Tag Archives: vladislav Gavrikov

Pastrnak, Bruins pull off, 4-3, win in Game 5, can advance in Columbus

Not to beat a dead horse, but the Boston Bruins’ first line got the job done again in Game 5, as the B’s topped the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3, at TD Garden on Saturday night.

After blowing a two-goal lead in the final ten minutes of the game, Boston overcame incredible shifts in momentum to give themselves the series lead, 3-2, heading back to Nationwide Arena for Game 6 on Monday.

Tuukka Rask (7-5 record, 2.19 goals against average, .932 save percentage in 12 games played this postseason) turned aside 33 out of 36 shots faced (.917 SV%) for the win.

Columbus goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky (6-3, 2.33 GAA, .928 SV% in nine games played this postseason) had 32 saves on 36 shots against (.889 SV%) in the loss.

John Moore (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) remained out of the lineup on Saturday, while Noel Acciari (undisclosed) was a game-time decision and did not dress for action.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, replaced Acciari on the fourth line right wing with Chris Wagner and did not make any other adjustments to his lineup.

Wagner was a healthy scratch for the last two games.

Boston had a plethora of healthy scratches to go with Moore, Miller and Acciari in the press box for Game 5, including Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella dressed seven defenders– including Vladislav Gavrikov, who made his NHL debut as a result– and scratched Alexandre Texier for Game 5.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Cam Atkinson slashed Marcus Johansson at 9:03 of the first period and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The B’s failed to convert on the skater advantage opportunity.

After killing off Atkinson’s minor infraction, Columbus found themselves rewarded with a power play of their own seconds later when Charlie McAvoy slashed Boone Jenner at 11:35 of the first period.

The Blue Jackets did not capitalize on their first power play of the game and shortly followed things up with another penalty of their own– this time a bench minor for too many men on the ice.

Gavrikov was sent to the box to serve the infraction at 13:43 and the Bruins went back on the skater advantage.

Entering the first intermission, the game remained tied, 0-0, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal, 9-8.

Boston also held the advantage in hits, 14-13, while Columbus led in just about every other category, including blocked shots (6-2), takeaways (6-1), giveaways (5-4) and face-off win percentage (62-39).

Heading into the second period, the Blue Jackets were 0/1 and the Bruins were 0/2 on the power play.

Early in the middle frame, the pace of play quickened as both teams jumped out of the gate– yielding end-to-end action.

While on a rush up the ice, David Backes dropped a pass back to Jake DeBrusk, who then sent the puck cross-ice to David Krejci as the veteran center for Boston trailed the play.

Krejci (3) settled the puck and trickled an off-speed shot through Bobrovksy’s five-hole to give the Bruins the lead, 1-0, at 1:39 of the second period.

DeBrusk (2) and Backes (3) notched the assists on the goal.

As the midpoint of the night approached, Torey Krug held Nick Foligno inside the B’s crease and was charged with a holding minor at 9:52 of the second period.

Columbus did not convert on their ensuing power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, Boston led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 23-21, in shots on goal.

The Blue Jackets maintained their dominance in every statistical category, leading in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4), hits (31-23) and face-off win% (52-48) after two periods.

Both clubs were 0/2 on the power play heading into the third period.

Boston started things off with strong possession in the final frame of regulation and worked their way to scoring chance after scoring chance on Bobrovsky.

It wasn’t long before Brad Marchand (5) got his own rebound from close range– after the Columbus goaltender made the initial glove save– and fired the puck into the twine to give the B’s a two-goal lead.

Connor Clifton (1) and Patrice Bergeron (3) were credited with the assists on Marchand’s goal at 4:51 of the third period as the Bruins extended their lead to, 2-0.

With the primary assist on the goal, Clifton earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff point in his seventh career postseason game.

Midway through the third period, Seth Jones (3) squeaked a puck between Rask’s pad and inside the post to cut the Bruins’ lead in half, 2-1, at 10:33.

The goal was originally reviewed and confirmed as a good goal more than a few minutes after the play itself occurred.

