Off The Draw
Five quick thoughts heading into a busy weekend of NHL action:
• It was really disappointing to hear that Brad Marchand had a phone hearing with the Department of Player Safety rather than an in-person sit-down after his dangerous slew footing incident on Thursday night. It's not within the purview of the DoPS to make an example of someone, but a play as reckless as the one that sent New York forward Derick Brassard careening helplessly into the boards (here's another angle) deserved the maximum punishment, especially taking Marchand's heinous history into consideration. He was fined $2,500 for a similar incident involving Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen back in 2012 and has a reputation for crossing the line that demonstrates he hasn't got a lot of respect for his opponents. Ryan Garbutt of the Stars received three games earlier this season for an open-ice slew foot that was decidedly less dangerous. A repeat offender like Marchand deserved more, but was given only two games without pay, which will lighten his wallet by $48,387.10.
I've long since given up trying to understand the mysterious algorithms that lead the DoPS to their decisions, but one thing is clear: they treat the absence of injury as a mitigating factor. And that will never make sense to me. Brassard was fortunate enough to skate away unharmed from this particular foul, but an inch here or there and maybe we see a disastrous result. Until the league begins to weigh punishments based on a desire to rid the game of a particular action, these fines and suspensions will continue to have the same effect on the game as they do now. None.
• The Predators really had no choice when it came to Thursday's surprise decision to re-assign top prospect Kevin Fiala from HV71 of the Swedish league to Milwaukee of the AHL. According to a source, the 2014 first round pick started off strong, scoring eight points in his first six games, but then was scratched several times as the coaching staff struggled to work him into its system. With no certainty that he'd get a regular shift down the stretch, the Preds made the move to ensure that his development wouldn't stall out. Left unsaid: They also want to get a handle on what a scout called a "slightly unsettling sense of entitlement." It might just be a maturity issue, but Fiala had a couple of blow-ups with the coaching staff of HV71, so it makes good sense to deal with it quickly.
• With his transfer Fiala became the fourth player selected out of Europe last June to end up in the AHL this season, and that might be worth keeping in mind when this year's draft rolls around. Unlike CHL draftees who must be returned to their junior clubs if they don't make the cut, Euro players taken in the first round can be assigned to the AHL. That option gives the drafting club more control over the player's development and, in theory, could expedite his NHL readiness. With every team looking for affordable, reliable talent that's a value-add for these kids. It's not going to be a particularly strong draft for Euro-based prospects, but it'll be interesting to see if or how this trend will impact the status of hopefuls like Oliver Kylington or Mikko Rantanen.
• On the surface, it was a highly uncharacteristic decision by the Bruins to keep rookie David Pastrnak with the club past the nine-game limit before he had to be reassigned to the AHL. But really, what else could they do? It wasn't just the back-to-back two-goal games he had against the Lightning and Flyers during the past week, although those didn't hurt his chances. It was more a matter of adding an element that this team desperately needed: some sizzle.
For long stretches this season the B's have looked stale, uninspired. Injuries to stars like Zdeno Chara and David Krejci played a role in that, but the issue was more than a dinged up roster. Since losing Tyler Seguin, this group has lacked for flair and creativity. Pastrnak isn't Tyler Seguin, but he brings some of the same zip and flourish. He's also proved to be a fairly reliable player without the puck, an element of the game with which Seguin continues to struggle. And he takes the pressure off GM Peter Chiarelli, who was working the phones hard prior to the Christmas break while looking to add a top-six forward to juice his offense.
It's worth noting that the Bruins have 37 games remaining. Don't expect Pastrnak to play in all of them. Appearing in 40 triggers a clause that would allow him to hit free agency one year earlier. He shouldn't sit at the expense of Boston's success this season, but a team that's been whittled away because of salary cap issues during the past few seasons will likely want to take a long-term view of Pastrnak as an asset.
• It's amazing to see the transformation of Adam Larsson under the new coaching triumvirate in New Jersey. On the rare occasions when ex-coach Pete DeBoer gave the 22-year-old a chance, Larsson averaged just over 15 minutes of ice time per game. With Scott Stevens dishing out the ice, he's averaged 21:45, but even that number doesn't fully indicate how much faith the team is placing in him. During the past six games, he's getting north of 24 minutes per night, including a career-high 26:37 against Montreal on Jan. 2. That means Larsson is seeing more time on special teams, especially the penalty kill, and is matched up routinely against the opposition's top line. "He looks like a different player," a scout told SI.com. "There's no panic in his game, no rush. He's playing with confidence." Just the latest example that defensemen need, and deserve, time to find their way in this game.
