Canadiens' secret weapon; Boychuk on way out?; top weekend games
Off The Draw
A quick-hit look at some of the hot topics heading into a busy hockey weekend:
• There’s no more clutch goal scorer in the NHL this season than the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty. Of his 25 goals, 16 have come in the third period or later, including a league-leading nine with the score either tied or within one goal in the final 10 minutes of the frame, or in overtime. Pacioretty just missed making it 10 on Thursday night when he gave Montreal a 3–2 lead over the Oilers a little more than nine minutes into the third period. Hard to believe that a guy who is playing so effectively for the Habs, one of the NHL’s marquee franchises, is drawing so little attention outside of Montreal.
• Speaking of Edmonton and the Canadiens, keep an eye on Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry. Montreal is rumored to be one of several teams interested in acquiring the pending unrestricted free agent ahead of the March 2 trade deadline. If that’s true, the Habs had to be impressed by what they saw on Thursday night. The 6' 3", 198-pound righthanded Petry made a nice play to earn the primary assist on the second-period goal scored by Matt Hendricks. Petry was +2 and provided solid second-pairing work in all three zones. The Ducks, Kings and Red Wings are also said to be pursuing him.
• The Islanders have expressed an interest in re-signing pending UFA defenseman Johnny Boychuk, and it’s looking like they could hold the upper hand in the bargaining process thanks to the development of Travis Hamonic. The young shutdown blueliner has flashed some impressive offensive chops lately, with eight points in nine games since the All-Star break, and has displaced Boychuk on New York’s first power-play unit. If Hamonic can establish himself as a consistent threat down the stretch and if Boychuk's demands are too high, the veteran could be a goner.
• There’s no doubt that the Sabres will move pending UFA winger Chris Stewart before March 2. But which team is desperate enough to take him and by how much will they be willing to overpay? Stewart has been an empty sweater much of this season, but his four goals and seven assists in 13 games since the beginning of January have given him some value. As one scout says, Stewart isn’t someone he’d advise investing in. “Too many no-shows,” he says, adding that Stewart was miserable down the stretch last season. His line in the final 20 games of 2013–14: no goals, two assists, –11 and just 29 shots. When told of a rumor that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli might be willing to part with prospect Ryan Spooner in exchange for Stewart, the scout was dubious, saying, “That wouldn't exactly be a feather in [Chiarelli’s] cap.”
• The Dallas Stars thought they'd lost Patrik Nemeth for the season when the promising defenseman suffered a grisly wrist injury early this season, but that assessment may have been unnecessarily bleak. Nemeth returned to skating this week and could see action with AHL Texas as soon as next week. No telling what happens after that, but Nemeth was in the team's plans as a top-six option when the year began. He could be a valuable addition with his skating and physicality down the stretch.
• John Gibson’s return to the NHL is likely to be short-lived, but he reminded everyone on Thursday night that he’s still one of the best goaltending prospects in the game. Making his first start since Oct. 30, Gibson made 35 saves to lead Anaheim past the Hurricanes 2–1 in a game in which the Ducks were outshot 36–17. He's likely headed back to AHL Norfolk as soon as Frederik Andersen returns next week, but he looks like he’s fully recovered from the groin injury he suffered in November and ready to contribute.
• Maybe Seattle’s NHL dream isn’t dead after all. According to this report there are groups looking at privately funding the construction of an NHL-ready arena outside of the Sodo area currently controlled by developer/would-be NBA owner Chris Hansen. Plans to put a building in either Tukwila or Bellevue would require private funding of approximately $500 million, a massive financial risk for an arena that would have only one major tenant. There’s also no guarantee that the land being considered would be available. According to the report, a project of such scale needs to have the NHL on board ahead of time in order to get the landowners to commit to prospective developers—and a deal with the NHL won’t happen until a new group announces itself as official. Heavy hitters Jac Sperling and Ray Bartoszek are heading the competing groups. No telling which is the favorite, or whether the two might eventually work together to get something done. At this point, though, it’s good news that the NHL could take the lead in making something happen rather than having to wait on the NBA.
What to watch this weekend
Bruins at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; NESN, SNP)
Just four years after their classic Stanley Cup finals confrontation, Boston and Vancouver meet again with something on the line—specifically, both are hoping to hold on to their wild card spots. The Bruins will be playing the first game of a critical five-game road trip. Boston, which looked to be on the upswing after an 8-1-3 January, has lost three of four so far in February and looked pretty lousy in the process. The B’s have lately been too slow, too soft on the puck and too ham-fisted with scoring chances. With the Panthers just four points back and holding a game in hand, Boston needs to pick up the pace.