Zach Werenski (5) and Atkinson (6) had the assists on the goal after the official timeout helped wake up tired legs on both squads.

David Pastrnak (5) broke the other way after a Columbus scoring chance was denied and sent a shot past Bobrovsky’s blocker side to give Boston the lead, 3-1, at 11:16 of the third period.

Marchand (7) had the only assist on Pastrnak’s goal.

Not even a quick response was enough to stop the freight train of goals scored by both clubs in the final ten minutes of regulation, as after the B’s answered back in a hurray, the Blue Jackets replied.

Matt Duchene setup Ryan Dzingel (1) for a one-timer that Dzingel elevated through the roof of the twine to bring Columbus back to within one-goal at 12:07.

Duchene (5) and David Savard (2) had the primary and secondary assists respectively.

Just over a minute later, Dean Kukan (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as the Blue Jackets defender blasted a shot from the slot over Rask’s glove without a body in the shooting lane to tie the game, 3-3, at 13:58.

Both Artemi Panarin (6) and Josh Anderson (2) had an assist on Kukan’s goal.

Late in the period, Marchand worked up ice with Pastrnak and threw a pass across the slot for Pastrnak (6) to redirect behind Bobrovsky to put Boston ahead, 4-3, at 18:32.

Marchand (8) and Brandon Carlo (1) had the assists on what would become Pastrnak’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff game-winning goal.

Tortorella had no choice but to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker with 1:21 remaining in regulation and the Blue Jackets threw the kitchen sink at the Bruins.

Duchene redirected a shot off the post behind Rask and Columbus nearly scored when Atkinson hacked away at a loose puck while Rask was desperate to get back across the crease less than a minute later.

Finally, after McAvoy extended his leg to block a shot with his foot in the closing seconds of the game, the Bruins came away with the victory, 4-3, on home ice.

Boston finished the night tied in shots on goal with Columbus, 36-36, and trailed in every other stat, including blocked shots (18-15), giveaways (11-4), hits (42-32) and face-off win% (54-46).

Both teams finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins improved to 7-0 this postseason when leading after two periods.

The B’s take a 3-2 series lead to Columbus with the chance to punch their ticket to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and host the Carolina Hurricanes in the next round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win on Monday.

Puck drop is set for a little after 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for the action. Fans in Canada will have the choice between CBC, SN and TVAS for their viewing pleasure.

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

Why Jackets Fans Need to Step Off the Ledge

This has definitely not been the season that Jackets fans had hoped for in September or even the season it seemed like it would be in late October.  Sitting outside of a playoff spot with a week to go before the trade deadline is less than ideal.  With the Devils now seven points ahead of the Jackets with 23 games left, the only spot left for them in the playoffs may be the eighth seed and a first round matchup against Tampa Bay, a team they have struggled mightily against this year.

Even if they went on a tear and somehow got the sixth or seventh seed, they would likely find themselves playing the Penguins or Capitals in round one, two other teams they have not played particularly well against.  The loss yesterday to Pittsburgh was not encouraging–a team built around speed looked slow and lethargic compared to the Pens (even more amazing when you consider the Jackets are the younger team) and the Jackets’ Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky again struggled to solve the Penguins.

Many fans are frustrated.  They want results and are tired of waiting.  I certainly understand this, but I also think that perspective is needed and last year’s unexpected season probably had us thinking the team was closer than it was just as the prior season’s disastrous performance had us thinking the team was further away that it actually was.

I’m going to take you back in time to April of 2016 at the end of that disastrous season when I wrote the following on another site:

So, a Jackets team that is capable of winning the Cup has those basic ingredients–an elite defenseman, an elite center, solid goaltending and forward depth.  The Jackets do not possess all of these things, clearly and you could argue that the 2015-16 Jackets had none of those things.  So, what is a reasonable timeline to get to the destination?

I am going to argue that the Jackets are closer than you think, but that the timeframe to get there is longer than you want it to be.  I believe this team can compete for a Cup in three years.

