OTTAWA - Whether it was shock or disappointment, the Montreal Canadiens had few words to explain a critical loss Tuesday.
The Habs fell 3-2 in overtime to Ottawa and trail the Senators 3-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
Montreal is also facing the loss of goaltender Carey Price, who left the game after the third period with a lower-body injury. Peter Budaj came in relief for OT and gave up the winner on his second shot.
Few would argue that the Canadiens deserved a better fate as they were easily the better team on this night, but that argument didn't matter much in the end.
"Are we going to say we got a game stolen from us, that doesn't do anything for us, it does us no good," said Montreal's Josh Gorges. "We're down 3-1 no matter which way we want to explain it so it doesn't matter. Our backs are now up against the wall and we don't have a choice but to come out swinging."
Game 5 is Thursday in Montreal.
The Canadiens did all the right things jumping out a to a 2-0 lead and controlling much of the play, but the Senators managed to cut the lead in half on Mika Zibanejad's goal midway through the third.
The goal was reviewed to distinguish whether or not it was kicked in, but upon further review the NHL ruled that the puck deflected off Zibanejad's skate and into the net in a legal fashion.
In addition, Canadiens coach Michel Therien took exception on the faceoff that initiated the goal as he felt it was done on the wrong side.
"I would have put different players on, I wouldn't have sent out a left-handed centre on a right-sided faceoff," said Therien. "I'm anxious for them to explain it to me."
While Therien was disappointed with the final result, he had no issue with his player's performance.
"I liked how we played, we worked hard," said Therien. "We came to play hockey and the players definitely deserved a better fate."
A late icing call late in the game that eventually led to the Senators opportunity to tie the game left Gorges confused.
"I just want everything called the same way no matter which way it's called," said Gorges. "I could care less if they wave them all off or they call them all, as long as it's consistently done."
Gorges refused to make excuses for the loss and admitted they may have sat back a bit in the third leading to Ottawa's comeback.
"We tried to protect a lead instead of go out and play. This game is measured on wins and losses alone and nothing else matters."
With the prospect of elimination staring at them, Gorges said the Canadiens will have to show some desperation Thursday night.
"We have to fight for our lives. None of us want to go home, none of us are done playing. We've got a lot of pride in this room and now it's do or die so you have to have that mentality of let's throw everything we've got," he said. "There's no tomorrow anymore."
The Canadiens have played well at home this season and are hoping the home crowd will give them an advantage.
"We'll go home and feed off the crowd and feed off a lot of the good things we did," said Jeff Halpern. "It's a (tough) loss and hopefully we're more excited to play for the next game."
Brandon Prust also left the game after the third period with an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Jonathan Huberdeau has missed the entire campaign and Aleksander Barkov has been out for nearly a month, and it could be a while yet before either return to the Panthers’ lineup.
The Florida Panthers’ attempt to build on one of the most successful seasons in franchise history has been marred by a slew of injuries to key players, and it could be a while yet before two of the team’s brightest young stars are back in the lineup.
Panthers interim coach and GM Tom Rowe said Thursday that Jonathan Huberdeau shouldn’t be expected back in the lineup anytime soon, and he stayed away from indicating a timeline for Aleksander Barkov, who has been out of action since midway though a Dec. 28 meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Asked about the possibility of the injuries to Huberdeau and Barkov being potentially season-ending, Rowe said that worry is there whenever a star player is out.
"Those are two franchise-type players and we're certainly not going to rush them back," Rowe said, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "They'll be back in the lineup when everybody feels they're ready to play. You're always concerned about it [being season-ending], but we're not consumed with it every day. We're moving forward and playing with the guys we have, and when they're ready to come back, they'll be welcome. It'll be a huge boost to us.”
The indication was that Huberdeau could potentially be back into action early in March, which would be slightly longer than originally expected. When Huberdeau first suffered the injury to his Achilles in the Panthers’ final pre-season game back in October, the expectation was that he would miss somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 months. An early-March return would put Huberdeau’s absence up to five months and would only allow him to get into action for a handful of games this season.
Huberdeau’s loss has already been impactful this season, as the Panthers have struggled greatly on offense with one of their top guns out of action. Huberdeau was coming off of a career-best 20-goal, 59-point season with the Panthers in 2015-16 and the 23-year-old was primed to take another step forward in his growth before being sidelined with the ailment. Without Huberdeau, the Panthers’ offense has mustered 111 goals this season, and only the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are averaging fewer goals per game.
The Panthers struggles without Huberdeau have been exacerbated by the additional loss of Barkov, who manned the top line alongside Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr for much of the 2015-16 campaign. At the time Barkov exited the lineup, he was Florida’s leading scorer with nine goals and 27 points in 36 games, with a five-point edge on second-place Jonathan Marchessault.
