Tag:Montreal Canadiens
Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
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Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 3, 2012 9:08 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 9:14 pm
 

Video: Don Cherry sounds off on Brian Burke

By: Adam Gretz

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been the talk of the NHL on Saturday thanks to their decision to replace head coach Ron Wilson with Randy Carlyle.

During the first intermission of The Leafs game against Montreal, Hockey Night In Canada analyst Don Cherry used his Coach's Corner segment to put general manager Brian Burke in the crosshairs and let loose on the type of rant that has become synonymous with Cherry over the past couple of decades. 



Among the things Cherry sounded off on were Burke's apparent attempt to go behind his back and get him fired (according to Cherry), and the fact the Maple Leafs don't have enough players on their roster from Ontario (at the present time, they have zero). He then read off a list of teams that have multiple players from Ontario, including recent Stanley Cup winners, and ripped Burke for having too many American players and players that have come through the NCAA.

No matter what your opinion of Cherry is, this is probably the exact argument that you would expect to hear from him.

This all sounds pretty similar to when there was a controversy in Montreal from a small, vocal minority earlier this season because the Canadiens didn't have a french-speaking coach or enough french-speaking players. Basically, according to Don Cherry math, good teams that have a lot of Ontario players are good because they have a lot of players from Ontario.

Nevermind the fact that they simply have good players, regardless of where they come from. Wouldn't you want to take your chances with a team of great European players or great American players against a team of bad players from Ontario? Of course you would. A general managers job is put to the best possible team on the ice that he can -- not assemble a team made of players from the local city, state or province.

At the end of the day, Maple Leafs fans have been waiting since 1967 for a Championship, and they've been watching one of the longest current playoff droughts in the NHL. I have to imagine they truly don't care about the birthplace or hometown of their players making up the roster just as long as they win games.

(By the way, if you get through all of Cherry's rant he does also focus on the story of Ryan Wood, which is perhaps the saddest hockey story you'll ever see.)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 3, 2012 12:24 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 12:32 pm
 

Burke made decision after fans chants



By: Adam Gretz


During a recent loss to the Florida Panthers, fans at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, voiced their frustration by chanting "Fire Wilson," their way of demanding the team replace head coach Ron Wilson.

It's not the first time fans -- for any team, in any sport -- have taken part in a such a chant, but it's not often you hear a general manager admit that it played any kind of a role in the decision to dismiss the coach, as Brian Burke did on Friday evening.

During Saturday's press conference to introduce Toronto's new head coach, Randy Carlyle, Burke admitted that his decision to make the move came, in part, after the fans chants last week.

“After the last home game it occurred to me it would be cruel and unusual to let Ron coach another game in the Air Canada Centre,” said Burke. "I don't fault the fans. If you buy a ticket and you want to boo, you can boo. Fans show their emotions in many ways. But the deadliest thing is when a fan votes [with] their feet and they don't come."

It's not hard to think back to the old Marv Levy quote about how, "the minute you start listening to fans, you'll be sitting next to them." Perhaps Carlyle better hope the fans don't quickly turn on him if things don't get turned around instantly.

The Leafs enter Saturday's game in Montreal in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 65 points, five points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final playoff spot. They've also lost 10 of their past 11 games.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 3, 2012 10:25 am
 

Pregame Skate: Randy Carlyle's Toronto debut

Carlyle

By: Adam Gretz

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

CanadiensMaple Leafs7 ET, Toronto at Montreal: Well, it is still technically a game in the playoff race, at least for Toronto, even though their chances appear to be hanging on be the tiniest of threads. And if the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, long-time bitter rivals, have anything in common this season it's that they both seem to be a complete, dysfunctional mess at the present time. Their meeting on Saturday night in Montreal will be the debut for new Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle after he was announced as the new bench boss on Friday evening, replacing Ron Wilson.

Is it a needed move to give the Maple Leafs a boost to get back into serious playoff contention? Or is it simply too little, too late for this season, and rearranging deck chairs on what looks to be a sinking ship?

Toronto has lost 10 of 11 entering Saturday's game, and suddenly finds itself behind Tampa Bay and Buffalo in the standings. The Maple Leafs haven't made the playoffs since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06, and the only other team that can make that claim is the Florida Panthers, and their drought looks like it has a pretty good chance to come to an end this year.

CanucksSabres10 ET, Buffalo at Vancouver: Thanks to wins in five of their past six games, and a 10-3-3 mark in their past 16 games, the Buffalo Sabres are another team that's found a way to work their way back into the playoff picture, and a lot of that, at least recently, is due to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller.

The veteran netminder has had his share of struggles this season, but over the past couple of weeks he has been playing like he did back in 2010 when he was the best goalie in the league -- and the Olympics -- and at no time has he looked better than he has over his past two games, recording back-to-back shutouts in wins over Anaheim and San jose.

Over their past wins, which have been by a combined score of just 3-0, the Sabres have allowed Miller to be peppered by 82 shots (that's 41 per game), many of them quality chances, and he's turned aside every single one of them.

Over his past six starts he's allowed just seven goals.

The only thing at stake for the Canucks on Saturday night is ... well, pretty much nothing. Even if they lose they're still going to be the top team in the Western Conference.

DucksKings10:30 ET, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Just 24 hours after picking up a huge two points thanks to a 3-2 win against Calgary, due to a last-minute goal from Ryan Getzlaf, the Anaheim Ducks have to jump right back into it on Saturday night in Los Angeles against one of the many teams they're still chasing in the standings.

