Tag Archives: Nolan Patrick

Halak records 2nd shutout this season in Bruins 3-0 win

Zdeno Chara kicked off Thursday night’s scoring for the Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice and Chara ended scoring too. Jake DeBrusk added a power play goal in between Chara’s goals as Jaroslav Halak and the Bruins shutout the Flyers, 3-0, at TD Garden.

Boston improved to 6-2-2 (14 points) on the season with the win– good enough for 2nd in the Atlantic Division, despite being tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1st on points (Toronto has one more regulation-plus-overtime win than the Bruins, yielding the tiebreaker).

Philadelphia fell to 4-6-0 (8 points) through their first 10 games, currently sitting 6th in the Metropolitan Division.

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Halak (3-0-2, .945 save percentage, 1.43 goals against average in 6 games played) made 26 saves on 26 shots faced for a 1.000 SV% and his 2nd shutout of the season in the win, while Flyers netminder, Brian Elliott (2-5-0, .912 SV%, 3.38 GAA in 8 GP), stopped 22 out of 24 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the loss.

After ending a three-game losing streak in Ottawa, the Bruins now have back-to-back wins with a chance of extending their current winning streak to three games against their arch-rival– the Montreal Canadiens– Saturday night on home ice.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, didn’t make any changes to his lineup, save for the National Hockey League debut of Bruins defender, Jeremy Lauzon, out of necessity. Lauzon laced up on the third defensive pair alongside Steven Kampfer in place of the most-recently injured Bruins blue liner, Urho Vaakanainen (concussion).

David Backes (upper body), Torey Krug (lower body), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) also remained out of the lineup Thursday night, though Krug has begun practicing and should return to action next week.

Meanwhile, Lauzon became the first Bruin to wear No. 79 in a regular season game since current defender in the Colorado Avalanche organization (and Marshfield, Massachusetts native), David Warsofsky, did so in the 2014-15 season.

David Pastrnak and Gritty’s favorite Flyer, Claude Giroux, were given matching minor penalties 7:11 into the first period as the opening frame featured largely dull action.

Robert Hagg was guilty of slashing Brad Marchand at 11:27 of the first period and the Bruins went on their first power play of the night, but they failed to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the first period, Chara sent the puck over the glass and received a delay of game minor. The timing of the penalty came at 18:05 of the first period, so the ensuing Flyers power play would carryover into the first five seconds of the second period (unless Philadelphia scored before the end of the period).

After 20 minutes of play, the score remained tied, 0-0, with both teams amassing seven shots on goal. Boston had the advantage in takeaways (7-4), giveaways (2-1) and hits (6-5) entering the first intermission, while both teams were 0/1 on the power play.

The pace of play picked up in the second period, as both Elliott and Halak found themselves locked into a goaltending battle– in which the Bruins netminder made several impressive saves on 2-on-1 opportunities for the Flyers.

Halak’s strong performance (and eventual shutout) serves as a reminder that while there is no goalie controversy in the Hub (Tuukka Rask is the long-term starter), Cassidy’s decision making in determining which goaltender to play any given night (for now) continues to get tougher. It’s generally advisable to go with the hotter hand until one can’t any longer.

That said, Cassidy remained firm on his plans to start Rask Saturday night against the Canadiens after Thursday’s win.

Time (and stats) will tell after that. A little competition is a healthy thing– especially if the team is still able to put up “W’s” in the “win” column.

A little past midway in the second period, Danton Heinen worked the puck back to the point to Chara. The Bruins captain fired a slap shot– from just about the blue line in Boston’s attacking zone– high glove side past Elliott to give the B’s a 1-0 lead while David Krejci tried to screen the Philadelphia goalie from the slot.

The goal was Chara’s 2nd of the season and assisted by Heinen (3) at 13:00 of the second period.

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Shortly thereafter, Philadelphia’s bench bungled a line change and was handed a two-minute minor penalty for too many men at 15:32. Travis Konecny served the penalty.

Late into the ensuing power play, the Bruins extended their lead on the scoreboard as Krejci threw a saucer pass to Jake DeBrusk (3) for the redirection from point blank and a 2-0 lead.

Krejci (7) and Kampfer (1) were credited with the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 17:28. Kampfer’s assist was his first point for Boston since being re-acquired by the Bruins in September and his first point in a black-and-gold sweater in over six years (he had two assists in 10 games for the Bruins in the 2011-12 season prior to being traded).

Through two periods, Boston led Philadelphia, 2-0. Shots on goal were even, 18-18, while the Flyers led in blocked shots (12-9) and face-off win percentage (65-35). The Bruins held onto the advantage in takeaways (11-8) and hits (12-9) after 40 minutes of play.

Both teams had five giveaways each entering the second intermission, while the Flyers were 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2.

Early in the third period, tempers started to flare as they usually do when the Big Bad Bruins square off with the Broad Street Bullies as Steven Kampfer and Scott Laughton got into a kerfuffle. Wayne Simmonds even jumped in as a third-man in and penalties soon followed.