There is a bit more clarity on what is ailing Barkov, though. The initial report was that Barkov would be sidelined with a lower-body injury, but Rowe revealed the 21-year-old is dealing with an upper-body ailment. The exact nature of the injury hasn’t been announced, however.
Given Huberdeau won’t be back in the near future, the Panthers will have to hope Barkov is in line to make his return post-all-star break or shortly thereafter. Every game without both Huberdeau and Barkov is a tough one for Florida, and with only 35 games remaining on their schedule, the Panthers could be in tough to find their way back into the post-season.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Jarome Iginla is expected to waive his no-movement clause for the chance to go to a playoff contender. Could a return to Alberta be in the cards?
As the Colorado Avalanche continue to stumble along, there's growing speculation veteran right winger Jarome Iginla could be dealt in the coming weeks. The 39-year-old is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. While he holds a no-movement clause, he's expressed a willingness to waive it if approached about accepting a trade to a playoff club.
The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek suggests the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Calgary Flames as possible suitors. He notes the connection with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and Iginla from their days with the Bruins, while pointing out the Kings last season acquired Vincent Lecavalier at the tail end of his career.
Duhatschek also suggests the Flames (where Iginla spent nearly 16 seasons) could use his physical presence. As for the Blackhawks, it was reported earlier in the week that they had interest in Iginla as a depth addition.
Given Iginla's Hall of Fame-worthy career, he will undoubtedly attract some interest from playoff-bound clubs leading up to the March 1 trade deadline. He can probably be had for a third- or fourth-round pick.
However, Iginla's no longer the dominant physical scorer he was during most of his career, managing only 10 points in 38 games. Interested parties should keep their expectations low. He's also carrying a $5.33-million annual cap hit, which could prove difficult to move.
WILL CANUCKS MAKE A MOVE FOR PLAYOFF PUSH?
A month ago, the Vancouver Canucks were on the verge of having their playoff hopes crushed. With 24 points in 26 games, they were sixth in the Pacific Division, ahead of only Arizona and Colorado in the Western Conference standings.
Approaching this weekend, however, the Canucks have climbed back into the postseason picture. Though still sixth in the Pacific Division, they had 41 points in 40 games, putting them within reach of a wild-card berth.
This improvement could give rise to talk of the Canucks becoming buyers in the coming weeks to bolster their playoff hopes. NHL insider Pierre LeBrun remains skeptical, telling Vancouver's TSN 1040 he doesn't believe GM Jim Benning is willing to give up futures for a short-term fix. Even if they bring in a rental player, LeBrun doubts that could help the Canucks go deep into the post-season.
Considering how bare the Canucks' prospects cupboard was when Benning took over as GM, it would be very surprising if he starts sacrificing them for a short-sighted playoff run this season. That doesn't mean Benning won't keep an eye on the trade market. Unless he can get a decent player at a bargain-basement price, he'll likely stay the course with his current roster.
COYOTES' HANZAL STILL ON THE MARKET
Earlier this season, Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal was the subject of considerable trade speculation. At one point in late-November, there were reports claiming trade talk involving the 29-year-old was “heating up.”
In recent weeks, however, the Hanzal rumors have largely died down. The Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan reports Hanzal acknowledges his future remains uncertain, but he hasn't rule out staying in Arizona.
Coyotes GM John Chayka remains open to continuing contract negotiations with Hanzal, but isn't ruling out the possibility of moving the 6-foot-6, 226-pounder before the March 1 trade deadline. Chayka claims he's not engaged in any trade discussions regarding Hanzal and hasn't received a serious offer yet.
Contract term is thought to be the issue. Hanzal seeks a long-term extension, but Chayka probably prefers a shorter deal to make room for his up-and-coming centers. Should Hanzal remain unsigned and healthy, Chayka will start receiving serious trade offers leading up to March 1. While the Coyotes' GM could seek a good young player in return, he'll likely receive offers of draft picks and prospects.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
The Bruins have dropped back-to-back games to non-playoff teams, resulting in calls for coach Claude Julien’s job. But Julien has continuously put the Bruins in a position to win, and firing him now could be a big mistake.
Claude Julien has been here before. When the Bruins missed the post-season in 2014-15, there were calls for his job. Again, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2015-16, it was believed he was on the hot seat. And now, with Boston dropping back-to-back games to opponents who are deeper in the lottery hunt than they are in the mix for post-season play, the talk of the Bruins showing Julien the door has started to heat up again.
It’s not hard to understand the argument from a pure wins and losses standpoint, which is what the game boils down to at its very core. The Bruins are 48 games into their season and only barely holding on to the second spot in the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators are nipping at Boston’s heels and faring better than the Bruins when it comes to points percentage.
