Thoughts Are My Own: Night of Statement Wins

Thoughts after a rare Monday night of games and big wins.

*Start with the New York Rangers. Going into Pittsburgh’s building and coming out with a 5-2 win. Coming off a second loss in a row, losing Mika Zibanejad, it was all Blueshirts after a sluggish first period. We’ll see if they can keep it up.

*Who had Edmonton beating Chicago, 5-0? I’m sure even fewer had the Blackhawks being held to just three shots in the third period.

*Nice win by Nashville, topping Tampa Bay at home. The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10.

*Matt Tkachuk with a goal and assist while playing 15:52 in the Flames 4-2 loss to Buffalo. That’s his second multi-point game in the NHL and now has five goals and eight points in 17 games. He’s been one of Calgary’s few bright spots.

*Jake Guentzel the latest kid to splash on the scene in what has been the Year of the Kids so far in 2016. The young Penguin scored on his first career shot 1:02 into Monday’s game against the Rangers in Pittsburgh, the first of two first period goals for Guentzel in the 5-2 loss. A third round pick by the Pens in 2013, the 22-year-old forward had been a force at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with 17 points in 16 games this season. He had 14 points in 10 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season after he went pro following his junior season at Nebraska-Omaha, where he led the Mavericks to a Frozen Four appearance in 2015 as a sophomore.

*Latest on the Craig Cunningham front. Nothing new but Bob McKenzie had a great piece on Cunningham, his journey to the NHL, and the relationship he holds with his mother, his lifelong friends, and his current peers. McKenzie writes Cunningham is ‘literally battling for his life.’

Game to Watch Tuesday Night

St. Louis at Boston: David Backes faces the team he captained for five years before leaving the Blues for a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency this past summer.

Hat Trick Pick

Victor Rask: The Hurricanes leading scorer has four goals in his last five games, and eight overall this season.

Thoughts Are My Own: Lots of Highlight-Reel Stuff

Thoughts as we sit exactly one week away from Black Friday:

*He didn’t get much help, but James Reimer turned in what will likely be one of the more putrid goaltending performances of the year. Sometimes it’s just about making that save. He made none of them.

*On the other hand, great night for Steve Mason in the Flyers 5-2 win over Winnipeg. Thirty-save effort, his stoning of Nikolaj Ehlers midway through the second period was game-changing.

*A nice goal by Sean Couturier got things going for the Flyers, as Couturier walked right in after puck-carrying Mark Scheifele lost his feet, leading to the turnover. It looked like Jakub Voracek got away with a trip on the play.

*The Flyers have won six straight against the Jets. Winnipeg hasn’t won in Philly since January 2012, a 2-1 shootout win.

*A play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Matt Read’s diving pass to set up a Michael Raffl goal. Read, in a puck battle with Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey, makes a great read (no pun intended) on the play, seeing Raffl streaking down the middle of the ice, left alone after Morrissey gave chase to the puck after Dustin Byfuglien made a bad pinch that led to the two-on-one. Read’s dive shuffled the pass over to Raffl, who went in and beat Connor Hellebuyck for the easy score.

*Nice gesture by the Senators to acknowledge Mike Fisher’s 1,000th career game (which he did this past March, to clarify). The Predators captain played 675 of those games in Ottawa, from 1999 to 2011. Fisher was a key piece in those great Senators teams of the 2000s, and was integral in Ottawa’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2007.

*Nashville is 5-1-2 in its last eight. Pierre LeBrun wrote earlier this week the Preds appear to be hitting their stride. It would seem that way.

*Devan Dubnyk might be the best player in the NHL nobody talks about. Dubnyk’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Boston was his 14th since joining the Wild. He has a .952 save percentage and 1.47 GAA this season.

*Another play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Ben Bishop makes a diving save on a Kyle Okposo shot that looked like a no-doubter goal. That said, it was Bishop who threw the puck out into the big ice from behind the net, which met the tape of Okposo. It’s like he wanted the Sabre to score.

*Predators top goaltending prospect Juuse Saros made 35 saves in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win over Cleveland on Thursday night. Saros had a 1.74 GAA in eight games for the Admirals, which trails only Michael Leighton (1.62) in the AHL. His .940 save percentage is bested only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Casey DeSmith, who has a .963 save percentage but has played only four games.

