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Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers

PHILADELPHIA – They had this coming to them.

The Toronto Maple Leafs started playing with fire during a sparkling 12-3-1 run over the last month while mostly managing not to get burned. That changed Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, when the Philadelphia Flyers got a good bounce to tie the game with 14 minutes to play and created a pretty winner inside the final three.

It was the first time all season Toronto had blown a third-period lead. However, it was the 13th time in the last 17 games where they were outshot.

“We’re a good team and even when we’re not playing our best we’ve been able to find ways to win,” Connor Brown said after the 4-2 loss. “We’ve got to nip this in the bud before it becomes a problem.”

The second part of that statement speaks to a growing feeling inside the dressing room that they’ve become too passive. The Leafs played some 1980s-style hockey in the early weeks of the season and have since worked to cut down on the number of high-quality chances against.

That’s lead to more dump-and-chase attacks and less creativity off the rush. It’s also seen them spend more time in the defensive zone, but keep a lot of shots to the outside – sliding down to a middle-of-the-pack possession team in the process.

“The games we’ve been playing have been more of a patient style of game and we’ve got to find a way to create offence in those games and create some more havoc at their net and have some things happen,” said winger James van Riemsdyk. “I think it’s been kind of low-event sort of games and I think we can do some other stuff to be able to be a little bit more dynamic offensively.”

They have been playing much less entertaining hockey, plain and simple, but it’s proven effective at adding points in the standings.

It has come during a stretch where Toronto has often played with Auston Matthews limited or out injured – he missed his sixth game of the season on Tuesday night – and there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t be impacted while having its top centre in the press box.

Still, the Leafs have a deep enough group of forwards to generate more than the 22 shots Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott had to face.

He was beaten on a first-period rush by Patrick Marleau – the 38-year-old picked up his 1,000th career point and is on pace for an impressive 28-goal season – and a tip from van Riemsdyk during a second-period power play, the only one Toronto earned in the game.

That had the Leafs ahead 2-1 entering the final 20 minutes and third-period leads have been money in the bank all year thanks to strong goaltending from Frederik Andersen. Toronto was 12-0-0 in those situations before meeting the Orange Crush.

“He’s been outstanding,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said of Andersen. “I think as a team we have to get a bit more comfortable playing with leads because we want to be in that position every night. I think we just have to become more comfortable with it, better at it, more confident.

“Sometimes when you’re up late in the game or tied late in the game you can just become a bit nervous and more hesitant than you are normally and that normally results in chances against.”

Some bad luck opened the door for the Flyers.

After Andersen tried and failed to clear the puck, Travis Konecny tied the game 2-2 with a long shot that ricocheted off two Leafs – Dominic Moore’s stick and Roman Polak’s back – before finding its way in.

Still, Toronto wound up being just three minutes away from guaranteeing itself at least a point and facing an offensive zone faceoff. That was won by Flyers centre Sean Couturier, who broke free of Brown coming through the neutral zone and got a gorgeous between-the-legs pass from Claude Giroux before scoring the winner at 17:05.

“I thought we were set up pretty good, to be honest with you,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “I thought they worked hard and I thought they moved the puck, but I thought we were in a real good situation. In the end, we didn’t execute on things we normally execute on to win.”

There was a hint of regret in the voice of some players while reflecting on a game where they were outshot 39-22 and out-attempted 57-43 at even strength.

“We didn’t get on our toes and go after them,” said Marleau.

Despite being among the NHL’s top-scoring teams, they need to push the play a little more offensively. Too many of the offensive rushes have become one-and-done opportunities.

The Leafs believe they need to establish more of a cycle game to ensure they don’t sit back too much and let opponents grab points from them.

“Puck retrievals is probably the biggest thing,” said Brown. “One-on-one battles – it’s often that first one-on-one battle. If you can win that one you can get rolling around for a bit and spend some time in their zone and make them play defence, more importantly, and get a few chances while you’re at it.

“That’s something I’m sure we’ll focus on. We have been focusing on it, but we’ve got to take it to the next step.”

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It’s been an under the radar story for the New York Islanders. The reason being the Isles have to wait for this prized investment. Make no mistake though, the Isles top 2018 draft picks are golden tickets.