Despite clearly attempting to fight with his gloves off, Kampfer was handed a four-minute double minor penalty for roughing, while Laughton received a two-minute roughing penalty.

Simmonds also received a roughing minor at 6:38 of the third period, resulting in a power play for the Flyers, thanks to Kampfer’s four-minute double minor.

Ryan Donato served one of Kampfer’s penalties in the box.

Late in the penalty kill for Boston, Chara tripped up Konecny and was sent to the box on a minor penalty for tripping (of course) at 8:34. The Flyers would have four seconds on a two-skater advantage before resuming play under a normal 5-on-4 power play scenario.

Philadelphia did not convert on either power play opportunity.

At 14:30 of the third period, Konecny himself was summoned to the sin bin for tripping Bruins forward, David Pastrnak.

Just under two minutes later, while on the power play, DeBrusk got into a shoving match with Flyers defender, Andrew MacDonald.

DeBrusk was going to be penalized for interference, while MacDonald received a slashing minor after a quick conference held by the refs once things settled down after the whistle.

Why did it take so long in comparison to the other penalties? Well, a scrum ensued and a slew of penalties followed in the same stoppage as the original DeBrusk retaliation call based on MacDonald’s infraction.

Laughton received another roughing minor– this time against DeBrusk– and was sent to the locker room early on a ten-minute misconduct. This additional two-minute penalty against the Flyers resulted in an abbreviated 5-on-3 power play for Boston for about 27 seconds, while Oskar Lindblom served Laughton’s penalty at 16:03 of the third period.

As time expired on Lindblom’s time in the box, the door opened and the puck rolled right by as a Bruins player was chasing it down.

Lindblom tried to play the puck while still in the penalty box. His feet had not set foot on the ice, thereby resulting in an automatic interference penalty and Boston went back on the power play at 18:06.

With less than a minute remaining in regulation, Flyers head coach, Dave Hakstol pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker. Things didn’t go as planned.

Halak sent the puck from the trapezoid to his captain along the boards behind the goal line, where Chara (3) then flung the puck through the air and into the empty net at the other end of the ice for the empty net power play goal at 19:37.

That’s right, Chara scored from the endboards in his own zone for what’s undoubtedly the longest empty net power play goal in NHL history. For all intents and purposes, he could’ve been having a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry in the North End and hit the net.

Halak (1) picked up his first point as a Bruin in the form of an assist on Chara’s goal and Boston secured the 3-0 victory at the final horn.

The Bruins finished the night ahead on the scoreboard, but trailed the Flyers in shots on goal (26-25), blocked shots (14-13), giveaways (9-7), hits (17-16), penalty minutes (26-12) and face-off win% (60-40). Philadelphia went 0/3 on the power play, while the B’s went 2/5 on Thursday.

Among other stats…

Chara (41 years, 221 days) became the third defender in the NHL to score multiple goals in a game at 41 years of age or older, joining Tim Horton (41 years, 277 days) and Nicklas Lidstrom (41 years, 191 days).

Despite winning, 3-0, no Bruins skater was more than a plus-one in plus/minus Thursday night. Heinen, Krejci, DeBrusk, Chara and John Moore were all plus-one, while Chara led the way for Boston in shots on goal with five.

Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak and DeBrusk were the next highest with three shots on net.

Noel Acciari led the B’s in the physical department with three hits and Brandon Carlo led his team in blocked shots with four.

Nolan Patrick, Laughton, Jakub Voracek, MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere were all minus-ones for the Flyers, while Claude Giroux led his teammates with five shots on goal. Travis Sanheim was the next closest with four.

Gostisbehere, Hadd and Corban Knight each recorded two hits for Philadelphia and Gostisbehere led his teammates in blocked shots with four.

The Bruins take on the Canadiens Saturday night on home ice for their next matchup before venturing out on the road to visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 30th and the Nashville Predators on Nov. 3rd as part of a quick, two-game, road trip.

DTFR Podcast #125- 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview

Injuries, Stealth, Miles Wood, Brian Gionta’s retirement, Gritty, Ottawa, Shea Theodore and our 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview. Bring on the regular season already.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Philadelphia Flyers 2018-19 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers

42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in the First Round to Pittsburgh (4-2)

Additions: D Christian Folin, LW James van Riemsdyk

Subtractions: C Valtteri Filppula, G Leland Irving, D Brandon Manning, RW Colin McDonald, G Petr Mrazek, G John Muse, D Johnny Oduya, RW Matt Read, G Dustin Tokarski

Re-signed: D Robert Hagg, G Alex Lyon, C Danick Martel, D Samuel Morin, G Anthony Stolarz

Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Flyers could be seriously dangerous if they get some solid goaltending.

After a rough 2016-17 campaign, the Flyers struck gold in the draft lottery, snagging the No. 2 overall pick and using it to draft top-ranked prospect Nolan Patrick. This added yet another weapon to one of the more potent offenses in the league, but questions remained about the defense and, particularly, in net.

