Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 50
Fans cheer before Game 3. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 50
A selection of the best images from May 28..
Fans cheer before Game 3. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
A selection of the best images from May 28..
The Flyers should repeat last season's magic, and could do even better if they keep getting great goaltending and a return to form from Jakub Voracek.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 4th in Metro, wild-card team
Stanley Cup odds: 28-1
Key additions: Dale Weise, LW; Boyd Gordon, C
Key departures: Evgeny Medvedev, D; Ryan White, RW; R.J. Umberger, LW
-How far can Dave Hakstol take this team? The rookie coach gained traction in the second half of the season and brought out the best in players such as Brayden Schenn while also unleashing the mighty power of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere before that. The Flyers gave Washington an uncomfortable amount of pushback in the first round of the playoffs, and you can expect more of the same this time out as the coach becomes more entrenched.
-Jakub Voracek will be better, right? He has to be. Voracek had a rough 2015-16, with his typical season shooting percentage getting carved almost in half (from nine percent to five percent). Voracek’s struggles manifested most obviously on the power play, where he scored just once after tallying 11 times with the man advantage in 2014-15. A second training camp under Hakstol’s watch will help him get back to his usual scoring ways, plus Voracek will get a running start to the season thanks to his spot with the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.
-Who is the starting goalie? The Flyers have that problem right now where there are two options in net – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Mason has been the starter for the past three seasons, with results that have bounced between OK and pretty good. Neuvirth has never played more than 48 games in an NHL season and that was back in 2010-11. But he scared the daylights out of the Capitals in the playoffs, surrendering just two goals in three games to push the series to six games after the Flyers started off 0-3. For now, we’ve got a platoon. The best man will win.
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.
This team surprised a lot of people last season with their stunning late season surge into the post-season, and they might do even more damage this season.
A lot of credit should go to GM Ron Hextall who has cleaned up the past regime’s mess admirably and stocked the cupboard with a lot of blue-chip talent. The team has two of the best forwards in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and getting value out of their remaining prime years is essential. Doing so while also building toward the future creates a delicate balance that Hextall has navigated excellently so far.
One of those future building blocks is stud 'D' prospect Ivan Provorov who is definitely talented enough to make this team, but still might not due to the amount of money ahead of him on the depth chart. If he starts the year in the top six instead of Nick Schultz, this team will be better for it. With the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere last season, and the solid contributions from Radko Gudas, Mark Streit, and Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers actually have a surprisingly solid, albeit average, defense corps.
Up front the team’s top two lines are quite good, especially that top line of Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. Voracek had a tough year last season, but there’s no doubt that his shooting percentage should bounce back up to his normal rates. He’s too good to be converting on under two percent of his shots on the powerplay, and 5.2 percent in all situations.
While the top six is decent, the bottom six is a big concern, especially the bottom line. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a nice story representing France for Team Europe at the World Cup, but his on-ice results have been abysmal in the NHL. Along with Boyd Gordon, that line will probably be spending a lot of time trying to get out of the defensive zone.
The Flyers’ biggest strength, and the biggest reason they’ve got a high chance of making the playoffs, is in net. When they first traded for Steve Mason that seemed absurd to even consider, but his career has taken a complete 180 and he’s now legitimately one of the league’s top goalies. And if he falters, Michal Neuvirth ain’t bad either.
A lot of people were surprised when this team made the playoffs last season. Don’t be shocked if they repeat the magic this season.
Up next: Tampa Bay Lightning
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils | Ottawa Senators | Carolina Hurricanes | Boston Bruins | Detroit Red Wings | Nashville Predators
The St. Louis Blues lost almost every roster regular to injury for some amount of time in 2015-16, but, thankfully, that bad fortune doesn’t appear to be repeating itself. Injuries to Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri are minor.
You could run down the list of injuries the St. Louis Blues were forced to miss time in 2015-16 due to injury, or you could simply read a list of players to suit up for the squad this past season. The lists, as it turns out, are almost identical.