In the New York Islanders front office, you might hear the staff singing “I have a golden ticket” from the classic Gene Wilder movie, Willy Wonka. The Islander fans should be singing as well with the franchise having these upcoming picks.
The Draft Picks

The Islanders have two, first-round, as well as, two, second-round selections in the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft. This June’s draft has been described with a lot of superlatives and has been compared to the talent-rich draft class of 2015.

The Isles have their own draft picks in rounds one and two, as well as Calgary’s thanks to the Travis Hamonic trade. These four future players have a chance to give this talented organization incredible impact over the next decade.

Could the Isles land another player on the level of Mathew Barzal?
Root Against Calgary

Clearly, the Isles don’t want to see their own draft pick selection turn into a top pick in the upcoming June draft for obvious reasons. Calgary however, is another matter.

The Flames are a good team, but like the East, the Western Conference is very deep and the playoffs are no guarantee for Calgary.

Nothing against Calgary but the number one team the Islander fans should be rooting against on a nightly basis isn’t the New York Rangers but the Calgary Flames. Sorry Calgary, but business is business.

If Calgary misses the playoffs could the ping-pong balls bounce favorably for the Isles as they did for the Flyers last year?
Major Trade Asset

These four upcoming draft picks are major assets that the Islander organization possesses. They are extremely coveted by other NHL clubs.

In any future trade talks no doubt the opposing general managers will try and pry away one of these picks from Garth Snow. The thought of adding these future prospects to a really good prospect pipeline is very enticing.

Snow could use one of these picks as a trade chip anytime between now and the trade deadline.

Another possibility is Snow holds on to these picks and use them once the 2017-18 season is over. June is the unofficial trading month in today’s salary cap NHL.

Not likely a star player will be available via trade between now and the trade deadline. June however, could be an entirely different matter.

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Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty

Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty

Is Max Pacioretty in a slump or is he merely adjusting to the new reality of playing without Alex Radulov?

Pacioretty has scored only one goal in the last 11 games and he has eight goals for the season heading into Thursday’s home game against the Calgary Flames (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN-690, Radio).

When asked whether he was happy with his production, Pacioretty replied: “Not at all, but I like my game, it’s just that the chances aren’t there. It’s a different game than I’m used to and I have to adjust. I think it will make me a more multi-dimensional player.”

When asked what was different from last season, Pacioretty cited the absence of Radulov, who moved to Dallas after he became a free agent in July.

I’m trying to hold on to the puck longer a lot more where at times in the past, I would cycle and give it to 47 (Radulov) and then get lost and look for a scoring opportunity,” Pacioretty said. “I’m trying to hold it more and create opportunities for myself and the chances haven’t been there as much as I would like, but this is a completely different way to try to produce offence.”

Pacioretty has a reputation for being a perimeter player, but one of the ironies in his current slump is that most of the goals he has scored this season have come from close range.

“Almost all my goals have been a certain distance from the net,” Pacioretty said. “We have to find ways to create. By holding on to the puck longer, you want to tire out the defence and wait for them to make mistakes. I’ve always been able to score from distance, that’s my specialty, but I have to get in a position where I have chances.”

Pacioretty said he would like to emulate Radulov.

“Radu is one of the best puck possessors and he wore down the defence,” Pacioretty said. “He would tire them out and get a step and someone would have to come over to help out and then a player was open.”

While Pacioretty said he wasn’t happy with his numbers, he said he was pleased with the way the team was trending and he would help in whatever way he could.

Coach Claude Julien said he wasn’t overly concerned about the slump.

“He’s strong on the forecheck behind the net, he’s playing on the penalty kill,” Julien said. “I know you look at goal scorers and because they have x-amount of goals, that’s what we’re looking at. But Max is doing a lot of good things other than what we’re talking abut now. He’s also a guy when the pucks start going in for him, they come in bunches. I would expect that to happen as well.”

Speaking of which, it should be noted that, at this time last season, Pacioretty had eight goals. He started the push for his 35-goal season on Dec. 10 when he scored four goals against the Colorado Avalanche.