The Ducks enter the game four points behind Los Angeles, and still seven points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, and as has been the case for the past couple of months, and will be for the remainder of the regular season, this is a game the Ducks pretty much have to win if there is going to be any chance to complete this late-season comeback.

At least Friday's game finally moved them ahead of one team -- the Minnesota Wild -- putting them at 12th place in the West.

The Kings, meanwhile, are fresh off a 4-0 win in Minnesota and need the two points just as much as Anaheim does. After Saturday the Kings hit the road for five of their next six games, and it looks to be a brutal stretch of games that includes matchups with Nashville, Chicago, Detroit (twice) and another game with Anaheim.

Others worth watching
7 ET, Tampa Bay at Carolina: After knocking off the New York Rangers on Friday the Lightning have an opportunity to continue their own late season playoff push in Carolina, and just to show how completely bonkers the playoff race currently is, the Lightning still have an outside chance of winning the Southeast.

8 ET, Columbus at Phoenix: Another tight divisional race is out west in the Pacific, as the white-hot Coyotes enter Saturday's game against Columbus two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks. The Blue Jackets recently played the role of spoiler by blanking the Avalanche in Denver, and the Coyotes are coming off what was their first regulation loss since the end of January.

10:30 ET, St. Louis at San Jose: And the team chasing Phoenix, San Jose, has an important -- and tough -- home game against the toughest team in the league to score against, the St. Louis Blues. Good news for the Sharks: for as good as the Blues record is, they've been pretty mediocre away from home.

Your promised miscellany
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 1, 2012 10:40 pm
 

Devin Setoguchi and his failed shootout attempt

By: Adam Gretz

Erik Christensen is one of the best shootout participants in the NHL, and the Minnesota Wild probably could have used him on Thursday night in Montreal.

Christensen was a scratch for Minnesota's 5-4 loss -- a game that turned out to be a total gong show -- as the Wild ended up dropping the game in a shootout after overcoming a 4-1 deficit with less than four minutes to play in regulation.

Minnesota didn't score in the shootout, and after David Desharnais gave Montreal a 1-0 lead in the tiebreaking competition, all eyes focussed on Devin Setoguchi, the final shooter for the Wild. He needed to score to keep the game going, and ... well. Let's just say he didn't score.



Is this the worst shootout attempt ever? That's the question some will be asking, and while it's certainly in the discussion, we still have to keep in mind Dennis Wideman, then a member of the St. Louis Blues, and what is perhaps the most comical failed shootout attempt in the history of the event (Watch here).

Also at Eye On Hockey

Video: Emelin hip checks teammate Cole

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:29 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 9:40 pm
 

Video: Alexei Emelin hip checks teammate Cole

By: Adam Gretz

Thursday's game between the Minnesota Wild and Montreal Canadiens featured some pretty bizarre moments, but the highlight of the night just might have been Alexei Emelin executing a perfect, textbook hip check on Erik Cole.

Cole, of course, is Emelin's teammate, and he was sent flying after the Montreal defenseman whiffed on his intended target -- Minnesota's Nick Johnson -- resulting in Cole doing a complete front-flip.



And they say the hip check is a lost art.

Cole eventually returned to the game and seemed to OK, which is good news for him and the Canadiens.

One of the other noteworthy moments in the game took place late in the first period when Montreal forward Ryan White went a little crazy and started throwing punches at Stephane Veilleux as he was being held by Chris Campoli. White recorded 22 penalty minutes in the first period, including 17 for his series of punches (which you can watch by clicking right here).

 For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 8:44 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 8:58 pm
 

Kris Letang injured after Eric Nystrom hit

By: Adam Gretz

Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang missed 20 games earlier this season with a concussion after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty (and then made a controversial return to that game, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime).

That's why it had to be scary for the Penguins to see him go down early in the first period of Wednesday's game in Dallas after a hit by Eric Nystrom.



Letang left the game and his night appears to be over. On the list of players the Penguins can't afford to lose, Letang's name is near the top as he is without a doubt their best defenseman and plays the most minutes in every situation.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to come as a result of the hit was NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who seems to usually favor on-ice anarchy, condemned the hit and argued during the first intermission that it should be worth at least a five-game suspension.

The league will certainly review it, as it does every play, and it's impossible to guess what, if anything, will come out of it. The argument for a suspension is that there's contact to the head and Nystrom took advantage of a vulnerable player. The argument against is that Letang put himself in that vulnerable position and the puck-carrier has just as much responsibility as the player delivering the hit. It should be interesting to see how the NHL interprets it.

Nystrom was issued a two-minute minor for roughing.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 28, 2012 9:49 pm
 

Ryan Malone goes a little crazy, gets ejected

By: Adam Gretz

During the second period of Tuesday's Montreal-Tampa Bay game, Lightning forward Ryan Malone had a bit of a meltdown and took out some serious anger on Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin.



This resulted in Malone being ejected for being the "aggressor" in the fight (if you want to call it a fight), and tallied 17 penalty minutes.

According to the NHL Rule book, being the aggressor is defined as follows:
The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant.

A player must be deemed the aggressor when he has clearly won the fight but he continues throwing and landing punches in a further attempt to inflict punishment and/or injury on his opponent who is no longer in a position to defend himself.

A player who is deemed to be the aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct.

A player who is deemed to be the aggressor of an altercation will have this recorded as an aggressor of an altercation for statistical and suspension purposes.
Just before this incident took place, Emelin was issued a two-minute minor for intereference for a hit on Malone.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com