changing lives

Changing lives on and off the ice

Pro athletes take part in changing lives just as the sport they play has done so for them. Professional sports is one of the great platforms used to impact the lives of those in need. The Make-a-Wish Foundation has been doing this for the last 37 years. However, pro teams in each of the major sports have done their best as well to get involved in these opportunities.

Proven psychological facts state that how fans feel about their teams and athletes have a large effect on how they perform. Some players say they are immune to how fans feel, but sports psychologist Daniel L. Wann explains why that is not the case. He tells us that “it’s like an adolescent who says they don’t care about what their parents think” (AASP). The relationship between the fans and players is very important. A team’s effort within the community they play for is vital to an organization’s success.

Fans must feel at ease with their emotional investment in their team. Meeting players, conversing with front office members and knowing the club you root for as best you can does wonders. Many that are unable to do that, who are in need and have an undying love for their team have that at the top of their bucket list. Fortunately, NHL teams make dreams like this come true every day.

Ari and Levi with Blues

changing lives

Photo: St. Louis Blues

Two lives have been rejuvenated in the last eight months by the St. Louis Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko. Levi Ervin and Arianna Dougan were granted wishes in the midst of heartache and struggle, but never imagined the extent of those wishes that they received. The experience they had helped them forget about their troubles for at least that while and is something they will never forget.

Arianna was given the best birthday present she could ask for this past March while battling cancer. Her favorite player (Tarasenko) gave her the news prior to his team’s game against Buffalo. She would be traveling with the team for a two-game road trip in Arizona and Colorado. Her can’t miss smile showed the entire club how special it was and “how tough she really is” Blues defensemen Robert Bortuzzo told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Ari attended games beyond the road trip and into the playoffs where she became a rallying point for the fans each time they showed her on the jumbotron.

Levi signed a one-day contract with his team after being involved in a catastrophic car accident. His grandparents suffered third degree burns and his two-year old sister sadly passed away. The newest member of the Blues traveled with the team to Carolina for their game against the Hurricanes. He took the ice with his hockey hero Tarasenko for the morning skate, then fist pumped the boys as they left the ice after a 2-1 win.

The Blues clinched a playoff berth last spring with the three points they received during the road trip with Ari. They deposited a big two points nearing the end of the first month of this season on the road with Levi.

Kohen and Gage with the Oilers

Edmonton found a rare bright spot in their season in February of 2016. Kohen Flett was signed to a one-day contract with the Oilers. The eight-year old (at the time) was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 15 months old. Like the previous cases, Kohen possessed a “larger than life smile” (Fox Sports) throughout this incredible experience.

The youngster spent his day with the team practicing with the Oilers for their morning skate. Kohen was able to help superstar Connor McDavid with his equipment. He then gave the team a speech before they hit the ice for practice. Flett got the entire player experience that ended with a team photo and interviews with the Edmonton media. Kohen said, “it was the best day of my life,” (Fox Sports).

changing lives

Photo: Instagram

Make-a-Wish Northern Alberta teamed up with the Oilers again this past September. Gage Foster got his opportunity to work out with his favorite goalie (Cam Talbot). The young fan and his family took the ice with the Oiler net minder prior to the start of training camp. Gage is a member of Make-a-Wish Southwestern Ontario, but his wish was still granted with the help of the foundation.

Edmonton has some of the most loyal fans in the NHL. It is hockey 365 days a year. In recent years of their rebuild they still managed to average 16,000 fans a night at home games. Their work within the community and connection to their fans is one of the big reasons why.

Across the league

Fans and players work as one to reach a common goal. The unifying of a community is imperative to reaching this goal, but it starts with the players. Each official team website has a community tab. A team’s community is the financial and emotional fuel to their club. A good relationship and cohesion between these two pieces makes giving this fuel an easy decision. However, many still question and criticize people who invest much of their time, money and emotions in their teams.

When you love something, it’s hard to describe. It’s not something you do, it’s something you feel. Furthermore, it’s reassuring when our impactful efforts are backed by psychological science. I love my team, and there have been many times I have acted irrationally in support of my team. The way all of our teams make us feel every emotion possible justifies these actions for us.

No one forces a player to make a young child feel good and smile. It is the renowned athlete that recognizes his ability to do so who then takes action. The moments a child has with his favorite team and player(s) last forever.