In other news, Jonathan Drouin is ready to rejoin the team as soon as he shakes off a flu bug that has kept him off the ice the past two days. He could face Calgary, but the more likely scenario is Saturday against Edmonton.

And Victor Mete was not among the 32 players invited to the national junior team training camp on Wednesday. There were no NHL players invited to the camp but he may still added to the squad.

Julien said no decision has been made on making Mete available for the world junior championships, but he said the Canadiens would do what was best for Mete and the team.

Canadiens’ prospect Will Bitten was not among the invited players. He was at the summer camp, but has struggled this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

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Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers

For part of the four minutes that clouded the Florida Panthers’ 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night, Roberto Luongo laid motionless in the crease. His left leg was bent. His right one was straight. His face was pinned to the ice.

On the ice in front of the Panthers bench, James Reimer warmed, stretching out, loosening up as he prepared to replace an injured Luongo for the second time in the season’s first two months. A pair of Florida trainers checked on Luongo on the opposite end of the ice, and Colton Sceviour and Alex Petrovic watched over their teammate.

Luongo would eventually turn over, then limp off the ice, unable to put any weight on his right leg as he left the game with 17:29 remaining in the second period. He disappeared into the Panthers tunnel at 8:40 p.m. It’s unknown when he’ll reemerge again.

After the game, Panthers coach Bob Boughner didn’t have a timeline on Luongo, saying that he’ll be reevaluated Tuesday and get an MRI. Boughner said Luongo was “hobbling a bit” after the game but didn’t know if it would be a long-term injury.

“I don’t really know, to be honest with you, and make a comment on that,” Boughner said. “I don’t know. I would probably say he’s out for Thursday if I had to guess.”

Luongo’s pain stemmed from a save he made on Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. Pulock blasted a slap shot from the blue line in front of the New York bench, forcing Luongo to kick out his right leg for a pad save. The puck caromed to the boards and Luongo crumpled to the ice.

The injury worsened a night in which Florida lost its third consecutive game, and fell farther behind in its attempt to salvage a slow start. The consecutive wins from last week’s road trip drifted deeper into the rear-view mirror as the Panthers missed an opportunity to climb in the weak Atlantic Division.

Mathew Barzal scored the game-winning goal in the shootout for New York. Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each missed in the shootout for the Panthers.

“Me, Barky and Huby, we have to be able to put the puck in the net,” Trocheck said.

Keith Yandle and Denis Malgin scored for the Panthers, and Aaron Ekblad and Barkov notched power-play goals for Florida. Yandle and Trocheck each registered multi-point nights.

After replacing Luongo, Reimer struggled. He allowed three goals on the first eight shots he faced, including John Tavares’ go-ahead at 18:21 of the second period. Tavares tucked a shot through Reimer’s legs minutes after Brock Nelson beat him on the rush to tie the game at 3.

Reimer finished the game with 16 saves on 19 Islanders shots.

“Obviously, I wish I would’ve played better in the second,” Reimer said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Boughner added: “It was a combination of him coming in cold and obviously, after Louie went down, that took a little bit of wind out of our sails. It took us four, five shifts to find it again. It’s a pretty traumatic thing and it turned the game around a little bit.”

Trocheck was a linchpin in Florida’s second-period push that flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. While already on the power play, Trocheck drew a roughing penalty by New York’s Cal Clutterbuck. The penalty gave Florida a 5-on-3 advantage, which ended two seconds before Ekblad tied at the game at 2.

Fifty-nine seconds after Ekblad’s goal, Clutterbuck again found himself in hot water. After a scrum formed in the far corner of the ice, Clutterbuck banged his stick on the Islanders bench in protest of the officials. He was called for a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.

On the ensuing power play, Barkov buried a shot past Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Trocheck had assists on both power-play goals.

But Florida’s larger concern is not Monday’s game but rather Luongo’s health.

Luongo’s injury is the latest this calendar year for him. In October, he suffered a right hand injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins when his hand was wedged into the goalpost. In March, he missed the last five weeks of the season with a hip injury.

