Friday, November 28, 2014

Predators' Laviolette frontrunner for Jack Adams


After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons, the Nashville Predators decided it was time for a new voice behind the bench.


Enter Peter Laviolette, whose track record includes winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and three 40-win seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. Known as an offensive-minded coach, Laviolette's teams have finished in the top 10 in goals in six of his eight full seasons as a coach and never lower than 13th.


In his first season in Carolina, Laviolette was runner-up in voting for the Jack Adams Award and it was the closest vote in award history. With the Predators at 14-5-2 and tied for first place in the Central Division, he is the early frontrunner to take home the award this season as the NHL's top coach.


Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise had ever known, and who led the Predators to the second round of the postseason in 2011 and 2012, did not have his contract extended after 15 seasons. The offseason blueprint in Nashville called for generating more offense using an up-tempo attack.


The Predators have played fast and aggressive for Laviolette. Their 2.76 goals per game are 13th in the NHL after finishing tied for 19th (2.61) last season, while they remain stingy defensively by allowing 2.1 goals against per game (tied for second). A 9-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 18 in which eight different players scored tied a franchise record for most goals in a game.


Individual players are flourishing in Laviolette's system. Nashville hasn't had a player score 60 points since J.P. Dumont in 2008-09, the longest active drought in the League, but Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg are each on pace to top that number. Forsberg leads all rookies with 22 points and a plus-18 rating, and is tied for the lead with nine goals.


Goalie Pekka Rinne, owner of a 1.97 goals-against average and 14 wins, which is tied for the League lead, credits a new voice and new system, proof Laviolette has his finger on the pulse of the Predators.


"I feel like we play an active style of game where we are really aggressive on the puck on the forecheck," Rinne said. "It's nice to see. Obviously we now have the players to do that. I feel like this year we have a lot of speed and guys can play that type of game. It has been a lot of fun. We play fast, intense games."


FINALISTS


Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames -- The Flames have been the surprise of the season. They lead the Western Conference with 3.04 goals per game, and a team that finished 27th in the NHL last season is 13-8-2.


Hartley, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2000-01, is resurrecting the Flames by commanding instant respect and accountability. Even with several key players on injured reserve, Hartley has found ways to win while driving his players beyond their potential.


"You know what?" Hartley told the Calgary Herald. "I'm going to run the table. I'm going to be all-in every game. I've never coached with the fear of making a decision. I'd rather make a bad decision than [be] sitting in my office after, [thinking], 'Maybe I should've made that decision.' Me, I'm a guy that coaches on my toes. I don't coach on my heels.


"I want [my] teams to have the same pattern: Go, and if we break something, we'll pick up the pieces after."


Claude Julien , Boston Bruins -- Injuries have been a common theme in Boston. On defense the Bruins are without Zdeno Chara (knee), Adam McQuaid (broken thumb) and David Warsofsky (groin). They have also missed forwards David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly and defenseman Kevan Miller with various ailments.


But Julien, who signed a multiyear contract extension Nov. 3, has kept the Bruins afloat. Boston is 13-9-1, 9-5-0 since Chara went down with a PCL tear in his left knee, and in the thick of the Atlantic Division race despite the roadblocks.


"You don't want to panic, and you shouldn't panic," Julien told Comcast SportsNet New England. "Players can read off management very easily, be it the coaching staff or upper management. As coaches, we feel we still have people we can put in place that are going to keep us competitive. I don't think we've been wrong so far."


Also in the mix: Jack Capuano (New York Islanders), Willie Desjardins (Vancouver Canucks), Mike Johnston (Pittsburgh Penguins)


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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Unmasked: Devils' Schneider dealing with workload


As Cory Schneider makes the transition to being an everyday goaltender in the NHL for the first time, a lot of the focus is on the increased workload and the effect a lack of rest can have on him physically.


The New Jersey Devils' new No. 1 goalie started their first 20 games this season, breaking the franchise record set by Martin Brodeur, before finally getting his first night off Saturday against the Calgary Flames. After one day off and one practice, Schneider was back in goal against his former team, the Vancouver Canucks, on Tuesday, and he talked openly about how big the adjustment has been.



