Second Look: Sabres complete third-period comeback against San Jose

The misfortunes in Buffalo continued on Tuesday night for the San Jose Sharks, blowing a 4-1 third period to lose in overtime.

The loss marked 17 losses in 19 games for San Jose in Buffalo. The Sabres scored three times in a 2:28 span, beginning with Ryan O’Reilly’s powerplay goal with 10:57 to play. Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo followed the next two scores to tie the game before Kane scored again in overtime on a feed from Jack Eichel.

The third period has been a weakness for the Sharks this season. San Jose is a minus-six in the third this season, compared with a plus-one in the second and a plus-24 in the first. The Sharks 55 goals allowed in the third period is tied for seventh-most in the NHL with Calgary.

The Sabres, meanwhile, are plus-two in the final 20 minutes of regulation in addition to being 6-5 in overtime. Buffalo has seized the extra point in four of its last five overtimes.

Amateur Hour: How Harvard could (but probably won’t) win the Beanpot

One of these years it’s going to happen. Either Harvard or Northeastern is going to win the Beanpot.

The last 24 Beanpots have gone to either Boston University or Boston College, the silver chalice not leaving Commonwealth Avenue since 1993, the last time Harvard took home the trophy. Northeastern hasn’t won since 1988.

We were guaranteed at least a 50 percent chance of the title returning to Harvard Square or Huntington Avenue, as Harvard and Northeastern faced off in the Beanpot semifinal on Monday night. The Crimson won, 4-3, and will represent the two historic have-nots of the tournament, which combine for just 14 of the 64 titles and carry a collective 53-year Beanpot drought. Harvard will play for the title for the first time since 2008 against BU, which has an event-high 30 titles but has won just once since 2009. The Terriers punched their ticket with a 3-1 win over BC in Monday’s nightcap.

While neither Harvard or Northeastern have won in generations, the two schools have been knocking on the door for years. One of the two schools have appeared in the final in six of the last nine years, with three of those title games going to overtime. Both schools have been fairly competitive over that span, in and out of the national rankings, winning conference championships, and making appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

This Harvard squad has the goods to bring the Beanpot across the Charles River to Cambridge for the 11th time in the tournament’s history. The Crimson run four solid forward lines, with two exceptional top trios of Ryan Donato-Alex Kerfoot-Lewis Zerter-Gossage and Luke Esposito-Sean Malone-Tyler Moy. On the back end, Adam Fox has been one of the top rookies in the nation, his 26 points fourth among defensemen in the country.

The Crimson play a strong north-south game, with a good deal of speed and skill up and down the lineup. They’re strong on possession, with a 54 percent even strength Corsi-for, according to collegehockeynews.com, with the fourth-best powerplay nationally, at 26.5 percent.

Of course, it’s no secret what Harvard is up against. BU is the most talented team in the country. The Terriers are also the youngest, at 20.5. That’s a full year younger than the Crimson, whose roster averages out at 21.5.

The BU roster is highlighted by four players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft in Kieffer Bellows, Dante Fabbro, Clayton Keller, and Charlie McAvoy. Netminder Jake Oettinger could be a fifth this June, a favorite to be among the first 31 names called in the upcoming draft in Chicago. Eleven players of whom are property of NHL teams dot the roster.

This Terriers team isn’t unlike any other of years past. The team plays an up-tempo style. Defensemen like to hop into the rush. Up front, there’s plenty of playmakers, led by Keller, an Arizona prospect that might be the team’s best player. Oettinger has been among the standard bearers of goaltending – a position BU has always taken seriously – with a .937 save percentage, 1.75 GAA, and four shutouts in his rookie campaign.

BU has an upper-hand in the season series with Harvard this season, with a 5-3 win on November 22nd. The Crimson haven’t beaten BU since November 2014, the Terriers winning the last three of the meetings, including a double-overtime win in the Beanpot semifinal two years ago.