In fact, the injuries were so bad during the past campaign that it took until the opening game of the playoffs, Game 83 of the season, before St. Louis was finally was able to ice its “optimal roster,” meaning a team free of any injury replacements. And though things turned out quite all right for the Blues, who earned their way to the Western Conference final, the hope was that this season would be a healthier one for all involved.
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why the players and coaching staff have been holding their breath whenever someone is forced to leave the ice in training camp or pre-season action, but it already appears the Blues are catching more breaks when it comes to potential injuries already.
During practice Thursday, winger Jaden Schwartz, who missed 49 games in 2015-16 with a fractured ankle, left the ice early and was later said to have suffered an upper-body injury. The ailment appeared to be to do with his wrist, but the Blues could breathe easier when coach Ken Hitchcock announced that Schwartz won’t be forced to miss any meaningful action.
“He’ll need a couple days off,” Hitchcock said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford. “He’s not going to skate this weekend in any of the games, but we’ll be ready to go next week with him. It’s training camp, it happens, it’s just part of what goes on. You hope it’s not serious and it’s not serious. That’s a good sign.”
Schwartz, 24, has become one of the Blues’ go-to scorers over the past few seasons, and though St. Louis remained successful during his absence in 2015-16, his presence on the ice was sorely missed. Schwartz had scored 53 goals in 155 games over the first two full campaigns of his career, and there was hope that he’d chase the 30-goal mark this past season. He’ll have his shot at doing so in 2016-17, though, especially as he looks set to take on a first-line role in St. Louis.
But Schwartz isn’t the only injury the Blues are dealing with as 20-year-old Robby Fabbri has also been sidelined since the start of the week with an unspecified upper-body injury. Like Schwartz, though, there’s good news to report in that Fabbri’s injury isn’t one the Blues are considering serious.
According to Hitchcock, Fabbri will be out through the weekend and will continue to be monitored, but he has been on the ice skating. Fabbri missed 10 games this past season — six with a concussion, four with a lower-body injury — but the hope is he can remain healthy this season and take a shot at winning a consistent top-six role as a sophomore scorer for the Blues.
UPDATE: Maybe there's some bad news for the Blues after all. St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong announced Friday that Schwartz will be forced to miss four weeks with a left elbow injury. The timeline for recovery means Schwartz will have to miss the opening two weeks of the regular season, and could be on the shelf for at least seven meaningful games, if not more.
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Rasmus Ristolainen (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Restricted free agent Rasmus Ristolainen is skating with the Buffalo Sabres. But that likely won't have any impact on the value of a new contract.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is breaking convention by attending an NHL training camp despite not having a contract as a restricted free agent. Ristolainen was been practicing with the Buffalo Sabres as a “good will” gesture while waiting for a new deal, his agent Mike Liut told the Buffalo News.
But, according to Sabres GM Tim Murray, Ristolainen’s actions aren’t likely to have their desired outcome. Murray told the Associated Press that Ristolainen’s decision to attend training camp will have little to no bearing on contract talks. Murray also indicated the two sides aren’t particularly close on a new pact.
“Unless you ask him that when he got here that he got all lovey-dovey and wants to play for what we want to pay him,” Murray said.
The 21-year-old blueliner is coming off an appearance for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. He was held without a point in three losses. Liut said his client wants to continue his preparations for the season.
“Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer,” agent Mike Liut said in an email to the Buffalo News. “He skipped the World Championship so he would have a full 16-week training session leading up to the World Cup, so he’s more prepared than ever and wants to keep it that way.
“In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term.”
The Sabres have three more pre-season games before opening their season by hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 13. Ristolainen can’t play in them without a contract.
For a team trying to return to the playoffs after a five-year absence, not having Ristolainen in the lineup when the season starts would be a big blow. Ristolainen led the club in average ice time (25:16), was tied for second in assists (32) and was fourth in points (41). Last season with his third with the organization after being drafted eighth overall in 2013.