It took a rotation of four different goaltenders (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon) to get it done, but Philly managed to punch their ticket back to the playoffs mostly on the strength of unbelievable seasons from captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, a breakout year from Sean Couturier, a rebound year from Shayne Gostisbehere and a ridiculous 10-1-2 month of February that took them from treading water in the Wild Card picture to solidly in third place in the Metro. A big push from Columbus nearly knocked the Flyers back into the Wild Card spot at the end of the year, but they managed to hang onto the Divisional spot by a single point.

Unfortunately, this only meant that they’d play in-state rival Pittsburgh, and while Philly would manage to take the Pens to six games, it was often a very one-sided series. Only a heroic nine-point-in-six-game effort from Sean Couturier even kept the series as competitive as it was.

With a few notable underperformers coming to the end of their contract and a fairly well-stocked prospect pool, GM Ron Hextall and crew decided to let a host of players walk into free agency, including longtime Flyer Matt Read, along with Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and Petr Mrazek, among others. Using the newly freed up cap space, they brought back former Flyer and perennial 30-goal man James van Riemsdyk, and brought in a solid defenseman in Christian Folin. JVR is certainly a known commodity, while Folin is a quiet, confident defender that has impressed under the radar over the past few years in Minnesota and LA.

Armed with yet another potent offensive weapon, and with improved depth on defense, the Flyers (yet again) look to the net in hopes of improvement. Though they boast on of the best pools of goaltending prospects in the league, they don’t want to rush the development of any of the youngsters, and will likely again turn to the tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. While neither is a world-beating goaltender, they’re both more than capable of quality play.

Well…at least they would be outside of the goalie-hell of Philadelphia. Not sure what it is about that city, but it seems capable of ruining the reputation of basically any goaltender that dons the orange and black. So, maybe hope to win every game 5-4, Philly fans?

Speaking of 5-4 victories, let’s take a look at that dangerous forward corps.

While the top-six are pretty well all shoe-ins, the bottom-six does have a few positions that are definitely up in the air. Down the middle there’s likely to be strong competition for the No. 3 and 4 center spots, as Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and former Union College standout Mike Vecchione will battle it out with youngsters German Rubtsov and Morgan Frost (Flyers’ first round picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively). Rubtsov and Frost have yet to play North American pro hockey, so they’ll have the steepest hill to climb to try and nab a spot, and will likely head back to Juniors or to Lehigh Valley for the year. While Vecchione has only two NHL games to his credit, and isn’t nearly as well-known to Flyers fans as the remaining three, he’s a very interesting option. Boasting a strong two-way game, as well as the ability to play center or right wing, he put up terrific rookie numbers in the AHL last year and could be a strong camp away from grabbing himself an NHL roster spot.

On the wings you’ll have veterans Michael Raffl and Dale Weise competing with some young talent in guys like Oskar Lindblom, Taylor Leier, Danick Martel, and Isaac Ratcliffe. Lindblom scored some time with the Flyers last year after impressing in the AHL. Martel is undersized but not afraid to play with an edge, and does bring some decent offensive skill with him. Ratcliffe is possibly the most intriguing option. At just 19-years-old, he can still continue to hone his game in Juniors, where he’s found his offensive stride over the past two seasons. But a 6-foot-6, sub-200 pound winger with some scoring touch and a mean streak might be hard to overlook for the big club.

My projected depth chart shakes out like this:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JVR – Patrick – Voracek
Lindblom – Lehtera – Simmonds
Raffl – Laughton – Vecchione
Extra forwards Weise and Weal

On defense, the biggest problem facing the Flyers to start the season is injuries to veteran Andrew MacDonald (should only miss a few weeks of the season) and promising youngster Samuel Morin (likely out until February). Until MacDonald returns they’ll lack a true top pair reliable defender to partner Gostisbehere, so that could be of concern at least in the opening weeks. While the defense corps looks to be fairly set (particularly after MacDonald returns), there are a handful of names who could challenge for a depth spot. Philippe Myers was an undrafted signing out of Juniors, who blossomed late to catch the eyes of Flyers brass. At 6-foot-5 and approximately 210 pounds, he’s got no shortage of size, but also put up respectable offensive numbers as a rookie in the AHL last season. He’s also a right handed shot, something the Flyers are a tad short on. Veteran T.J. Brennan is definitely a reliable option to fill some minutes in MacDonald’s absence, as well.

Once MacDonald makes his return, I have the Flyers defense corps shaping up as:
MacDonald – Gostisbehere
Provorov – Gudas
Sanheim – Folin
Extra defender Hagg

In net, as previously mentioned, it’s likely the Flyers will head into the season with the Elliott/Neuvirth tandem. With both vets in contract years, Philly will likely give the trio of Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz another full year of development if possible before potentially calling upon two of them to take the reigns as a tandem in the near future. Felix Sandstrom is a sleeper pick to find his way into the picture next year as well, after what will be his fourth season of SHL action in Sweden.

