Friday, December 12, 2014

Canadiens counting on Price a little too much


MONTREAL -- The Los Angeles Kings left Bell Centre on Friday like many other teams before them.


The Kings put 46 shots on goal, attempted 46 more against the Montreal Canadiens, and wound up with two goals and zero points in the standings.

Carey Price



Goalie - MTL


RECORD: 16-8-1

GAA: 2.38 | SVP: .922



"I think we came out with a good push early and didn't capitalize on chances," Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said after a 6-2 loss they thoroughly controlled. "They got their opportunities and took advantage of it, and we were left kind of wondering, 'What's going on?'"


Carey Price was going on.


As dominant as the Kings were, the Canadiens goaltender was a bit more so. Price stopped all 28 shots through two periods, with 16 of them coming on five Kings power plays.


"We had a lot of really good chances; we totally dominated the first period," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think Carey Price was really, really good, wasn't he?"


By the time Muzzin finally managed to beat Price at 3:35 of the third period on the Kings' 34th shot on goal, the Canadiens had scored three goals on 12 shots against backup goaltender Martin Jones.


"We had the puck a lot and we created a lot, but no goals at the end of it. You need goals to win, obviously," Muzzin said. "I thought we battled back and stuck with it and continued trying to fight and get some more goals. It just wasn't happening."


Price's numbers this season are not in elite territory. He is 10th in the NHL in save percentage at .922 and 14th with a 2.38 goals-against average, but those numbers don't tell his entire story.


The one that does is wins.


Price is tied for second in the NHL with 16 victories, and though it is usually seen as more of a team statistic, in his case an argument can be made that he has stolen at least half of that total.


"We know Carey Price is an unbelievable goalie, one of the best in the League," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, Price's teammate on the Canada team that won gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "He wins games for his team all the time."


It's perhaps a bit more often than the Canadiens should be comfortable with.


The win against Los Angeles gave Montreal a 10-6-1 record when being outshot by its opponent. Only the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs have more wins under that circumstance this season.


This game was an extreme example of it, but the Canadiens have had to rely on Price to bail them out on a regular basis.


"There was a little bit of [Dominik] Hasek in net today, a little bit of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, and a little bit of Carey Price," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "So I mean, he's a great goaltender and he has the ability to make great saves. There's only a few goaltenders in the League that can do that and he's definitely one of them. It's not a surprise to us seeing him do that, but to be able to see him do it against one of the best teams in the League, that's what we need."


The Canadiens are 19-10-2 with 40 points in the standings, fighting for the lead in the Atlantic Division. But there is much about their game that requires significant improvement, and Price is often times the one who erases Montreal's mistakes.


It was never more apparent than Friday.


"We played the Stanley Cup champions," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We've never claimed to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Carey was solid, you have to give him a lot of credit."


Price has received the bulk of the credit for many Canadiens wins this season. If they ever do want to consider themselves true contenders, Price's teammates will need to be the reason they win on a more regular basis.



Duclair glad to get chance to play for Canada at WJC


TORONTO – Some young men might be disappointed if their NHL team opted to send them back to junior hockey, even if it meant they were able to play at the World Junior Championship.


Anthony Duclair is not one of them.


The 19-year-old left wing for the New York Rangers, a Montreal native, jumped at the opportunity to join Canada for the 2015 WJC, which will be divided between his hometown and Toronto.


"I'm very happy and very excited to be here," Duclair said Friday at Canada's training camp. "(Rangers coach) Alain Vigneault asked me a couple of days after the roster came out what my thoughts were and I told him I wanted to be part of this tournament. With the tournament being in Canada and in my hometown, I really wanted to be a part of this and I'm happy I'm here."


Duclair is eligible to return to the Rangers after the WJC. However, the Rangers could also send him back to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, who will host the 2015 Memorial Cup.


Just because Duclair wanted to play for Canada didn't mean the Rangers would automatically let him. He has a goal and seven points in 18 games with the Rangers and averages 12:09 ice time per game. After leading the Rangers with five points in five preseason games, general manager Glen Sather traded Steve Kampfer and Andrew Yogan to the Florida Panthers for Joey Crabb in a deal that opened a roster spot for Duclair to begin the season with the Rangers.


"It wasn't my decision," Duclair said of joining Canada's junior team. "I expressed my feelings and they took their time making up their mind. For myself being a young guy who is in and out of the lineup, I think it was a good decision to let me go."


Duclair played the past three seasons with the Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, for whom he scored 101 goals and had 215 points in 177 games. He was taken by New York in the third round (No. 80) in the 2013 NHL Draft. LeClair led the Remparts in scoring last season with 50 goals and 99 points in 59 games.


Playing in an international tournament is nothing new for Duclair; in 2012 he helped Canada win the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Under-18 Tournament in the Czech Republic. Now that he has NHL experience, he fully expects to be counted on to supply offense and leadership to Canada's National Junior Team. The fact he is from Montreal means he will be in the spotlight during the preliminary portion of the tournament; Canada, the United States, Slovakia, Finland and Germany will play their round-robin games at Bell Centre.


"The pressure is there obviously, being from Montreal," Duclair said. "Really, though, it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are, this tournament is very hard to win and we're all going to be pulling together. It doesn't matter if you are coming from the NHL or junior, you're part of Hockey Canada now."


Duclair will be trying to help Canada win its first gold medal at the since 2009. In the past five years Canada finished second twice, third twice and fourth in 2014. In those years, Canada has had eligible players skip the tournament because they were with NHL teams who did not want to release them. Even this year eligible players such as defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and forwards Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning are not being released by their NHL teams. Also, forward Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames has a shoulder injury that has sidelined him all season.


Duclair, who skated on a line with Sam Reinhart and Max Domi at practice Friday, said he and his teammates cannot worry about Canada's failures in the past few years.


"It's ancient history," Duclair said. "I think we're a new group; a new team. Everything is new every year. We want to start from scratch and build some chemistry starting in this camp. We'll see where we go after that."