BRODEUR TO PRACTICE WITH BLUES


With goalie Brian Elliott week-to-week because of a lower-body injury he sustained Tuesday, the St. Louis Blues have announced they will bring in Martin Brodeur on a tryout basis. READ MORE ›


Beyond the physical and mental fatigue is a bigger problem, one that jumped out when Schneider returned to Vancouver: As he tries to manage his rest, there is less time to manage his game.


"You don't have the time to really work on your game when you are playing all the time," Schneider told NHL.com. "It's one more thing I am learning how to manage as we go is, if I can feel my technique breaking down, pucks are going through you, or you are getting a little leaky, you have to fix it on the fly. You may not have a practice session to sit down and go over every detail and work on your mechanics."


It's a stark contrast to Schneider's time in Vancouver, when playing behind and later splitting duties with Roberto Luongo left plenty of time to fine tune technique with Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson. In an era when the position is increasingly about taking care of every small detail that might open holes or cause delays, those daily goalie-only sessions can be difficult to replace.


As Schneider learns to manage his game, the 28-year-old is discovering it's one thing to recognize when one of those moving parts gets even slightly out of whack and quite another to fix it. The last thing a goalie wants is to be thinking about a change consciously during a game, which is why all those repetitions with a goaltending coach are so important. Whether it's a total technical overhaul or a tweak, all that work helps any change become instinctual.


"You can't get out there and bang away at it for 45 minutes if you are playing back to back or you have two coming up," Schneider said. "There have been some goals this year I would never have dreamed I would give up. Sometimes you get there and you are trying to chose save selection instead of reacting, or you are a little leaky, pucks going through your arms or squeaking through that you normally seal off. I don't know how much is fatigue and how much is not staying with your technique so you don't get that last 5 percent of a squeeze. But it is definitely an adjustment."


It's part of the transition from backup to No. 1 goalies go through in the NHL. Schneider is working through it on video with Devils goaltending coach Chris Terreri, who provides an extra set of eyes but not as many of those fine-detail practice sessions he used to have a lot more time for in Vancouver. Ironically, new Canucks No. 1 Ryan Miller can relate.


Miller has started 17 of 22 games, with backup Eddie Lack so far playing only the second half of back-to-back games.


That puts Miller on pace to play 63 games this season, far from his career-high 76 in 2007-08 with the Buffalo Sabres but only two fewer than the NHL-leading 65 games Kari Lehtonen played for the Dallas Stars last season. Miller, 34, is aware of the delicate balance between getting enough rest and finding enough time to keep your game sharp.


"It can work against you," Miller said of not being able to find practice time. "You can get sloppy."



Ryan Miller



Goalie - VAN


RECORD: 14-3-0

GAA: 2.47 | SVP: .908



That's why Miller said he was cutting himself a little slack when his play started to drop a couple of weeks ago. In the midst of making movement and positional changes under Melanson, Miller said it's no coincidence it happened during a string of 15 games in 26 days that included two road trips.

"You need quality time to work on your game," Miller said.


He got that work in through the preseason and two games in the first nine days of the regular season. But it got more difficult to find time when the schedule got busier, and by mid-November, Miller was battling.


"I felt a little fatigued and I hadn't quite gotten my technique where I wanted it yet, and was trying to incorporate some different perspective with Rollie," Miller said. "It just felt like I kind of got into, not a bad place, but a place where I was not as sharp and I kind of had to find that again and I am starting to feel a little bit better about that."


Miller was speaking one day before making 20 saves in a 2-0 shutout of Schneider's Devils that moved him into a tie for the NHL lead in wins (14). It was Miller's second straight strong performance after giving up 16 goals in his previous four starts; no coincidence it came after a stretch of 11 days with twice as many practices as starts.


It will be more difficult for Schneider to find those gaps if he continues to play every game, but the Devils might want to give him a few more. There may be a reason no goalie played 70 games last season for the first full schedule since 1989-90.


"It's a grind and you just try to steal rest when you can," Miller said. "I don't think it's a healthy way to do things."