Offseason Grade: B-

On paper, it looks like the Flyers lost much more than they gained this year. But although there were some household names that departed, most had underperformed greatly in recent years. Hextall cleared cap space, grabbed a big fish in van Riemsdyk, and used the depth of his organization to fill the remaining holes.

The offense is deadly. The defense is young, but quite promising (particularly once it gets back to full strength). The goaltending is…well, Philadelphia goaltending. But the future in net looks incredibly bright, and Philly would be wise to not rush that future unless absolutely necessary.

A likely fringe playoff team this year, but in the next two or three years, we could see the orange and black making serious noise once again. Because the depth doesn’t stop in net, and I only mentioned about half of the recent first round picks still waiting in the wings.

2018 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Philadelphia Flyers and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.

Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.

With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.

But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.

Pending free agents

Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.

Matt Read, 32, and Valtteri Filppula, 34, are the club’s only current NHL roster pending-UFAs.

Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.

Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.

A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.

24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.

Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.

It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).

There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.

The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.

And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.

Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.

On defense, the Flyers have two pending-UFAs in Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya and one pending-RFA in Robert Hagg.

Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.

Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.

Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.

In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.

Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.

For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.

Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.

Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.

On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.

Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.

The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)

Broad Street Broadsided: In pivotal Game 4, Flyers decimated with ease

 

That one hurt to watch.

A game that should have been Philadelphia’s chance to take a stand and show they weren’t going away ended up in a more lopsided loss than even the 5-0 final score would indicate.

Yes, the Flyers were without top center Sean Couturier, who was injured in practice this week in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas (because it’s always Gudas), and the hole he left in the Philly lineup was significant. But the lack of effort shown by the Flyers in the face of adversity was frankly just sad.

In an attempt to indicate to those who didn’t watch just how little the Flyers cared throughout the game, I will attempt to recap the game in accordance with how much effort they were showing in their play at coinciding points in the game.

First period:

Wells Fargo Center is rocking. Sidney Crosby can’t touch the puck without being showered in boos. Philadelphia rookie Nolan Patrick starts the opening shift off by laying a hit on the Pittsburgh captain, much to the delight of the home crowd. Brian Elliott starts the game off strong with a great save on a bang-bang play between Tom Kuhnhackl and Zach Aston-Reese, giving his team some confidence in their goaltender, much like they had in Game 2 when they beat up the Pens.

Then just 4:33 into the frame the wheels came right off when Crosby sent a backhand pass directly between the legs of Brandon Manning to the tape of Evgeni Malkin who buried the easy one-timer on the power play to put the Penguins up 1-0.

But it’s okay, right? Just a one-goal deficit early in the first period. Elliott makes a great glove save on a labeled wrister from Phil Kessel less than two minutes later and the tide starts to turn again. First it’s Michael Raffl nearly scoring on the doorstep after receiving a pass from behind the net, then comes a near-two minute complete domination shift by the Philadelphia top line that creates numerous high-quality chances, but all are answered by Matt Murray.

Then just after that shift ends it would be Malkin jumping on a turnover and leading a breakout with Kessel. Travis Sanheim is unable to match the speed of Kessel, and Malkin gets him the puck in stride allowing him to bury the 2-0 goal just under the arm of Elliott, effectively erasing any positives the Flyers had going for them and completely vacuuming the life out of the arena.

Philadelphia managed to kill off a penalty (a rarity for them in this series) and Claude Giroux finds Travis Konecny right out of the box for a clean breakaway, but Murray calmly blockers the attempt away, leaving Konecny infuriated as he returned to the bench. Olli Maatta accidentally clears the puck over the glass when cleaning up the Konecny rebound, giving the Flyers a power play of their own, that Wayne Simmonds promptly ends with a slash just seven seconds into the man advantage. This basically seemed to kill any idea of a comeback that the Flyers might have had.

Second period:

The first eight minutes are completely meaningless, then at 8:04 Kris Letang fires a wrister off of the stick of Andrew MacDonald and past Elliott, who looked none-too-happy about his own defenseman aiding in his demise. Dave Hakstol decided he had seen enough and pulled Elliott (for the second time in four games) in favor of just-returned Michal Neuvirth, hoping to spark his team. It would be another minute of play before the Flyers even managed their first shot on goal of the frame.

Less than three minutes after the goaltending switch Crosby became the Penguins’ all-time leading playoff scorer, breaking his 172-point tie with Mario Lemieux with a goal scored off of a forced turnover by Jake Guentzel behind the net, who quickly handed it over to Crosby who tucked it in the net before Neuvirth had even realized the puck had been turned over. 30 seconds later Conor Sheary got a breakaway, but Neuvirth decided he should stop it for some reason.

The Flyers closed the period by doing literally nothing of any consequence on a four-minute power play (high sticking on Malkin) and basically showing everyone they’d rather be golfing.