Canada coach Benoit Groulx said Duclair has matured a lot since he first joined the Remparts and has a better understanding of how to play a complete game. Groulx said the talent has always been there, but now it is complemented by consistency.


"Last year after Christmas, if he was not the best player in our league, he was close," Groulx said.


Duclair is uncertain what his future holds after the tournament, whether he'll rejoin the Rangers or be returned to Quebec. For now, his eyes are on the task at hand.


"Right now I am focusing on Hockey Canada and what it takes to win a gold medal," Duclair said.



Blues' Stastny in groove as he sets to face Avalanche


HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The numbers may not have reflected it earlier in the season, but for St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny, popping up on the score sheet more often recently is the reason why the Blues invested so heavily in him.


And the offensive numbers have accumulated just in time for Stastny to make his first appearance against the team he spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career with, the Colorado Avalanche.


The Blues play the Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday. Stastny missed the Blues' first game against the Avalanche on Nov. 1 after sustaining a shoulder injury, so this will be his first game against the only teammates he knew for eight years.


"You just want to get that first one out of the way, but I'm excited," said Stastny, who has seven goals and 12 points in 21 games with the Blues this season. "I think I have a lot of friends [in Denver], not just hockey-wise.



Paul Stastny



Center - STL


GOALS: 7 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 12

SOG: 44 | +/-: -1



"Once the puck drops, it'll just feel like a normal game. Sometimes the anticipation takes longer than normal, but it's part of the business."

Stastny, who has four goals in the past three games and five points in a four-game point streak, may be downplaying his return to the only NHL home he knew prior to this season, but his teammates know better.


"I think it'll be pretty special," said Alexander Steen, who remembered his first game back against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. "I wasn't in Toronto as long as [Paul] was in Denver, so it will be pretty special for him tomorrow. We're going to make sure we're ready to play and give him our best effort."


Stastny's return to St. Louis has been a bit of a bumpy ride. He began the season with four points in two games and played four games in all before a shoulder injury against the Arizona Coyotes sidelined him eight games. It took time to get the gears motoring upon a return to the lineup, and as recently as last week, coach Ken Hitchcock was on record as saying that the Blues need more from Stastny.


But the recent string of games has seen Stastny produce in ways the Blues expected when they signed him to a four-year, $28 million contract when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1. Adjusting to a new system, new surroundings, a new coach and new teammates have seen their ups and downs.


"Sometimes, the bounces go your way, sometimes you've just got to keep working hard trying to prove yourself," Stastny said. "It's been good the last couple games, especially with the team winning. After those back-to-back losses, I think we wanted to get back on a run again.


"I wouldn't say it's hard to adjust. With the amount of skill we have, I think we could be doing other things to create more chances. But that's the way our system is. Sometimes you've just got to keep sticking to it. So far, it's paying off and I think we're playing well this year."


"Well, I think he's playing better than he was," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "He was tentative coming back from the injury. He's playing better. He's a gamer. When the game is on the line, he seems to raise his level.


"I think the thing we'd like to see more of is not wait to take charge. I think sometimes when you're new to a team, you wait for other people to do the job. I think it's on us and it's on him to do more taking charge, rather than wait for the score to determine whether you're going to do it or not. I think that just goes with confidence that you're entrusted with some of that responsibility. I think that's the big thing for us. Since he's come back and felt healthy, when the game is on the line, he's always been a good player. But we'd like to see him set the tempo and set the tone a little bit more."


Stastny has seen his share of ice time with a plethora of teammates, including Steen and 2014 Sochi Olympic teammates T.J. Oshie and David Backes, among others. There have also been stints with energy-type players, all in an effort to get more production and a better overall game out of him.


"I think he's been playing great all year," Steen said of Stastny. "The point production might not be there. … It's really easy to look at a piece of paper and numbers and say stuff about guys, but when you actually watch games and what they do for the team, I've had no doubt about how good [Paul's] been playing this year."


The thought of coming back to the city where he grew up, getting married over the summer and the big contract were all pressure points in getting Stastny to produce from the get-go. The shoulder injury seemed to derail things momentarily, although he has been gaining steam in recent games.


"That injury … that's tough," Oshie said. "You're coming in off of a summer where you're working hard, your body is in the condition that you want it to be in and you hurt your shoulder and then you've got to sit out for however many weeks that was. That's tough and then jumping right into it, and the pressure from the media and the fans that he's going to come in and dominate, when we're very team-oriented in how we get our wins. But he's definitely buying into the system, and he's doing a great job and you can see on the score sheet, it's finally showing up there, the hard work that's putting in on the ice."


Stastny will likely draw a chorus of boos from the Avalanche faithful. It's generally the reception one gets when leaving via free agency, that "you left us" mentality, but the 28-year-old felt like he parted on amicable terms.


"I don't know if there's anything for me to prove," Stastny said. "Everyone knows what kind of player I am. I just try to continue to prove myself every game. To me, it's not something I've done in the past, not something I'll do in the future. It's kind of just game by game for me. I want to reestablish myself every game.


"I had an unbelievable eight great years there. I have nothing but respect for the organization and all the players. I'm still best friends with a bunch of those players. To me, it's a win-win situation. I'm excited to go back to play."



Canadiens prospect Hudon shines in first AHL season


The Montreal Canadiens have made 50 fifth-round draft selections in their franchise history.


Mike Busniuk won a record five Calder Cups playing in the American Hockey League and a sixth as an assistant coach. Bill Nyrop won the Stanley Cup three years in a row during the Canadiens dynasty in the 1970s. Mikhail Grabovski was a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs' 2007 Calder Cup title team who has played more than 450 NHL games. And current Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher has become a rising star in the League.


Charles Hudon joined that impressively productive group as pick No. 122 in the 2012 NHL Draft, and after four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he is quickly making a mark as a professional rookie with Hamilton.


Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon is quickly making a mark as a professional rookie with Hamilton of the American Hockey League despite a position change from wing to center. (Photo: Brandon Taylor)


"It's tough to really follow [players after they're drafted], especially during the season, other than going on the Internet and see how they're doing. Maybe give their coach a call once in a while," Bulldogs coach Sylvain Lefebvre said. "But I knew of Charles, and I knew what he could do on the ice."


A native of Alma, Quebec, Hudon's junior career was covered in points, putting up 104 goals and 169 assists in 235 games with Chicoutimi and Baie-Comeau. And while production levels almost always go down once players make the jump from junior to professional hockey, with the notably increased speed, size and skill of every player on the ice around them, Hudon's transition had an extra wrinkle: a natural winger, he was now being asked to play center.


"This is the first time I've played center in my life. I'm playing with some good players here, so that's definitely helped a lot," Hudon said. "When I came [to] camp, I was a winger, and now I'm [not]. It's been a good switch, but I'm concentrating on my defense and entering that zone."


Centers have the added responsibility of a 200-foot defensive game on top of their offensive duties, and play a different, more expanded role on the ice than the two forwards flanking them. But if the position change is affecting Hudon's game at all, it hasn't shown.


Heading into the weekend, the 20-year-old leads the entire AHL in scoring with 27 points and is fourth in assists (18). He has seven multipoint efforts in 25 games, and has three separate point streaks of three games or more already this season. Among AHL rookies, he's built a seven-point lead over the next-best scorer, Providence's David Pastrnak.


Hudon leads Hamilton in points (27), assists (18), game-winning goals (3), and plus/minus (plus-9), and is tied for the club lead in goals (nine) and power-play goals (three).


"He's adjusted really well. He's got some things to work on, but he's doing really well," Lefebvre said. "We knew he could make plays, we knew he could score goals. But we wanted him to get more scoring chances and more offense out of his game. But having said that, the adjustment he had to make, not only in his first pro season, but also switching positions, the way he's going now is remarkable."


Like the AHL as a whole, most of the Bulldogs roster is under the age of 24, though a strong veteran presence from players like forward T.J. Hensick and goaltender Joey MacDonald has helped shape Hudon's first full professional season.


"We're for sure a young team, but we've got a good veteran group," he said. "We've got good chemistry when we're all together and good leadership. It's good for us to have that."


Many players who cut their teeth in major junior and excel far and above their peers can have trouble adjusting to the pro game and difficulty understanding why what worked in juniors doesn't translate as seamlessly in the AHL or NHL. Producing on the ice attracts attention, and Lefebvre notes Hudon's hot start to the season has every possibility of overwhelming the young forward. But the potential is there.


"He's not a selfish player. His stats kind of speak for themselves. He can make plays, he can dish the puck. It doesn't matter. If he has to score, he's going to score," Lefebvre said. "He wants the puck in those situations and he wants to be the guy that makes the play and turns it into a win for the team."


Told to always be prepared and at 100 percent in every situation, from practice to a Friday night game to a Tuesday morning game full of screaming kids, Hudon's goal of one day reaching the NHL hasn't interfered with the team-first mentality that's caught the eye of his coaches.


"I didn't expect [this start]. My goal is not to get some personal stats, but to get some team stats," Hudon said. "It's good for me right now, but we need to bring the team into the playoffs. It's good to be here [in Hamilton]."


For the latest news, scores and stats from around the American Hockey League, visit theahl.com .



Hot fantasy topics: Dubinsky, shooting percentages


Let's get right to it. Here are the five hottest topics in fantasy hockey right now.


1. Brandon Dubinsky expectations


Brandon Dubinsky returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets lineup on Tuesday and finished the game with a power-play assist in 19:09 of ice time. He played 19:31 on Thursday and was a plus-1 with two penalty minutes. Fantasy owners everywhere are wondering what to expect from the 28-year-old power forward. Dubinsky, known for his gritty, get-in-your-face, hard-working style of play, is one of the few players capable of contributing in all fantasy categories.



Brandon Dubinsky



Brandon Dubinsky


Center - CBJ


GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1

SOG: 3 | +/-: 0



Last season Dubinsky had 50 points and 98 penalty minutes, and only Wayne Simmonds, David Backes and Scott Hartnell had more points among players with at least 95 PIMs. He finished the season as the 81st best fantasy player. Why he's only owned in 63 percent of leagues right now points to the fact people forgot about him because of his lengthy absence. It's time to wake up. Dubinsky is capable of being a difference-maker in any league, and while it may take him some time to get reacquainted, his versatility makes him worth starting on a regular basis.

2. Does Matt Beleskey really have 14 goals?


Yes. And considering his career high in the category was 11, set back in the 2009-10 season with the Anaheim Ducks, this is a surprise to all of us. What most people on Twitter are asking is whether Beleskey can continue to score at this rate. And to that, I have to say no. While adding him for the short term isn't the worst option out there, at some point he will regress. Beleskey has an absurdly high 18.4 shooting percentage that isn't sustainable (career mark is 9.7 percent). And let's not forget he has two assists this season and doesn't see a ton of power-play time, so he won't help much in those categories.


The good thing about Beleskey is he has value in other categories (plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal) and is currently skating on a line with Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri. However, I still stand on the side that says sell-high on Beleskey.


3. Speaking of shooting percentage ...


High shooting percentages usually points to regression in goals. So here's a look at some forwards who will likely see their goal-scoring numbers start to fade as the season progresses:
























































































Shooting percentage leaders
Player Team
Shots Goals
S%
P. DatsyukDET471225.5
J. JoorisCGY34823.5
M. RibeiroNSH34823.5
N. FolignoCBJ561323.2
A. TanguayCOL39923.1
T. PearsonLAK491122.4
K. KleinNYR28621.4
J. TlustyCAR471021.3
N. NiederreiterMIN571221.1
J. HudlerCGY531120.8


Pavel Datsyuk , Detroit Red Wings -- 12 G, 47 SOG, 25.5 shooting percentage


His career average is 14.6 percent. Datsyuk is playing fantastic hockey right now, but he's not going to continue to score at this rate.


