Bruce Cassidy

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NHL on NBCSN: ‘Measuring stick’ game for Bruins, Lightning

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A game between two of the best teams in the NHL is always worth noting, whether the Lightning (87 points) really have a chance to catch the Bruins (94), or not. When you consider that the two teams are expected to be on a collision course for a possible second-round playoff matchup (despite, again, easily ranking among the NHL’s best), it only makes each matchup more interesting.

With Tuesday’s meeting in Tampa Bay on NBCSN and Saturday’s bout in Boston, the Lightning and Bruins get two chances to see how they measure up against each other. Which … again, also translates to how they measure up among the best of the best.

“I look at it more as ‘We haven’t seen them in a long time’ and Tampa has been a really strong team since I’ve been here,” Bruce Cassidy said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “For us, it’s a measuring stick maybe. Here’s one of the best teams in our division — and I’d put us in that category as well — and let’s see what they’ve got. It’s less about that if we win this, we can start counting down [to a divisional title].”

Torey Krug believes the games will have a “playoff-type feel” to them. Fittingly enough, there are also reasons why the Lightning and Bruins will be going through a “feeling-out process,” including Tuesday on NBCSN.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Lightning, Bruins continue to deal with trade deadline transitions

Want an idea of how hectic it can be when you’re traded? Consider that life doesn’t just hit the pause button for someone like Blake Coleman, whose baby girl arrived just around the time he went from the Devils to the Lightning.

These games provide a chance for the Bruins and Lightning to see how new additions and alignments might work in strength vs. strength situations. Actually, they also get the chance to see if other things work, like sending a more defensive-minded unit after one of those “strengths.”

Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are charged with finding their footing with the Lightning, not exactly an easy roster to crack. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie face similar challenges easing in with the Bruins.

Now, there’s some relief in that all four forwards weren’t expected to be team-altering players. No doubt, Kase could really tie the room together, and the Bolts paid big enough for Coleman and Goodrow to expect strong play. But these aren’t the sort of additions teams expect to revolutionize an offense or patch up a shaky defense.

Instead, the goal is for the rich to get richer, and these rosters are about as talent-rich as you’re going to see in the salary cap era.

[Push for the Playoffs]

Can Kucherov stay hot without Stamkos?

Of course, the Lightning are poorer with Stamkos out for the rest of the regular season, and probably a chunk of the playoffs.

It’s far from ideal timing, although Tampa Bay at least gets time to tune up without him. (It probably would’ve been nice to know about this loss before the trade deadline, though, mind you.)

While the Lightning boast other stars like Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, many eyes will be on reigning Art and Hart winner Nikita Kucherov. Lightning fans should be soothed to know that Kucherov can flourish without Stamkos, even if it’s only natural for there to be some drop-off.

The Lightning possess a 57-32-13 record in 112 games played with Kucherov but without Stamkos. So there’s experience there, even if they don’t want to perpetuate such experiences.

It will be fascinating to see if Kucherov can stay hot, because he’s on a torrid run. Kucherov is currently on a personal 19-game point streak with 14 goals and 31 points during that span. Overall, Kucherov has generated 80 points in 63 games.

Bruins begin tough stretch with Tuesday’s NBCSN game vs. Lightning

Two matches against the Lightning in one week already sounds like a tall order for Boston. The challenges go further than that:

If the Lightning took both of this week’s games in regulation, and also took advantage of their game in hand against Boston, then you can see how the Bruins’ buffer could shrink in no time. Virtually every team on this schedule faces even greater urgency than the B’s, so this will be a gut-check stretch.

A … measuring stick, if you will. It should be a good one between the Bruins and Lightning on NBCSN Tuesday.

NBC Sports will take fans inside the sounds and passion of hockey with a one-hour special – “Wired: Stadium Series – Kings vs. Avalanche” – this Wednesday at 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN, immediately following coverage of Ducks-Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Following Wednesday’s premiere, the show will be available on demand on the NBC Sports app. The special will also encore on NBCSN on Thursday, March 5, at 10:30 p.m. ET following NHL Overtime, and on Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m. ET.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins hope trade deadline additions get going vs. Stars

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite holding the NHL’s best record, the Bruins added some nice pieces at the trade deadline. They weren’t big-budget blockbusters, but Nick Ritchie and especially Ondrej Kase could serve as “sleeper hits.”