Third period:

Nolan Patrick gets a breakaway on the opening shift, but Murray turns it aside (obviously).

Some hockey things happen for a while.

Riley Sheahan decides he’s bored and would like to score a playoff goal, taking a misplayed puck from Konecny, walking in alone and beating Neuvirth high stick side.

The game ends. Matt Murray posts his sixth shutout in 36 playoff games.

(That third period summary was only slightly lazier than the third period play of the Flyers)

This one is over and done with before the puck drops in Game 5. The Flyers have completely mailed it in at this point, and are being firmly outclassed by the Pens in every measurable aspect. Possibly the craziest thing to me in this series is the almost complete lack of any hint of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia rivalry. Little physicality, almost no scrums or pushback to speak of. Just the Penguins running through a Flyers team that looks completely undeserving of their playoff spot. Sorry, Florida Panthers, you probably should have been given Philly’s place in the show.

Crosby, Malkin & Co. Shine in Game 3

The Penguins stars were out in full effect during Game 3 in Philadelphia. Sidney Crosby had a four-point night with one goal and three assists. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t too far behind Crosby with a goal and assist as well. Matt Murray also had a great game, stopping 26-of-27 on the night. It was all Pittsburgh in Philadelphia.

The first period saw the Flyers feeding off the home crowd, as they were moving their feet well and getting into dangerous positions. They had a majority of the chances early on with the Penguins’ netminder Murray standing tall. Nolan Patrick had a great chance when he blew by the Penguins defensemen, but couldn’t find the net.

The Penguins were struggling to get chances or even establish pressure on the Flyers. About halfway through the first, the Penguins forced a turnover off the forecheck and Sidney Crosby capitalized with his fourth goal of the playoffs on a wraparound goal. Patric Hornqvist, a new linemate to Crobsy, picked up the lone assist on the goal.

The goal didn’t seem to faze Philly’s momentum however, as they continued to battle and look to beat the stellar Murray. They ended the period without the goal but clearly dominating them with an 11-4 shot lead.

The second period started with the Flyers hoping to continue the strong play and finally beat Murray. But they came out undisciplined and took a penalty just over a minute into the period. The penalty proved to be costly as Derick Brassard took a nice pass from Phil Kessel and beat Brian Elliott bar down. It was Brassard’s first goal of the playoffs, giving Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

The Penguins took over from there and after a coincidental penalty to both teams, Jakub Voracek took a high sticking penalty for some good ole fashion four-on-three power play for the Penguins. The Penguins had the big guns out as Crosby got in the zone and dropped it to Kris Letang. Letang slid the puck over to Evgeni Malkin for a one timer slapper past Elliott. It was Malkin’s second goal of the playoffs seven minutes into the second period.

It got worse from there. In the opening face-off after the goal, Crosby won in forward, got into the zone and hit a drop pass to Brian Dumolin, who scored the biggest five-hole since goalies started using butterfly style. The Penguins scored both goals five seconds apart, giving them a 4-0 lead.

The Flyers did finally beat Murray, as Travis Sanheim let a wrister go from the point, and the puck had eyes finding the back of the net. It was Sanheim’s first career playoff goal and Nolan Patrick and Voracek picked up the assists on the goal with just six minutes left in the second period.

The third period saw similar outcomes as Philly continued to take bad penalties and again Pittsburgh took advantage. Justin Schultz hammered a one-time by Elliott on the power play. Malkin and Crosby picked up the assist on the third power play goal of the game. Pittsburgh turned on cruise control and proceeded to get the puck in deep and be defensively sound to see out the end of the game.

Game four will be Wednesday, April 18th in Philadelphia on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS at 7:00 pm EDT.

Flyers even series with dominant effort by Elliott

 

No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.

When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.

However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.

The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.

At the other end of the rink, this game was all about the numerous goals G Matt Murray and his defense allowed – especially when First Star C Sean Couturier, who scored three points, was on the ice.

There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending  – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.

The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.

Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.

F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.

The Flyers’ final goal of the contest belonged to D Andrew MacDonald (C Jori Lehtera), who scored a long-range wrister on an empty net to set the 5-1 final score.

Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.

After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

November 27 – Day 54 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Welcome to the last week of November! I know you think you need to be doing your Christmas shopping, but you have all of December to do that. Instead, sit down this evening and watch some hockey.

If you’re wise and followed my instructions, the NHL has scheduled five games for your viewing pleasure. Two of them (Florida at New Jersey and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) start at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Minnesota at Winnipeg continues the half-hour intervals by dropping the puck at 8 p.m., as does Anaheim at Chicago, which waits until 8:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

I know we just featured the Penguins Saturday, but there’s no way we can miss the season’s first iteration of the Battle of Pennsylvania.

