.

”I think as the season begins here and all the questions start coming our way, I think there’s an inner camaraderie about the definition of guys wanting to be here,” he said. ”I think that’s really important, to have a team that’s going to try to be competitive in this league and stay competitive, is people wanting to be here. We have that. I think they’re rallying around that. This will grow as the season goes on.”