The Canucks keep picking up points in places they need to. Meanwhile, there are still roster questions to consider.
God forbid we should have to see the Canucks face the Coyotes in the playoffs.
Coming into today’s play, the Canucks held a 64 per cent chance of making the big dance.
(Needless to say, this win will up their chances.)
Who they could face in the playoffs remains very much up in the air. Credit the dog’s breakfast that is the Western Conference wild card race as well as the Pacific Division.
Their most likely opponent, at a measly 12 per cent, is, yes, these same Coyotes.
Rick Tocchet’s team plays a trap. They trap better than just about anyone in the league. And they’ve had very good goaltending behind that defensive shell.
The Canucks did enough Thursday to take a grinding win away from Arizona.
And sure, there’s ever reason to think they could do that four times come April. And sure, this town is desperate to see playoff hockey again.
In other words, we’ll take it if we have to, but it would be so much nicer to see an opponent that is looking to go run and gun against the Canucks, even if that would make for two coaches pulling their hair out.
Random Jake facts
Jake Virtanen is tied with Elias Pettersson with five game-winning goals, best on the Canucks, also 9th in the league.
That said, his goal on Thursday night was the first time anyone has scored a goal while he’s on the ice with Pettersson and Miller. They’ve been a line several times this season. That’s not a good rate of production for a line that’s otherwise been one of the league’s best.
All this said, Virtanen has been producing. He’s well aware of how slow things went for him in the second half last season.
His answer on how to avoid hitting the skids again was blunt.
“I want to make sure that I’m working my working my ass off, to keep working hard and and doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Mathieu Perreault was not pleased that Virtanen went unpunished for the elbow the Canucks winger threw at his head on Tuesday night.
Asked about the situation earlier on Thursday by Winnipeg reporters, he pulled no punches.
“Player safety, my ass. This was literally an elbow to the face to a guy that didn’t have the puck,” he said. “I see him coming, I brace for a hit. It’s a late hit, I didn’t have the puck and he flicks his elbow in my face.”
“If they’re not going to do anything about it, I’m going to take matters into my own hands, next time this happens: I get to swing my stick across his forehead and I shouldn’t get suspended.”
“I can’t really protect myself there if the league’s not going to protect me. I’m the smallest guy on the ice so I can’t really fight anybody, the only thing I can do to defend myself is use my stick, so the next guy that comes at me like that is going to get my f***ing stick. And I’d better not get suspended for it.”
Virtanen wasn’t around for the morning skate so it wasn’t until after the game the media was able to quiz him about the incident.
The winger said he’d heard Perreault’s comments but said he didn’t think there was an issue with the hit. What he heard was frustration.
“He’s a good player and I’ve nothing bad to say about him. I wasn’t trying to just go out and murder a guy and I could have could have been a lot worse if I really hit him. He’s a good player and I honestly didn’t even mean to do that and you know, it is what it is. He can be frustrated, I mean, I think anyone would kind of be frustrated at that point. He’s a good player and that’s about it.”
“…Stuff’s going to happen and it’s not going to be flowers and roses all the time, where everything is clean. It’s hockey and things move fast out there and sometimes it’s, you know, whatever and I didn’t even mean to do it, so it is one of those.”
Between Player Safety passing on disciplining Matthew Tkachuk for predatory hits on Zack Kassian — if it were Raffi Torres, would it still be a pass? — and now Virtanen going unpunished for his head blow, who knows what the league is looking to punish these days.
A contract to consider
Troy Stecher, you may have heard, needs a new contract. He’s proven to be a dependable defender, a guy who can play on a shut down pair, who can dish the puck pretty well, who is also perfectly fine on your third pairing.
He generally makes every partner he’s with better. But in a world where the Canucks can only keep one of him or Chris Tanev, one where Brogan Rafferty and his one-way 2020-21 contract are waiting in the wings, it’s a hard read to determine what his future role on the club might be.
Asked last week about whether he’s had contract talks with either Stecher or Jake Virtanen’s camp, GM Jim Benning said they hadn’t.
“For the most part, you know, we’ll wait and see how they perform over the course of the year and try to get those guys signed in the summer,” he replied, essentially drawing in the bulk of the pending free agents on his docket into his answer. (That would also include Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Josh Leivo, Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwen and Oscar Fantenberg.)
He also added that he had his pro scouting meetings coming up — the Canucks’ quartet of pro scouts are actually in town as we speak — to build the final picture of Benning’s strategy for the months ahead.
