PHT Morning Skate: Ovi’s signature one-timer; Canadian university brawl

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Hockey News gives us a list of five bargain-bin defensemen that could be interesting acquisitions for contending teams. (The Hockey News)

• Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones talks about how expensive hockey can be, the money that comes with being a pro and he also opens up about what it’s like to be a black player in the NHL. (Wealth Simple)

• Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce took a deeper look at how former OHLer Akim Aliu’s refusal to accept being part of a rookie hazing incident affected his hockey career. (Sportsnet)

• ESPN sat down for a Q & A with former Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo, who some may describe as a one-hit wonder. “I didn’t quite get to 60 goals, but I was close. And I got to share (the Rocket Richard Trophy) with the people that were there for me all the way up. My parents. My brother and sister. A few of my uncles that used to take me to hockey school when my parents couldn’t.” (ESPN)

• Find out how Alex Ovechkin‘s signature power-play one-timer became so unstoppable. (NHL.com)

• How will the next expansion draft affect the way the Los Angeles Kings make trades? (Mayors Manor)

• The solution to the Colorado Avalanche’s goalie troubles might be in the AHL. (Denver Post)

• Check out this brawl during a Canadian University Hockey game. 13 players and both head coaches were ejected. (CBC.ca)

• The Flyers would make NHL history if they were to sneak into the playoffs. (Philly.com)

• Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey isn’t exactly on his coach’s good side right now. (New York Post)

• The Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, but they lost forward Paul Byron in the process. Byron clearly showed his frustration as he skated off the ice. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• ICYMI on Saturday night, there was a touching family moment prior to the game between the Leafs and Penguins:

 

Claude Julien has Canadiens playing fast, aggressive

Raise your hand if you expected the Montreal Canadiens to be sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division after 51 games this season. Anybody? I didn’t think so.

After finishing 28th in 2017-18, expectations for the Habs this year were fairly low. They traded away their two best scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, and they were without Shea Weber for the first two months of the season. So you can understand why no one thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The acquisitions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have really helped. Carey Price‘s performances in December and January have also propelled the Habs up the standings and career year’s from Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault and a few others haven’t hurt, either.

But one of the biggest reasons the Canadiens have had so much success, is because head coach Claude Julien has them playing faster than ever. They’re at their best when they’re aggressive on the puck and on the forecheck. Julien has admitted that this edition of the Canadiens isn’t the most talented or skilled, but when they work hard, they know they can go head-to-head against anybody.

“We’re a team that came into this season with the intention of changing the perception of our hockey club and what’s expected of us,” Julien told the Montreal Gazette after his team dropped an ugly home decision to the Boston Bruins in December. “And the only way we could do that was to go out and compete hard and that was the No. 1 thing we wanted to do and that’s the No. 1 thing I think people appreciated from our team. We’re a fun team to watch, we competed hard, and lately it’s just been on and off. We can’t think that all of a sudden we’re a skilled team and we can get away with just half efforts because this is too good of a league. With the parity, you’re not going to survive that way.”

And that consistently aggressive forecheck might not be easy to maintain, but they know that when they’re able to execute on that part of their game, they can force their opponents into making mistakes.

“We put a lot of pressure on teams and when you can close on a player, you force him to make decisions quickly,” Paul Byron said back in October, per the Gazette. “When you have the forwards we have — Max (Domi), myself, Artturi (Lehkonen) — pressuring the other teams it forces them to make mistakes and cough up pucks. We want to get on them fast. The more we can take time and space away from the them the more advantageous it is for us.”

Adding Luke Richardson to the coaching staff has also helped change the identity of the Canadiens. Richardson has found a way to get his group of defensemen into the rush to help create offense.

Here’s an example of Petry not being shy about handling the puck deep in the offensive zone:

The defense has also just played faster in the way they skate with the puck and move the puck, which has led to an increase in puck possession and quality scoring chances.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Canadiens are the fourth best possession team in the league behind San Jose, Carolina and Vegas. They’re also fifth in FF%, sixth in SF%, sixth in GF%, and sixth in SCF%. Those are impressive numbers considering they don’t have a superstar forward like a lot of the other teams around them in the standings. Julien has put his team in a position to succeed and he’s done it by using all five skaters on the ice.

