Why the Detroit Red Wings won't last long in the playoffs; Lightning's jersey rule's a joke.
Off The Draw
• According to the arcane algorithms of Sportsclubstats.com, the Red Wings have a 92.2% chance of making the playoffs.
According to anyone who has watched them play lately, the odds are even better that they’ll be quickly kicked to the curb once they get there.
There are a number of reasons why the Wings, who now have dropped seven of their last nine games after losing 3–2 to Boston on Thursday night, are limping down the stretch. Injuries to key players like Pavel Datsyuk. Inconsistent play at even strength. A tendency to commit costly turnovers.
But ultimately this untimely run of poor play comes down to one thing: Detroit’s goaltending hasn’t been good enough.
That was certainly the case with Petr Mrazek between the pipes against the Bruins. It all started out well enough. The Wings put together an excellent first period—addressing another recent problem—and carried a 2–0 lead early in the third before Boston tied the game on two quick strike goals midway through the frame. Neither of those made Mrazek look particularly bad, but Zach Trotman’s game winner with just over two minutes remaining sure did. A soft, bad-angle wrister that was described as “harmless-looking” on the radio and TV broadcasts and in print found a large patch of daylight under Mrazek’s glove and over his left pad.
It was a goal that shouldn’t have gone in. Not there. Not then. And not off the stick of a defenseman who had never scored an NHL goal before. But it did, just the same.
There have been softer goals scored this season, but too many are coming against Detroit’s keepers.
So many, in fact, that the Wings seem to have become inured to them.
“I thought we played a good hockey game,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we had lots of opportunity, had good pace, probably as good a pace as we’ve had in a long time. In the end, [Boston’s Tuukka] Rask kept us from winning the game.”
Close, Mike. It was a goalie that kept you from winning the game ... but like too many nights recently it was your own.
Babcock has five regular season games left to figure out who he can trust to start the playoffs. Mrazek or Jimmy Howard. Based on the past month, it doesn’t look like either is a palatable option.
• Amalie Arena in Tampa has been inhospitable to visiting teams all year. Now it’s turning on visiting fans as well.
With 30 wins at Amalie, the Lightning have the best home record in the league. And they’re looking to maintain that advantage in the playoffs by refusing to sell tickets to anyone from outside the state of Florida. The team is also imposing restrictions on what fans can wear in certain areas of the arena. According to a statement posted on Ticketmaster, “only Tampa Bay Lightning team logos will be permitted in the [Chase Club and Lexus Lounge areas]. Fans wearing visiting team logos will be asked to remove them while in these areas.”
Look, we get that it’s frustrating to have large patches of the house cheering for the other team but all this does is enrich the local brokers who’ll scoop up the tickets for resale to fans of the Red Wings or whatever team lines up against the Bolts. You want to have more of your own fans in the building? Don’t get swept in the first round like you did last year. That sort of thing tends to make folks who are sitting on the fence stay there until they feel better about the team’s chances.
And the logo restriction? There’s a reason you don’t see something similar in Boston or Montreal or Chicago or New York. It’s petty and it makes your team look second rate.
• With Sam Bennett’s junior hockey season coming to an end on Thursday night, the Flames now have a decision to make about their top prospect.
It’s a certainty that Bennett, the fourth pick in the 2014 draft, will finish the season in pro hockey. The question is: where? The Flames have two options: assign him to AHL Abbotsford or bring him to Calgary for the stretch run.
The minors is probably the smart play. Put him in an environment where he’s most likely to succeed and focus on development. But no one would blame the Flames if they brought him up to the big leagues. Bennett was a difference maker down the stretch for the Kingston Frontenacs, scoring 11 goals and 27 points in his final 15 games. He’s a high-tempo player, and a coach’s dream who plays a smart, two-way game. It’s easy to see him sliding into a depth role and providing a boost of energy to a team that is clinging tenuously to a playoff spot.
Sure, there’s a risk involved with putting a young player in this situation, even in a protected role. He’s bound to make a mistake or two in the process, and you’d hate to see one of them cost the team. There are contract implications as well. If he plays 10 games or more, he burns a year of his entry-level deal.
But the Flames are on the verge of something special here and Bennett just might push them over the top.
• Finally, our best wishes to a pair of long-time officials who are hanging up their whistles after long and distinguished careers. Linesman Jean Morin, a veteran of more than 1,600 NHL games and two Olympics, called it quits after working the Washington-Montreal game on Thursday night. On Sunday, Paul Devorski will call his final game after 26 seasons in the show. Devo, who is best remembered for allowing Darren McCarty to exact revenge on Claude Lemieux in 1997 for his notorious hit on Kris Draper in the playoffs the previous year, was regarded as one of the best in the game and will be sorely missed. Congrats to both on their excellent careers.