Three years.  This is year two.  Yes, it seems that the team has taken one step forward and one step back since then, but things are still on schedule.

Let’s start by looking at elite defensemen.  Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is as good of a pair as any in the NHL.  In 2016, this was still a question mark because we hadn’t seen Werenski.  This has been solved.  Beyond the top pair, there are some issues that will need to be addressed, but this could be resolved through players in the pipeline.  Markus Nutivaara has really shown his worth this season.  Gabriel Carlsson is still in Cleveland.  Vladislav Gavrikov will spend another year in the KHL–shout out to the NHL for deciding not to go to the Olympics!  Before he was hobbled with injuries, Ryan Murray was solid.  Beyond Jones, the right side is the weakness.  Savard has had a horrible year.  David Savard will get another chance next year likely paired with Nutivaara or Carlsson as Jack Johnson will not be back.  Maybe a new partner will reinvigorate him.  If not, one of the lefties will need to take that spot.  Either way, keep in mind that Jones and Werenski will play monster minutes in any future playoff run and the bottom pair will play minimal minutes.  They just need to get a top-four that works consistently.

Pierre-Luc Dubois has exceeded expectations.  His even-strength CF% within 1 is second only to Artemi Panarin for Jackets’ regulars (Zac Dalpe is the statistical anomaly at #1 due to small sample size).  His size, speed and willingness to drive to the net could make him a player in the mold of Ryan Getzlaf.  He’s the center the franchise has always needed.  There may be growing pains, but the potential is there and the work ethic also seems to be there.

Forward depth.  Let’s start with the positive.  The Jackets have a wealth of options on the right side.  Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand can all be scoring threats and they do it in their own unique ways.  Anderson’s size and speed make him a tough guy to defend.  Atkinson also possesses speed, but has more agility and creativity.  Bjorkstrand is a sniper who is also become a solid defender despite his size.  Meanwhile, Vitaly Abramov has picked up right where he left off last season in the QMJHL.  It is unclear if he’ll make the team next year or spend a year in Cleveland, but Abramov has a high upside.

On the left side, Panarin has been everything he was billed to be, but he has also impressed me with his play away from the puck more than I expected.  Matt Calvert always gives 100 percent.  Other than those two, this has been part of the team’s struggles this season.  Before yesterday’s injury, Nick Foligno has not looked as quick as he has when the team is at its best.

But, there is some good news.  For one, I don’t think Sonny Milano has been as bad as some would have you believe and I think maybe Torts needs to relax with the kid just a bit and find line mates who can cover for his deficiencies as he works on them.  This team was at its best this year when Milano was in the lineup.   The Jackets either need to give Milano another chance at second line left wing or they need to find someone else to fill that role so that Foligno can slot in on the third line.

The Jackets have center depth, it just seems that, outside of Dubois, every center is slotted about 1 spot above where they should be.  Alexander Wennberg‘s 2016-17 performance was inflated by unsustainable power play production.  Once Wennberg stopped producing on power play (January of last year), his overall performance trailed off and frankly, it hasn’t rebounded.  I’ll probably write about this at more length, but despite what you may have read elsewhere, his struggles are real.  The Jackets options are (1) upgrade Wennberg or (2) fix the problem on the second line left wing and hope that improves Wennberg’s production.  Given that Wennberg is never going to produce his own goals and the Jackets’ competition has Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the first route may be the better route, but it is also the more expensive route.

The other issue may be Brandon Dubinsky.  No, I’m not all that concerned that he has “career-threatening issues” as some have reported.  I’m more concerned that the reporting has created a rift and lead him to want out.  Stan Fischler suggested this on a recent broadcast. Trying to move Dubinsky would be a real challenge.  Beyond that, Dubi playing on the third (or fourth) line is exactly the sort of depth we need.  The team may need to rebuild this relationship and hopefully certain journalists can avoid fanning the flames further.

In the pipeline and under the radar is Kevin Stenlund, who has been playing in Europe. Stenlund could challenge Lukas Sedlak next year for a roster spot or play a season in Cleveland with Abramov, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for both players.