Even though there isn’t one specific way to measure this, it’s become increasingly clear that they’ve found a way to shoot from more dangerous areas on the ice. Last season, the Canadiens outshot their opponents fairly regularly, but a lot of those pucks came from the perimeter, where you just won’t score often enough. Now, they aren’t shy about getting to the dirty areas to make life more difficult for the opposing goaltender.

If Julien’s team can continue to hold on to the puck as much as they do, while getting incredible goaltending from Price, the Habs will continue to have success.

Are they legitimate Stanley Cup contenders? No. But they’re way ahead of where many expected them to be at this point in their re-tool project.

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.

Habs’ Byron suspended three games for hit on Panthers’ Weegar

via NHL
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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron received a three-game suspension for charging MacKenzie Weegar of the Florida Panthers during Montreal’s 5-1 win on Tuesday.

The Department of Player Safety explains that Byron “launches up and into a forceful check” while making “significant contact” with Weegar’s head. The explanation video circles back to Byron’s skate leaving the ice, postulating that Byron “launched himself excessively upward” to make the hit.

Finally, the NHL notes Weegar’s injury, but also a lack of suspension history for the speedy Byron:

Byron tweeted a statement on the suspension, noting that he accepts responsibility for the hit, even though he had “no intention of causing injury.”

So, Byron will be unavailable for Friday’s game at Columbus, Saturday’s home game versus the Flyers, and a Wednesday, Jan. 23 contest versus the Coyotes. The Habs have the All-Star break after that, so Byron is eligible to return for a Feb. 2 home game against the Devils.

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.

Mike Hoffman didn’t need shootout to do the Forsberg move

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When your team is struggling (like the Florida Panthers are, what with a six-game losing streak), it’s easy for a player like Mike Hoffman‘s standout season to go under the radar. Especially when teammate Aleksander Barkov takes up a lot of the mainstream “underrated” talk, to the point where maybe that point is now overrated.

But that’s actually a point that makes the Panthers a little frustrating.

Barkov’s one of those guys who ranks as an elite, Selke-level forwards, and Hoffman put that Ottawa drama behind him to the tune of an impressive debut season with the Panthers.

He had a heck of a streak going earlier in 2018-19, and Hoffman appears slated to crush his career-high goals total of 29 from 2015-16. Hoffman’s going to have trouble topping his 22nd tally of this season, as he dusted off the awesome Peter Forsberg shootout move … but against opposing defenders. Impressive.

This leaves Hoffman with 22 goals and 41 points with some time remaining in his 45th game. His career-high for points (61 in 2016-17) is also very much in play, even if he cools off his career-best pace.

The Panthers game was also noteworthy for this hit by Paul Byron, which only netted a two-minute penalty. Should it draw supplemental discipline? (UPDATE: Byron will have a Wednesday hearing with the Department of Player Safety.)

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.

Price bewilders Bruins as Habs win in OT

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The Bruins and Canadiens don’t play quite like they used to. For one thing, Monday’s game was a white-knuckle race of speed. There was a lot of skill on display in this one, even though there weren’t a ton of goals in Montreal’s 3-2 OT win against Boston.

(Granted, there was some of that old-school nastiness, such as in this fight.)

That speed was on display when Paul Byron scored a tremendous 2-1 shorthanded goal, and for a long time, Carey Price was able to hold down the fort. The Bruins eventually broke through, however, when David Krejci scored a power-play goal with Boston’s net empty. Montreal was 38 seconds short of locking that down.

The Habs didn’t take long to end things during the 3-on-3 OT, however.

Defenseman Jeff Petry emphatically showed off forward-like hand-eye coordination to bat in a rebound with his backhand just 15 seconds into OT to give Montreal an impressive win.

Price ended up stopping 41 out of 43 shots, as the Bruins almost doubled up the Canadiens to the tune of a 43-22 SOG advantage. Boston enjoyed nice efforts from Krejci, along with the even-more-usual suspects (such as Brad Marchand, who generated a goal and an assist along with six SOG).

With this result, the Canadiens climb (at least briefly) to the top wild-card spot with 55 points and 35 games remaining. The Bruins moved up to 57 points with 36 games left in 2018-19, yet they lost some ground ahead of Montreal for the third seed in the Atlantic. Both Montreal and Boston gained on the Maple Leafs (58 points, 37 games remaining) for the second seed, as Toronto lost a sloppy game to Colorado on Monday.

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.