 

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slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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power rankings

NHL week one review

We have completed one week of hockey. Three stories headline the past week that involve the league’s best teams. Connor McDavid increased his speed in the offseason (if that’s possible). The Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks are really good. Alexander Ovechkin is a man among boys still on his team that dominates the regular season.

Referees have enforced the slashing a bit too much for my liking at times, but it was a great week. The Golden Knights won their first three games in franchise history, which no expansion team has ever done. We saw 235 goals scored. Jaromir Jagr signed with Calgary to prolong his illustrious career to a 24th season. This all took place in week one, but the excitement will continue to grow until early June.

There is always a chance something special could happen on any given night in the NHL. Keep your eyes open as this is only the beginning.

Well-Oiled Machine

NHL week one review

Photo: Matchsticks and Gasoline

Edmonton is off to a slow start, winning one of their first three, but no one is doubting where they will be at the end. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Connor McDavid skate and possess the puck from end to end, you need to.

The 20-year-old league MVP has recorded four points in his first three games including a hat trick in game one.

Eight minutes into the third period of that game, McDavid took the puck from his own defensive circle. He then proceeded to skate past every player on the ice, posses the puck at full speed and put it past the net minder Smith- untouched.

The Oiler captain is impressive by his leadership on and off the ice. McDavid is always looking forward and knowing that tonight was great, but “we have a long way to go” (NHL.com). It is this mindset the third year superstar has that may prove the Oilers to be prominent contenders in the West this year.

Leafs/Hawks

Toronto and Chicago may have the two best offenses in the league. No club has registered more goals than these two.

You expect these numbers from teams like Chicago, but it’s nice to see a new face in the department. The Leafs scored 19 goals through their first three games and the Hawks notched 18. Both teams met Monday night in a thrilling game between two of the league’s current top tier hockey clubs. Will we see these two link up in late May and early June?

NHL week one review

Photo: SB Nation

The game started out with the Blackhawks jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Toronto would tie it in the third, fall behind 3-2, then tie it on the power play with under five minutes to play.

It headed to overtime where Auston Matthews would net one of the most gorgeous wrist shots you will see as the Leafs took the game 4-3 in overtime. A battle like this can be very telling even at this early stage of a season.

Teams are trying to put points in the bank right now and set themselves up to in good position in the second half. Two points in October is worth the same as two points in March.

The games played to start the year are played with such high energy. This one between the Hawks and Leafs definitely set the precedent of what we hope to see more of as this season progresses.

Alexander is still the great

So, Alexander Ovechkin recorded seven goals in his first two games. He became the first player to do so since the NHL’s inaugural season (1917-18). Alex attributes his two hat tricks to his sister-in-law because “every time she’s in town, like I score a hat trick,” he said (ESPN). His theory proved possible as he was held scoreless Monday night as his sister-in-law traveled back home. Ovy was said to have a down year last season after his 33-goal output which is amazing in itself.

NHL week one review

Photo: ESPN

The three-time MVP has never scored less than 32 goals (even in a shortened season) and has scored 50 or more in seven seasons. His speed is still there and his shot is obviously still there at the age of 32. No one doubts his ability to score and put up points. It is his ability to lead his team to victory and take the next step in his 13th season that is questioned.

The Washington Capitals have finished atop the league standings in each of the past two seasons, but have lost to Pittsburgh in the second round both years. The franchise has yet to reach a conference final in the Ovechkin era.

Therefore, each successful regular season will not be held in high regard until we witness the Capitals take the next step. Alex Ovechkin will still be looked at among the NHL’s elite, but like many of his counterparts, you are judged by wins, losses and championships at the end of the day.

Week one

I did not care for a few of the calls made this past week as I discussed earlier. However, the entertainment value did not diminish in the slightest.

This subtle protection package we have now may be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. There was an exceptional amount of offense this week, which is what we wish to see in all sports. We want to see more homers, touchdowns and goals. It would be very difficult to lessen the excitement of NHL hockey. Week one was a success, can’t wait for the next 35.

Good news is, we don’t have to wait..

 

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An Opening Night To Commemorate

October fourth was opening night of the 2017-18 regular season. Fans are in for another wild ride as no rule enforcement can diminish the hype of NHL hockey (as expected).

Four games were on the docket to start the year. The Toronto Maple Leafs exhibited their potential of being not just young talented upstarts, but a problem in the East. The Edmonton Oilers started their narrative in being among the elite in the West. St. Louis displayed their ability to send pucks to the back of the net with regularity despite their current roster subtractions. Then we further understood Wayne Simmonds’s case as one of the top tier power forwards in the league at the end of the night.