*A big win for No. 6 UMass-Lowell, who went out to visit ninth-ranked Notre Dame and came out with a 4-1 win. The River Hawks are on the back end of a two-weekend stretch that includes trips to Orono and Indiana.

Mitch Marner’s Goal

As nice a goal as you’ll see. He does a good job getting a step on Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson as he gets the pass from James van Reimsdyk breaking out of the zone. From there, he’s able to create space for himself while outmuscling the big, strong Matheson as broke for the net, dancing around James Reimer and burying the puck.

Game to watch Friday night

N.Y. Rangers at Columbus: A pair of teams that account for two of the three-highest goal differentials so far this season; the Rangers leading at plus-34 while the Blue Jackets are third at plus-14. The Blueshirts do it by scoring (league-high 72 goals) while the Jackets play good defense (Eastern Conference-low 33 goals allowed).

Hat Trick Pick

Sidney Crosby: Sid has 96 points in 55 games against the Islanders, the Penguins opponent on Friday night. Crosby’s 30 goals against the Isles are second only to the Flyers (35). He has 10 goals through 10 games, the closest he’s ever come to a goal-per-game in his NHL career was in 2010-11, when he had 32 goals in 41 games.

Thoughts Are My Own: Hey, guys, there’s good Canadian teams this year

My thoughts as we get into the mind-numbing chatter of the possibility of a Montreal-Edmonton Stanley Cup final.

*So how about those Edmonton Oilers? Just keep chugging along, tossing aside the Capitals en route to a 6-1 start.

*A group is reportedly exploring options of building a 20,000-seat arena in Scottsdale, Arizona, a potential new home for the Arizona Coyotes. This would be huge for the future of the Coyotes franchise, which now appears to be there to stay after years upon years of relocation rumors. They’d be in the thick of things, closer to Phoenix, than they are currently in Glendale.

*Another stinker for the Bruins. Two nights, two losses by a score of 10-2. Chalk it up as a combination of bad defense and shaky goaltending. That combination is no way to go through life.

*Last time a team started four goalies in four consecutive games? That would be the 2010-11 New York Islanders, according to Elias.

*The more you watch Montreal, the more you realize just how good they are.

*Montreal in the first seven games over the last three seasons: 19-1-1 (6-1, 7-0, 6-0-1).

*Corey Perry passed Paul Kariya on Anaheim’s all-time points list.

*Brendan Leipsic had three more points on Wednesday for AHL Toronto, a 4-3 overtime win over Providence. The 22-year-old has 12 points in six games.

*The Albany Devils finally lost a game, denied the 6-0 start no AHL franchise in Albany has ever accomplished. The Devils fell to 5-1 with a 3-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

*A pair of four-point nights for Stockton Heat forwards Daniel Pribyl (1-3–4) and Morgan Klimchuk (2-2–4), as the Heat beat San Diego, 7-5. Klimchuk is a former first round pick by the Flames.

*Nice little night for 2017 draft hopeful Nico Hischier, who had three goals and six points in Halifax’s 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst.

*Carolina prospect Spencer Smallman had his first career hat trick in the QMJHL on Wednesday, a 5-2 win by Saint John over Charlottetown.

*Kole Lind had a goal and three assists in Kelowna’s 6-4 win over Victoria. Both of Calvin Thurkauf’s goals were assisted by the 17-year-old.

*Still no Nolan Patrick in the Brandon lineup. He hasn’t played since Oct. 11.

Links

A profile on Maxime Comtois of QMJHL Victoriaville, who a scouting director of an NHL team said ‘reminds (him) of Rick Nash at that age.’

A look at how the OHL’s top prospects are faring after about a month of action.

The evolution of Brad Marchand into an elite hockey talent.

Kings sign Anders Lindback to a tryout contract.

Oilers sending shockwaves through the NHL as they race out to a 6-1 start.

A ‘golden era’ of Canadian NHL franchises on the horizon.

 

Thoughts Are Mine Only: Never Too Early to Start Comparing Laine to Selanne

Here’s what I’m thinking as we watch these kids have all the fun.

*First career goal for Kyle Connor in Winnipeg’s 4-1 win over Dallas. He put up 71 points in 38 games last season in his lone campaign at Michigan. The same point total Jack Eichel put up in 40 games a year prior.