While it has been a disappointing season in Cleveland as well, there are still some guys there who could provide the Jackets some needed depth.  Paul Bittner, Calvin Thurkauf and Tyler Motte are still young and could be nice additions to the bottom six.

The drags on the Jackets speed game and possession statistics may soon be moved.  Johnson has reportedly demanded a trade, and I’d like to personally thank him for that.  If reports are true that he could yield a first round pick (or more), that is very good news for the Jackets.  On a sadder note, Boone Jenner is probably in need of a change of scenery.  He doesn’t seem to mesh well with what the Jackets are attempting to do.  He could also still yield a valuable asset in return and could create some cap space for the offseason to address some of the issues raised above and to start dealing with extensions for key players like Panarin and Werenski.

Which leaves us with goaltending.  While I believe Joonas Korpisalo is an improvement over his predecessor, there remains a $9 million (plus?) question with respect to Bobrovsky after next year.  That’s a conservative estimate of what the two-time Vezina winner might seek on his next contract.  At 30-years-old, he’s also likely going to be seeking a six-eight year deal.  That is a large commitment to a player who has yet to come up big when it matters most.  The Rangers and Canadiens have two great goaltenders making $8.5 million and $10.5 million next year.  They are also both out of the playoffs this year with the Rangers having sent a letter to fans breaking it to them gently that they will be deadline sellers.

There is no doubt that the Jackets would be even worse without Bob, but the question has to be asked if the team can afford to tie up that much cap space in one player.  If not, this is the offseason they have to start dealing with the transition.  Does that mean buying out Elvis Merzlikins’ contract with Lugano so the 23-year-old can come over to North America next year?  Does that mean making a deal to acquire a goaltender in case negotiations with Bob don’t work out?  Does that mean getting Korpisalo more playing time next year despite the theory that Bob doesn’t do well on long rest?  Or, does it mean doing the unthinkable–trading Bobrovsky and acquiring a replacement at a lower cap hit?  It is a difficult situation and one that could define the franchise going forward.

While it would hurt to miss the playoffs, I would not be bothered by getting the top 10 pick I fully expected the team to get last year.  That’s another asset that can either be flipped for immediate help or, the better option in my view, kept to sustain organizational depth into the future.

Regardless, the Jackets are closer now than they were two years ago, and still on schedule.  They have the center they needed.  They have the defensemen they needed.  And, for now, they have an elite goaltender though they need to make a decision about his future.  They also have players who can yield them assets at the deadline (and, in Jenner’s case, even at the draft) if they decide to move them.  The Jackets are not far away, if they can use these assets and some cap space to address their issues on the second line, they can be in a position to be a contender next year and beyond.

February 17 – Day 129 – No collusion here

Get ready to take in some hockey, because there’s a deluge of 15 games on today’s slate!

The men’s Olympic action continues this morning at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time when the OAR squares off against Team USA to determine the winner of Group B, not to mention a tilt between Slovenia and Slovakia at the same time.

Back in North America, there’s a whopping 11 games of NHL action on the schedule. The festivities begin at 1 p.m. when Los Angeles visits Buffalo (NHLN), followed an hour later by a pair of tilts (Anaheim at Minnesota and the New York Rangers at Ottawa [TVAS]). The final matinee featuring Edmonton at Arizona drops the puck at 4 p.m. Three games (Montréal at Vegas [CITY/SN360/TVAS], New Jersey at Tampa Bay and Toronto at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed an hour later by Detroit at Nashville and Washington at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. Finally, the last two NHL games of the day (Boston at Vancouver [SN/SN360] and Florida at Calgary [CITY]) find their starts at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, there’s only four games left to be played in the men’s group stage – two of which will be played tonight. Germany takes on Norway at 10:10 p.m. in Group C action, followed by the Czech Republic vs. Switzerland at 2:40 a.m. in Group A. All times Eastern.