“I hope the rest of the season is as entertaining as it is tonight” said NBCSN color commentator Mike Milbury during last night’s game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The first of 82 games for four of 31 teams took place this past Wednesday. League policy issues and corruption is not at all a topic of discussion. Hockey fans are here to enjoy the start of this year’s grind solely. Let the shear passion and insanity commence.

Maple Leafs @ Jets

The lethal youth of the Toronto Maple Leafs surged them into postseason play this past spring. They took the President’s Trophy winning Capitals to six games. Management noted they must add depth and veteran leadership this offseason to take the next step. The Leafs told the rest of the league we’re done with being in rebuild mode in game #1.

opening night

Patrick Marleau nets two in his debut with his new team. Auston Matthews starts his sophomore season off right adding another in the Leafs’s dominant 7-2 win on opening night. Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Patrick Marleau (38) was among the biggest acquisitions for Toronto in free agency this summer. There was curiosity about whether or not he deserved his 6 million+ average annual salary after his 46-point season last year. Opening night proved he could serve has a much valued find for the Leafs. Marleau scored his 509th and 510th goals of his career helping his new team capture their first two points of the season.

Toronto netted seven goals against the Jets to begin their year. They have solid goaltending in Frederik Anderson, high-octane offense led by their youth and the ability to roll four lines and compete with the league’s best. There is much to like about this new and improved Toronto Maple Leaf squad.

Oilers vs. Flames

The battle of Alberta began the season for the Oilers and Flames in Edmonton. Connor McDavid recorded a hat trick and Cam Talbot recorded a 26-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Calgary.

opening night

The league MVP and Oiler captain found the net and stat sheet 3 times on opening night in Alberta. Not a bad guy to have leading your team. Photo Courtesy of TSN

The rest of the West is taking serious notice to the players in Oil country. They possess the league MVP, four lines with offensive production, sound defense and a top 10 goaltender. All of these parts have Edmonton as a serious contender in the West. I would not want to see them come mid April as McDavid expressed that “it feels good, but we have a long way to go.”

These first two games between the four Canadian teams did not have a great deal of intensity. However, it was a phenomenal showcase of one team near the top of the league and one on its way.

Blues @ Penguins

The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins opened up their season at home against St. Louis. Entertainment value, intensity and a roller coaster of emotion were all in play in this battle.

opening night

The captain of the St. Louis Blues Alex Pietrangelo led by example scoring the game winner in game 1 for the Blues capturing their first two points of the season. Photo Courtesy of the Telegraph

Penguins broke the ice first. St. Louis would then take control up two in the 3rd. Pittsburgh then tied the game with two goals in under a minute and the game moved to overtime. Alex Pietrangelo (Blues captain) iced the game with his 2nd of the night 1:15 into overtime.

This was a clash of two great teams that play similar styles, but at different paces. Each of these teams want to play that up tempo offense with two-way defensemen. Pittsburgh has the edge at the moment with more superstar talent as they are able to take full advantage of their opposition’s mistakes. The Blues have talent and depth, it just comes in less waves at the moment. They were able to be opportunistic and survive the fury of the Penguins late.

Shots were 34-33 in favor of the Blues and their ability to match Pittsburgh shot for shot with their somewhat diminished roster is something to note. St. Louis went toe-to-toe with the defending champs on the road without the likes of Fabbri, Steen, Berglund and Bouwmeester. This a game in which two top tier teams battled and went right down to the wire. Who knows where these two will end up at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs?

Flyers @ Sharks

The final game of the evening took place in the Bay Area as the Sharks hosted the Flyers. A high scoring affair ensued as Philly defeated San Jose 5-3.

Wayne Simmonds started the year off with a bang recording a hat trick, two goals on the power play including the game winner at 9:27 of the 3rd period. The Flyers do need Simmonds to be that elite power forward to get back into postseason along with solid goaltending. It has been a long time since Philadelphia was with a true #1. They may be on their way with Brian Elliott as he stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced receiving the game’s 2nd star.

opening night

Simmonds ices the game with an empty netter completing the hat trick and the first win of the ’17-18 season for the Flyers. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

I have said hockey is back numerous times, but I’ll say it again. Hockey is back.

 

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The Ultimate Battle

The ultimate battle in hockey is overcoming injuries. A study shows $218 million in salaries is lost each season due to injuries. The research was done three years ago. That number is now greater due to the league’s higher market value.