The Canucks come in off a thrilling overtime win in Chicago, but they’ve got issues of their own. Locked in a multi-team playoff race with no margin for error, Vancouver has got serious problems between the pipes. Ryan Miller, who is expected to start tonight, has allowed 13 goals and has a miserable .877 save percentage in his last four starts. The Bruins could be the perfect opponent to get his game back on track. While playing for Buffalo, Miller was 26-9-7 against Boston, with a 2.56 goals-against average.
Rest of the schedule: Flyers at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; CSN-PH, FS-O); Devils at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; MSG+, CSN-CH); Panthers at Stars (8:30p.m. EST; FS-F, FS-SW); Sharks at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; CSN-CA, FS-A);
Stars at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; FS-SW, ALT)
After dropping the opener of a critical four-game home stand to the Rangers 6–3 on Thursday night, this could be Colorado’s last stand. The Avs have lost four straight to drop to 12th in the West and risk falling as many as seven points behind 11th-place Dallas depending on the outcome of the Stars’ game against Florida on Friday night.
This Colorado team can’t seem to get its oars pulling in the same direction. The offense has come alive in the last two games after getting shut out twice in a row, but the Avalanche still can’t generate anything on the power play. The unit went 0 for 4 on Thursday night and is mired in an 0-for-31 drought. Meanwhile, the defense is sagging, allowing 11 goals in the last two games. That could be a problem against a Dallas offense that ranks second in the league, scoring 3.15 goals per game.
No word yet on who’ll be between the pipes for the Stars, but Jhonas Enroth, acquired earlier this week from the Sabres, will play either Friday or Saturday. One player that Colorado won’t have to worry about is Antoine Roussel. The league’s top superpest will be serving the second game of his two-game suspension for cross-checking Adam McQuaid.
Rest of the schedule: Oilers at Senators (2 p.m. EST; CBC, TVA, SN); Maple Leafs at Canadiens (7 p.m. EST; CBC, NHLN-US, TVA); Jets at Red Wings (7 p.m. EST; CITY, FS-D); Blue Jackets at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, MSG+); Devils at Predators (8 p.m. EST; MSG+ 2, FS-TN); Hurricanes at Wild (8 p.m. EST; FS-CR, FS-N, FS-WI); Rangers at Coyotes (8 p.m. EST; MSG, FS-A); Canucks at Flames (10 p.m. EST; CBC, TVA2); Capitals at Kings (10 p.m. EST; SN1, CSN-DC, FS-W)
Penguins at Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. EST; NBC, TVA, CITY)
No hard sell needed for this battle between two of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Any game boasting this kind of star power, including top-scorers Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby, is an event worth planning your day around.
Rest of the schedule: Blues at Panthers (5:30 p.m. EST; FS-MW, FS-F); Flyers at Sabres (7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN); Capitals at Ducks (8:30 p.m. EST; SN, CSN-DC, PRIME); Lightning at Sharks (8 p.m. EST; SUN, CSN-CA)
What you missed
• The Canucks are being sued by a man who claims to have been grievously wounded by their confetti cannon.
• Youth hockey players were presented with some old school equipment. Bewilderment ensued.
• Here’s your first glimpse at what Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium will look like when it hosts the Stadium Series game on Feb. 21 between Los Angeles and San Jose.
The numbers game
• Jaroslav Halak has surpassed Billy Smith (in 1981–82) as the quickest Islanders goalie to win 30 games in a season. At 36-18-1, New York enters the weekend having tied the franchise record for most victories in the first 55 games of a season, also set in ’81–82 by the team that went on to win the third of New York's four successive Stanley Cups.
• The downtrodden Oilers are now 5-0-3 in their last eight road games against the Canadiens, dating back to Nov. 4, 2003.
• Entering the weekend the top seven teams in the Eastern Conference were separated by a mere six points.
• If Bloomberg is examining the money that is being spent by corporations to promote elite minor hockey in Detroit, you know it must be a big deal.
• Only one of these coaches could make a winner out of Xavier LaFlamme.
• There are some significant changes in Craig Button’s latest 2015 NHL draft rankings. And he’s not the only one who is buzzing about Ivan Provorov.
• Tony Gallagher wonders why the NHLPA isn’t fighting to move franchises out of hockey’s hinterlands. Can’t imagine that’s a battle that any union wants to engage in, but Gallagher’s logic is sound.