Bruins' Bergeron off to start deserving of Selke


As Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter noted last season, teams that spend a lot of time playing in their own zone in this era of the NHL say they're playing defense but are typically just getting scored or on relying their goaltender to bail them out.


The best defensive players in the NHL are the ones who avoid having to play it a lot. There is a desire to possess the puck, and a player's ability to keep the puck and win it back have become incredibly valuable commodities.


Forwards, particularly centers, who are strong in all areas of the ice help drive the offense and support the defense. Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the sport at this, and he is the favorite to win the Selke Trophy at the three-quarter pole of the 2014-15 season.


Bergeron has won the award in two of the past three seasons and could be the fifth player to earn the trophy three times since it was first awarded in 1977-78.


The answer for why Bergeron deserves to be the favorite is pretty simple. He faces the toughest competition, earns the toughest assignments and the Bruins still dominate the game when he is on the ice.


Bergeron leads Bruins forwards in quality of competition and defensive zone starts. The 137 defensive zone starts is in the top 10 in the NHL, and his percentage of shifts that start in his own end is higher than other centers on that leaderboard like Ryan Kesler, Joe Thornton and Claude Giroux.


Despite all of that, Bergeron is still sixth in the NHL among forwards with at least 200 minutes of even-strength ice time in Corsi-for percentage at better than 58 percent. He's also third in the League in faceoff percentage among qualified centers at 58.5 percent, and his 295 faceoffs won is second in the NHL.


His numbers alone make Bergeron worthy, but he's also compiled them in more adverse conditions than he is used to. Two of the other four best players on the Bruins (Zdeno Chara and David Krejci) have missed significant time with injuries. The fourth, Tuukka Rask, was not performing at his typical level until recently.


The Bruins remain in the hunt for a playoff berth and the Atlantic Division title, and Bergeron has been their most valuable player. He's also a strong choice for the Selke Trophy at this stage in the 2014-15 season.


FINALISTS


Claude Giroux , Philadelphia Flyers -- Giroux doesn't have the reputation that other two-way centers like Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar possess, but he's having a fantastic season. While his possession stats are not among the League leaders at a basic level, he is a top-five forward in both Corsi- and Fenwick-for percentage relative to his team's average at even strength.


He's also doing that despite having started the third-most shifts in the defensive zone among forwards with at least 200 minutes of even-strength ice time. The only players with more than Giroux's 152 are Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks of the Edmonton Oilers. Few players are shifting the territorial battle as well as Giroux, and he's an integral part of the team's penalty-killing efforts.


Jonathan Toews , Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks are one of the best teams at playing with the puck, and this season they are using that ability to prevent goals at an elite rate. Toews is obviously a big part of that. He leads all NHL forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at even strength in quality of competition, and his lack of defensive zone faceoffs is a result of Chicago's ability to avoid them.


He's among the League leaders in puck possession. He's a key figure for Chicago's penalty kill, which has been fantastic. This is the era of elite two-way centers, so like many seasons of late there is more than one correct answer for this award. Toews would be a worthy winner.


Also in the mix: Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens; Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; David Backes, St. Louis Blues


NOTE: All quality of competition, zone start, Corsi and Fenwick statistics in this article come from www.war-on-ice.com



Novak lurking on edge of center pool in 2015 Draft


BUFFALO – With the attention being paid to center prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft, it might be easy to lose track of a player like Thomas Novak.


Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Dylan Strome have all taken turns in the spotlight already this season, but now Novak is starting to make his mark amongst draft hopefuls and drawing rave reviews from those who have watched him closely.


Novak's road to notoriety is a bit different than many his contemporaries.


He's playing in the United States Hockey League for Waterloo after a three-year stint with St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota.


He's already left a positive impression.


"Tommy is a high-skill guy," Waterloo coach P.K. O'Handley said. "His thought process, his hands, his ability to make plays and think and see some things that maybe other guys don't see is pretty remarkable really for a young guy. I think he's got whatever that thing might be. That thing."


"That thing" is superstar potential and ability.


In his first season with Waterloo, Novak has three goals and 10 assists in 15 games. During the past year, he's played internationally for the United States Under-18 Team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and scored five goals with six assists in five games. He also participated in the 2014 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo in September.