Franchise players dash their team’s ability to make the postseason or winning it all every year. Sidney Crosby gets hit in the head in consecutive games midway through the season in 2011 turns into a first round exit. Connor McDavid breaks his collar bone last year, which puts the Oilers back in the cellar for one more season. Steven Stamkos’s absence from the ice the last two years has not allowed Tampa to take the next step. Lightning lost in the finals three seasons ago, one game away form the finals two seasons ago and missed the postseason altogether last year.

Hockey is a sport of matchups. Four trios of forwards and 3 pairs of defenseman, which makes chemistry paramount in a team’s success. One injury to a forward or defenseman puts a team’s alignment into a puzzle. However, the reality is that lineups are drastically shaken up throughout the course of the season.

The St. Louis Blues

The faithful in the Gateway to West will be without four top 9 forwards (Steen, Berglund, Sanford, Fabbri) and one defenseman (Bouwmeester) to start the year. However, one of which (Robby Fabbri) has been ruled out for the entire regular and postseason.

ultimate battle

Robby Fabbri had surgery, rehabbed all offseason and was medically cleared in July. A big hit for the 21 year old that was entering a contract year. Photo courtesy by NHL.com

Two rookies (Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin) now have every opportunity to show and prove they belong on the Blues’ roster. Depth was an issue during the playoffs last season as the Blues were ousted in the 2nd round by Nashville. Pressure and responsibility may or may not be what these hungry rookies need, but that is what they are getting. This could shapeup as a very exciting or struggle-filled start to St. Louis’s season.

These injuries have General Manager Doug Armstrong looking at not just the rookies, but potential replacement players to fill the current voids. Jaromir Jagr, a 45 year-old future hall of famer has been discussed as a potential signing. It would most likely come after the olympics if it does happen because of Jagr’s desire to play in the tournament. The #2 all-time scorer has shown he still has enough in the tank to compete as he recorded 16 goals and 30 assists last season.

The Importance of depth

The saying “we gotta roll four lines and bang bodies” is crucial to the success of any hockey club. Contributions must be made by each top 12 forward and top 6 defenseman in a push for the playoffs and run to the Cup. Goons and enforcers are few and far between in today’s NHL. Every line has to have offensive output for a team to win with great regularity.

ultimate battle

Mark Letestu of the Oilers is a 4th liner, but tallied 16 goals last season (11 on the powerplay). Edmonton later made their 1st playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Photo Courtesy of Canoe Sports

Injury occurrence forces reshaping of lines, which reforms game plans. Coaches have to be on their toes and be prepared to battle just like his players. The man in charge on the bench is the most underrated person of value in a hockey game. He is the one who executively decides who goes onto to the ice at every point in time.

Some matchup their lines differently. The home coach gets to decide. Some go with their first line against the opposing team’s 4th line or the opposite. The point is that a coach’s decisions are constantly altered due to the injuries. Mike Yeo (Blues head coach) is facing these challenges all at once before the season even starts, but countless more will follow.

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Take Flight

About to Take Flight

Training camps take flight this week for NHL clubs. But, this weekend we received a prelude to the near and far future with the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournaments.

Storylines are coming together for another event filled 82-game grind. Four tournaments began Friday that included 19 teams. Showcases were held in Toronto, Buffalo, British Columbia and Traverse City Michigan.

The 2017 Rookie Tournament

Young stars aligned in Toronto this weekend at the 2017 Rookie Tournament. Top draft picks of Toronto, Ottawa and New York joined forces in a terrific showcase of young talent. And it is important for these prospects to have as much in-game experience as possible.

Timothy Liljegren of the Maple Leafs was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft. And the first evaluation for the rookie defenseman did not go well. The 18 year old was beat on the outside in the first ten minutes of the game. Later in the third he clears the puck through the middle of the ice in his own zone right to a Montreal player that led to another goal. Liljegren finished the night -4.

Take Flight

Liljegren (Left) losing battle after battle in this weekend’s tournament.              Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Eyes were on Thomas Chabot and Colin White of the Ottawa Senators organization in this tournament. Both of these prospects had great starts to the showcase. White made numerous plays in an 8-2 victory over Montreal. But, the standout was Chabot as he quarterbacked the Ottawa power play finishing with 3 assists.