 

To keep the story short, there’s only a few things these teams can agree on:

  1. Hockey is a good game.
  2. Pennsylvania is a good state commonwealth.
  3. Mark Recchi is a good guy.

Beyond that, there’s very little these rivals see eye-to-eye about. Of course, what should one expect from teams that have met 316 times in regular or postseason play (played to a 172-114-30 record in favor of Philadelphia, by the way).

Looking at the overall numbers, the Flyers have certainly had their way with this series. In addition to already owning the overall series by almost 60 games, they’ve also beaten Pittsburgh in four of their six playoff series, including winning three-straight from 1989-2000.

You’d think Pittsburgh having players like C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin would have had a way of leveling the playing field for the Pens of late, but every good rivalry has a way of dulling stars’ impact. Even though the Pens swept Philadelphia 8-0-0 during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-’07, the Flyers have amassed a slightly superior 34-27-8 regular season record against the Penguins since Crosby first donned the black-and-gold.

The difference? Two points.

That’s right, a win by the Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena would level the Battle for Pennsylvania series during the Crosby Era – as if 12-10-3 Pittsburgh needed more motivation than it already had sitting a point outside of the playoff picture.

When we featured the Pens’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning a couple days ago, I mentioned that one of their problems seemed to be a dry spell by Crosby. Of course, he went out and proved me wrong, as he scored two goals and tacked on another assist to lead G Tristan Jarry to his first-ever NHL victory.

But there’s still another wound to poke on this squad: defense. Pittsburgh has allowed 3.4 goals-per-game this season, which is the fourth-highest in the entire NHL.

That being said, it seems even that problem might slowly be resolving itself. The Penguins search for a backup goaltender has been well documented, with offseason signing Antti Niemi failing miserably and already playing for his third team of the year. Since Jarry has been called up, the goaltending duo of him and starter 11-7-1 G Matthew Murray has found much more consistent play, as they’ve combined for a 2.89 season GAA.

Of course, it still seems probable that General Manager Jim Rutherford will eventually pursue a trade that allows him to send Jarry back to the AHL and resume playing consistently alongside fellow prospect Casey DeSmith, but his solid play has allowed management to take its time and find a good deal instead of rush into a bad decision.

Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, because it’s likely that Murray resumes starting duties this evening.

Compared to his rookie campaign and his 13 starts in 2015-’16, he’s left much to be desired in his first season as Pittsburgh’s undisputed number one, as he’s managed only a .906 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that ranks 14th and 11th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 10 starts.

But Murray is not the only contributor to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Even though D Kris Letang leads the team with 17 takeaways and RW Ryan Reaves throws 3.1 hits-per-game, Murray has already faced 595 shots this season, the eighth-most among that group of 34 goalies.

One of the odder things going on in Pittsburgh nowadays is D Ian Cole being a healthy scratch, as he leads the team with 1.8 blocks-per-game. He hasn’t dressed for the past two games, and word on the street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey is that he’ll watch tonight’s game from the press box.

It’s peculiar that a defenseman so committed to keeping pucks away from his netminder that he’s only managed three points this season is the one being punished. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has yet to publicly show his hand (he claims Cole needs to improve his game), but the longer this goes on, the transaction rumors will only increase.

As for the 8-9-6 Flyers, they wish they were in as enviable a position as Pittsburgh to be unhappy with only being a point outside playoff position. For the umpteenth season in a row, Philly burst out of the starting gate to only find itself six points from the bottom of the conference.

A major reason for this slide has been the Flyers’ play over the second half of November. After beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on November 9, Philadelphia has earned only an 0-3-4 record since.

While the offense hasn’t been very good over this stretch (they’ve managed only 2.14 goals-per-game), it’s been the play on the defensive end that has been the true burden, as the Flyers have allowed 25 goals against in their past seven games.

Much of the responsibility for this struggle falls on the shoulders of 6-5-5 G Brian Elliott, who has started all but one of the games in this stretch for a .909 save percentage and 2.77 GAA that is actually better than his season marks of .905 and 2.85.

Unfortunately, that nominal improvement is simply not good enough behind an offense that scores only 2.83 goals-per-game on the season. Until the other three lines behind Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek decide to play hockey, General Manager Ron Hextall can only look forward to a trip to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to see if he can find a skater that can actually contribute (shots fired, F Nolan Patrick).

The reason Murray can put up comparable numbers to Elliott and still win is because of the goal support he receives from RW Phil Kessel, and it’s for that reason that I believe Pittsburgh will snap its two-game losing skid to the Flyers and beat them for the first time since February 25.


Though they needed the shootout to do it, the New York Rangers were able to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Vancouver’s offense was ticking throughout this entire game, as it managed a goal in all three frames. W Loui Eriksson (C Henrik Sedin) took credit for the first period’s marker, burying a wrist shot 7:54 into the game.

The Canucks doubled their lead at the 7:21 mark of the second period courtesy of RW Jake Virtanen‘s third goal of the season, an unassisted wrister. However, this tally did not go unanswered, as Second Star of the Game RW Jesper Fast (D Nick Holden and D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Rangers back within a goal.