Mike Ribeiro , Nashville Predators -- 8 G, 32 SOG, 25.0 shooting percentage


His career average is 15.0 percent. Ribeiro should continue to rack up assists with James Neal and Filip Forsberg on his wings, but the goals should cool off.


Nick Foligno , Columbus Blue Jackets -- 13 G, 56 SOG, 23.2 shooting percentage


His career average is 12.1 percent and there's simply no way he keeps at this scoring rate. Foligno's 18 goals last season were a career high and he had a high shooting percentage of 16.2 that season. Can you say sell-high?


Jiri Tlusty , Carolina Hurricanes -- 10 G, 47 SOG, 21.3 shooting percentage


His career average is 14.0 percent. Tlusty's sole fantasy value this season has come in the form of goals, but based on history, it won't remain that way.


Jiri Hudler , Calgary Flames -- 11 G, 53 SOG, 20.8 shooting percentage


Like Datsyuk and Ribeiro, that's well above his career mark of 14.7 percent. Hudler only has one 25-goal season under his belt in 2011-12 and shouldn't be relied on in fantasy for his goal-scoring prowess going forward.


4. And on the flip side ...


Abnormally low shooting percentages usually points to an increase in goal scoring. Here's a look at some forwards who should see their luck turn in the goal-scoring category as the season progresses:


Sam Gagner , Arizona Coyotes -- 3 G, 66 SOG, 4.5 shooting percentage


His career average is 9.7 percent. The four-time 15-plus goal-scoring forward should see better luck with time.


Henrik Zetterberg , Detroit Red Wings -- 5 G, 91 SOG, 5.5 shooting percentage



Marian Hossa



Marian Hossa


Right Wing - CHI


GOALS: 5 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 20

SOG: 90 | +/-: 3



His career average is 10.4. Zetterberg loves to put the puck on net and at some point, his fortune will turn around.

Marian Hossa , Chicago Blackhawks -- 5 G, 90 SOG, 5.6 shooting percent


His career average is 12.6 and it's only a matter of time before his goal totals start to increase.


Patrice Bergeron , Boston Bruins -- 5 G, 83 SOG, 6.0 shooting percentage


His career mark is 10.0. The five-time 20-plus goal scorer should see his percentage increase and finish with 20-plus for a sixth time in his career.


Kyle Okposo , New York Islanders -- 6 G, 89 SOG, 6.7 shooting percentage


His career average is 10.1 percent, and in two of his past three seasons he exceeded the 13.0 mark. Look for him to start scoring more frequently soon enough.


5. My personal fantasy leagues


Many Twitter followers like to ask me how I'm doing in my fantasy leagues (probably because they want to know if I back up my fantasy advice). Let me give you a taste.


This season I took a step back and am "only" playing in four leagues. One is a head-to-head, keeper league with 16 work colleagues and I am currently in third place. My second league is a rotisserie format, non-keeper, auction league with 10 work colleagues and I am currently in second place. My third league is a standard 12-team rotisserie league that I am in first place in. And finally, in the 16-team NHL.com Fans vs. Experts head-to-head league, I am in sixth place.


So there you go.


---



Canada goalie Fucale eager for second crack at WJC


TORONTO -- Zach is back.


Goaltender Zachary Fucale is hoping to improve on his performance at the World Junior Championship a year ago in Sweden and hopes some of the lessons he learned will benefit his team when Canada hosts the tournament starting Dec. 26.


Canada placed fourth at the 2014 WJC.


"We learned a lot," Fucale said. "It was a tough loss, but now it's a new year and a new team, so we're looking forward to it. For me, there are a lot of things I have changed from last year. I have become better mentally, stronger physically, and technically everything has gotten better. I feel great coming to this event. It is a great opportunity, so I am just looking forward to the whole experience and living the moment."


Zachary Fucale was the top-ranked North American goalie for the 2013 NHL Draft. (Photo: Getty Images)


Fucale, 19, sported a 2-2 record in five games at the 2014 WJC with a 2.42 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.


The Laval, Quebec, native is in his fourth season with the Halifax Moosehead of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was the QMJHL's rookie of the year in 2011-12, setting a league record for most victories by a freshman with 32. Fucale has registered 126 victories in his junior career and led the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup championship in 2013, where he was named to the tournament all-star team with a 3.52 GAA and .902 save percentage.


Fucale also helped Canada capture the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in the Czech Republic in 2012 and was the top-ranked North American goalie for the 2013 NHL Draft, in which he was picked in the second round (No. 36) by the Montreal Canadiens.


Being the experienced goalie among the two that were invited to camp -- Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans is the other -- might give Fucale a slight edge in terms of being the starter, but coach Benoit Groulx is not about to hand him the job.


"Well, we have Zach who has the experience, but we also have Comrie who is a pretty good goalie," Groulx said. "We feel we have two pretty good goalies and we're going to take the time to evaluate them here and see how it plays out. We have been evaluating them for two years and if we invited both of them here only, it is because we are very comfortable with them. It's going to be up to them to show us what they can do here."


Fucale is not intimidated by having only one other goalie to compete against for the starter's job. In fact, he thinks it is a healthy situation.



WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP BLOG




"It's always good to have competition," Fucale said. "Me and [Comrie] are both team players that just want to help the team win as much as we can. That's all there is to it. We go out there and compete real hard every day. That's all you can do."


Fucale added the fact Canada has only invited two goalies to camp relieves the stress of worrying about making the team.


"Now we know we can just take these practices and not worry about anything else and just prepare yourself mentally and physically and make sure we have a good feeling coming into the tournament," Fucale said.