"I think he's sometimes two and three steps ahead of the play," O'Handley said. "I think that as well as his vision [are his strongest assets]. I think a part of vision is being able to picture what's to come and I think he's got a real unique ability to see what maybe two steps ahead is going to look like. I think he relishes the challenge of that. It's a strength of his and, at times, it can be an Achilles heel.


"I think he has the ability to get himself in an area maybe not with help right away and he can find himself in a pickle hanging onto the puck too long. But I think as he goes up and as guys get comfortable playing with him, it's going to be a special thing."


The numbers Novak has amassed to this point in the USHL as a center won't blow people away, especially compared to what McDavid, Eichel, and Strome are accomplishing.


Last season, Novak scored 26 goals with 70 points in high school for St. Thomas Academy, but now, it's been about adjusting to a new level of play.


"In high school it was a little slower than what I'm playing right now," Novak said. "You could just go make plays. You need a little more patience. It's a little faster game so you've got to be moving a little bit more."


The progress he's made moving on from high school to the USHL has been noticeable already.


"Like most players that make that jump, he needs to play harder on a more consistent basis," Greg Rajanen of NHL Central Scouting said. "However, he is making strides in that area."


Thomas Novak is committed to join the University of Minnesota in 2015. (Photo: Brandon Anderson/BA Photos)


Those may sound like the words of someone who is disappointed with what Novak has done so far. That's not the case.


"He has Patrick Kane-like hands and puck handling ability," Rajanen said. "He has quick hands. He's quick out of the blocks in all directions and handles the puck very well with creative puck play seen. He's a point-producer type."


A comparison to Kane when it comes to the ability to move and handle the puck is a lofty one and a good reason why Novak was one of the A-rated players on Central Scouting Service's Players to Watch list in November. A-rated players are projected to be potential first-round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.


Novak is committed to join the University of Minnesota in 2015.


"My parents have always been big on education," Novak said. "Just in general, going the college route will help me get a little bigger and stronger other than the major-junior route. I think that's what I need most."


Adding size and strength is something he'll need in the pro game. Novak is 6-feet tall and 180 pounds and while his playmaking skills have been evident, being able to withstand the physical demands of the game at higher levels is something they're working on now in the USHL.


"He's never going to be a banger, he's not that type of player," O'Handley said. "He's a thoughtful player. He's a playmaking-type guy. That part of his game, I think he understands and is working at it. I don't think he's ever had to do it, but he certainly can; he's been willing. He just needs to bump a little bit more. He's willing to do it, but he's still learning."


Learning and doing are two different things, but that's where the instruction Novak gets playing in Waterloo is paying dividends.


"You're going to play on the TV someday, which is what we talk about a lot with our high-end guys, you have to, even though you're a high-skill player, you still have to be a hard player." O'Handley said. "You have to check, you have to shoot sometimes rather than stickhandle. You have to simplify some things. I see lots of improvement there and there's still lots more to go, however."



Flyers' Giroux launching more shots than ever


Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux knows he's the centerpiece of opposition game plans. He sees the best checking forwards and toughest defensemen on the other team 82 games a season.


Despite that he's developed into one of the game's best playmakers during his six full NHL seasons. He's scored 20 goals three times, finished in the top three in the League in points twice and was a Hart Trophy finalist last season.


Most of Giroux's success has come because of his elite-level vision and passing skills.


Most of Claude Giroux's success has come because of his elite-level vision and passing skills, but the Philadelphia Flyers captain has added a new weapon to his arsenal by shooting the puck more this season. (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI)


"I love passing," Giroux said. "I love passing way too much to shoot."


But in order to remain among the game's best, and to continue to confound opponents, Giroux has found a different weapon for his arsenal. As much as he might not like it, Giroux is shooting. A lot.


Giroux is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the League lead with 97 shots on goal.


He's on pace for 379 shots, which would be nearly 140 shots more than his career best of 242 shots in 2011-12. And at 4.62 shots on goal per game, he's averaging nearly 1.50 shots per game more than his best of 3.14 in 2011-12.