Three of the last four meetings have been decided by one goal, two have gone to overtime. Given the Beanpot’s history of one-goal games and extra sessions, there’s a good chance we’ll see another one of these affairs between the two teams.

And we might even witness something that hasn’t been done in nearly a quarter-century.

Other tidbits..

*Lacrosse numbers are being put up in Erie. Alex DeBrincat has 23 points in a nine-game points streak, in which he’s scored eight goals and 18 points over his last five. He has points in 39 of 45 games. Dylan Strome has points in 16 of 17 games. He has 17 points in his last five games, and 41 overall in 17 contests.

*Charlottetown Islander Filip Chlapik scored his 200th QMJHL point with a five-point weekend, including a hat trick in a 13-2 smackdown of Moncton.

*10 goals in 13 games out of the holiday break for Flint Firebird Nicholas Caamano, with four two-goal games in that span.

*Second overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft Pierre-Luc Dubois had four points on Saturday and has 21 points in 12 games since being traded to Blainville-Boisbriand.

*Atte Tolvanen stopped all 75 shots he faced in Northern Michigan’s weekend sweep of Bowling Green, upping his shutout streak to three games. He’s gone 215:49 without allowing a goal.

*Trent Frederic has 23 points in 18 games for surging Wisconsin, which is up to 17th in this week’s USCHO.com poll. He’s second on the Badgers in scoring behind Luke Kunin (26 points).

*As for the Badgers, they’ve won five in a row and are tied with Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten, with 8-2 record in conference play. Wisconsin hasn’t lost in regulation since December 11th.

*In the Nolan-Nico sweepstakes: Nolan Patrick had four assists on Friday night and has points in six of eight games since returning to the ice. He has 23 points in 14 games overall for Brandon. Hischier had five points in a 7-2 Halifax win over Moncton on Sunday. He has point in eight consecutive games and has 14 goals and 28 points in 12 games since returning from World Juniors.

*Minnesota-Duluth retained the top spot in the USCHO.com men’s poll while Denver and BU were second and third, respectively, for the second straight week. Minnesota moved up two spots to No. 5 while Penn State dropped from six to 10. Air Force broke into the poll at No. 20.

*On the women’s side, Wisconsin is the top-ranked team once again, while Minnesota-Duluth follows at No. 2.

Claude Julien out as Bruins coach

It’s a move that been anticipated, debated, and argued back and forth for what seems to be years.

At last, it has happened.

Claude Julien has been fired as the head coach of the Boston Bruins.

The firing comes as no surprise. A coaching change had been discussed as being on the horizon since the Bruins missed the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, which ended a run of seven straight postseason appearances. Now the Bruins are on the verge of missing the playoffs three years in a row for the first time in a half-century, when the B’s missed the postseason eight straight years from 1960-67.

The Bruins front office clearly believed a new voice was needed. That voice (at least for the time-being) will be Bruce Cassidy, elevated to interim head coach. His NHL head coaching experience includes 107 games behind the bench for Washington from 2002-03. He coached the AHL Providence Bruins for five years from 2011-16 before being elevated to assistant coach this past May.

Is Cassidy the right fit? That will ultimately be determined by management this summer. He’s certainly not in a terrible position, with a number of blue-chip prospects in Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jesse Gabrielle, and Jakub Zboril. With that said, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are on the back end of their primes, No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara is at the end of the road while David Backes appears over the hill with four years remaining on his contract after this season. Tuukka Rask, while capable of being a world-class goaltender, has been inconsistent over the last three seasons.

The Bruins were knocked out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture on Monday night, passed by Toronto – which lost to the Islanders in overtime – for third place in the Atlantic Division. Boston and Toronto each have 58 points, but the Leafs have four games in hand. Virtually everyone competing with the Bruins in the standings have games in hand on the B’s, including Ottawa (five), N.Y. Islanders (four), Florida (three), Philadelphia (one), and New Jersey (one).

Few will argue that Julien was the problem. He’s been given a team that has been highly-flawed, with holes up and down the lineup in recent seasons. This season has been no different.

