Montreal Canadiens Tattoos II
Randy Giroux, Manchester, N.H.
Randy Giroux, Manchester, N.H.
Even if Wednesday's win over Sweden was its swan song, the under-23s made an enormous impact on the World Cup.
Not trying to dictate the agenda here, but if you love hockey in its purest, most unfiltered and most entertaining form, sit in front of your television Thursday afternoon and cheer your lungs out for Finland to beat Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. Because that’s the only way Team North America will advance to the semifinal. And rest assured, it will be your only chance to see this kind of hockey, perhaps until the next Olympics or even four years from now when a bunch of wildly talented kids we’ve never heard of yet make up Team North America again.
Make no mistake. Team North America is a gimmick. So is Team Europe. They were born out of the fact that the organizers of this tournament believe there are only six countries in the world that can play hockey at a world-class level. But as it turns out, they’re great gimmicks. They’re eye-popping, surprising and refreshing gimmicks. Team North America has been the talk of the tournament, winning two games, including an instant classic with a 4-3 overtime win over Sweden Wednesday afternoon. It has defeated two established hockey countries and came within a goal of having a chance to beat another, but it will be all for naught if Russia beats Finland and takes the second spot in the semifinal. And that would be a shame.
Perhaps the only thing these kids haven’t mastered yet is math. Might have something to do with the fact that they’ve spent much of their youth honing their talents to ridiculously sublime levels, which does not leave a lot of time for advanced functions. Nathan MacKinnon, who scored the overtime winner on a series of moves that were truly breathtaking, said he thought North America had punched its ticket to the semifinal with a win in extra time. “I told AMatt (teammate Auston Matthews) cellied (celebrated) so hard,” MacKinnon said.
(Johnny Gaudreau said much the same thing, which begs the question: Why did the players not know that they needed a win in regulation to secure a berth in the semifinal? Were they ever told that? Did the coaches know? If so, why didn’t the players? Let the conspiracy theories begin, particularly in light of the fact that Team North America let its foot off the gas in the second half of the game.)
Even if Team North America doesn’t advance to beyond the preliminaries, it has made its stamp on this tournament. It is a special group to be sure, one that was aided by a leader who didn’t smother it by over-coaching and micromanaging. Todd McLellan let the reins off a little with this group because it is such a short tournament. To think that these young men will go back to the NHL and exhibit the same kind of dizzying speed and talent every night is expecting too much. The NHL, which is full of minds that love to kill offense, would not allow it to happen. And this kind of chaos is not sustainable in the long run.
“What we’re doing here is what we’re trying to promote with our club teams,” McLellan said. “It’s just the talent level is a little different. Eighty-two games come into play, it’s dramatically different. Flights from Boston back to Edmonton then to L.A. two days later makes a huge difference. Scheduling, injuries, the concepts and the way we play, we just have a different type of team.”
It’s easy to get caught up in hyperbole here. Some were saying after the game that it ranked as one of the greatest games of all-time. It was a great game. The first period was about as exciting a level of hockey as anyone has seen in years. But the best game of all-time? It’s not even the best Canada/World Cup game of all-time. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was an epic game, one in which the North Americans stunned the Swedes with two quick goals and four breakaways. Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson said the message after the first period was clear. “Wake the f--- up,” Karlsson said. When asked how they adjusted to the speed, he said, “We had no choice. If we didn’t, it was going to be a disaster.”
It’s easy to look at this group that has been described as generational players and not think that we may never see this level of hockey again. To be sure, it harkened us back to the wonderful days of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. But as McLellan pointed out, that would sell short some of the talent that is making its way through hockey systems right now. Go to a local arena on any given night and you’ll see some kids doing some very special things.
“The Canadian and American contingents that are playing in this tournament right now, they were this team eight years ago,” McLellan said. “As we move forward and Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel become older men…there’s somebody playing peewee and bantam out there right now who are going to play in this eight years from now. We just don’t know who they are.”