What to watch this weekend
To a man, the Islanders said beating the Rangers on Tuesday night was fun. But that victory moved them into first place in the Eastern Conference, making them the target of every club that is aspiring to knock them off the top. So now the real fun starts.
First up: the surging Penguins, fresh off a 7-2 thumping of the Minnesota Wild and looking to avenge back-to-back losses to the Isles on Nov. 21 and 22. Sidney Crosby, who had three assists on Tuesday, now has nine points in his past five games and looks like he's ready to mount a second-half challenge for the Art Ross Trophy. Evgeni Malkin is equally hot with eight points over the same span. David Perron has three goals and four points in four games since joining the team in a trade from the Oilers.
If the Islanders are going to keep rolling against the Pens, they'll need to focus on their special teams. New York has scored just once in 10 power play chances in their three meetings this season while their penalty kill was dented twice on just five opportunities.
Rest of the schedule: Canucks at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; SN, FS-CR); Rangers at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; MSG, FS-O); Capitals at Predators, 8 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, CSN-DC+, FS-TN); Jets at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; TSN3, CSN-CH); Devils at Ducks (10 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-W)
Ducks at Kings (10 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, SN, KCOP-13, FS-W)
The latest edition of the Freeway Face-off series finds the two arch-rivals trending in opposite directions. The Ducks have won four of their last five games, including a convincing 4-0 shutout of the Maple Leafs on Thursday night. Frederik Andersen is on a terrific roll, posting 14-2-1 mark with a 2.22 goals-against average since the start of December. It's hard to see how he was snubbed for the All-Star Game after a run like that.
The Kings have dropped four of their last five and are taking on water defensively, allowing 21 goals in those losses. Their penalty kill has been a weak point, allowing two goals in a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Devils on Thursday night. “Our penalty kill is just draining us,” coach Darryl Sutter groaned. “It takes so much out of your team. It is really disappointing.”
Rest of the schedule: Blue Jackets at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, NESN); Flyers at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; CSN-PH, MSG-B); Islanders at Canadiens (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SN, MSG+); Hurricanes at Senators (7 p.m. EST; CITY, TVA2, FS-CR); Predators at Red Wings (7 p.m. EST; FS-TN, FS-D+); Avalanche at Lightning (7 p.m. EST; ALT2, SUN); Oilers at Panthers (7 p.m. EST; SN1, FS-F); Maple Leafs at Blues (7 p.m. EST; CBC, NHLN-US, FS-MW); Capitals at Stars (8 p.m. EST; CSN-DC, FS-SW); Coyotes at Wild (9 p.m. EST; FS-A, FS-N, FS-WI); Flames at Sharks (10 p.m. EST; CBC, CSN-CA)
Rangers at Penguins (12:30 p.m. EST; NBC, TVA, SN)
It was inevitable that the Ranges would cool off eventually. Streaks like the one they put together—13 wins in 14 games, including a sweep in California—don't last forever. But being shut out in consecutive games by the Islanders and Bruins has to have them concerned as they play two on the road this weekend. They weren't sharp in either game, particularly on the back end where mistakes in transition were turned into scoring chances by their opponents. They also failed to cash in on some premium chances that they were finishing easily during the past couple of weeks. A sign that puck luck has turned against them?
Rest of the schedule: Stars at Blackhawks (6 p.m. EST; FS-SW, WGN); Coyotes at Jets (7 p.m. EST; CITY, FS-A); Sabres at Red Wings (8 p.m. EST; NBCSN)
What you missed
The numbers game
• Newly-acquired Devan Dubnyk paid immediate dividends for the Wild. On Thursday night he became the first goalie in the franchise's history to record a shutout in his debut for the team, which also set a mark for its biggest winning margin. (Highlights)
• On Thursday night, Colorado's Jarome Iginla scored his 573rd career goal, tying Islanders Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for 20th on the NHL’s all-time list. Iginla is now three points shy of 1,200—and Dino Ciccarelli—for 46th on the all-time scoring list.
• Max Pacioretty's six-game goal streak is the longest by a Canadien since Denis Savard posted a nine-game run from Feb. 7 to Mar. 1, 1991.
• Alex Prewitt, quickly proving to be one of the best beat writers in the game, has a terrific feature on cribbage fan and Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who makes his first trip back to Nashville this weekend.
• The TSN Panel offered some hot takes on the future of Martin Brodeur, the pending rebuild in Arizona and other trade rumors. Good stuff.