The Sabres finished seventh in the Atlantic Division and 23rd overall in the NHL with 81 points (35-36-11). However, their 2.62 goals-against average was tied for 15th. While some of Ristolainen’s advanced statistics weren’t favorable such as his -7.3 Relative Corsi rating (shot attempt differential when on the ice as opposed to when off of it), he only started 44.1 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. All stats per behindthenet.ca.
"It’s great that he wants to (be here),” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told the Buffalo News. “The contract negotiation is between Tim and the agent and obviously Rasmus is involved, but he wants to be back on the ice with his teammates, and that’s a good thing."
Ristolainen is among seven prominent players in need of new contracts from their teams. None of the others are attending training camps.
Anaheim Ducks center Rickard Rakell missed the World Cup for Sweden after having surgery to fix issues related to his appendectomy last spring. His Ducks and Swedish teammate Hampus Lindholm is also a restricted free agent and is training in Sweden.
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary/North America), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg/North America), Tobias Rieder (Arizona/Europe) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay/Russia) were all seen at the World Cup despite their contract statuses – or lack thereof.
As intimidating as Canada's forwards and defensemen are, opponents still have to beat the man in the crease – and that hasn't happened in a long time.
As we break down Canada’s dominance in international men’s hockey, many players deserve credit. Sidney Crosby, obviously. Fellow two-way demons Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jonathan Toews are up there, too. There’s the shutdown prowess of Shea Weber and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the defense. But if your team has enough elite skill and is somehow lucky enough to still possess the puck after all those barriers have been crossed, you will find yourself dishearteningly facing goaltender Carey Price. The best in the world.
Not only is Price a titan in the NHL, but he has now gone 16 international games without a loss.
“Everybody’s brought it up, yeah,” Price said. “I thought it might be over tonight, but we willed our way through it.”
Unflappable at his post-game podium, Price fielded questions while a pair of anti-beer goggles sat perched atop his ball cap.
“I might wear them all night,” he joked.
But Price was also quick to give credit to a Europe team that pushed Canada like no other squad in the tournament. Led by Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa and Jaroslav Halak, the NATO squad had clearly picked up on some of Canada’s tendencies from their previous two meetings, interrupting passing lanes and refusing to sit back once they had the lead. And here’s the thing: Zdeno Chara’s early goal was a bit of a shocker (how did he get such a clear lane to the net?), but you can’t beat this version of Canada in a potential gold-medal game with just one tally. Problem is, you can’t beat Price often in general. Hossa had a golden opportunity late in the game, but Price stoned the awesome Slovakian.
“Unbelievable,” said coach Mike Babcock of Price’s save. “He just does what he does.”
And while Price had sympathy for his latest vanquished foe, he also revealed why Canada is such a machine.
“They deserved a better fate,” he said. “They brought everything they had and really pushed us to the limit. But there are a lot of players on our team who have won championships and know what it takes to win.”
Boy, did they. The only players on the team that had not won either a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, world junior gold or World Championship gold were Logan Couture and Braden Holtby.
Price would surely like that Stanley Cup next and his healthy performance in this tournament is great news for the Montreal Canadiens. Without him last year, the Habs were lost at sea. But if they get 65-70 starts from him in the upcoming campaign, the playoffs are basically guaranteed. How far they go may depend on the ascent of center Alex Galchenyuk and the sturdiness of the defense, which of course subbed in Weber for P.K. Subban in a mega-trade this summer. Having Weber as a World Cup teammate has at least given Price a preview of his new protector.
“He’s a leader for sure,” Price said. “One of those big presence guys that played a lot of good minutes.”
As long as Price is given a goal or two to work with, he can win a game. He’s done it time and again with Canada and obviously the hope in Montreal is that he brings the Habs back to glory, too.