Tuesday January 6th, 2015

Off The Draw

Some closing thoughts on Team Canada and the 2015 World Junior Championship:

• Even considering the three disastrous minutes in the second period of Monday night’s 5–4 gold-medal clincher against Russia, this may have been the finest Canadian performance at the World Juniors since 2005, when Sidney Crosby led a team that crushed the competition. Canada dominated this tournament every step of the way, never trailing for even a single second. The only time the Canadians were even tied was at 0–0 in each game, and they typically moved on from that with great haste.

• This Canadian team will be remembered for the subtle coaching of Benoit Groulx, the brilliance of Connor McDavid and the depth of its forward corps. Maybe more important, though, was the team’s commitment to filling the entire roster with speed and skill, mimicking the approach of the 2014 Olympic squad. It’s a blueprint the country should adhere to in every big event moving forward.

• Easy to see why Max Domi was named the tournament’s top forward. The Coyotes prospect put on a dazzling performance, highlighted by explosive rushes, adroit playmaking, timely goals and just the sort of chippiness you’d expect from Tie Domi’s kid. Max was truly exceptional. That said, my vote would have gone to Sam Reinhart, whose play epitomized Canadian-style hockey. It was an all-steak-no-sizzle effort, substance over style. Reinhart made big plays, but it was his ability to consistently make small ones that defined his game. His work on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle, especially his two wins in the dying seconds of the third period against Russia, made the difference for Canada.

Team USA needs change as Canada-Russia play for World Junior gold

• If I learned anything from this tournament, it’s that I want Curtis Lazar on my team. His heavy, north-south style of play speaks for itself, but the kid’s intangibles are what make him even more valuable. His intensity and commitment set the tone for Team Canada. And then there’s the fact that he plays every shift like he’s opening presents on Christmas morning. Have you ever seen anything like that smile?

“In the end, I mean, it’s a game,” he said on TSN after the win over Russia. “It’s a game we love, the fans love it, we love it, the refs love it, and we’re all out here competing and having fun. I mean, that’s why I always have a smile on my face. I get to play the game every day. To have this medal around my neck ... ”

Lazar will wear the C one day for the Senators. Bet on it.

• No telling what lies ahead for Darnell Nurse, but it’s going to take something pretty special for him to shake The Shift as his career-defining moment. His third period battle with potential 2015 first rounder Alexander Dergachyov was a 20-second master’s thesis in defensive coverage, relentless, physical and clean until he finished it off by driving the 6' 4", 200-pound winger through the end boards. Also worth noting: the nice support work put in by Connor McDavid for the brief moment that Dergachyov slipped clear of Nurse. One more reason to love that kid.

• A word to Canadian fans: Bask in the glow of this win as long as you can. It’s going to be tough to repeat with a very different—and likely much younger—team next winter in Finland. Joe Hicketts is likely to return on defense and draft-eligible Lawson Crouse should be back as well. Robby Fabbri and Jake Virtanen haven’t aged out, but there’s a chance that one or both could stick in the NHL next season. And that’s it. The rest of the team? New blood. It’s not impossible to win with an inexperienced lineup, but depth and the absence of a star centerpiece will make for tough sledding.

• The Rangers had a tough decision to make with Anthony Duclair: Bring him back to New York, or return him to Quebec of the QMJHL? The big winger was a consistent threat in the tournament, and his goal 23 seconds into the final period against Russia displayed that he has terrific instinct and touch. With seven NHL points in limited minutes over 18 games, it’s clear that he’s not out of place with the Rangers. But he’ll play a much larger role in Quebec, and at 19 the heavy minutes will be better for his development. Good on New York for taking the long view and reassigning him to juniors.

• The Bruins have more flexibility with David Pastrnak, their first pick in the 2014 draft. Boston recalled the Czech team’s MVP on Tuesday morning. He’s getting another crack at sticking in the NHL because of his skill set and the Bruins’ season-long struggle to generate offense. If Pastrnak stumbles he can still be assigned to, and recalled from, the AHL. That’s a luxury the Rangers don’t have with Duclair, who, if New York had kept him, could only have been sent to the CHL, and could not be recalled until his team’s season ended.