So if Russia beats Finland, well, it was fun getting to know you, Team North America. It’s been a real hoot, actually. Mark Scheifele, one of the elder statesmen of the team, was talking about how special the experience was. “Yeah, you play against these guys in World Juniors and World Championships,” he said. “Then you meet them and you think, ‘Man, this guy’s a pretty good dude.' "
Marc-Andre Fleury will take the starting job for the Penguins to start the season, but under some unfortunate circumstances as Matt Murray suffered a broken hand during North America’s game against Russia at the World Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins might be thankful they didn’t ship out veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury ahead of the coming campaign after Matt Murray’s sparkling post-season run, because when the season starts, the young netminder will find himself on the sideline.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford announced Saturday that Murray, 22, suffered a broken hand during round robin play for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. The injury is enough that Murray will almost certainly be out for the entirety of the pre-season, and the 3-6 week timeline for recovery could potentially see Murray miss the first month of the regular season. Just how severe the injury is, though, hasn’t yet been determined. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey, Rutherford said Murray has yet to meet with Penguins doctors.
If Murray is sidelined for the whole six weeks, he could miss the entire month of October and a dozen or more games. If the injury persists beyond the six week period, there’s a possibility he could miss an additional three games in the first week of November.
Murray’s injury came during North America’s tilt against Russia on Sept. 19, a game that Murray started but did not finish after allowing four goals on 19 shots in a 4-3 loss. All four goals against Murray came in little more than six minutes of action.
The exact moment Murray suffered the injury is hard to pinpoint, but he said post-game that it was only a minor injury and he had simply “jammed his thumb,” according to the Canadian Press. The injury was taped during the Sept. 19 game and Murray did continue to practice after suffering the ailment. However, he didn’t suit up in North America’s final game of the tournament, watching on as the young guns team closed out their tournament with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against Sweden.
Murray was set to push Fleury for the starting gig this season, and there was a chance Murray could once again overtake his veteran counterpart for the bulk of the starts, just as he did during the post-season. Murray was remarkable in the playoffs, posting a 15-6 record, 2.08 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup in his rookie season.
Murray’s performance in the playoffs shouldn’t have come as much of a shock, however. He showed signs of his incredible talent throughout his rookie year in the AHL — he was the league’s top goaltender and rookie of the year in 2014-15 — and posted a 9-2-1 record, 2.00 GAA and .930 SP with one shutout in 13 appearances during the regular seasons for the Penguins.
With Murray on the shelf, though, the Penguins will turn to Fleury as their definite No. 1. There are much worse hands to be dealt than that. Fleury was one of the Penguins best players during a difficult first half of the season under former coach Mike Johnston, and Fleury continued to excel under Mike Sullivan.
Fleury had to battle through concussion issues during the 2015-16 campaign, but he managed to post a stellar 35-17-6 record, 2.29 GAA and .921 SP to go along with five shutouts. Statistically, it was one of the best seasons of Fleury’s career, and it came in the first season of his new four-year, $23-million deal.
Murray’s injury will also have an impact on the backup situation in Pittsburgh, as one of Tristan Jarry or Sean Maguire will almost certainly be brought up as insurance for Fleury while Murray is out of action.
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Curtis Lazar’s season isn’t starting the way he would have wanted, as he finds himself on the shelf indefinitely with a case of mononucleosis.
The Ottawa Senators want Curtis Lazar to participate in training camp and prepare for what could be the most important season of his career, but the 21-year-old is being kept away for the time being due to a bout of mononucleosis.
During the first skate of training camp Friday, Lazar was missing from practice, and when asked why the young pivot was missing from the skate, Senators coach Guy Boucher announced that Lazar has come down with mono. Because of the illness, Lazar isn’t taking part in skates with the team, and Boucher said there’s no current timeline for Lazar’s return to action.
“We were hoping that it wasn’t serious at first and we were hoping with the few days that we had it would be good enough,” Boucher said, according to Garrioch. “But it’s become a daily thing that we’re going to follow up and it’s going to be carefully monitored...As you know, mono could be done in four days from now and it could be done later. We want to be very cautious with that.”
And while there’s no telling exactly how long Lazar could be out, there are some recent cases of players battling through the illness that could give an estimation on how long he could be out of the lineup.
During the 2008 season, then-Pittsburgh Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy came down with mono and was put on the shelf indefinitely, but he was back into game action roughly four weeks later. All told, he missed eight games with the illness, but was sent back to the AHL while getting back into shape before returning to the Penguins.