Stecher is a sharp guy. He knows the ins and outs of NHL roster construction. So it wasn’t really a surprise that he didn’t shy away Thursday when I asked him if he’s been thinking about his contract at all. It would have been an easy out to say he hadn’t been. But that’s never the way with Stecher. He considers his thoughts. He puts forward, often, a lesson he’s learned.
And that’s what he did.
“I did early on,” he began. “I’d definitely be lying to you if I said I wasn’t but in the early months I did and it kind of dwelled on me and I think it affected my play.”
But then it hit him to not think about it. He even went so far as to not talk to his agent Eutace King. It’s been a couple months since they’ve spoken, in fact. Whether that was because it was obvious to him that contract talks weren’t going to be forthcoming anytime soon, given the game of Tetris building next year’s squad is so obviously going to be, it is clear that focusing on what he can do has helped him in his play, at least in his own mind.
“I don’t think my minutes have gone up that much but I feel like my play on ice as an individual has increased and I’m giving our team good quality minutes.”
He then had some interesting things to say about plus/minus, a stat he knows is flawed but also one that does have a great deal of importance in contract negotiations. Stecher is currently +5, tied for second on the team.
“People have their opinions on their plus minus but it’s something I try to pride myself on, especially playing in the third pairing, with the minutes I’m getting. I don’t want to be a minus player because it’s just an excuse for them to take me out. I want to make sure I’m doing something where I’m helping the team, that shows that I’m not affecting us in a negative way.”
Plus/minus’ greatest flaw as a stat is that it credits or assigns blame to the whole lineup when a goal against could be about one player’s gaffe or simple bad luck in timing. Luck has a lot to do with the stat.
There’s an existential truth to his focus. He doesn’t want to be on the ice for goals against. He wants to be making decisions on the ice, whether that’s in his own zone, looking to stop the opposition, or in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers, or in the offensive zone, looking to make a smart pinch and help create a scoring opportunity for his mates.
When you’re playing on the third pairing, you don’t get a lot of chances but you want to make them all count was his message.
“After my first year, I think every single year I’ve started on that third pairing. My first year I got cut and then my second year I started with Hutty on the third pair. It’s just been that way every year and with injuries I’ve been given some different opportunities. This year, thankfully, we’ve been really healthy and with that we’ve had a better record as a group. I think I learned that at an early age that it’s a privilege to play in this league and you can be out of it pretty quick so no matter how much I’m playing I always want to make sure that I’m not giving anybody a reason to even contemplate taking me out of the lineup.”
The cap question
Which brings us to the next though: what about Stecher vs. Tanev? The cap is going to be a tight situation next year. If Jacob Markstrom is re-signed — Benning has made it clear that’s his preference — he’ll be earning a raise of some kind. He won’t be the only one after a raise, either.
Jake Virtanen is also building himself quite the arbitration case, given how excellent his even-strength production has been.
But I digress: this is a strange goalie market this summer. There are going to be some intriguing alternatives available for less than what Markstrom is surely after. And there will be the Bobrovsky mess hanging over everyone. The late-blooming Markstrom certainly doesn’t have the popular reputation that Bobrovsky carried into the summer of 2019.
He can still point to contracts like Martin Jones’ ($5.75m x 5 years) or Robin Lehner’s ($5m this year) or Mikko Koskinen’s ($4.5m x 3 years) and say “that’s my value.” He’s clearly got a case to be paid more than that trio.
Equally, the Canucks can look at some of the other good young goalies who will be looking for a new team — Alexandar Georgiev, say — and note that the market may not be the best situation for a goalie, aged 30, looking to chase a big ticket contract.
Even so, if he’s retained, that will be less money to spend on Tanev and Stecher.
Plus Brogan Rafferty has a one-way contract next season, meaning that if he’s re-assigned to Utica, he’ll be making his full salary, not a reduced amonunt like it is this year. There’s no reason to think he’d be able to replace Stecher or Tanev on the defensive end, but his scoring talents are obvious, even if he is a 24-year-old cleaning up on players who are four years younger.
It all adds up to the reality that the Canucks should recoup some sort of value from one of the defencemen. Call it the Trade ____ Club.
There’s going to plenty of pressure on Jim Benning to both satisfy the short term desires of making the playoffs while also recognizing the long-view challenges, like their cap constraints next season, and weighing that against the chance of at least recouping a pick or a prospect for one of his to-depart quality defencemen.
Me, aloud, to no one in particular: Who is Ilya Lyubushkin?