Noah Juulsen of the Canadiens (2015 1st Round Pick) also aimed to make an impression this weekend. The 20-year old looks to be a part of the Habs’ 3rd defensive pairing this year. This was not his 1st rookie tournament. And he looked to make it his last as he exhibited “great strength and vision” on the ice.

The Prospects Challenge

Nico Hischier (1st Overall pick in 2017 Draft) suited up in an NHL uniform for the first time this weekend at The Prospects Challenge. The Swiss born rookie did his best to get acclimated to NHL pace of play and to not get injured. And his goals were achieved.

Take Flight

Nico Hischier suiting up for the New Jersey Devils for the first time getting his first NHL experience. Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

Hischier was “pretty quiet” when the 1st game began, but settled in as the game progressed. The 18 year old showed off his speed and ability to work well in tight spaces. According to Todd Cordell, Hischier created a scoring chance “every time he touched the puck” down the stretch. But, the rookie was not able to register a point in his debut. However, the Devils opened the tournament with an overtime winner.

The Devils need a spark this year. They have not made the playoffs since making it to the Final in 2012. Veterans have been added, stars have been kept and the rookies are ready to go.

 

Young Stars Classic & Traverse City Tournament

Three Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets) played in the Young Stars Classic in British Columbia this weekend. And eight teams competed in Traverse City, MI. This concluded the weekend’s rookie showcases.

The Young Stars Classic continues through the 11th and has already seen great play. And everyone was waiting see Kailer Yamamoto (Oilers 2017 1st Round Pick). But, it was Chad Butcher who stole the show in their game against Winnipeg. The Oiler hopeful netted his 2nd goal in three games as Edmonton took down the Jets 3-0. The present and future seem to be very bright in Edmonton.

Take Flight

Minnesota rookies roar back for a 6-5 victory over the Blues in the Traverse City Tournament. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

The tournament in Traverse City saw a series of events occur in the battle between St. Louis and Minnesota. Blues first round picks (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) were showing everyone why they were taken early in this year’s draft. Kostin scored midway through the 3rd, which gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead. Then, the team Bus driver left the Arena due to his presumption that the game was won. But, the Minnesota rookies then scored 5 unanswered goals and took the lead with 1:02 remaining.

These tournaments provide great experience for young upcoming professionals. But, they do not exactly do a good job giving us an idea of where these prospects are in this small sample size.

What have we learned?

In this short period of time, we have learned not much at all. Each of the teams that took part in these weekend tournaments know now what they have always known that there is promise in the future. And the future is much closer to the present. The youth movements that are going on in almost every franchise are taking flight. That is what we have learned.

We know that the waiting game is not as long as it used to be in this league. There is more of a business mindset with these showcases maybe than in recent years. This makes the buildup to opening night of the regular season go by a bit faster.

Take Flight

The NHL’s Elite Prospects were on display this weekend. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

 

More storylines, more excitement and more hockey related news is what we need. We need the lag time between the Cup presentation and the start to the season to seem shorter than in reality.

Hockey moves at a furious pace. And if you let it, so does the offseason.

Training camps open this week.

 

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The New Faces of the League

The New Faces of the League

The new faces of the league have entered the NHL in the last two seasons. These young sensations have “battled” their way into becoming some of the most recognizable faces in the sport. They did not come here to just be in the league either…they are here to take over.

Organizations across the board like Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit and Winnipeg all have youth movements in full swing. Some are still in that rebuild waiting to break through. Teams are bringing more excitement and entertainment value to their cities than ever.

Top-tier talent is becoming more and more prevalent in annual drafts that once structure is in place, teams are taking off. Complete change over has already occurred in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Who’s next?

The Catalyst

The Hart Memorial and Art Ross trophies are for the league’s most valuable player and leading scorer. Both of these honors went to a player (Connor McDavid) playing in his first full season. He became the youngest captain in league history before the season started. This NHL phenom turned 20 midway through last season.

McDavid did more then receive individual accolades. In one year, the Oilers’ captain has transformed the hockey culture in Edmonton. He affirmed the conclusion of the Oiler rebuild last year, leading them to their first postseason appearance in 10 years. According to ESPN, their attendance has gone from 21st to 13th in the last 2 years. The excitement is back in the Gateway of the North, and it’s not leaving any time soon.

McDavid has gone from the NHL’s most highly touted prospect, to the league’s brightest star after playing in just 127 games. The Oilers have come out of the bottom of the league and straight to the top. Edmonton notched 103 points last season (up from 70) and finished seventh in the league’s standings (up from 29th).