Traditionally when Canada plays at the WJC in Europe, there is less media attention and the players have fewer distractions. When the tournament is played in North America, specifically in Canada, the pressure to succeed seems to be more intense.


"I think we're in the moment and there are so many things going on at the same time," Fucale said. "Staying as a team the whole time, just as if we were in another country, we're just as close here in Canada. It's no different. We just want to play our Canadian way. We won't change anything."


When Canada has enjoyed success at the WJC, often it has been because of great goaltending.


The list of goalies from Canada that have been voted to the tournament all-star team includes Steve Mason (2008), Carey Price (2007), Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Pascal Leclaire (2002), Roberto Luongo (1999), Jose Theodore (1996), Manny Legace (1993), Stephane Fiset (1990), Jimmy Waite (1988) and Mike Moffat (1982).


Fucale would love to join the list.


"It is a great challenge," Fucale said. "Every time you have a chance to play at such an event it is a big challenge and I am really looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."



Reinhart brings skill, leadership to Canada's WJC camp


TORONTO – When Sam Reinhart looked around the dressing room at Toronto’s MasterCard Centre on the opening night of the final training camp for the Canada’s National Junior Team, he saw a lot of familiar and friendly faces.


Reinhart is one of seven returnees vying for a spot on the roster that will represent Canada on its home ice in the IIHF World Junior Championship, to be played in Montreal and Toronto beginning Dec. 26.


He said the seven returnees have the benefit of knowing what to expect in such a high-profile event.


"We learned just how tough a tournament it is," Reinhart said. "Any time you can get some experience it’s beneficial and until you experience this level of competition on this stage you can only be told so much about what it’s like. We have a lot of leadership in this group and that’s a positive."


Canada leads all nations with 15 gold medals at the WJC, but it has not placed first since 2009. Since then, Canada has progressively slipped with back-to-back second-place finishes in 2010 and 2011, a third-place finish in 2012 and fourth-place finishes in each of the past two tournaments.


Reinhart does not believe the past has any significance for this year’s team.


"In the room, none," Reinhart said when asked if there's any discussion of the past in the dressing room. "Every year is a clean slate for everybody. Obviously there is disappointment from last year. For the guys that were over there that is extra motivation and we’re certainly carrying that over."


Canada lost 5-1 to Finland in the semifinal at the 2014 tournament in Malmo, Sweden, then was edged 2-1 by Russia in the bronze medal game.


Reinhart, who was the second player chosen in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft behind defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers, started the season with the Buffalo Sabres and had one assist in nine games before being sent back to the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. In 15 games with Kootenay he has eight goals and 27 points.


Reinhart scored two goals and five points in seven games at the 2014 WJC. The Vancouver native has extensive international experience, having captained Canada’s Under-18 team to a gold medal at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and to another gold at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia.


Canada coach Benoit Groulx is counting on Reinhart to be an impact player and leader for this year's team.



Super 16: Analytics challenge Flames' feel-good story


One of the most fascinating stories of the 2014-15 season has been the surprising play of the Calgary Flames.


Thought to be in rebuilding mode, the Flames made a couple of modest additions during the offseason, but nothing that swayed most prognosticators to believe they were ready to compete in the rugged Western Conference. Here they are though, sitting in third place in the Pacific Division and sixth in the West with a 17-10-2 record and maybe most impressively a division-best plus-14 goal differential.


"The preseason predictions that we were going to be in the 'Connor McDavid Derby,' I didn't believe that at all," president Brian Burke said at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. "In fact, I called a couple people in the media and complained about it. I thought that we would be better than that.


"I didn't believe it. I felt we finished strong last year. We built a foundation of hard work and tenacity."


Calgary is winning despite several indicators the analytics community would suggest are unsustainable. Burke mentioned his team played in a lot of one-goal games in 2013-14 (49, one of the highest totals in NHL history) and that showed his team was closer to success than people realized.



Super16 Keeping It Close


























































Team, seasonOne-goal/tied games
Oilers, 1999-0054
Panthers, 1993-9453
Bruins, 2003-0451
Devils, 2013-1450
Devils, 2002-0349
Oilers, 2003-0449
Panthers, 2003-0449
Coyotes, 2003-0449
Panthers, 2010-1149
FLAMES, 2013-14 49
FLAMES, 2014-15 36.8*
*Current pace

Data via Elias Sports Bureau


One-goal games are a divisive situation in hockey. When teams win lots of them, the traditional line of thinking has been [insert typical sports cliché here]. They know to win, they have clutch players, they work hard to earn their bounces, etc.


Analytics studies have shown success in one-goal games can fluctuate a great deal, and is typically random. Teams can win a lot of one-goal games one season or lose a lot the next season, and there isn't much to glean why.


This season, the Flames have played 13 one-goal games in 29 tries, and have not accumulated an abnormal amount of points in those contests (they're 7-4-2, a .538 winning percentage that is tied for 12th). As the accompanying table shows, the Flames are relying as much on playing close games like they did a season ago.


The problem for Calgary is a lot of other factors.


The Flames are currently 29th in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage and 26th in the League in Fenwick-for percentage. Both numbers are below 47 percent and the total shot attempts (Corsi) at 44.7 percent is particularly alarming. The accompanying table shows all of the teams who have finished a season with a CF% of below 45 percent in a full season since 2005-06.



Super16 Chasing The Puck






































































Team, seasonCF%Points
Sabres, 2014-1536.764*
Maple Leafs, 2013-1442.884
Thrashers, 2007-0842.976
Sabres, 2013-1443.152
Ducks, 2010-1144.399
Oilers, 2013-1444.367
Wild, 2011-1244.381
Panthers, 2009-1044.677
FLAMES, 2014-15 44.7109*
Avalanche, 2009-1044.895
Oilers, 2009-1044.962
CF% = Corsi for percentage at even strength

*On pace for

Data via War-on-Ice.com


Two of the nine teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and the Anaheim Ducks in 2010-11), but those two also had a huge drop in points the following season. Two other notable teams in this group are the Toronto Maple Leafs from last season and the Minnesota Wild from 2011-12. Each appeared to be en route to a playoff berth (the Maple Leafs were in second place in the division into March; the Wild started 20-7-3 and were first in the NHL) before crashing and missing out.