At the same time, not many coaches last a decade. He’s one of just three coaches in Bruins history to coach 700 games. Sometimes you need a change, a new voice. It appears to be the case in Boston.

Mark Scheifele starting to get his due among best of NHL

Mark Scheifele has been among the five or 10 best players in the NHL over the past year-plus. And now people are beginning to notice.

The Jets forward extended his streak with multiple points to three on Thursday night with a pair of goals in Winnipeg’s 4-3 win over Dallas, an ‘all-out assault on opposing goalies‘, as Rotowire coined Scheifele’s performance. He has four goals in that three-game span to go along with seven points. He now has seven multi-point games since the start of the new year, and is sixth overall in the NHL with 53 points in 51 games, tied with Alex Ovechkin for third with 25 goals.

Scheifele has been the nucleus of what has been one of the best forward lines in the NHL this season, flanked by super-rookie Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, the former top-10 pick in the draft that is having a breakout year in his second NHL season, with 47 points in 54 games.  Without that trio, which accounts for 33.7 percent of Winnipeg’s scoring, the Jets would be nowhere near their current standing of trailing St. Louis by one point for eighth place in the Western Conference playoff picture.

This is nothing new. It’s something Scheifele has been up to for quite some time now. Scheifele has 42 goals and 90 points in 84 games over the past calendar year, as TSN analytics guru Scott Cullen points out in Friday’s installment of his daily Statistically Speaking column. Only Sidney Crosby (100) and Connor McDavid (95) have more points over that span, his 42 goals third behind Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, who share the top spot at 47.

If you go back to the start of December 2015, Scheifele has 101 points in 97 games, which trails only Crosby (126), Patrick Kane (120), and Brent Burns (110) on the leaderboard. He’s tied with Joe Pavelski and Nicklas Backstrom for fourth place, but has played nine fewer games than Backstrom and 14 less than Pavelski during that time. Of the 10 players to hit triple-digits in points over that span, he’s the only one to do it in fewer than 100 games.

Scheifele is one of the best players in the NHL, which is why the Jets gave the former seventh overall pick (2011) an eight-year, $49 million deal this past summer, when the 23-year-old was a restricted free agent. It’s also what makes it mind-boggling that he wasn’t among the six forwards representing the Central Division at last weekend’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles, as Jared Clinton of the The Hockey News pointed out in his piece on Tuesday, where he makes the case for Scheifele among the NHL’s best scorers.

Under team control at $6.125 million through the 2022-23 season, according to cap-friendly.com, the Jets have one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NHL, a cap hit Scheifele will almost certainly out-play. In fact, he already is, as his $115,566 value on cap-friendly’s cost-per-point index is the lowest among players making $6 million per season.

And he only appears to be getting better.

 

Wild calls up Alex Tuch

Less than 12 hours removed from a 5-1 beating in Calgary, the Minnesota Wild have called up big winger Alex Tuch, who can make his NHL debut on Saturday night when the Wild visits Vancouver.

In what has been Tuch’s first professional season following two seasons at Boston College, the 6-4, 217-pound forward has 22 points in 34 games for AHL Iowa, tied with Pat Cannone for second on the team and trailing only Finnish forward Teemu Pulkkinen, who has 28 points in 36 games. Tuch had been on a four-game point streak with Iowa prior to his call-up, and had six goals and nine points in his last nine games.

A big, strong playmaking winger cut from the mold of past BC standouts Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Brian Boyle, Tuch had 62 points in 77 games over his two years at BC. He led the Eagles in scoring as a freshman with 28 points in 34 games, the only rookie to lead the team in scoring since 1973.

Tuch is part of a wave of promising young players who should be making an impact in Minnesota in the coming seasons. He joins Joel Eriksson-Ek and Mike Reilly, both of whom have made their NHL debuts. Also awaiting in the pipeline is Jordan Greenway, another big, physical winger (6-6, 226 pounds), as well as Luke Kunin, the captain of Team USA at the 2017 World Juniors, and Russian prospect Kirill Kaprizov.