McDavid signed an eight-year, $100 million extension this offseason as he and the Oilers look to stick together and be proven contenders this season.

Rising threat for the opposition

Of the top-10 goal scorers during last year’s regular season, half of them were 25 or younger. The No. 3 goal scorer recorded 40 (Auston Matthews) and turned 19 at the start of training camp. Matthews and the No. 7 goal scorer, Patrick Laine (19), were two of the three rookie of the year candidates on this list.

They are no longer looked at as kids waiting their turn. Their overall production is making each of them the faces of the league.

NHL new faces

Patrick Laine (left) and Auston Matthews (right) burst onto the scene in ’16-17. (Photo from NHL.com)

These bright new faces are outperforming Hall-of-Fame caliber players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. They are younger, faster and fearless.

Confidence is huge in any sport and young players like Matthew Tkachuk (19) have the ability to get under the opposition’s skin. Tkachuk drew reactions out of notable veterans Drew Doughty (and almost every L.A. King) and Brent Burns last season. Every player in the NHL deserves respect, but that doesn’t mean these newcomers will be intimidated.

As a fan, the players you hate are the great ones that do not play for your team. They work hard, they get under your skin and they produce at the same time. These first and second-year players already fit this mold.

Next Chapter in Saga

The New Jersey Devils signed No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft Nico Hischier to a three-year, entry-level deal with an average annual salary of $925,000. He turned 18 this year in early January. So, why wait?

“There’s a spot for him on our team,” Devils general manager Ray Shero told NHL.com. They believe he is a center that is great in all areas of the game, including defense.

The Philadelphia Flyers signed the No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick to a three-year, entry-level contract with the same average annual salary as Hischier with performance bonuses. Barring more setbacks stemming from his recent surgery, the Flyers expect him to compete. Philly general manager Ron Hextall has been decisive about not signing veteran role players and is committed to the youth movement.

NHL new faces

Nico Hischier (left) and Nolan Patrick (right) on draft night. (Photo from NHL.com)

We are one month away from the start of the 2017-2018 regular season. Hockey is coined “the coolest sport on earth” for various reasons. Much of it has to do with the speed and the changes on the fly. With these youth movements in place, we could see an even faster growing game for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by Sportsnet

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Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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Thrilling Ducks-Oilers Series Ends with Decisive Game 7

To Mark Letestu and the Edmonton Oilers fans, the open net looked as tantalizing as it did the four other times.

Rogers Place erupted after Letestu’s goal gave the Oilers a 5-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 last Sunday. The offensive outburst solidified an eventual 7-1 win for Edmonton, knotting the series at three games apiece. Fans were excited enough for the win, but even more so for the consequences of it: Game 7 of what has been a thrilling series.

The Edmonton-Anaheim battle has had historic comebacks, unlikely heroes and highlight-reel goals from tremendous talents. As predicted here at The Game Haus, it’s a no-brainer why this series is going to seven games.

As the series opened in California for Game 1, the physicality and grit was apparent. Two of the best-hitting teams in the NHL battered each other on the boards, leading to very few opportunities for either side.

It was a 1-1 tie heading into the third period before both teams turned up the intensity. Edmonton defenseman Adam Larsson, the marquee acquisition for general manager Peter Chiarelli last offseason, notched two of the Oilers’ four goals in the period.

His tally with 4:40 remaining in a 3-3 contest gave Edmonton a much-needed win on the road. Larsson scored just four goals all season. He was the source of firepower Edmonton didn’t expect, but certainly welcomed.

Outdoing themselves, Edmonton secured another road win in Game 2 thanks to Cam Talbot. Anaheim was relentless on the attack for a full 60 minutes, finding ways to shoot from anywhere on the ice. But Cam Talbot was sensational in the affair, posting 39 saves in a 2-1 victory.

Despite playing well in the first two games, the Ducks were in a 2-0 hole. They had only lost 12 games at home in the regular season, the third-fewest in the league. However, they were in this spot in the final weeks of the season.

Slumping atop the division while Edmonton gained ground in the standings, Anaheim went on a tear to close out the year. It would do the same north of the border.

Ryan Getzlaf took over in the first period of Game 3, tallying a goal and an assist to put the Ducks on top 3-0. He’s moved the puck well throughout the offensive zone, but that doesn’t come as a surprise. He’s also managed to fight his way to the net facing a ton of pressure from Edmonton, and he finds a way through. His performance set the tone at the start of the affair.