Comparing these Flames to another team associated with succeeding despite bad puck possession like the 2013-14 Avalanche does not quite work. The Avalanche had game-breaking forwards, and those types of elite scorers can help make up for bad possession numbers (at least for a while, anyway) and elite goaltending numbers.


The Flames are not built that way. Their top players are defensemen Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, and while elite defensemen can drive puck possession, it is much harder for them to help sustain a team's high shooting percentage. Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have been good, but not great like Semyon Varlamov was a year ago.


The shooting percentage is the second issue for the Flames from an analytics prospective. Calgary is shooting better than 11 percent as a team, and better than nine percent at even strength. The Flames have the third-fewest shots per game (second fewest at even strength), but are tied for sixth in the NHL in goals per game.


Thirteen players on the team are currently shooting 10 percent or better. There were 198 players who shot better than 10 percent (and played at least 40 games) in the entire NHL in 2013-14. That's about 6.5 players per team.


These are reasons to believe the Flames cannot sustain their current 109-point pace, but teams do not need 109 points to make the playoffs (even in the West).


"I think it's really early to talk about anything like that because it's so tough in the West and the compression that the cap has produced," Burke said. "If you lose four in a row, you can go from the fifth spot to the ninth spot."


Even if the Flames do not continue to win at this rate and do not make the playoffs, there are reasons to like what Calgary is building. Giordano and Brodie are two of the best defensemen in the NHL and each is signed to a team-friendly contract.


Each deserves to be in the Norris Trophy conversation, with Giordano as one of the favorites. There are lots of great No. 2 defensemen in the West, and Brodie belongs in that group.


"You know what happens? You think you know players and then you take over a team and you realize you don't know them," Burke said. "You don't know any team other than your own intimately. When I came in I thought Brodie was a small, skilled [player] but a non-factor, kind of timid, was my outside view. When I got there the two players that impressed me the most last year were Mikael Backlund and him.


"I was amazed how much better a hockey player those two are than I thought."


Backlund and Sean Monahan are building blocks at center, and rookie Johnny Gaudreau has shown he can succeed at this level and might develop into a game-breaking type talent. There is also reason to believe the return of Backlund, who has only played 11 games this season because of injury, could help the Flames nudge their puck possession numbers closer to respectable levels.


The key will be for the organization to ascertain which players are providing performances that can be counted on moving forward and which might be one-season anomalies. Burke has been outspoken against the use of analytics in hockey, but he softened that stance recently and the general manager he hired, Brad Treliving, might prove to be one of the best at melding traditional and analytical viewpoints.


Burke is correct in saying the Flames were hindered last season by terrible goaltending, and the addition of Hiller plus the improvement of Ramo has helped. He is correct to say his team is not as far from playoff contention as pundits thought before the season began.


That said, the Flames still might not be ready for that level, and there are reasons to believe how they have played to this point is not how they will perform the rest of the season. They will certainly be an intriguing team to monitor between now and the NHL Trade Deadline.


"I don't think you can ever pull back on the reins on your players," Burke said. "If they can keep winning games, we want to keep winning games. We said it last year. Our goal is to win as many games as we can. That's never going to change. Every night when they drop the puck your goal has to be win that game, and if that creates some runaway expectations then we will live with that."


DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.


1. Chicago Blackhawks (19-8-1)


The Blackhawks went 11-3-0 without Patrick Sharp. They are 4-0-0 without Corey Crawford. They have been the best team in the League at generating shot attempts at even strength, and have allowed the sixth fewest per 60 minutes. Remember when people were wondering what was wrong with Chicago or saying they didn't deserve to be at or near the top of these types of lists?


MUST READ: Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times writes about Brandon Saad continuing to develop into an elite player.


2. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-8-3)


The Lightning have lost three of four games, but lead the NHL in regulation/overtime wins and goals per game and are tied for second in goal differential with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They're also fourth in shots allowed per game. One area that needs some work is the penalty kill, with Tampa Bay below 80 percent and in the bottom third of the League.


MUST READ: Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune writes that Jonathan Drouin should stay with the Lightning instead of joining Canada's entry in the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championship.


3. Nashville Predators (18-7-2)


This feels a little too high for the Predators, but injuries are a problem for a couple of other teams that could be in this spot. Nashville leads the NHL in PDO, which is mostly because of Pekka Rinne's incredible .943 save percentage at even strength. Rinne is having the type of season that he re-established his credentials as one of elite goaltenders, but that figure is likely to drop at least a little. The Predators are controlling shot attempts at an elite rate though, so it isn't all good fortune.


MUST READ: Braden Thompson of On The Forecheck writes about Rinne and tries to quantify what the difference in goals allowed might be if he regresses towards his career numbers.


4. St. Louis Blues (18-8-2)


Speaking of goaltenders, Jake Allen had a bad game after Brian Elliott got hurt, and Martin Brodeur has now played in three straight games. If the Blues end up buying into the idea that Brodeur's experience will help them win games in the playoffs, here's hoping his save percentage is a little better than .904 by then.


MUST READ: Josh Cooper of Yahoo Sports writes about the partnership between Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko.


5. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-6-3)


It feels like the Penguins haven't been completely healthy since before Jordan Staal got hurt during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's a slight exaggeration, but only slight. They played a game Monday without Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist, Beau Bennett, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. That's the top four wings (before the season, anyway) and two of the top four defensemen. They still stole a point with a late comeback against the New York Rangers, but there has to be a better stretch of luck with health in the near future for this franchise. Some year soon, anyway.


MUST READ: Jesse Marshall of The Pensblog writes about the improvement Simon Despres has made with new coach Mike Johnston.