Jeff Carter has scored 20 percent of Kings goals

Interesting nugget here by John Buccigross. Jeff Carter accounts one-fifth on the Kings goal scoring this season after scoring twice in LA’s 5-0 win over Colorado.

Of the 131 goals the Kings have scored – which is 22nd in the NHL – 26 have come from Carter. He’s one of just two Kings with double-digit goals this season, the other being Tanner Pearson (15). Carter has assisted on 20 other goals for Los Angeles this season.

And forget MVP votes as Bucci put it, Carter deserves to be right in the thick of the Hart Trophy conversation alongside Sidney Crosby, Brent Burns, and Connor McDavid. Carter has carried the Kings this season, a campaign in which LA has seen starting goaltender Jonathan Quick play all of one period while Tyler Toffoli, Matt Greene, and Marian Gaborik miss significant time to injury. Without the 32-year-old forward, there’s no way the Kings hold their current standing of seventh in the West.

 

 

Ken Hitchcock firing signals Blues starting over

Doug Armstrong is not in an enviable position.

Through 50 games, the St. Louis Blues are 24-21-5, teetering on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Blues are tied with Calgary for eighth in the West with 53 points, a pair of games in hand serving as the magic ticket keeping the team on the good side of the world famous ‘if the season were to end today’ scenarios.

On one hand, the Blues are a team coming off a trip to the Western Conference final, finally breaking through last season following three straight first round exits and finishing among the last four standing in the NHL for the first time since 2001. This year’s team has plenty of holdovers from last season, but is currently an underachieving group with a talented yet snakebitten young netminder in Jake Allen. Should things come together, anything is possible in a wide-open Western Conference. After all, who saw San Jose reaching the Stanley Cup final at this time last year?

On the other hand, the Blues lost captain David Backes to free agency over the offseason in addition to Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott, who was traded to Calgary in a draft-night trade. St. Louis is unlikely to re-sign UFA-to be Kevin Shattenkirk, a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who will command a big payday on the open market. The Blues look like a team in transition.

It’s for those reasons why the decision to fire head coach Ken Hitchcock or allow him to ride out his final season behind the bench was probably as hard a decision Armstrong has had made as an executive, one he likely mulled over for weeks if not months. On Wednesday morning, Armstrong chose the former, relieving Hitchcock of his duties and handing the keys over to coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo, who was poised to take over head coaching duties following the season.

The angst that befell Armstrong as he made this decision showed when he spoke with the media on Wednesday to announce the decision, fighting back tears as he grabbed a few slices of the blame pie.

Armstrong can take solace in the fact this was probably the right move to make. This year’s Blues club isn’t as good as it was in past seasons. St. Louis currently ranks 18th in the NHL with a 48 percent goals for percentage at five-on-five, according to puckalytics. The team hadn’t finished below seventh in the league in that category over the last three seasons, and hadn’t been below 51.59 percent in the five previous seasons under Hitchcock. The Blues score, zone, and venue adjusted Corsi was 53.1, according to Corsica, which checks in at fifth-lowest in the league.

While Allen shows a good deal of promise in net, he hasn’t given anybody the confidence that he could carry a club through the Stanley Cup playoffs. The team in front of him hasn’t been particularly great either, despite allowing the fifth fewest shots per 60 minutes, at 27.33.

Outside Vladimir Tarasenko, whose carried the Blues offense with 49 points in 50 games, the St. Louis attack has been nonexistent.

Again, the case can be made that this is a talented, underachieving group that can come alive at any time. Maybe the Hitchcock firing turns into a turning point in the season for the Blues. It could also be the start of St. Louis starting over, in which the next shoe to drop would be dealing Shattenkirk, who will hit the open market come July 1st.

But at the end of the day, this was the right decision for Armstrong to make with regard to the coaching situation in St. Louis, no matter how hard it may have been.