Drancer, replying to me: the ultimate no-name NHL. I only know about him because I didn’t before and looked him up.
Loui Eriksson joined the Bo Horvat line just before Christmas, a forced move because Josh Leivo shattered his knee cap. As we know, Horvat and Tanner Pearson have been producing since, and they’re getting lots of chances offensively too.
Eriksson, it can’t be denied, has had a positive effect.
But it is rather hilarious how much of the production has been because of their late-game presence defending against opposition who have pulled their goalie.
It all adds up to some fantastic online humour.
Did you spot him?
The Canucks hosted a Canucks media alumni night and also recognized Jim Robson’s birthday (it’s tomorrow).
When they put the great broadcaster up on the screen, we all couldn’t help but notice a blur at the bottom of the screen.
That was, we realized, Elliott Pap.
I was later sent a very nice photo of the group from former Province Sports colleague Jim Jamieson.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Washington Capitals – 2/27/20 NHL Pick, Odds, and Prediction – Sports Chat Place
Washington Capitals (39-18-6) at Winnipeg Jets (32-27-6)
NHL Hockey: Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 8:00 pm (Bell MTS Place)
The Line: Winnipeg Jets +130 / Washington Capitals -145 — Over/Under: 6.5
TV: TSN3, NBCS-Washington
The Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets meet in the second half of a home-and-home set in NHL action from Bell MTS Place on Thursday night.
The Washington Capitals come into this one looking to build on back-to-back wins while Winnipeg will be looking to snap a three-game losing skid after Washington took the first leg of this matchup by a final score of 4-3 in a shootout in Washington last time out.
Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring for the Caps just under two minutes into the game before Jakub Vrana doubled Washington’s lead just after the midway point of the opening period. Garnet Hathaway pushed Washington’s lead to 3-0 with just under seven minutes to go in the 2nd, but Nikolaj Ehlers would get Winnipeg on the board with just under two minutes to go in the 2nd period. Kyle Connor would cut the deficit to 3-2 just before the nine-minute mark of the 3rd and Mark Scheifele tied the game at three with just over three minutes to go, eventually forcing overtime. The extra period solved nothing, so it was off to the shootout where each side had one goal through the first three shooters and both sides had a goal in round 4 sudden death. In round 5, Ehlers missed for Winnipeg while Alex Ovechkin buried for Washington, giving the Caps the win and the extra point that goes along with it.
Braden Holtby ended up with the win for Washington, improving his record to 23-13-5 on the year after stopping 30 of 33 shots faced in the winning effort while Laurent Brossoit took the loss for the Jets, falling to 6-7-1 on the year after giving up his 3 goals on 37 shots.
Washington is 19-9 in their last 28 road games and 39-19 in their last 58 games against a team with a losing record while the under is 4-1 in their last 5 games against the Western Conference. Winnipeg is 1-8 in their last 9 games as a home underdog and 2-9 in their last 11 games against the under is 5-2-1 in their last 8 games overall. Washington is 13-4 in the last 17 meetings between these two teams.
The plus money with a home dog is usually worth a look, but Winnipeg is slumping right now, losing 3 straight coming into this one, and that’s not what you want playing against a Washington team that’s still the best in the league on the road and leads the NHL in money won on the road this season. I just think that Washington is in the driver’s seat to pick up another win and to sweep the home-and-home, so I’ll lay the juice with the Capitals on the road here.
Terence Davis was drawn to Raptors’ ‘winning’ culture as an undrafted rookie – Sportsnet.ca
No matter the stature of a player trying to make the leap from college basketball to the NBA, the transition can be challenging.
Expectations, both internal and external, skyrocket. Margins for error shrink. Obligations and temptations alike multiply.
It’s the transition from high school to university, except there are millions of people watching and life-changing sums of money hanging in the balance.
Belief in who one is and what one can accomplish are essential. Terence Davis, who rejected the idea of signing a two-way deal after being passed over at the NBA draft — opting instead to become a 22-year-old unrestricted free agent — had enough of both to spare.
“On draft night, I tweeted that I couldn’t take a two-way deal — that I was better than that,” Davis said during a phone interview on Tim and Sid Thursday. “Probably some people took it as arrogant, but it wasn’t. It was just, you know, something I really believed in.”
With that level of self-belief comes decisions, though. When draft night ended, Davis had to begin the process of finding an NBA home. As he did, the Toronto Raptors‘ history of turning players in his position into NBA-calibre talent wasn’t lost on him.
