Intensity rising in Sens-Habs series; Hitchcock on hotseat; more notes
Off The Draw
Stone was absent from Ottawa’s practice on Thursday morning. His availability for the rest of the first-round series is unknown.
The rookie forward, who was accused by many on social media of diving to draw a penalty against Subban, attempted to come back twice in the game, which the Habs won 4–3. Stone’s courage was there, but his effectiveness was clearly impaired ... and that could be bad news for the Sens.
Stone’s key attribute, the one that allowed him to rank as the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer after Jan. 1 (47 points), is his wrist shot. If he doesn’t have that he’s a less dangerous player, and Ottawa’s ninth-ranked offense will suffer as a result.
It’s expected that veteran bruiser Chris Neil will be inserted into the lineup if Stone is unable to go on Friday night. Neil»s presence would elevate tensions in an already heated series. It could also play into Montreal’s hands. Neil, for all his character, is a slow player who reacts to, rather than dictates, events. That would mean a significant talent drop-off for the Sens, and could give Montreal the edge it needs to end this set quickly.
• Despite earlier pronouncements that Subban will face no supplemental discipline from the league for his slash on Wednesday night, there is talk on social media suggesting the NHL may reconsider its decisions. Senators coach Dave Cameron may also be called to task.
Cameron clearly violated the league’s “48-hour” rule that, essentially, forbids team staff from lobbying for suspensions in the wake of on-ice incidents. Asked by the media after the game for his take on the two-hander that injured his team’s hottest scorer, Cameron was blunt:
“I think it’s an easy solution. You either suspend him or, when one of their best players gets slashed, just give us five [minutes]. Not that complicated.”
That doesn’t sound like a call for retaliation like it’s been painted in some corners, but it does seem to cross the line.
“I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars,” he said in reference to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. “So I’m anxious to see what happens with the league. There’s no respect amongst players. None. It's sickening.”
When asked to explain further, he then criticized the Penguins organization.
“It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happens.”
Tortorella’s comments were slightly more veiled, but his intentions were equally clear. It's a good bet that Cameron will be hearing from the league today.
• Ottawa did a better job of making life miserable for Subban than Montreal did targeting Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. Not that the speedy Norris Trophy favorite is easy to hit. He has a knack for making plays while avoiding contact. Still, he had his way through the first two periods, moving with impunity in transition. He didn’t hurt the Habs, but to win this series Montreal needs to make him pay a price.
• That probably wasn’t the playoff debut that Cody Ceci had in mind. The normally sure-handed Senators defender bobbled the puck at the blueline early in the second period, allowing Brian Flynn and Lars Eller to break out two-on-none. Then Ceci failed to contain Flynn in the corner just before he scored the game winner. Ceci was –3 on the night and –7 in SAT. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s employed by Cameron in Game 2 on Friday night. Of course rookies weren’t the only ones who had a tough time of it in the series opener. It was a miserable turn for Bobby Ryan as well. The veteran winger provided a nice screen leading up to Mika Zibanejad’s second-period goal, but was a team-worst –13 in SAT and did little to spark Ottawa’s attack.
• Sam Bennett was the buzz player in Calgary’s 2–1 Game 1 win over Vancouver on Wednesday night, and rightly so. Playing in just his second professional game, the 18-year-old winger fired four shots on net, assisted on Kris Russell’s game winner and had no problem going head-to-head with the Sedins. He looks like someone who’ll have something to say about the outcome of this series.
The real surprise for me though was depth winger Michael Ferland. The 22-year-old freshman was a human wrecking ball early on, landing a team-high seven hits and taking every opportunity to make life miserable for Vancouver’s defenders. And how about that backhand sauce to David Jones on the game-tying goal midway through the third? He’s not going to make a play like that every night, but if he can be a consistent physical presence he can be as impactful as Bennett.
• According to the ever vigilant folks at Elias, Chicago netminder Scott Darling set an NHL record on Wednesday night by playing the most time in a playoff relief appearance without allowing a goal. Darling, who started the second period for the Hawks after Corey Crawford allowed three first period goals, blanked the Predators over 67:44, besting Curtis Joseph’s old mark of 56:00 set in 2008. Darling made 42 stops in the process, none bigger than his right pad save on Ryan Ellis’ backdoor attempt midway through the third. He also became only the second NHL goalie (the other is Detroit’s Normie Smith in the epic six-OT Red Wings-Canadiens game in 1936) to ever win a playoff debut without allowing a goal in more than 60 minutes of play.
As relentless as they can be, the Hawks probably don’t win Game 1 if not for their rookie. So let’s ask the question: Does Darling get the start in Game 2? In a season that has been defined by unlikely goaltending heroes Andrew Hammond and Devan Dubnyk, maybe the decision is not so cut-and-dried but my gut says it'll be Crawford. UPDATE: Quenneville has now confirmed Crawford will get the start.
* Ken Hitchcock’s tenure in St. Louis will come down to his team’s performance in these playoffs. If the Blues don’t make some serious noise, say, by advancing to the Western Conference Finals, he’ll be cleaning out his office. So his decision to go with rookie Jake Allen as his starter in Game 1 tonight against Minnesota is somewhat surprising. Like most veteran coaches, Hitchcock is more comfortable going with his most experienced players in crucial situations, but Brian Elliott whittled away at his confidence down the stretch. The All-Star netminder was 2-0 in April, but allowed seven goals on just 57 shots. Maybe more telling: Elliott is 6-10 in 18 career playoff appearances with a 2.55 GAA and a .898 save percentage.
The numbers game
• Forward Ryan Strome is now the second player in Islanders history to score a game-winning goal in his playoff debut. The other: Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, who potted the decider against the rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the Isles’ first postseason game, on April 8, 1975.
• While beating the Predators 4–3 in OT of Game 1, the Blackhawks rallied from a three-goal deficit to win a playoff game for the first time since April 8, 1991, when they did it in Game 3 of the Norris Division Semifinals against the North Stars in Minnesota. In that one, they came back from a 5–2 deficit for a 6–5 victory.
• Road teams that win Game 1 in a best-of-seven playoff series hold an all-time series record of 123-96 (56.2%). Road teams (Chicago, Calgary, New York Islanders) won three of the four games on Wednesday night.
• The Pittsburgh Penguins may be underdogs but they still pose a threat to the Rangers.
• There are plenty of people who think the Bruins made a mistake in firing GM Peter Chiarelli. Stephen Harris wonders what the high standards for success in Boston mean for his replacement.
• Impending surgeries will prevent two No. 1 picks from participating in the upcoming World Championship.
• The Swedish Elite League came down hard on Andre Deveaux for his cowardly slash on an unsuspecting opponent during a pre-game warmup last month.