All the offensive action that ultimately mattered in the third period occurred in the opening 5:05 of the frame. W Michael Grabner (W Mats Zuccarello and D Kevin Shattenkirk) took his turn first, bagging a wrister only 19 seconds after emerging from the dressing room to level the game at two-all. The Rangers weren’t even for long though, as Third Star F Sam Gagner (W Thomas Vanek) returned the lead to Vancouver only 41 seconds later. First Star LW Jimmy Vesey (W Rick Nash and F Kevin Hayes) scored the final goal of regulation at the 5:05 mark, and it was an important one: Vesey’s backhanded shot tied the game at three-all and forced three-on-three overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

As for how the shootout went down…

  1. Vanek took the opening attempt for the Canucks, but his wrister was saved by G Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That provided Zuccarello an opportunity to earn a mini-break, but just like Vanek, his wrister was saved by G Jacob Markstrom.
  3. Vancouver’s second shooter was C Bo Horvat, but the shootout remained tied thanks to Lundqvist’s save.
  4. C Mika Zibanejad apparently grew tired of seeing all these saves, as he ensured Markstrom couldn’t get his mitts on his shot by sending it wide of the net.
  5. RW Brock Boeser finally found the first goal of the shootout for the Canucks, which forced a miss-and-lose situation for New York.
  6. Put in a pinch, Head Coach Alain Vigneault turned to Shattenkirk, who hadn’t scored a shootout goal since the 2015-’16 season. The defenseman ended that skid to continue the tiebreaker.
  7. Now in a sudden death situation, F Markus Granlund was sent out to win the game for the Canucks. Lundqvist had other ideas and was there to make the save.
  8. W Pavel Buchnevich‘s offering met the same fate: saved by Markstrom.
  9. LW Sven Baertschi started round five with a bang, as he beat Lundqvist to force New York’s second miss-and-lose situation.
  10. Cool under pressure, Nash sent the shootout on to the sixth round by beating Markstrom.
  11. Though he was able to score in regulation, Gagner couldn’t beat Lundqvist in the shootout.
  12. F J.T. Miller hasn’t scored a goal since November 2, and his luck didn’t change here. His offering was saved by Markstrom.
  13. Another skater, another save: this time, Lundqvist stopped D Ben Hutton in round seven.
  14. He was the one to force overtime, and he was the one to end the shootout: Vesey beat Markstrom to earn two points for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Markstrom, who saved 17-of-20 (.85).

After being on the wrong end of a two-game winning run two days ago, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a two-game winning streak of their own. That has elevated their record to 29-19-6, 10 points better than the visitors’.

October 26 – Day 23 – Growing pains

After yesterday’s two-game schedule, there’s a whopping 11 games on tap this evening!

Like it so often does, tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Boston [SN360], Carolina at Toronto, Arizona at the New York Rangers and Winnipeg at Pittsburgh), followed by another set of four (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Philadelphia at Ottawa [RDS2], Detroit at Toronto and Anaheim at Florida) half an hour later. After that, the remaining three fixtures start every hour, on the hour. First up is the New York Islanders at Minnesota at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Edmonton at 9 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap – Washington at Vancouver – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

If you like big offseason trades, your featured game is a no-brainer. C Derek Stepan – and maybe G Antti Raanta, if he gets cleared to play – returning to Madison Square Garden with the Coyotes is a must-see for you.

But, considering the Coyotes and Rangers are two of the four worst teams in the NHL, that matchup excites me as much as watching paint dry. Instead, we’re going to make a trip to the Canadian Tire Centre.

 

After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, expectations are high for this 4-1-4 Senators club. Considering they play in the same division as the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and they were without the incredible D Erik Karlsson until October 17, third place in the Atlantic is a good enough start to say they’re filling the bill so far.

But re-acclimating to the style of play that is necessitated by Karlsson being on the ice has been a difficult transition for Ottawa. In the defenseman’s first four games back from foot surgery, the Sens have managed a record of only 1-1-2.

Now, 1-1-2 is far from a bad stretch; even the best of clubs have stretches of the season where they average only one point-per-game (just ask the Coyotes if they’d like to average half a point-per-game right now). What’s probably frustrating Head Coach Guy Boucher right now is the poor defensive play that’s being highlighted by not getting much help from his goaltender.

Since Karlsson’s return on October 17, the Senators have allowed a fourth-worst 144 shots against in four games (36 per game), even with D Dion Phaneuf‘s team-leading nine shot blocks in that stretch. For a defensive-minded team like Ottawa that runs a 1-3-1, that is absolutely unacceptable, but I have confidence Karlsson and company, even without the help of D Marc Methot, will start trending towards last season’s (t)13th-best 30.1 shots against-per-game soon enough.

If G Craig Anderson, tonight’s starter, keeps playing the way he has, the defense cannot return to form soon enough. Anderson has started three of Ottawa’s four most recent games to a 1-1-1 record. As mentioned before, he has been under heavy pressure, but a .891 save percentage and 3.67 GAA (ninth and seventh-worst, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least two starts since October 17) simply will not cut it.