Now they just need to stop hitting the snooze button.

Ritchie faced some growing pains in first Bruins game after trade deadline

Ritchie (traded for Danton Heinen) and the Bruins didn’t exactly earn rave reviews from Bruce Cassidy as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Tuesday.

“[It was] clearly not good enough. I thought some guys came to play and some guys didn’t. [Some guys] didn’t break a sweat, some of them it looked like,” Cassidy said following that loss, via NBC Sports Boston. “I’m sure there was effort [and that] they were trying. They were just in-between, couldn’t execute or whatever. At the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”

A challenging upcoming schedule won’t make it easier to acclimate, either.

The Bruins host the Stars in Boston on Thursday, but then things get bumpy. They play three in a row and five of their next six on the road. Actually, there’s almost a month of road-heavy play, with eight of 11 away from home from Feb. 29 through March 21.

Ritchie noted that everything’s new when you get traded to a new team, and that’s a fair point for any trade deadline addition.

Actually … that concept might be where the Bruins hold a leg up. After all, the Bruins got both Ritchie and Kase from the Ducks, so they have familiarity with each other. (Kase didn’t get to debut yet, but may play on Thursday.)

That familiarity could benefit Ritchie, in particular.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Adding Kase to Bruins is a cause for excitement

If you’re a bit of a “fancy stats” nerd (raises hand), then you’ve looked at Kase as a hidden gem for quite some time. Pick your chart, and Kase will probably come out looking great.

With that in mind, a possible line of Kase, Ritchie, and David Krejci strikes as quite interesting. Especially in tandem with that buzzsaw Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line, and getting depth from the likes of Charlie Coyle.

Krejci provided some insight into playing with Kase a few days ago, noting that Kase is “fast and can score.”

“You kind of have to adjust your game a little bit, but you have to get a feel for each other,” Krejci said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss. “You’ve got to be on the same page with the breakouts, neutral zone. He’s a right-handed shot, so — I’m not sure what’s going to happen (Tuesday vs. the Flames) — but it’s always nice to have a right-handed shot on your line.”

There might be some room for frustration, mind you. Ritchie may create some groans with an ill-timed penalty. Kase’s a player to get excited about, although he might not always get the bounces. The Ducks traded Kase as his shooting percentage was mired at a career-low 5.2 percent, and his career average is modest at 9.5.

But … overall, the possibilities are exciting. Maybe Jake DeBrusk will end up being a better option than Ritchie, but we’ll see.

If they can score against the stingy Stars, that would present one heck of a first (or for Ritchie, second) impression.

John Forslund, Pierre McGuire and analyst Mike Milbury will have the call from TD Garden. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

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.

Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky? NHL’s new Mr. 700 has a chance

Alex Ovechkin is making the seemingly impossible appear to be not so far-fetched after all.

Wayne Gretzky’s 894 career goals has, for decades, loomed as one of hockey’s most untouchable records. The ”Great One” set the bar so high it appeared out of reach for even the NHL’s best scorers.

Ovechkin, on Saturday, became the second-fastest and second-youngest player to reach 700 goals behind only Gretzky. Because he’s only 34 and shows no signs of slowing down, belief is growing that Ovechkin can challenge Gretzky’s mark.

”Alex is going to score another probably 150 goals, maybe more, before he retires,” Hall of Famer and fellow 700 goal-scorer Phil Esposito said. ”He’s got a chance to catch Wayne. There’s no doubt about that.”

Gretzky scored his 894 goals in 1,487 games over a 20-year career with the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. A vast majority of his goals came during the sport’s highest-scoring era, and Gretzky reached 40 in a season for the last time at age 30.

Ovechkin is in the midst of his fifth 40-goal season since turning 30. Last season, he became the oldest to win the goal-scoring title since Esposito in 1974-75, and he’s on pace for 57 this year.

”I think he’ll score 50 until he’s 50 years old it seems like,” Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. ”I never thought (catching Gretzky) would happen. I hope he can get close.”

Ovechkin is under contract through next season and would likely need to play four more seasons to take a legitimate shot at the mileston. Longtime running mate Nicklas Backstrom just signed on for five more years, so it’s not impossible to think Ovechkin stays around long term.

