Push for the Playoffs: Canadiens keep pace in Eastern Conference race

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Tuesday night was littered with important matchups for teams in and around Wild Card spots in both conferences, but the Montreal Canadiens were in a unique spot. The Habs, who were in Los Angeles last night, didn’t start playing until 10:30 p.m. ET, which means they knew exactly what all the other teams around them had done before they even stepped onto the ice at Staples Center.

The Canadiens were able to watch as each of the teams they’re competing with ended up recording at least one point. Carolina lost to Boston in overtime, Pittsburgh beat Florida in overtime, and Columbus took down New Jersey in a shootout.

Montreal was able to come up with a 3-1 win against a Kings team that was looking to play spoiler.

“It’s huge,” Canadiens netminder Carey Price said of the win, per the Montreal Gazette. “I thought we played very well from the drop of the puck. We haven’t had a ton of success here, but we were able to put that behind us and put together a solid effort.”

Those two points allowed the Habs to jump back into the final Wild Card spot in the East.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Islanders vs. Penguins
Capitals vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Capitals at Flyers, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Maple Leafs at Canucks, 9:00 p.m. ET
Blues at Ducks, 10:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Flames at Golden Knights 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.8 percent
Capitals – 96.6 percent
Penguins – 91.7 percent
Hurricanes – 86.8 percent
Canadiens – 60.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.4 percent
Flyers – 5 percent
Sabres – 0.6 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 97 percent
Blues – 95.5 percent
Stars 83.3 percent
Avalanche – 46.5 percent
Wild – 42.8 percent
Coyotes 29.1 percent
Oilers – 3.7 percent
Canucks – 1.3 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE 

Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals

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.

Ducks’ forgettable road trip doesn’t dampen newlyweds’ honeymoon

Gladd family
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Andrew and Kaylin Gladd figured that by the end of their Canadian road trip following their beloved Anaheim Ducks the pucks they collected before each game would end up being the highlight of their travels.

The California natives were married on New Year’s Eve and decided to spend their honeymoon traveling across Canada as the Ducks played the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators. It was a plan hatched over the summer after the NHL released its 2018-19 schedule. 

Being true Californians, of course, meant that aside from booking hotels, buying game tickets and planning how they would get to each city, they would need to make some additions to their wardrobes considering the time of year they would be honeymooning.

“We started buying actual winter boots because we didn’t have anything clothes-wise,” Andrew told Pro Hockey Talk on Friday from the couple’s Ottawa hotel room.

“It’s cold up here,” added Kaylin.

When the Gladds, who have had Ducks season tickets together for the last three years, began planning, there probably wasn’t a thought that the Ducks would be as bad as they are right now. They’re eight points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference, but it feels like a thousand. Anaheim has won only twice in their last 21 games and John Gibson’s Vezina Trophy hopes have taken a major hit with the lack of support in front of him.

Andrew and Kaylin got to witness the red lights in four different rinks light up with regularity in the past week, with the Ducks getting outscored 23-5 during the Gladds four-game trip. Fortunately for them they headed to Washington D.C. to finish out their honeymoon and missed out on the 6-2 loss in Philadelphia, which turned out to be Randy Carlyle’s final game behind the bench.

“I did think Ottawa was our best chance,” said Andrew. “Ottawa came off playing in Toronto, came back home and took care of a team that didn’t play the night before.”

The hockey was enjoyable, and while the results weren’t there for the Ducks something unexpected happened on the trip that really changed their final outlook on things.

On Thursday morning, TSN host James Duthie came across a photo on Twitter of the couple with their checklist sign before the Maple Leafs game. He responded with, “Ouch. Feel like we should all chip in and send them to a resort. Or therapy.”

Three hours later Duthie Tweeted again, writing that through connections he has at the Wymara Resort in Turks and Caicos, the Gladds would be getting a free four-night stay. “[O]ne of our owners is a Senators fan so it’s the least we can do,” the resort revealed.

The Wymara Resort gave Pro Hockey Talk the full details of what the Gladds trip will consist of:

• Four night-stay at the resort
• A three-course dinner at the restaurant Stelle, which will also include a bottle of wine
• Sunset cocktails at champagne bar Pink Bar and a beach bed

“We had kind of been talking about doing a trip like that this year, maybe down to Cabo [San Lucas] for my birthday,” said Kaylin. “I mean, Turks and Caicos, we’ll take that, too.”

Despite the poor results on the ice, what the Gladds were able to do away from the rink only enhanced their Canadian experience. There were Beavertails enjoyed in Ottawa, poutine sampled in every city, a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame to see the plaques of Ducks legends Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and some outdoor hockey played on a river in Winnipeg.

The response from opposing fans in each city was one of respect. “It was always shock just thinking that we would come from Southern California to somewhere so cold for our honeymoon,” explained Kaylin.

But despite some good-natured ribbing, there were bonds formed with fans from the opposing teams and even some Ducks fans they discovered who were living in each of the cities.

“Definitely the Canadian nice thing was there. Everyone was nice,” said Andrew. “The hockey aspect you can bond on. Even the person in customs, they ask you quite a few questions, and he’s like ‘Really? You guys came here for your honeymoon?’ And that was the reoccurring theme.

“After that you end up talking to people, connecting to people and sharing the love for the game.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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.

Unlikely Selke candidate emerges in Montreal

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When the Montreal Canadiens traded Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016, no one believed that they had acquired a potential Selke Trophy candidate. But through 48 games this season, Phillip Danault has shown that he has what it takes to be in the conversation for the NHL’s top two-way forward.

Over the last few years, the Canadiens have been thin down the middle. Danault has had to play on the team’s top line for a while, but no one ever expected him to be a go-to center. Most people still see him as a quality third-liner.

The 25-year-old has spent most of the season on a line with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Those three have consistently gone up against every opponent’s best line. The minutes have been difficult, but those three have done a tremendous job of locking things down.

Danault opened the season with just two goals in his first 35 games, but he’s taken off since December. In his last 17 contests, the Habs forward has picked up 17 points. He’s now up to eight goals and 32 points in 48 games, which puts him on pace 55 points this season.

But let’s take a look at some of the advanced numbers that show us just how good he’s been in 2018-19.

He and his linemates are all in the top 50 when it comes to Corsi For Percentage. His 57.24 percent ranks 43rd in the NHL. The fact that the Canadiens control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice is impressive. Keep in mind, he’s on the ice going up against Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nikita Kucherov and so many other top players. That’s remarkable.

Also, when he’s on the ice, the Habs score nearly 60 percent of the goals that occur. Again, impressive. How about high-danger CF%? With Danault on, his team controls 57 percent of the high-danger chances that occur on the ice. He’s also the top faceoff guy on the team, at 53 percent.

“Phillip is playing some very good hockey. We rely on him a lot and we give him a lot of responsibility,” said head coach Claude Julien, per the Canadiens’ website. “He’s headed in the right direction. He’s often taking important faceoffs late in the game. He’s an extremely useful player.”

Over the last seven seasons, only three different players have won the Selke Trophy. Patrice Bergeron has won four times, Anze Kopitar has won it twice, and Jonathan Toews did it once. Bergeron is having a better offensive season than Danault, but he’s also missed 16 games so far. Kopitar and the Kings are totally off the grid this year and Toews is in a similar spot.

If Danault can continue to chip in offensively, while taking care of business defensively, he could find himself in the conversation for a nomination. Of course, he’s no slam dunk, but he’s been good enough to get himself on the radar, which is tough to do for this award, because voters usually hand it out on a reputation basis.

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.

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.