And looking at recent results, the argument stands. Boston has lost to the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings — five non-playoff teams — in their past 10 games. Winnable games are turning into head-shaking losses and none have been quite as confounding as the Bruins squandering a three-goal lead heading into the second period against the Red Wings on Wednesday.
Despite back-to-back defeats, which have been paired with poor performances, the Bruins would do well to take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture and keep moving forward with Julien at the helm.
While the results have left much to be desired, Boston has been anything but poor in terms of putting themselves in the best position to win games. The hockey world has come to learn over the past few seasons the importance of controlling play and grinding teams down with puck possession, and it’s by those metrics that the Bruins have been almost inarguably one of the league’s strongest teams.
Consider that this season, no team has been as outright dominant in the possession game at 5-on-5 as the Bruins. They currently boast a 55.3 percent Corsi For percentage, sitting even ahead of the same Los Angeles Kings who have built a reputation of being the league’s most savvy possession team. When breaking it down game by game, too, the Bruins have been incredible in terms of winning the possession battle. In 39 of the team’s 48 outings, Bruins have completed the game with a possession rate over 50 percent at 5-on-5. They’ve been remarkably strong at owning play at even strength.
So, what’s gone wrong? Well, you can start with the team’s shooting percentage, which is downright atrocious. As of Thursday, Boston sits 29th in the league with an abysmal 6.17 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 through 48 games. The only team who’s fared worse is the Florida Panthers, and that’s by a mere seven-hundredths of a percent. To put that into context, when it comes to shooting percentage, only five teams in the past five seasons have finished with a shooting percentage lower than the Bruins’ current rate.
One need look no further than Patrice Bergeron for an idea of how poorly things have gone in Boston when it comes to actually finding the back of the net. Bergeron, a 10 percent shooter throughout his career, is on pace to fire more shots on goal this season than in any campaign prior. At his average shooting percentage, one would expect him to net close to 30 goals. Instead, he’s 45 games through his season with 10 markers to his name and is shooting at 6 percent. Bergeron’s struggle has been indicative of the roster’s trouble as a whole.
Julien’s detractors may posit that possession doesn’t exactly mean the team is getting scoring chances, and that a number of these pucks could be fired from the outside or low-scoring areas. And while that’s somewhat true — Boston is averaging only 7.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, good for 22nd in the league — it’s not as though they’re allowing enough chances against that it should be coming back to bite them as hard as it has. The Bruins are allowing 6.62 scoring chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, and the only team with a better mark is the Minnesota Wild. The difference between the Wild and Bruins in scoring chances for? Little more than half a chance per 60 minutes, yet Minnesota has nine more points in the standings with five games in hand.
Patience is often difficult to have in situations such as the one facing Boston, but there’s no reason to believe this won’t right itself over the back half of the season. There’s even recent evidence to suggest the Bruins are playing in a way that still makes them as much a Stanley Cup contender as any other club. Both the 2011-12 and 2013-14 Kings had great possession numbers — 54.7 and 56.8, respectively — with 5-on-5 shooting percentages that either were the league-worst mark or close to it. Both seasons, the Kings turned things around come playoff time and proceeded to win the whole thing. The same went for scoring chances, too, as the Kings were among the leaders in scoring chance percentage at 5-on-5 in both of their Stanley Cup years. That’s the same company the Bruins are keeping, sitting seventh in the league at 52.8 percent.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the Bruins’ fortunes are going to change. The Kings have continued to remain near the top of the league in underlying numbers only to narrowly miss the post-season in 2014-15 before getting ousted in the first round this past season. In a game where a single bounce can decide who wins and who loses, sometimes all you can do is put yourself in the best position to have that bounce go your way. Right now, though, those bounces aren’t happening for Boston.
None of this is to mention that Julien has done an admirable job with a roster that boasts a mixture of high-end talent and questionable depth. Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci are a stellar group of top forwards, but a bottom-six that consists of Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes, Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller isn’t all that inspiring. Defensively, the team is still working to get back from the loss of Dougie Hamilton, even with Brandon Carlo looking increasingly like a future top-pairing guy. And it’s hard to fault Julien for being stuck with backups who have won one of 11 games when Tuukka Rask has gotten the night off. That’s simply not his fault.
All this is to say that firing Julien isn’t the answer. It wasn’t in 2014-15, wasn’t in 2015-16 and it’s not now. If there’s a change to be made and the Bruins are set on getting a new voice behind the bench, let that come in the off-season, because Julien’s coaching chops have earned him the right to see this one through given the job he’s done with a roster that could be much worse off without him. If the Bruins are going to get out of this hole, it will be Julien who leads them out of it, and if this Boston team wants to make noise going forward, keeping Julien at the helm is the way to do it.