*The two previous NCAA scoring champions prior to Connor last year: Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau.

*Patrik Laine now has six points in seven games, for those of you keeping score at home. His shot is absolutely lethal.

*Teemu Selanne had six goals through seven games for Winnipeg during his historic rookie season of 1992-93, when he scored 76 goals, which remains a freshman record to this day. It’s never too early to start dropping the Selanne comparisons.

*The Canadiens win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was Carey Price’s first win over the Lightning since December 2013. He’d been 0-5-2 in seven previous regular season starts. However, he was 6-4 in the playoffs in that span; backstopping the Habs to a sweep in the first round in 2014 before the Bolts returned the favor in 2015, dispatching Montreal in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.

*Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined for a .960 save percentage while allowing just eight goals during the Red Wings winning streak, which moved to six with a shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday.

*Jakob Chychrun going after Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid a big hit on Michael Stone in the neutral ice. That’s a big boy play by an 18-year-old rookie, who continues to impress.

*Devan Dubnyk with 34 saves in the 4-0 Minnesota win over the Buffalo on Thursday to make it back-to-back shutouts for the 30-year-old netminder. His save percentage is up to .943, allowing just 10 goals in six games. Looks like he’s back to his 2014-15 form.

*Funny to think the consensus was Erie would take a step back this year in the OHL. Only 8-0-1 in their last nine, with the best offensive duo in the league in Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat.

*Raddysh (10-17–27) and DeBrincat (12-11–23), are one-two atop the OHL in scoring, and account of 50 of the 154 points Erie has recorded this season.

*A big win for UConn over No. 7 Notre Dame in Thursday night Hockey East action. Don’t undersell the Huskies. The main attractions, of course, are Maxim Letunov and Tage Thompson, but there’s plenty more around those guys. Robbie Nichols, who didn’t play Thursday night but is UConn’s ace, might be one of the most overlooked players in the country. Mike Cavanaugh has been a bulldog on the recruiting trail.

Links

The Ducks and Hampus Lindholm finally come to terms, agree to a six-year, $31.5 million pact.

Of course, a mention of Lindholm must prompt a Jacob Trouba story. It’s a rule

Ray Ferraro believes the Predators are missing the bite that Shea Weber brought to the ice in Nashville – and now does in Montreal.

A great piece by Alex Prewitt of SI on Kerry Bubolz, the president-to-be of the Las Vegas franchise.

Pierre LeBrun reports in his rumblings column that the Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to negotiate with pending free agents – restricted or not – left unprotected by teams.

Greg Wyshynski: The Chicago penalty killing unit ‘worst thing in the NHL right now‘. Hard to disagree.

ESPN’s Hockey Today podcast, the unexpected goaltending issues across the league are discussed.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: All Hail Jagr

Here are some thoughts as you try not to get trampled jumping onto the Oilers bandwagon.

*Jaromir Jagr scored his 750th career goal on Thursday night, in Florida’s 4-2 loss to Washington. He joins Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) in the 750 club.

*Jagr is one of the top 10 greatest players to ever play (please don’t ask me who other nine are and tell me to rank them). His career is far and away the most unique. It spanned three different decades, five presidential administrations (provided, of course, he doesn’t pull a fast one and retire within the next three months), played for eight different teams, had a three-year stint in the KHL, was beloved, then wasn’t beloved, then ran himself out of organizations, then fled for the KHL before a sea of dry eyes, then returned, then was beloved. Had a mullet, then didn’t have mullet, then had a mullet again. Yeah.

*FWIW – Last Time Jagr Did ‘BLANK’ Trivia. Last time he won a Stanley Cup? 1992. Last time he won the Hart Trophy? 1999. Last time he won the Art Ross Trophy? 2001. Last time he won the Ted Lindsay Award? 2006.

*Jagr never led the league in goal scoring.

*Great job by Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon setting up the goal by Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson in the third period of the Penguins 3-2 comeback win as he was trying to draw a cheap penalty. Dillon did the classic turn-the-back-as-the-forchecker-is-coming in the left corner as Patric Hornqvist was approaching. Hornqvist successfully separated the puck from Dillon, as the puck soon met the tape on Wilson’s blade and the rest is history. You have to appreciate the honesty of a hockey puck.