Even though the Oilers came back from a three-goal deficit, Jakob Silfverberg took over in the third. These two were instrumental in the Ducks’ comeback in the series at a time where Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler got off to slow starts.

Ducks-Oilers Game 7

Photo courtesy of USA Today/photo by Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press via AP

Getzlaf and Silfverberg continued to excel in Game 4. The Oilers scored twice in the first, including a beautiful snipe from wunderkind Connor McDavid.

But Getzlaf willed the Ducks with two goals and three points in the second for a 3-2 Anaheim advantage.

Edmonton answered at the 18:18 mark in the third thanks to Drake Caggiula, of all people.

Getzlaf and Silfverberg picked up goalie John Gibson, though, connecting for the overtime winner 45 seconds into the extra frame and tying the series. These occurrences set the precedents for what became a best-of-three series: the road team is king and no lead is safe.

Speaking of unsafe leads, Game 5 in Anaheim was arguably the wildest game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. McDavid, Caggiula and Leon Draisaitl lit the lamp in the second period. Talbot stood on his head the entire game.

But with 3:16 to go, one of the most improbable comebacks began. Anaheim scored twice and then a questionable goaltender interference no-call led to Rickard Rakell’s equalizer with 15 seconds left. Replays showed Kesler at least made contact with Talbot’s pad before he tried to save the puck.

Despite the missed call, the game went to double overtime before Corey Perry, who was phenomenal all night, sent the loyal Ducks fans home happy. Anaheim led the series 3-2 before Edmonton’s Game Six thrashing.

Hockey fans have seen it all in six games as fans of both teams have seen enough tense moments. There’s just one more tonight in Anaheim, though home ice hasn’t helped either team much here. Here are important keys for each team.

Ducks-Oilers Game 7

Cam Talbot. Photo courtesy of Newsday/photo by Codie McLachlan, Getty Images

EDMONTON: Stopping Ryan Getzlaf is next to impossible. The Oilers need to pay attention to him, but limiting those around him will make the most difference on defense. This also means helping Cam Talbot as much as possible. The blue liners have to clear pucks out from in front. If Talbot from the last two games shows up, then the Oilers have a chance.

ANAHEIM: Special teams needs to get going. After a top five penalty kill in the regular season, the Ducks have allowed seven power play goals. On the flip side, their power play is 0-for-15 since Game Two. They got here with strong special teams and they have the talent, but they need to execute tonight.

Regardless of the keys, this game can go either way. McDavid versus Getzlaf has been enjoyable to watch. The game should be the same.

 

 

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Division Rivalries, Top Goaltenders Highlight NHL Conference Semifinals

Still recovering from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?  That’s understandable, considering 18 of the 42 total games played went to overtime.  But now, the spotlight shines on the eight remaining teams.  The Conference Semifinals feature three series with divisional rivals as well as some of the league’s best goaltending.  Here’s a preview of the four series ahead.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

(Courtesy of espn.com)

2017 Season Series: Ottawa 2-1-0/Getty Images

While it may not be a divisional battle nor have the playoff history of its Eastern Conference counterpart, this matchup features two teams with huge star power.  Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in helping the Rangers dispatch the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.  His 195 saves were two shy of Braden Holtby for most in the first round.  His .9466 save percentage in the series was three ten-thousandths shy of his career postseason mark against Washington in 2013.  The victory over Montreal wasn’t perfect, however.  Chris Kreider and JT Miller didn’t score, while Nick Holden and Marc Staal had costly turnovers and mental lapses at times in their own zone.  Lundqvist carried the team this far, but the Blueshirts play better when they get a more consistent effort on offense and defense.

The Senators enjoyed production from all units in their 6-game series win over the Boston Bruins.  Former Ranger Derick Brassard exploded for eight points, while Bobby Ryan added two game-winning goals.  Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and the blue line held the Bruins to just 13 goals in the six contests, making it easy for goalie Craig Anderson.  Karlsson showed why he’s a Norris Trophy candidate, leading the Sens in ice time while bearing two fractures in his left heel.  Ottawa received needed contributions from their top players, but do they have the depth to make a deeper run in the postseason?