Some of the games that stuck out to me when the schedule was released include…

  • OAR vs. USA: If the Olympic Athletes from Russia win this game, they could earn an automatic entry into the Olympic quarterfinals. Should they lose, they could fall all the way to fourth in the four-team Group B.
  • Slovenia vs. Slovakia: Those scenarios are dependent on the result of this game, as Slovakia – having beaten the OAR – would clinch the group with a victory and an American loss of any variety.
  • New York at Ottawa: Though these teams look nothing like they did this time last year, tonight is a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Semifinals.
  • Montréal at Vegas: D David Schlemko was a member of the Golden Knights for less than a day before he was shipped to Montréal for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft.
  • Germany vs. Norway: It’s a battle for third place in Group C!
  • Czech Republic vs. Switzerland: Umm… I wrote this post before Group A’s second games, so I don’t know important or unimportant this game will be. I guess we’ll just hope its a good match!

Beyond those games at the Olympics, I’m most drawn to the tilt between Anaheim and Minnesota, as the winner of that game will take a major step towards qualifying for the playoffs. However, since no club is officially qualifying or being eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention today, I think we have to take in the important game in Group B!

 

Before you say it: yes, I know the Russians are officially the “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” meaning the Russian flag shouldn’t be used. However, I am way too scared of the International Olympic Committee to be throwing the Olympic Rings around on this website.

We ain’t playing that game.

Anyways, back to the hockey. With a 1-0-1-0 record, Team USA is currently atop Group B – though only by a  slim one-point margin. If they can hold onto that position (easiest done with a regulation victory in this game), the Americans would earn a first-round bye and automatic entry into the quarterfinals.

Through two games, I’ve been most impressed with the United States’ effort on the defensive end – especially the effort of G Ryan Zapolski. Though his overall form has left more to be desired by this American fan, he’s managed to post a .915 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Pair that with the group’s second-best defense, which has allowed an average of 23.5 shots against in its first two showings, and the Stars and Stripes have allowed only two goals per game – the (t)best in Group B.

Speaking of leaving much to be desired, the Americans’ offense has been nothing short of anemic by scoring only two goals apiece in their first showings.

That being said, F Ryan Donato (the Bruins’ second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft) has been far and away the most exciting skater Team USA has to offer. His 2-1-3 totals lead the squad, and he owns the distinction of being the only American to score in the USA’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia Thursday night, both on the power play.

Joining Donato in averaging a point-per-game are F Brian O’Neill (1-1-2 totals) and F Chris Bourque (0-2-2). Bourque was a major part of Donato’s two-goal performance a couple days ago, as he provided the secondary assist on both of the youngster’s markers.

As for the 1-0-0-1 Olympic Athletes from Russia, it’s a question of which side is going to show up for this morning’s tilt: the team that lost 3-2 in regulation to Slovakia, or the team that dominated Slovenia to a frightening 8-2 victory.

Considering I wasn’t alone in pegging the OAR – which currently occupies third place in the group – to come away with gold medals at the end of the tournament, I’m sure the Americans are planning on another positive showing from today’s opposition.

Even factoring in the statistics from their disappointing showing against the Slovaks, the OAR still ranks among the best in Group B. That is no more apparent than when looking at Красная Машина‘s (The Red Machine) offense, which has averaged a group-leading five goals per period.

If these Olympic Games are a proper representation, it looks like the Minnesota Wild found a steal of a player in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by selecting F Kirill Kaprizov, as he’s posted dominating 4-0-4 totals in only two games played.

Hold on, I want to make sure you caught that. By averaging two goals per game, Kaprizov has single-handedly matched the entirety of Team USA’s offensive effort. If that doesn’t make American Head Coach Tony Granato‘s heart beat a bit faster, he doesn’t deserve his job anymore.

Another major player in the Russian attack is F Nikita Gusev, who’s matched Kaprizov’s four goals with four assists of his own – three of which were apples on Kaprizov markers. In total, a whopping nine OAR skaters are averaging a point per game, including the likes of F Ilya Kovalchuk (2-1-3 totals), Columbus’ sixth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft D Vladislav Gavrikov (1-1-2) and F Pavel Datsyuk (0-2-2).