What to watch this weekend
On a night that lacks any head-to-head intrigue, this could be the most compelling matchup. The Habs, who’ll be playing the second half of a back-to-back, have dropped four of their last five games and allowed four goals in each of their past two losses. Their defense looked sharper in Thursday’s 3–2 loss to the Capitals than it did while allowing 43 shots to the Lightning on Tuesday, but it did let in three goals on four power play chances. Clearly the Habs have some screws to tighten in their own zone. Carey Price, the loser in both of those contests, will be watching from the bench as Dustin Tokarski gets the start.
The Devils are trying to avoid their second seven-game slide of the season. While Cory Schneider has been aces, the offense has been dicey, scoring only seven goals during their current 0-4-2 skid.
Rest of the schedule: Blackhawks at Sabres (7 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, MSG-B, BELL TV); Blues at Stars (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-SW); Avalanche at Ducks (10 p.m. ET; SN1, ALT, PRIME); Coyotes at Sharks (10 p.m. ET; FS-A, CSN-CA PLUS)
Currently sitting outside the playoff picture after dropping a pair of heartbreakers, the Jets are in must-win mode for each of their final five games. And starting tonight, they’ll have to prove they can win without star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who will serve the first of his four-game suspension. The pressure will be on Winnipeg’s defense, particularly Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, to raise their games to meet the challenge.
The Canucks are sitting comfortably in second place in the Pacific after a couple of emotional wins to open their current road trip. They dropped their last game, 3–1 in Chicago on Thursday night, but looked sharp for a team playing its third game in four nights. Eddie Lack looked a bit worn down in that one and probably needs a night off, but does coach Willie Desjardins trust Jacob Markstrom enough to give him the start?
Rest of the schedule: Flyers at Hurricanes (1 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, FS-CR); Penguins at Blue Jackets (2 p.m. ET; SN360, ROOT, FS-O); Maple Leafs at Bruins (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NESN); Capitals at Senators (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, TVA, SN, CSN-DC); Lightning at Panthers (7 p.m. ET; SUN, FS-F); Sabres at Islanders (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, BELL TV, MSG+); Devils at Rangers (7 p.m. ET; MSG+ 2, MSG); Red Wings at Wild (7 p.m. ET; CITY, FS-D+, FS-N); Stars at Predators (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, FS-TN); Sharks at Coyotes (9 p.m. ET; CSN-CA PLUS, FS-A PLUS); Flames at Oilers (10 p.m. ET; CBC); Avalanche at Kings (10 p.m. ET; TVA, SN, ALT, FS-W)
Blues at Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN)
This game features one of the NHL’s best rivalries and a potential first-round preview with home-ice implications. The Hawks have seemingly found their groove just in time for the playoffs, going 10-4-1 since losing Patrick Kane, and while the offense has struggled at times, this group is one of the best in the league at cashing in on turnovers (see: Marcus Kruger’s clincher in Thursday night’s 3–1 win over the Canucks).
The Blues clinched a playoff berth with a win over Calgary on Thursday, but there’s controversy brewing in St. Louis. Jake Allen got the start in that key game, raising questions about the team’s No. 1 goaltender heading into the playoffs. Will Brian Elliott get the call for this one? Or will Ken Hitchcock send a message by going back to the youngster?
Rest of the schedule: Penguins at Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN); Capitals at Reds Wings (5 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CSN-DC, FS-D); Canadiens at Panthers (5 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, FS-F); Senators at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. ET; TVA, CITY)
The numbers game
• With 474 career goals, Alex Ovechkin became only the third active player to hold his club’s career record in that category. The others are Patrik Elias of the Devils (404) and Patrick Marleau of the Sharks (455). Ovechkin also has 100 multi-goal games in his 756 career appearances and is the sixth-fastest player in NHL history to reach that number, behind Wayne Gretzky (452 games), Mike Bossy (553), Mario Lemieux (553), Brett Hull (561) and Jari Kurri (685).
• The Blues reached 100 points for the seventh time in their history, including the third in their past four seasons. Their Central Division rivals the Blackhawks hit 100 for the 11th time in their history, including five of the past seven campaigns.
• The Rangers have set franchise records of 26 wins and 54 points on the road, the best marks in the NHL this season. New York needs three more wins (home or away) to tie its franchise record of 52 set in 1993-94, the season when the Blueshirts last skated with Lord Stanley’s big silver shaving mug.
• Sure, they’ve gone 10-4-1 in their past 15 games, but you’re missing what’s important here: The Corsi numbers are not looking good for the Blackhawks.
• If you've ever played beer league, you'll recognize a few of these guys. Funny stuff.
• You know it's a donnybrook when the coaches start throwing punches.
• Is one Eastern Conference favorite getting the shaft from NHL officials?
• Not every Miracle On Ice ends with Team USA winning.