In the offseason, Luongo adopted a new gameday routine that was supposed to prevent his hip injury from returning. He’s taken a new approach to recovering the day after games, including the occasional maintenance day at practice. The measures couldn’t keep Luongo from a pair of early-season maladies.

After returning from a two-week absence earlier this season, Luongo regained the form that made him one of the game’s elite goaltenders. In the 10 games leading into Monday night, Luongo had a .936 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average. He carried the team on most nights, and Boughner often labeled him the team’s best player in some stretches.

“He is a professional in every sense of the word,” Trocheck said. “He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He’s a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. And he’s a great goaltender on the ice. He’s done everything for this team since he’s been in the organization. There’s not much negative you could say about Lu. He’s a great hockey player, a great guy, a great leader.”

Losing Luongo would force Reimer back into the spotlight as the team’s No. 1 starter. In the six games Luongo missed earlier this season, Reimer struggled mightily. He had a .894 save percentage and 3.95 goals against average. He was pulled in back-to-back games as Tampa Bay and Columbus each embarrassed the Panthers.

Reimer appeared to be improving in his last couple games, with a strong effort against the Rangers in New York and a 44-save game Saturday in Carolina.

“It looks like he found his game again,” Boughner said prior to Monday’s game. “He’s making some big saves. Louie’s been solid for a few weeks here. If we get that kind of goaltending, giving us a chance to win every night, again, it’s about us competing and not having 10 or 15-minute lulls.”

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Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars

Monday only, the Dallas Stars are lowering the prices of some single-game tickets to $9 and others to $15.

The team is also offering 20 percent off premium and premium-plus games.

To take advantage of the offer, go to the Stars page here and click on “View Seats.”

From there, it’s not real easy to see at a glance which games have $9 seats — so you’ll have to hit “View Seats” for each matchup.  The lowest price available will then show up on the screen.

For example, the lowest price ticket for the upcoming game against the Blackhawks on Dec. 2 was $25.  But on Dec. 5, when the Stars play the Predators, there were $9 seats available. For the Dec. 9 game against the Golden Knights, there were $15 seats available.

The sale is Monday only — so act fast.

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Jan Rutta might be the most optimistic Bears fan you’ll find.

Since coming from the Czech Republic, the first-year Blackhawks defenseman has adopted the Bears and even attended a game at Soldier Field.

“I’m not an expert, but I think they’ve got a young team and they’re playing pretty good,” Rutta said. “They’re getting better as the season is going, so they lost a couple close ones, so maybe when they’ll be a few years more experienced, they can win those games and be a really good team.”

Rutta, 27, hasn’t yet adopted the jaded pessimism that comes with being a Bears fan in Chicago. However, his transition on the ice has been seamless.

The Hawks weren’t sure what they had when they signed Rutta to a one-year deal, but he is turning into an integral part of their blue line, a group that is still a work in progress more than a quarter of the way through the season.

“He has come in here and given us some important minutes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We like his quickness into the puck area. We like how he moves. We like how he handles (the puck) and makes plays.”

Rutta, who has three goals and seven assists, said it hasn’t been a huge transition to the smaller rink of the NHL from the Czech League. The only difference he mentioned is that he is put into tight situations with a lot of bodies converging more often during an NHL game than a Czech League game.

“I actually like the smaller rink,” Rutta said. “With my size, I can benefit from it. In the tight areas, you’re put into situations like five times per game, and on the bigger rink you might never be in that situation or it happens one time in the game. But those situations come more frequently.”

That’s where Rutta can still make his biggest improvement as a defenseman, Quenneville said, especially when Rutta is in front of his own net.

“There’s room for growth in his game,” Quenneville said. “But I still think he has all the attributes you look for in today’s type of defenseman — complementary puck movement, supporting of the puck, killing plays with quickness. He’s got all the things that we’re looking for.”

Rutta also discovered he could play on his off side, the left side, if the Hawks need that.

Quenneville especially likes that Rutta is somebody who can help initiate the offense. When the Hawks were struggling in the first month of the season, Quenneville said the disconnect between defense and offense was one reason for the slump. Of late, with the Hawks 4-1-1 in their last six, that is improving.

