Off The Draw
Quick hits for a Wednesday morning:
• Unless Carey Price starts chipping in offensively (or his team is lucky enough to meet the Bruins in the first round), the Canadiens are going nowhere this spring. Price (31, above), brilliant again in last night’s 1–0 overtime loss to the Lightning, is the best goalie in the world right now, but that won’t be enough to get this team deep into the playoffs, not with the way Montreal’s offense is going. Here’s a goaltender who has stopped 93 of the 96 shots he’s faced in the last three games, a .969 save percentage, and his team is only 1-1-1.
Despite the score on Tuesday night, the game was not a particularly close one. Tampa Bay set the tone early and totally dominated when the game got down to crunch time, outshooting the Canadiens 36–19, and 13–2 in the third period and overtime. The impotence of Montreal’s attack was just the latest indignity for a team that has scored all of six goals while going 1-3-1 in its last five games.
And it’s not just the Canadiens’ 22nd-ranked offense that’s stumbling, although that’s the most obvious concern. For a team that’s supposed to be good defensively Montreal is actually pretty bad on the back end. The Habs allow an average of 30.4 shots per game. That puts them 22nd in the league, right between the Panthers and the Stars, two teams that are headed for the draft lottery. If not for the consistent brilliance of Price, Montreal might be right there with them.
• A goaltender was to blame for Senators’ 3–1 loss to Boston last night, but it wasn’t Craig Anderson. Ottawa was the better team, but just couldn't unlock Tuukka Rask, who turned in a spectacular 39-save performance. The loss was a real momentum killer for the Sens, for whom the game was a must-win.
Still, you have to look at the second period—when the Bruins outscored Ottawa by three goals despite the fact that the Senators dominated play and held a 21–10 advantage in shots—and wonder why Ottawa coach Dave Cameron went with Anderson between the pipes instead of rookie sensation Andrew Hammond. The veteran utterly failed to match the effort of his teammates in the period, especially when Loui Eriksson deked him out of his shorts on the goal that put Boston up 2–0 and turned the game.
You know the old saying, You dance with the one that brung ya? The only reason last night’s game mattered was because Hammond has single-handedly dragged the Senators back into the playoff mix with a remarkable 7-0-1 run in relief of Anderson. A victory last night would have closed the gap in the Eastern Conference race between ninth-place Ottawa and the eighth-place Bruins to three points. Instead, the Sens are now seven points behind Boston in the race for the final playoff spot. And barring an epic collapse by the B’s, Ottawa is pretty much done.
Could Hammond have gotten the W on Tuesday night? Maybe, maybe not. But he deserved that start. And Cameron should have known that.
• Not that the trade has had an impact on the playoff fortunes of either team, but man, the deal last summer that saw the Flyers send Scott Hartnell to the Blue Jackets in exchange for R.J. Umberger has got to be one of the most lopsided deals of the past couple years. Philadelphia can argue that it was dumping a bad contract, but was it really so bad? Hartnell has certainly lived up to his side of the $4.75 million bargain. After scoring a pair of goals in a 4–3 win over the Hurricanes last night, he has 18 on the season to go along with 27 assists. He’s been a fixture in Columbus’s top-six and a great veteran presence in a young dressing room. Meanwhile Umberger, who has just two assists in his last 18 games, was a healthy scratch last night for the Flyers. With 15 points on the season, his $4.6 million hit looks a lot worse on Philly’s bottom line than Hartnell’s ever did.
• Speaking of the Flyers, their no-show effort against Dallas on Tuesday night may have been the final nail in the coffin for Craig Berube. Goaltender Steve Mason lamented after the game that he was embarrassed, saying, "I hope everybody else is embarrassed, too, because we had an effort like that at home where you have situations where we have to come up big and we come up empty like that. We have to be a lot better." Philadelphia has issues that go way beyond coaching, but given the team’s record against lower-end opponents this season, it’s hard to see Berube as part of the solution moving forward.
• If the Jets narrowly miss the playoff cut, goalie Ondrej Pavelec will be seeing this goal for the rest of his life. He may have relegated himself to garbage time the rest of the season with that clown show.
What to watch tonight
Their emotional win over the Islanders behind them, the Rangers have to refocus for another tough opponent on Wednesday night with first place in the Metropolitan Division on the line.
The Blueshirts are playing their best hockey of the season, going 11-1-2 in their last 14 despite the absence of star netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Cam Talbot has been steely in relief, going 3-0-1 in his last four games, with a .966 save percentage, while earning wins over the Predators, the Blackhawks and the Islanders. There’s a possibility, though, that he will sit this one out. If that happens, the game will mark the second career start for Mackenzie Skapski, who made 24 saves in a 3–1 road victory over the Sabres on Feb. 20.
Whoever’s in net for New York will have to figure out a way to deal with Alex Ovechkin. The NHL’s leading goal scorer has five in his last three games, and 44 on the season.
Washington could be without two of its top six defenseman for this one. Mike Green missed practice yesterday with an upper-body injury. His status should be known after this morning’s skate. Brooks Orpik is day-to-day. He’ll likely be a game-time decision.
What you missed
• Bet you didn't know that Chicago hasn’t scored a power play goal since Feb. 24.
The numbers game
• One month from the end of the regular season, 23 of the NHL’s 30 teams are within 10 points of a playoff berth. A mere four points separate the top three clubs in the Metropolitan Division, six points separate the top three in the Atlantic, and seven separate the top three in the Central. Six points, meanwhile, separates the second-place team from the fifth-place team in the Pacific.
• Seven teams are in the tight race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Anaheim, Nashville and the Canadiens have 91 points apiece, followed by the Lightning and the Islanders, with 90 each, then the Rangers and the Blues, who both have 89.
• Six teams that had early tee times last April—the Predators, the Islanders, the Canucks, the Capitals, Calgary and Winnipeg—would be in the playoffs if the season ended last night. In seven of the last nine season, there have been at least five fresh faces in the postseason field.
• Ignore the numbers, says Sharks coach Todd McLellan. Antti Niemi is actually playing better this season than he did last year. The line of San Jose fans wishing to offer rebuttals starts right over there.
• There’s still no timetable for his return, but Kevin Shattenkirk has this to say about his recovery.
• Ontario police are probing allegations of sexual assault at a house party attended by several Junior A hockey players. Another black eye for the sport.
• Whether the NHL participates or not, there’ll still be a hockey tournament at the 2018 Olympics. Tuesday, the IIHF laid out the ground rules for the event. (P.S. Feel free to bet that the NHL will be there.)