Last year’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner had a career year last season, managing a .926 save percentage in 40 starts, but he has not posted consecutive campaigns of save percentages at or above .92 since the 2006-’07, 2007-’08 and 2008-’09 seasons when he was Ed Belfour and Tomas Vokoun‘s backup in Florida. If Anderson can’t become the reliable backstop he became last season, he could waste any positive momentum the Senators brought into this season.

Ottawa’s next chance to rediscover last postseason’s form comes against the 5-4-0 Flyers who – don’t tell anybody – may actually not be as bad as we all thought they’d be.

Dang it, and I was really excited to bust out everybody’s favorite Dennis Green quote. I’ll have to save it for another day.

Here’s another secret about Philly: they’re winning without the help of in spite of F Nolan Patrick, this year’s second-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Highly touted for both his pedigree (he’s the son and nephew of RW Steve Patrick and D James Patrick, respectively) and his 102-point season with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-’16, he’s managed only one goal and three points in nine games played on Philly’s third line.

It’s like he wants to see how well the Hobey Baker Award compliments the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Instead, RW Jakub Voracek has been most responsible for Philadelphia’s high-flying offense (See what I did there? I’m so clever. Nobody has ever made that joke before.) with his team-leading 12 points (all assists). Of course, it’s hard to struggle on a top line with the likes of F Claude Giroux (5-6-11 totals) and C Sean Couturier (6-3-9), but Voracek’s group has produced 36.7 percent of the Flyers’ goals for an offense that averages a (t)ninth-best 3.33 goals-per-game.

What should be most alarming for Anderson is that Philly’s favorite way to score is by launching a full-on assault on the goal. The Flyers – Voracek in particular – aren’t shy about shooting the puck (they average 32.6 shots-per-game, which is 11th-most in the NHL), so if Ottawa’s defense isn’t up to snuff, he could be in for a long night.

If these teams aren’t careful, this game could become a barn-burner as both clubs have a knack for finding the back of the net. If that proves to be the case, I like the Senators to win tonight with their (t)fourth-best offense.


In a dominant performance, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the Sabres fired a game-high 14 shots-on-goal in the first period, it was Columbus that registered the lone tally of the frame. It came courtesy of an RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (W Sonny Milano and Second Star of the Game D Seth Jones) power play snap shot with eight minutes remaining before the first intermission.

It was the second period – specifically the last five minutes of the second period – when the Jackets absolutely exploded on their offensive end. First up was Jones (F Brandon Dubinsky and RW Cam Atkinson), who buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 4:40 remaining in the frame.

Entering the zone with a three-on-two advantage, Atkinson advanced to the top of the right face-off circle before dumping a pass towards the near boards to Dubinsky. While the forward was feeding a pass to Jones, who was near where Atkinson was when he released the puck, F Boone Jenner was busy preparing a perfect screen in front of G Chad Johnson. With Jones falling to a knee to elevate his snapper over Johnson’s glove, the netminder had no chance.

Additionally, NBCSN sideline reporter Pierre McGuire says Head Coach John Tortorella also earned an assist on the goal. I didn’t see that in the box score, but congrats to him for his first apple since the 1986 ACHL playoffs.

2:18 after Jones’ second marker of the season, Third Star F Nick Foligno (D Jack Johnson) added an insurance tally to set the score at 3-0, followed by a wrist shot from LW Matt Calvert (D Markus Nutivaara and D Ryan Murray) with 101 seconds remaining before the second intermission to complete the Blue Jackets’ blitz.

Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with 2:34 remaining in the game courtesy of a wrister from F Seth Griffith (F Jordan Nolan and F Johan Larsson), but it was too little too late to have an impact on the game – especially since RW Josh Anderson (LW Artemi Panarin and C Alexander Wennberg) tacked on a final tally 39 seconds before the final horn to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the win after saving 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to C. Johnson, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

Columbus’ victory was the third-straight by the 13-6-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an eight-point advantage over the visitors.

WHL Draft-Eligible Players to Watch

The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.

For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round.  WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.

While the Western Hockey League was typically known for a more physical and defensive-minded style of play than the junior leagues back east, as hockey has evolved, so too has the WHL. The league that gave us Cam Neely, Marian Hossa, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Byfuglien continues to churn out quality defensemen like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov and Morgan Rielly, but it has also produced players like Tyler Johnson, Nino Niederreiter, and Yamamoto who don’t necessarily fit the WHL’s rough and tumble image.

NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality.  By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.

So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June?  While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses.  Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft.  Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play.  What sets him apart is his hockey sense.  Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.

Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player.  He’s very competitive and plays a physical game.  Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season.  He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.

Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family.  Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter.  What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name.  He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice.  In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals.  I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.

Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed.  The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season.  Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played.  It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.

It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere.  Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10.  As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.