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

(Courtesy of japersrink.com)

2017 Season Series: Washington 2-0-2

This is the series you’ll want to tune in to every game for, and the NHL knows it.  They’ve played up the tensions between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the spots they run during commercial breaks.  The Presidents’ Trophy winner versus the runners-up.  Two division rivals with the two aforementioned superstars and both teams top five in the regular season on the power play.  Need I say more?

The Capitals had to fend off the budding Maple Leafs in six.  Braden Holtby’s 197 saves were tops among goalies in the first round as he neutralized Auston Matthews and company just enough.  Ovechkin was his usual self with two power play goals and three total.  But he has options around him that Washington hasn’t seen in quite some time.  TJ Oshie had seven points, Justin Williams shined in the playoffs again, and 11 other players recorded two or more points.  On paper, Washington is as stacked as they come on all sides.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they run just as deep on offense.  Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are the notable names.  But Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust tormented Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets all series. They benefited from their linemates and pressured up front to outplay their expectations.  Marc-Andre Fleury performed admirably in net filling in for the injured Matt Murray.  With Murray still not skating as of the weekend, Fleury still sits between the pipes.  Can a Pens defense missing Kris Letang cover up the holes they had in Round 1?

 

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Predators Blues Hockey(Courtesy of stltoday.com)

2017 Season Series: Nashville 3-2-0

The Predators being here is one shock.  The way they did it is another.  Pekka Rinne allowed a measly three goals in a four game sweep while making 123 stops in net.  The blue line was a force physically on the boards and in open ice as they neutralized Chicago’s stars.  What didn’t get enough credit, however, was the offense.  Down two goals in Game 3, Filip Forsberg and company outhustled Chicago to win in overtime.  The Blackhawks’ radio team noted in that game Nashville was energetic on both sides of the puck while Chicago was exhausted.  That sustained pressure should help them in this series too.

Netminder Jake Allen and the Blues dispatched a middling Minnesota Wild team in five games.  Allen’s .956 save percentage and eight goals allowed were second-lowest in the league only to Rinne.  He took the pressure off of the offense, which was quiet, if not tempered.  The Blues perform well across the board, but they don’t overpower you in one exact area.  Their penalty kill ranked third in the regular season at 84.8%.  Will it make a difference facing a Nashville team that produces better on even strength?

 

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

(Courtesy of nhl.com)

2017 Season Series: Edmonton 3-2-0 (Anaheim lost 2 overtime games)

Penguins/Capitals gets the attention because of the history, but this can be just as entertaining of a matchup.  These are two Pacific rivals that vied for the division title until the final week.  The Ducks and Oilers are also second and sixth in hits, respectively.  There are skill players that draw you to this matchup, but the physicality potential spices it up further.

The Oilers showed they’re the real deal after taking care of defending West champion San Jose.  Connor McDavid scored four goals in his postseason debut.  But here were the goal scorers in the last two games: Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Oscar Klefbom, David Desharnais, Leon Draisaitl, Anton Slepyshev and McDavid.  That’s tremendous diversity on offense.  They won’t always get that production from some of those 3rd and 4th line guys, but this team doesn’t have to rely on McDavid to score.  Their success, however, relies on netminder Cam Talbot.  He had two shutouts in Games 2 and 3, but allowed five goals in Game 4.  They need Talbot to be on top of his game every night.

The Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team right now.  Following their four games sweep over Calgary, they’ve won 13 of their last 15.  The special teams unit is dangerous both on the man up and the man down.  Their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL and they accrued the second-most penalty minutes in the regular season.  They have playmakers at almost every forward position on their top three lines.  Defenseman Cam Fowler may return this series now that he’s resumed practice.  Their challenge is getting good goaltending.  John Gibson took a step forward as Anaheim’s leading tender.  However, this is his first full postseason.  What can we expect from him?

 

Predictions

New York-Ottawa: Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad play well against their former respective teams, plus we get another good matchup in net.  But the Blueshirts are just a little deeper on offense. Rangers in 6

Pittsburgh-Washington: We get another postseason classic from these two.  The Caps push Fleury to the brink, but the Pens survive thanks to secondary contributions and speed. Penguins in 7

Nashville-St. Louis: Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are talented, but they have to show up for the Blues.  The Preds employ the same gameplan they had against Chicago to prevent the Blues to get to the net cleanly.  Peter Laviolette knows how to win here. Predators in 5

Edmonton-Anaheim: Fowler can make all the difference on defense for Anaheim.  However, if Edmonton plays physical, but smart on the boards, they have the talent to overcome a veteran Ducks team.  Oilers in 7

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