Giroux, who will look to continue shooting the puck Friday when the Flyers host the New York Rangers in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m., NBC, SN), said there hasn't been a conscious effort on his part to shoot more. And when told of his high shot volume this season, he was a bit surprised.


"It just happens," he said. "I've got a lot of shots. I saw it last week [and said], 'Wow, I have a lot of shots.' The goals are hopefully going to come more. But when you shoot the puck good things are going to happen."


That echoes what his coach, Craig Berube, has been preaching.


"We've stressed shooting the puck for everybody," Berube said. "We want to be a shoot-first team, we want pucks on net. Him [Giroux] especially; he's got the puck more than anyone, so he needs to put it on net."


With seven goals in 21 games, Giroux on pace for 27, one off the 28 he scored last season, and his shooting percentage is a career-low 7.2. However, it's been offset by increased offensive-zone time for Giroux and his linemates because the puck constantly is going toward the net while Giroux is on the ice rather than being passed around the zone.


"It's just the system that we play," Berube said. "We want to shoot the hockey puck. We don't want to over-pass it. It's more than just producing when you shoot the puck. When you shoot the puck it's a mindset; you're putting a team on their heels. You shoot the hockey puck, they see the shots, you're in their end because you're shooting the puck. You're having more offensive-zone time because you're shooting the puck, not over-passing it."


The numbers back up Berube's puck-possession claims. Giroux is sixth in the League in points with 26. And, according to War-on-Ice.com, Giroux's Corsi-for percentage at even strength relative to his team was a career-best 9.32 entering Wednesday, nearly double his career best, and second on the team to linemate Jakub Voracek.


"We all want our team to shoot the puck more," Berube said. "We want to average more shots than we did last year. To get more production you have to shoot the puck. Giroux understands that. He has to be a shooter."



Claude Giroux



Center - PHI


GOALS: 7 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 26

SOG: 97 | +/-: 8



Giroux can use Voracek as an example for the kind of success that can result from a shoot-first mentality. Prior to coming to the Flyers in 2011, Voracek was a pass-first, shoot-second forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 2011-12, his first season in Philadelphia, he averaged 2.43 shots per game.

Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia's coach at the time, told Voracek he needed to shoot more if he wanted more ice time. The following season, Voracek upped his shot volume to 2.69 per game and the payoff was 22 goals, at the time the most he'd scored in the NHL. The following season Voracek shot even more, averaging 2.87 per game on a career-high 235 shots, and raised his goal total to 23 and set a career-best with 62 points.


This season, with Berube urging him on, Voracek is averaging 3.33 shots per game. The result has been eight goals in 21 games, putting him on pace for 31. He has 10 multipoint games and is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby for the League scoring lead with 30 points. And he's on pace for 117 points, which would be the third-highest single-season total in Flyers history, behind Mark Recchi's 123 points in 1992-93 and Bobby Clarke's 119 points in 1975-76.


"We're creating space to get a shot on net," Voracek said. "If we're going to shoot, that's the big sign we're playing good. If he has five shots a game, I'm going to have four shots a game, it means we're playing good and creating chances."


The combination of Giroux and Voracek shooting more has paid off for both players. And it hasn't changed the dynamic they've established playing most of the past three seasons together. Now instead of relying on smart passing plays to create chances, they are putting pucks on net and aggressively pursuing rebounds to create chances for themselves and their teammates.


"They're both shooting the puck more, so there's going to be more opportunities for them to score goals," Berube said. "We don't want to over-pass as a team; we want more pucks to go into the net. [Voracek and Giroux] are leading the way there. They're shooting the hockey puck, and that's important."


---



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sidney Crosby for Movember




Sidney Crosby moustache Movember




Sidney Crosby moustache Movember



November is finishing the race to the winter but we forgot to mention Movember, which was big deal last year. Do you remember Vine videos of ice hockey players how they shaved long beards for charity cause linked with cancer and men? It was so quiet this year, not many NHLer played with facial hair but Sidney Crosby didn't miss an opportunity to mention serious problem. Cancer can hit any of us! Also strong athletes, a soccer player Moore comes to my mind. Mario Lemieux who won the cancer battle. Sutton posed on one photo with the captain in Pittsburgh Penguins locker room!