• Slovakia’s Denis Godla was named the All-Star Goalkeeper, Best Goalkeeper and MVP of the tournament. Hard to argue with any of those accolades. After being lit up by Canada in the opener he was lights out the rest of the way, leading the game, but outgunned, Slovaks to a surprising third-place finish, their first medal at the tournament in 16 years. But was this the real Godla or simply lightning in a bottle? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but at least one scout suggested that Godla, who was bypassed in last year’s draft, deserves a closer look. “He was lousy in the [under-18 tournament] and he’s been nothing special this season, but he made a statement [at the WJC],” the scout said. “If he can follow this up with a strong second half, he could be a late pick this year.”

• When rumors surfaced that the Red Wings were circling Tyler Myers, it was believed that the Sabres would be willing to trade the defenseman in return for a package that featured Dylan Larkin. If that’s the case, you can see why Detroit politely declined. Playing on the third line, he was Team USA’s most consistent, and most effective, offensive weapon, leading the team with five goals and seven points. He plays a smart, physical game and has the upside to play a top-six role. He’s still three years away (at least) but looks like he’ll be a good pro.

• The Canucks might also have a good one in Gustav Forsling. The 126th pick in 2014 showed a nice offensive touch, leading all defensemen with three goals and eight points. He was especially effective on the power play, with six points, and showed that he has a knack for getting shots through a crowd and onto the net. He needs to bulk up before he will be ready to face NHL competition, but he has the makings of a solid top-four puck mover.

• Fellow Swede William Nylander displayed plenty of skill in the tourney, but the kid also spent the two weeks pushing the easy button. There wasn’t much battle in his game, which was spent mostly on the perimeter, something that should have the Maple Leafs a bit concerned. He deserves time to mature and develop (especially physically) but he’ll need to add a bit of compete to his repertoire before he becomes a viable NHL player.

What to watch tonight

Lightning at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; SUN, RDS, SNE)

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First place in the Eastern Conference is on the line as two of the NHL’s hottest teams hook up for what should be a beauty at the Bell Centre.

Montreal is on the bigger roll, having won nine of its last 10 games, but Tampa Bay has owned the Canadiens in the regular season, going 4-0-1 in the last five meetings between the two teams, including a 7–1 blowout victory on Oct. 13. Bolts goalie Ben Bishop’s record against Montreal is even better: He’s 6-1-2, with a sterling 1.27 goals-against average in nine career starts.

Tyler Johnson is quietly enjoying a breakthrough season for Tampa Bay. The undrafted forward has six points in his last three games, and now has 43 for the season, tying him with Evgeni Malkin for fourth in the NHL. Along with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, Johnson anchors what may be the best second line in hockey.

The Habs, fresh off a spectacular 5-0-0 road trip, will look to avoid the first-game-back-at-home trap. Carey Price, named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week after going 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage, will have to up his game. He has just one win in his last five starts against the Lightning.

Rest of the schedule: Sabres at Devils (7 p.m. EST; MSG-B, BELL TV, MSG); Senators at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; RDS2, TSN5, CSN-PH); Hurricanes at Predators (8 p.m. EST; SPSO, FS-TN); Sharks at Wild (8 p.m. EST; NBCSN); Avalanche at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; TVA, SN1, SNO, ALT, CSN-CH); Blue Jackets at Stars (8:30 p.m. EST; FS-O, FS-SW); Blues at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; FS-MW, FS-A PLUS); Red Wings at Oilers (9:30 p.m. EST; FS-D+, SNW); Islanders at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; MSG+, SNP)

What you missed last night

• ​San Jose squeezed past the Jets on Marc-Edouard Vlasic's last-second tally (highlights).

• In a losing cause, Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson had an early candidate for save of the year.

• After a rash of skate injuries this season, Don Cherry is calling for the mandatory use of neck guards in the NHL.

• Slovakia topped Sweden to win the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.

​The numbers game

• The Sharks’ Vlasic is now the 11th player to score a game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation this season.

• ​San Jose is now 13-2-4 all-time against the Jets/Thrashers.

• ​Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks had the best-selling jersey of 2014, followed by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk and Anze Kopitar.

Hot links

• You might want to skip this one if you're eating breakfast: Paul Stewart takes a look at the history of vomiting in the NHL. Who knew today was such an important anniversary?

• Jeremy Rutherford argues that a breakthrough season should earn St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk a spot in the NHL All-Star Game.

• A fifth concussion could end the career of this Minnesota defenseman. 

• Joe Haggerty explains why Zdeno Chara is a shadow of himself since his return from an early-season knee injury.

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