6. Detroit Red Wings (17-6-6)


The Red Wings probably haven't been getting enough attention for the way they are stifling teams. Detroit leads the NHL in shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes by a not insignificant margin. The questions with this team before the season were mostly focused on the defense corps and goaltender Jimmy Howard's dip in form last season, but Mike Babcock's crew is playing great team defense, or what constitutes that in a more analytics-friendly NHL.


MUST READ: Babcock says this is the best Red Wings teams since 2009, writes Ansar Khan of MLive.com.


7. Anaheim Ducks (19-6-5)


The Ducks beat the Edmonton Oilers in a one-goal game Wednesday. Anaheim has played 30 games, and 20 of them have been decided by one goal. None of those 20 have resulted in a regulation loss (15-0-5). They are 4-6 in games decided by more than one goal.


As mentioned above, success in one-goal games can be random and fleeting. The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are 4-4-5 in one-goal games, while the Buffalo Sabres are 8-4-2. If not having Corey Perry for a while doesn't cost the Ducks some points in the standings, continuing to play so many one-goal games and a few bad bounces in the wrong direction likely will.


MUST READ: Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register writes about Frederik Andersen handling a heavy workload for the first time in his NHL career.


8. Minnesota Wild (15-10-1)


Darcy Kuemper had a great start to the season, but the Wild are back in a familiar position with their goaltending. Kuemper has been pulled in three of his past seven starts. His save percentage is down to .905, and is identical to Niklas Backstrom's. Last season they added Ilya Bryzgalov, but given the potential for this to be one of the better teams in the League either Kuemper needs to be better or the Wild may again have to look elsewhere for help.


MUST READ: Declan Goff of Hockey Wilderness writes that Thomas Vanek's lack of goals has not been the problem some people have suggested it is.


9. New York Islanders (19-9-0)


The Islanders have blown a three-goal lead in back-to-back games, but that's not likely to be an ongoing theme (though giving away leads was a serious problem in 2013-14). This team has more offensive firepower to combat lulls or the opposing team getting on a run.


Like the Ducks (and Vancouver Canucks), one concern is the team's reliance on one-goal wins. They have 24 of a possible 28 points in one-goal games (12-2-0), and are 7-7-0 otherwise. The truth is somewhere in the middle.


MUST READ: The Islanders are close to being fully healthy at forward, and garik16 of Islanders Analytics writes Matt Martin should be the odd man out of the lineup in that situation.


10. Los Angeles Kings (14-9-5)


The Kings are a difficult team to read. From one prospective, Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones are carrying a team that would be in trouble without great goaltending. They are sixth in the League in Corsi-for percentage at even strength, but that is in all situations. Filter the puck possession stats just about any other way (score close, use Fenwick metrics, etc.) and Los Angeles drops to the middle of the pack.


Still, a middle-of-the-pack possession team with great goaltending should be higher in the standings (that’s pretty much what Anaheim has been at times in the past couple of seasons, and what St. Louis was before Elliott's injury).


MUST READ: Rob Vollman writes about the Kings' puck possession issues for ESPN.com.


11. Vancouver Canucks (18-9-2)


The six worst teams in even strength save percentage include the Oilers, the Dallas Stars, the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes. Their placement in the standings reflects that. Another is the Wild, and their goaltending issues were just documented. The sixth though (fourth worst, at .907) is the Canucks.


Three straight losses might have the Canucks inching back to where their analytics profile would suggest they should settle (a slightly-above-average team but not a great one). The schedule sets up well though. Vancouver doesn’t leave the time zone for a month, with nine of the 11 games at home.


MUST READ: Jim Jamieson of the Vancouver Province writes about some likes and dislikes with the Canucks to this point.


12. Montreal Canadiens (18-10-2)


The Canadiens were like the Ducks, Islanders and Canucks a couple weeks ago, and then they lost four games by one goal in a span of eight days. They didn't stop "knowing how to win," even if they lost six of seven games overall. Montreal is still a solid playoff team, but one that might still need a tweak or two to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.


MUST READ: Arpon Basu of NHL.com writes about the first recognized empty seat in the Bell Centre in nearly 11 years.


13. San Jose Sharks (15-11-4)


So losing four games in a row, including three where they heavily outshot the opponent, wasn't the end for this Sharks team and was actually just a precursor to a stretch of success. There is no question it was a really weird summer, but the Sharks are playing well and might be back near the top of the Western Conference before too long.


MUST READ: Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes there are some positive signs starting to show up in this time of transition for the Sharks.


14. Boston Bruins (15-12-1)


The Bruins weren't the first team to go 0-for-California on a three-game swing through the state and won't be the last. Zdeno Chara returned from a knee injury Thursday, and David Krejci is practicing, which is some of the best news the Bruins have had in a while.


MUST READ: Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe writes that the numbers don't lie about this edition of the Bruins.


15. Winnipeg Jets (15-9-5)


The Jets have climbed into the top 10 in both puck possession metrics, and Michael Hutchinson is pushing Ondrej Pavelec, who is also playing better than he has in years, for more playing time. Key injuries on the blue line could be a concern moving forward, though Dustin Byfuglien can help (and maybe this leads to him staying back for good).


MUST READ: Garret Hohl of Arctic Ice Hockey writes about Evander Kane's lack of production.


16. Calgary Flames (17-10-2)


Further to the point about Monahan having a great sophomore season, he is second among all first- or second-year players in the NHL with 76 shots on goal. The only player ahead of him is Nathan MacKinnon with 84. That's pretty good company.


MUST READ: Ryan Pike of Flames Nation writes about Calgary's chances of making the playoffs if the Flames do start to regress.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ice truck to arrive at Nationals Park on Monday


The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Ice Plant Presented by York will arrive at Nationals Park on Monday to begin the ice-making process for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.