“I actually came by the tweet where Fred [VanVleet talked about having] to do the same thing,” Davis said. “I did the same thing he did, stand in front of my family and tell them that I wasn’t getting drafted. …I definitely knew that guys would come through Toronto and have pretty big careers.”
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VanVleet and Davis went on to have a dinner in Los Angeles, which would act as a building block in their friendship before he came to Toronto. But more than just that connection, it was the type of organizational structure the Raptors have created over the last decade.
“The organization is one of a kind,” he said. “I’m so fortunate and blessed to have my first years in the NBA at this organization. …You got Masai [Ujiri, team president] and Nick Nurse [team head coach] and they’re all about winning. There’s a winning culture here, and the skill development is off the charts.”
Reaching a decision to join the Raptors was one step, but far from the last one. Davis signed a two-year deal with Toronto after an impressive showing at NBA Summer League. Then he turned heads with a series of strong pre-season performances and earned immediate regular season playing time in Nurse’s rotation.
By any measure, as the schedule reaches the home stretch before the playoffs, he’s exceeded expectations during his rookie season.
In 58 games so far, he’s averaging 8.2 points on 47.4 per cent shooting from the floor — including 41.5 per cent from long range on a little under four attempts per game — and has consistently risen to the occasion when core rotation players have missed time with injury.
No one — much less someone just taking their first NBA steps — makes it by going it alone, though. And as Davis has worked through the growing pains of adjusting to NBA life, there’s one player in particular who’s been a guiding hand.
“Serge, Serge Ibaka,” Davis said. “I really leaned on him because he’s been in the league a very long time …man, he just helped me out through so many things in the season, [whether it was] eating right, or taking care of your body, putting the extra work in, the extra time in — even at home games, me and him, we go in and we get a lift in after home games.
“…not many rookies have a guy like that, a vet like that [who] they can lean on and is mentoring them. I really thank Serge for that and I hope the relationship can continue for years to come.”
Bobby Ryan receives standing ovation after hat trick leads Senators to win – CBC.ca
Bobby Ryan had a hat trick in his first home game in more than three months to lead the Ottawa Senators to a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Ryan entered the joint NHL/NHLPA assistance program on Nov. 20 after admitting to having a problem with alcohol.
He had last played on Nov. 16 in Buffalo but had been skating on his own since late December.
Fans were quick to cheer Ryan on Thursday, giving him a standing ovation and chanting his name.
Bobby Ryan fighting back tears on the bench after recording a hat trick in his return to Ottawa and receiving a massive ovation from the fans <a href=”https://t.co/lpVpDSh7J1″>pic.twitter.com/lpVpDSh7J1</a>
Connor Brown and Rudolfs Balcers also scored as Ottawa (22-31-12) snapped a four-game winless streak. Marcus Hogberg was solid making 32 saves.
J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli scored for the Canucks (34-23-6), while Thatcher Demko stopped 21 shots.
Vancouver missed out on an opportunity to gain ground in the Pacific Division as they played game two of a four-game road trip (1-1-0).
Leading 2-1 to open the third, the Senators regained their two-goal lead just 14 seconds in as Ottawa won the opening faceoff to take control offensively.
Balcers scored when he picked up a Chris Tierney rebound. Brown hit the 40-point mark (14 goals and 26 assists) for the first time in his career with an assist on the play.
The Canucks made it a one-goal game again as Toffoli tipped Miller’s point shot midway through the period, but Ryan scored his second of the night with just over two minutes remaining and then added an empty-net goal to complete the hat trick.
There are no words for moments like these.<br><br>It’s great to have you back, Bobby! <a href=”https://t.co/JYdcMIpCuj”>pic.twitter.com/JYdcMIpCuj</a>
Hogberg was solid through the second period, but the Canucks finally found a way to beat him with 15 seconds remaining in the period to make it 2-1.
The Senators netminder had robbed Vancouver numerous times through the period, including a point blank save on Jay Beagle, but was unable to stop Miller’s point shot.
For the second straight game the Canucks gave up the first two goals as the Senators scored twice in a span of 31 seconds.
Brown opened the scoring as he took the puck at centre and came down and beat Demko with a wrist shot. Seconds later Ryan made it 2-0 with his first since the opening game of the season.
Notes: Ottawa’s Colin White and Anthony Duclair missed their second straight game due to injury. Vancouver’s Jordie Benn and Zack MacEwen were a healthy scratch.
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