Asked what Ovechkin needs to do to approach Gretzky’s record, Esposito said: ”Stay with the Washington Capitals. Stay with a good team.” They’d sure like that.

”He loves to score and continues to bring that to rink every day,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. ”I think he’s energized by seeing where he can finish in the top 10, and it’s kind of fun to watch an older guy keep it going like he has.”

Gretzky recently told NHL.com he’s rooting for Ovechkin to break his record, with staying healthy and playing on a good team the two necessary ingredients. Ovechkin has been one of the most durable players in hockey during his career, and the Capitals could extend their run of contending for several more years.

”The guy’s missed 17 games in 15 years due to injury – that’s freaking incredible,” former player and executive-turned NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton said. ”They have a quality team that has staying power. He’s going to get three or four more years of being on an elite team.”

Backstrom, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman John Carlson are all signed long term after winning the Stanley Cup with Ovechkin in 2018. Wrapping up his playing days back home in Russia could be alluring to Ovechkin, so it’s unclear how many more years he wants to remain in the NHL.

”It just depends on how long he wants to play,” said Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed Ovechkin’s 600th goal. ”You know he’s going to put up anywhere from 40 to 50 goals a year, and he’s going to be dangerous no matter what his age is or what his team’s like. You know he’s got a phenomenal team around him, and you know he’s just going to continue to beat goalies.”

Ovechkin wasn’t always scoring at this pace. At the low point of his career, he scored 32 goals in 2010-11 and 38 in 2011-12 before Washington bowed out in the second round of the playoffs.

An elite NHL goal-scorer’s prime usually ends in his mid-20s, and doubt crept in that the same would happen to Ovechkin. Not so fast.

”I think everyone halfway through his career would’ve said, no, he’s going to tail off at some point,” Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano said. ”But he hasn’t stopped, so he has a chance.”

Two-time NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid grew up watching Ovechkin play plenty against his idol, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, and has been impressed with the consistency of the goals piling up.

”He just seems ageless and just keeps on scoring goals,” McDavid said. ”I don’t see any reason he can’t keep doing that.”

The desire is still there. Veteran coach Todd McLellan enjoys watching Ovechkin’s excitement for scoring goals – except against his own team – and because of that is hoping he cracks 894.

”It’s great for our game to see him,” McLellan said. ”As long as that excitement stays there, he’s still going to have the skill and the shot. He’s going to have a great team around him. I think he can do it.”

Lawton has run the numbers and can’t imagine Ovechkin not breaking Gretzky’s record. He’s conservatively predicting a 55-goal season, which would mean Ovechkin at his career rate needs to play roughly 300 more games to get close.

”Alex is in a completely different position (than Gretzky),” Lawton said. ”Back then, players, we didn’t know and understand as much about nutrition and training as we do today. … Overall, looking in the future, I just don’t see there’s any way how he doesn’t break it.”

Boston’s David Pastrnak, who is currently neck-and-neck with Ovechkin and Toronto’s Auston Matthews in the goal-scoring race and might one day be the NHL’s next 700-goal scorer, ”can’t really see” Gretzky’s record being broken. Pastrnak thinks Ovechkin will join Gretzky and Gordie Howe by surpassing 800, though Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wonders about the goals beyond that.

”I think health-wise will determine that,” Cassidy said. ”If he can stay healthy to at least 38, 39, 40, I don’t see why he won’t at least push up against it.”

Ovechkin is already in elite company in the 700 club with Gretzky, Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Esposito and Mike Gartner. He recently climbed past Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier on the all-time list.

Yzerman closed a video message for passing him to Ovechkin by saying, ”If you ever do break Wayne Gretzky’s all time record for the most goals in the league, after watching your Stanley Cup celebrations, I want to be invited to your party.”

Perhaps Ovechkin would party like it’s 2018, and it would possibly be an accomplishment that’s never matched again.

Bruins coach Cassidy has some harsh words for his defense

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PITTSBURGH — For the third time this season and the second time this week the Boston Bruins lost a game after holding a three-goal lead. On Sunday, it was a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After scoring three first period goals, the Bruins allowed the Penguins to climb back into the game and eventually tie it on a Jack Johnson shorthanded goal early in the third period. That set the stage for Bryan Rust to score the game-winner with just over seven minutes remaining.