Former Detroit Red Wings winger Todd Bertuzzi also dealt with mono ahead of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but he was back with the team in less than two weeks’ time.
The most recent case, though, was Los Angeles Kings winger Tyler Toffoli. The 24-year-old came down with mono in January 2015 and was forced to sit out six games with the illness before returning to action. All told, he was on the shelf for 18 days.
If the timeline for Lazar’s return is anywhere close to Toffoli’s, that could mean the Senators are forced to go into the season without Lazar having suited up in any pre-season action. There are less than three weeks remaining until the start of the regular season, and Ottawa will be in action opening night against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lazar had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, and he’s looking to take a step forward in his third season with the Senators. He posted just six goals and 20 points in 76 games this season while skating bottom-six minutes, but he could be set to move up the lineup this coming season.
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Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
The Sabres rebuild has taken longer than expected but there is suddenly a lot of talent in the lineup. Just don't expect a push toward the playoffs this year.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the still-rebuilding Sabres.
THN's Prediction: 6th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 50-1
Key additions: Kyle Okposo, RW; Dmitry Kulikov, D; Justin Falk, D; Anders Nilsson, G
Key departures: David Legwand, C; Cody McCormick, C; Chad Johnson, G; Mark Pysyk, D; Matt Donovan, D
-When will the Sabres be good? Not this year, but probably next year. That’s the thing about rebuilds; they take longer than you’d expect. Just ask Los Angeles and Chicago about that one. The Sabres will improve in the standings a third straight season, but the bar was so low it’s practically inevitable. Consider 2016-17 a transition year, where Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen continue to grow while the team’s brass figures out if Robin Lehner can be a legit No. 1 goaltender. They could scrap for a playoff spot, but it’s all about learning for the future right now.
-Who will lead the team in scoring? Eichel. Sophomore slump be damned, the second overall pick in 2015 gained steam as his rookie season went on, ending with a five-game point streak. Not only that, but the addition of Kyle Okposo and the return to health of Tyler Ennis will bolster the Sabres’ depth. That means Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly (who will take on tougher competition assignments) will have even more talent to work with on their wings.
-Does Evander Kane end this season in Buffalo? When you’re literally taken into Central Booking during the summer, it’s not a good look. Kane’s arrest for trespassing, harassment and disorderly conduct – all stemming from an alleged incident at a Buffalo nightspot – once again took the focus off his hockey talents. While he pleaded not guilty, his list of career distractions is getting long. For a team on the rise, he may not be the right fit in the long term, and trades have already been rumored for the power forward.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Many believe that after last season’s big jump the Buffalo Sabres are ready to take the next step toward contention. This model disagrees. According to Game Score, the Sabres are poised to be the league’s worst team.
That seems hard to imagine, but it’s because of the severe stench of their 2014-15 campaign, the season where the team tried desperately (and succeeded) to be as bad as possible. Many of those players were a part of that team and this model – because it uses data from the last three seasons – hasn’t forgotten about it.
Whether that’s fair is in the eye of the beholder. On one hand, that team was downright awful and this team has a lot more talent now which boosts the entire team as worse players aren’t in over their head. On the other hand, those players that did play on that horrific team were the ones making those on-ice results a reality.
The real answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes. The Sabres will likely be better than projected here, but they’re still not ready for primetime. Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart have real first line potential and a big breakout from one or both should push this team up the standings. The top six is decent, it’s the bottom that needs work though, especially the fourth line which doesn’t feature any above replacement level talent.
But the real issue is on the back end, which looks dire. Cody Franson is spared from the Buffalo Effect so that’s probably why he comes out on top here, but he’s also underrated and underused on a team where most guys are below replacement level (keep the Buffalo Effect in mind though).
The team’s number one D-man is Rasmus Ristolainen and while many are optimistic about his progress due to his point totals last seasons, his underlying numbers were atrocious. That’s been the case for his entire NHL career so far. Think about how bad Buffalo has been the past few years; they’re even worse with Ristolainen on the ice.
He’s still young and can blossom into a very effective D-man, but what he’s shown so far in terms of play-driving ability hasn’t been good enough to be considered a top D-man. That needs to change in order for the Sabres to progress and will be the key to a successful season.
Up next: Montreal Canadiens