Allowing an average of only 2.5 goals against per game, the Red Machine is just as strong in its defensive end, as its 17 shots allowed per game is far and away the best performance of the group. That’s allowed G Vasili Koshechkin a pretty easy tournament so far, as even though his .852 save percentage is far from impressive, it’s been good enough for him to post a 2.43 GAA.

The last time Team USA and the Russians squared off was on May 16 in group play of the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Cologne, Germany. The Americans won that game 5-3, thanks in large part to a two-goal game – including the game-winner – by F Kevin Hayes.

Perhaps the most important hint to how this game will end is found in the fact that Hayes, who provided the big goals in the last meeting between these sides, is in Ottawa today instead of PyeongChang. With that in mind, the OAR should be able to pull off the victory this morning.

However, perhaps the USA’s biggest weapon in this game is its goaltender. As Jokerit’s starter in the KHL, Zapolski has seen many of the OAR’s players. Considering he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 1.73 GAA with his professional club, perhaps he can bring that edge against the skaters he sees on a regular basis.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Finland’s women’s hockey team dominated Sweden to a 7-2 victory at Kwandong Hockey Centre, setting up a rematch against the United States in the Olympic semifinals.

Everything was going the Lady Lions’ way from the opening puck drop, as they found their game-winning goal in the first period by entering the first intermission with a 3-0 advantage. F Petra Nieminen (F Venla Hovi) scored the game’s opening goal at the 6:12 mark, followed only 5:20 later by F Riikka Valila (D Isa Rahunen) scoring to set the score at 2-0.

The game-winning play started with 4:10 remaining in the frame, as that’s when Sweden’s F Maria Lindh was caught tripping a Finn to earn herself a seat in the penalty box. With the five-on-four advantage, Suomi did not disappoint, scoring with only six seconds remaining before Lindh was released. F Susanna Tapani (F Noora Tulus and F Linda Valimaki) was the one to complete the play, beating G Sara Grahn to set to give the Lady Lions a three-goal advantage.

When play resumed in the second period, Finland’s winning ways continued as it needed only 7:14 of action for F Michelle Karvinen (D Minnamari Tuominen and D Ronja Savolainen) to score what was at the time a third insurance tally. Sweden finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:53 mark when F Emma Nordin (F Erika Grahm and D Annie Svedin) sneaked a shot past G Noora Raty, but Finland once again had a four-goal advantage only 36 later when Valila (Karvinen and Tapani) scored her second goal of the match. The second period ended with a 5-2 score thanks to F Rebecca Stenberg (D Maja Nylen Persson) burying  a shorthanded goal with 48 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Any chance of a comeback by the Lady Crowns was demolished in the third period when F Emma Nuutinen (Tulus and Rahunen) and F Sanni Hakala (F Annina Rajahuhta) scored Finland’s final insurance braces, setting the score at the 7-2 final.

Raty and her defense performed marvelously in this game, as she saved 19-of-21 shots faced (.905 save percentage) for the victory. Meanwhile, Grahn took the loss after saving only eight-of-11 (.727). Following her poor performance in the first period, G Sarah Berglind took over goaltending duties for the final two frames, and she saved 16-of-20 (.8) for no decision.

Officially listed as the visitor in yesterday’s quarterfinal, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have pulled back within 24 points of the 70-42-17 hosts in the series.

Jackets and Oilers Are Perfect Trade Partners

There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game.  Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday.  Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:

“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”

Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16.  In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3.  While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.

No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage.  Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent.  This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league.  This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.

So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense.  Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be.  Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit.  But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell.  It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.

Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive.  There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity.  While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season.  This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.

Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara.  In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.

On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers.  Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better.  If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs.  Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name.  It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.

The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.

The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing.  And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given.  The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.

Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer.  Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL.  With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.

Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency.  He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games.  That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar.  He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage.  I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season.  He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome.  At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian.  All of those players are negative possession players.  Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.

With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap.  Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring.  While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets.  I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal.  Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system.  Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.

While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together.  If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets.  I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.