That goal is the one that really seemed to draw the ire of Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy after the game. Especially since it is the type of thing he has been seeing too much of lately. He used that goal as an opportunity to criticize the play of his defensemen and the type of hockey they are playing.

It all started with Penguins center Evgeni Malkin forcing a turnover on the forecheck thanks to a heavy check on Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy gave up the puck to Malkin, Malkin found Rust wide open inside the faceoff dot, and Rust deposited in the net before Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak could figure out what happened.

This game had to be especially frustrating for the Bruins after losing a three-goal lead in Philadelphia earlier this week.

“We saw some poor defending, poor goaltending I think in Philly. Tonight I thought it was more the same to be honest with you,” said Cassidy on Sunday. “Not so much on the goalie, they were good goals. But we get beat off the wall on the first one. The last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you. It’s a rimmed puck goalie needs to get out and stop. The D need to communicate.

“You need to make a play. You can’t turn the puck over there. There’s too much of that going on. Guys that have offensive ability have to start playing to their strength a little more on our back end, or we have to seriously consider what type of D corps do we want? We are supposed to be mobile, we are supposed to be able to move the puck, break pucks out and add to our offense. Right now that is a challenge for us.”

Cassidy never mentioned anyone by name there, but it’s not hard to figure out who he is talking about.

McAvoy is the one that was guilty of the turnover on the game-winning goal, and it is probably fair to say that he is one of the players Cassidy wants to see playing to their strength more offensively. McAvoy spoke to the media after the game and admitted he needed to be stronger on that puck.

Aside from the turnover, McAvoy has been having an underwhelming season based on the standard he set for himself over his first two seasons. His possession numbers are down, and as of Sunday he has yet to score a goal in 46 games. He scored seven goals in 54 games a year ago, after scoring seven in 63 games during his rookie season.

It should also be noted that veteran John Moore was the one that got beat on the first goal that Cassidy mentioned. Moore, normally a 17-18 minute per game defenseman, was pretty much benched after that play. He finished the game with just 10 minutes of ice-time, only six of which came in the second and third periods after that goal was scored.

Cassidy was asked if he thought the team let up a little bit after getting the early lead. He did not see it that way, instead focussing on the type of goals they allowed.

“We got out-chanced in the second, but I don’t think it was to the point where they were bombarding us,” said Cassidy. “They were better, but we lose a battle low on the second goal, and our forward swings away. These are correctible mistakes, but the goals we are giving up against this good team like tonight. What is it? Is it lack of focus? Did we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. Little bit of gifts. You can get out played, you will by good teams in stretches, but they were gifts.”

This Bruins team — and especially their defense — had their toughness questioned by the Boston media in the wake of their response to the hit that sidelined starting goalie Tuukka Rask.

Now they are facing public criticism from the person whose opinion matters most — their own coach — for a far bigger problem.

Their actual play on the ice.

Related: Penguins score four consecutive goals to beat Bruins

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.

 

Rick Tocchet replaces Gerard Gallant as Pacific All-Star coach

Gerard Gallant’s surprising dismissal as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday also created another opening at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Gallant had been named as the head coach of the Pacific Division team earlier this month because the Golden Knights had the best record in the division at the start of the new calendar year. But with him now no longer being the coach in Vegas, the NHL had to find a replacement.

The League announced on Thursday that Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet will be that replacement.

The Coyotes are currently in first place in the Division with 57 points entering play on Thursday.

[Related: Golden Knights’ firing of Galant short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction]

For Tocchet, this will be his first time coaching in the All-Star Game. He has been the Coyotes’ coach since the start of the 2017-18 season. It is worth noting that in the chaos of the league’s coaching carousel this season (that has now seen seven coaching changes) he is tied with Vancouver’s Travis Green as the longest-tenured coach in the Pacific Division. Both are in their third years with their respective teams.

Washington’s Todd Reirden (Metropolitan Division), Boston’s Bruce Cassidy (Atlantic Division), and St. Louis’ Craig Berube (Central Division) are the other three coaches at this year’s game.

The NHL’s All-Star weekend takes place later this month on January 24-25 in St. Louis.

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
NHL All-Star Game captains
All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands
Rosters for Women’s elite 3-on-3 tournament 

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.