*So Edmonton is 4-1, its latest win an impressive 3-1 win over St. Louis.

*The Oilers won the final meeting between the two teams last season. This is the first time since 2009 that Edmonton has defeated St. Louis in back-t0-back games in regulation. The two-game winning streak for the Oilers was preceded by a 1-12-1 stretch against the Blues.

*The loss for the Blues snapped a 10-game streak of getting at least a point against Western Conference opponents. The last time St. Louis failed to come out of a game with a point against a team from the West? A 6-4 loss to Edmonton on March 16.

*The Kings needed those two points badly.

*The Stars aren’t easy to keep up with offensively, but they still have quite a ways to go on the defensive side of the puck.

*The Canucks are 4-0.

*After allowing four goals on 16 shots in a 4-0 loss to Colorado, Lightning netminder Ben Bishop has a .861 save percentage in three games this season.

*Cliff Pu scored a goal and won 17 of 27 draws in London’s 5-4 win over Kitchener in OHL action. Pu has five goals and 11 points in seven while winning 63.6 percent of the 151 faceoffs he’s taken. A third round pick by Buffalo in this past year’s draft, he should be a first-rounder in the redrafts we’ll see sprinkled all over the place this time five years from now. Sabres fans should be happy to have him.

Links

Bobby Orr sat down with Bob McKenzie in a one-on-one interview in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut. Worth the 20 minutes and change. Part one is about 13 minutes, part two about seven.

ICYSYUAR (In Case You Spent Yesterday Under A Rock): Matt Murray signed a three-year extension with Pittsburgh.

So does the Murray extension mean the Marc-Andre Fleury era in Pittsburgh is all but over? This one writer seems to think so.

Here’s a very good breakdown by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about what the Murray signing does, may, or may not mean for the future of the Pens crease.

Jimmy Howard adjusting nicely into his new role with the Red Wings.

The rumblings of one Pierre LeBrun.

The Nashville Predators tapping into the robust fountain of Swiss hockey talent.

The talk of college hockey are the new rules, er enforcement of rules, that caused a rash of penalty calls in the first weekend of the NCAA season.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: How About That Laine Guy?

Thoughts from a quiet yet not so quiet night around hockey.

*You couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Auston Matthews gets stoned on a breakaway by Michael Hutchinson in overtime, Patrik Laine takes the feed from Dustin Byfuglien on the counterattack and puts a laser past Frederik Andersen for his first career hat trick.

*Speaking of which, who did I have in the hat trick challenge last night?

*Laine is unbelievable. His release is in mid-career form already. The first goal he scored on the night may have been his best yet, the poise in tight space along with ability to create space for himself before firing one past Andersen was quite impressive.

*High circle on the left side will now be named ‘Laine’s Office’.

*Going up 4-0 only to lose in overtime is the latest in Maple Leaf growing pains, something they’ve experienced plenty of through three games. Expect more over the course of the remaining 79. Such is expected of a young team flush with talent.

*Mark Scheifele with a three-point night. He’s up to six through four games.

*Jimmy Vesey talked the talk over the summer with his holdout until August 15 deadline for teams to sign drafted players, saying no to the Nashville Predators, who eventually traded his rights to Buffalo, where he said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ again. Signing with the Rangers days after being released into the open market, he’s walking the walk now. He has just one goal through four games, but he’s making things happen on the ice. On a breakaway chance in the first period of New York’s 2-1 loss to Detroit, he did everything but finish.

*Jimmy Howard looked like his old self on Wednesday, stealing the show with 32 saves as the Red Wings managed to win, 2-1, despite being outshot by a 33-18 margin. Since winning 130 games and posting a 2.35 GAA to go along with three seasons of .920-plus save percentages, Howard has won just 58 games with a 2.61 GAA and .909 save percentage in three seasons since. Petr Mrazek might have some competition on his hands.

*Chris Kreider’s three-game streak of multi-point games to begin the season was snapped, but he picked up an assist on Mika Zibanejad’s goal 1:09 into the game. He has points in 10 of 12 games going back to last season. He has 8-8–16 totals in those 12 games.

*Henrik Lundqvist has just an .875 save percentage through three games.

*Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh with four more points for Erie Wednesday night in the OHL, now has seven goals and 21 points through eight games. The Bolts took him in the second round of this past draft. Can’t Steve Yzerman just catch a break for once?

*Minnesota prospect Dmitry Sokolov recorded his second hat trick in four games for Sudbury. All eight of his goals this season have come in his last five games.

*From the Western Canada U16 Challenge: Mitchell Brown had two goals and four points in British Colombia’s win over Manitoba. Brown, a defenseman already listed at 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds at 15 years old has his rights held by Tri-City. He plays for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in the CSSHL. He has a point in four games this season. He played at the bantam level last season, putting up 22 points in 25 games. Dylan Holloway scored with two seconds remaining to give Alberta the 4-3 win over Saskatchewan.

*First overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Peyton Krebs, had two goals and an assist for Alberta. Krebs, who will suit up for Kootenay next season, has six goals and 15 points for the UFA Bisons AAA Midget team. He spent the last two seasons with the Rocky Mountain Raiders AAA Bantam squad, in which he put up 74 goals and 168 points in 60 games over the two seasons. He had 102 in just 27 games last year.

*Two more assists on Wednesday night for Cal Foote (son of Adam) a top defensive prospect for next year’s draft. He’s got eight assists in 11 games, but no goals.

*Medicine Hat hung 10 on Kootenay on Wednesday; the third time this season the Tigers have broken the seven-goal mark.

*Battle of Connecticut in college hockey as Quinnipiac took on UConn. The fourth-ranked Bobcats won 5-2 in a game closer than the score indicated.

Links

Five general managers around the NHL who might already be on the hot seat.

Here’s an ICYMI: SI media columnist Richard Deistch does his NHL media roundtable. Lots of interesting stuff in here.

Matt Murray returned to the ice on Wednesday. There could very well be a goalie controversy brewing in Pittsburgh.

The Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line carrying the load for the Blackhawks once again.

Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts for the week.

 

Why Europe Will Beat Sweden

Few had Team Europe reaching the semifinal round of the World Cup of Hockey. Fewer have them getting past Sweden to earn the right to play in the best-of-three final against Canada.

So it’s nothing new for Europe.

There’s a lot that isn’t new for Europe. It’s a veteran group that’s been through it all – world championships, Stanley Cup playoffs, Olympics, you name it. Skill, speed, and goaltending go a long way in short tournament. Experience is next down on the list.

Europe is the oldest team in this tournament, with an average age north of 30. But the team combines for 1,045 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience, 841 games of international experience, and have made a combined 29 Olympic appearances.

The roster is well-constructed. Strong down the middle, led by all-world pivot Anze Kopitar and his monster minutes. Fran Nielsen has been one of the best players in this tournament. Leon Draisaitl leads the youth movement on the roster, and has been great in his own right; he scored the winner in overtime against the Czech Republic, and his goal in the second period of Euorpe’s 3-0 win against Team USA was a tally the Yanks never recovered from.

Mats Zuccarello, Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, and Marian Hossa have been money from the wings. Roman Josi might be among the five best defensemen in the world. Zdeno Chara has been used perfectly in the supporting case role on the blue line.

Jaroslav Halak? Yeah, he’s pretty good. Best known for taking an unheralded Montreal team in 2010 and carrying it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, he’s doing it again, albeit with a better European squad. His .946 save percentage in the round robin was bested only by Canada’s Carey Price (.948) among goalies who played all three games in group play, while facing 14 more shots than Price saw. His 111 shots faced was the most for any netminder in the opening round.

Of course there’s more to this club than just Halak. Which is why they can – and will – pull the upset on the Swedes.

Just because you have a few grey hairs, doesn’t mean you’re over the hill. And these guys have all been here before.

How Europe wins: Just doing everything well, as they’ve done throughout this tournament. While not the fastest, strongest, or biggest, this is a well-assembled team. They’re built from the net out, they’re well-coached. It starts and ends with ace pivot Anze Kopitar, one of the world’s best when it comes to play in all three zones.

How Sweden wins: Open up the ice sheet. When Sweden does that, plays fast-pace, moves the puck, nobody in the world beats this team. The defensemen are best when the possession is in their control, and jumping into the rush and making plays with their sticks.