The 53-foot trailer, the world's largest mobile refrigeration unit, houses the state-of-the-art ice-making and ice-monitoring equipment used to create the sheet of ice which will be used by the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA). It will arrive at the home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals at 9:30 a.m. ET.


The truck departed Toronto on Dec. 10 to make the 480-mile journey to Washington, DC.


On Tuesday, the pre-Winter Classic timeline will continue when the new EPIX series 'Road To The NHL Winter Classic' premieres at 10 p.m. ET. The all-access, behind-the-scenes series will follow the Capitals and Blackhawks and explore various storylines as each team prepares for the New Year's Day game. Fans can view the series online at Epix.com/nhl and NHL.com, via the EPIX and NHL Facebook pages, the official app of the NHL available on Android and iOS and the official EPIX App on Android, iOS, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Roku, Chromecast and Windows 8.



Unmasked: Bobrovsky, Mason succeeding differently


It could not have been easy for Philadelphia Flyers fans to see goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hoist the 2013 Vezina Trophy one year after being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. There was no need, however, to rekindle any angst when Bobrovsky was named NHL Second Star of the Week heading into a game against the Flyers on Tuesday.


Bobrovsky would be the first to remind fans still upset by his departure that the goalie Philadelphia traded is not the same one now stopping pucks and winning awards in Columbus. He has made significant technical and tactical adjustments since leaving.


"I would say it's two different goalies right now comparing me in Philly and right now in Columbus," Bobrovsky told NHL.com. "I changed my style a lot. Mentally, physically, technically, all those things have changed here."


Sergei Bobrovsky is playing bigger in Columbus' net than he did with Philadelphia. (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI)


If that story sounds familiar to Philadelphia fans, it's because the Flyers' current goalie, Steve Mason, has undergone a similar transformation since arriving from Columbus in April 2013.


Like Bobrovksy, Mason has benefitted from tactical changes since joining a new team. In addition to easing the pain of losing Bobrovsky, Mason's resurgence in Philadelphia is another reminder that one style does not fit all when it comes to NHL goaltending.


"It's two different guys," Bobrovsky said, referencing the changes to his game. "As soon as I got here I believed I needed a system to be confident and consistent. And that's not to say, 'I got my system and it's done, now we can just enjoy the game.' It's always you work on your system, add new things and work on it and polish technique and get better and better."


The biggest technical adjustment Bobrovsky made came soon after arriving in Columbus. It revolved around playing bigger than he did during his first two NHL seasons with the Flyers.


When Bobrovsky broke in as the NHL's Rookie of the Month in November 2010, he was an explosive, athletic goalie whose stature on the ice didn't always match his 6-foot-2 listing in the media guide. He is taller now through his core, especially while down in his butterfly. That was one of several adjustments that started in the summer of 2012 during sessions with Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark.


"The biggest adjustment was just getting him higher," Clark said.


With his chest more upright, Bobrovsky's hands now are out in front of him rather than pulled back by his ears in relation to a forward-pitched torso, making for cleaner saves with the glove and the blocker. Another benefit of becoming taller is Bobrovsky is able to back off his positioning without sacrificing coverage. The conservative depth that results allows him use his quick feet more efficiently, beating the play to more neutral targets rather than chasing it outside his crease with huge lateral pushes that have the added detriment of lowering his center of gravity.


"He's using his speed more effectively," Clark said. "He was covering too much space. So take that quickness, put a little bit of a harness on it, and I think that's been a big maturation for him. It's not entirely been done here, that's his maturation."



Sergei Bobrovsky



Sergei Bobrovsky


Goalie - CBJ


RECORD: 9-8-1

GAA: 2.72 | SVP: .917



Bobrovsky also added Reverse, or Reverse-VH, as a post-integration tactic. He asked Clark to bring in Oskar Dansk, a Blue Jackets prospect who excels at the relatively new technique, so they could work on it together. Clark, who also spends time coaching in Sweden and was part of the evolution of the Reverse from a static save selection to a complete movement into and off the posts, said that wrinkle has been instrumental in Bobrovsky playing a more controlled game.

"Instead of him flowing everywhere in his crease, he's always got a post target so he has no overflow in his game now," Clark said.


It's now a big part of Bobrovsky's new "system," which includes a philosophy of playing at different depths relative to his crease for rush chances vs. end-zone play, and the adoption of three stances depending on where the puck is.


Though Bobrovsky's style adjustments may sound complicated, for Mason it was simplifying his game in Philadelphia that allowed him to improve his performance. Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese played a major role in the transformation.


Mason displayed the physical tools to succeed when he won the Calder Trophy in 2009, but his save percentage dipped below .900 during the next four seasons through some tough times with the Blue Jackets. It has risen to .919 since the trade to the Flyers, an upward trend Mason links to moving backward in his crease.


"The first day I got here working, Reese said he was happy to get his hands on me and start putting things into my game he wanted to do for a while, and one of those was sitting back on the posts on faceoffs, sitting back off the rush," Mason told NHL.com last season. "Being a big goaltender and taking up a lot of the net without having to come out far gives me that advantage to be able to go side to side. It has given me a confidence in my game I didn't have for a long time."



Steve Mason



Steve Mason


Goalie - PHI


RECORD: 5-9-4

GAA: 2.69 | SVP: .917



For Mason, who struggled to consistently manage reads and depth in Columbus, this simpler system seems to be better because it always keeps him in position to use his size and athleticism, neither of which were of much use when he got caught outside his crease using his previous style.

"To have that patience to trust your reflexes, trust your positioning, trust you don't have to make that first move dropping to your knees," Mason said. "When you are on your knees it's a bit of a comfort zone knowing you are already taking away the lower portion of the net. But when you are holding your feet as long as possible you give yourself an opportunity to beat the pass and get set for the next shot, and it's just become a very natural feeling in my game now."


Bobrovsky and Mason found their comfort zones playing new styles with new goalie coaches on new teams, further proof there isn't just one "right" way to stop a puck, even in the NHL.