“I mean, it is 20 games into the season, but it’s only 20 games into the season,” Rutta said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I think the whole defense, we are helping the forwards much more than we did in the first couple games.”

Rutta is feeling more at home in Chicago. He said he likes the steak and sushi options available downtown and he’s used to getting around the city via cab. But on ice is the adjustment that matters most to him, and so far that hasn’t been an issue.

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Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

There are tough decisions that have to be made in life.  However, there is probably no tougher decision than trying to pick just four Boston Bruins players in team history to make up the team’s metaphorical Mount Rushmore.

It’s times like these where writing about the Boston Bruins just isn’t fair.  The Bruins have been around since 1924, meaning there’s 93 years worth of players to comb through.  And I’m supposed to pick just FOUR of them?  Talk about a difficult task.

So, let’s think about this realistically.  Two spots are automatically filled, and I know that if you’re a Bruins fan, you know who those players are.  So that leaves two spots left.  How do we go about choosing those remaining two?

“Duh, look at their goals and assists, dummy!”  Well, career numbers are obviously important, and something that plays into the decision.  But, in a physical game like hockey, sometimes careers are ended short.  In fact, that happened to one of our automatic selections, too.  So that can’t be the be-all-end-all factor.

“Success is all that matters.  Who won more Stanley Cups?”  Yes, that does have some truth to it.  As Ari Gold said in the TV show Entourage, “there’s no asterisks in this world, only scoreboards.”  But hockey is a team sport.  Some of the best players in NHL history never won a Stanley Cup.  So while success is a key component, it can’t be the only part in the decision.

“Who’s name do you associate with the Bruins most?  Who’s had the biggest impact on the organization as a whole?  Who looked best wearing the Spoked-B?”  Geez Louise, all good points…except for maybe that last one.  So, bottom line, there are many factors to be weighed here.

All that being said, and I’ll probably take some grief over these picks, my Bruins Mount Rushmore features:  Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Milt Schmidt.
Ray Bourque

Before there was Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, there was Ray Bourque.  Bourque played 22 seasons in the NHL, and 20 and 3/4 of those were in a Boston Bruins jersey.  In his illustrious career, which spanned 1612 regular season NHL games, Bourque scored 410 goals and tallied 1169 assists for 1579 career points.  Bourque also had a ridiculous +528 plus/minus rating for his career, only having a minus rating 4 times in his NHL tenure.

Bourque was selected as an NHL All-Star 19 times.  He won the Calder Trophy in ’79-’80 as Rookie of the Year and five Norris Trophies (’86-’87, ’87-’88, ’89-’90, ’90-’91, ’93-’94).  He was in the top-5 for Hart Trophy voting five times.

When it came to goal scoring as a defenseman, there were very few who were more consistent than Bourque in the 80’s and 90’s.  In over two decades, Bourque never scored less than double-digit goals in a season, other than his final year, which we Bruins fans choose not to acknowledge because it took place in a Colorado Avalanche sweater.

Unfortunately, Bourque was never able to bring a Stanley Cup to Boston.  However, he did ultimately achieve every hockey player’s dream of lifting the Cup.  In his final season, ’00-’01, playing for the Avalanche at the ripe age of 40, Bourque put up 59 points, and helped the Avalanche win the team’s second Stanley Cup.  There are no players who deserved to win a Championship more than Ray Bourque, so in that regards, we as fans can celebrate that.
Phil Esposito

Phil Esposito is the reason Ray Bourque went from wearing #7 early in his career to number #77.  And why is that?  Because Esposito’s #7 deserved to be hanging in the rafters among the other Bruins legends.

Esposito didn’t start or end his career in a Bruins uniform.  However, the 10 seasons he spent in Boston were without a doubt the best of his 18 year stint in the NHL.  In those 10 seasons, Esposito won FIVE Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in scoring, including 4 in a row (’68-’69, 126 points; ’70-’71, 152 points; ’71-’72, 133 points; ’72-’73, 130 points; ’73-’74, 145 points).

Teamed up with players like Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, and Bobby Orr, Esposito and the Bruins were a dominant force in the early 70’s.  In 1282 career NHL games (625 of which were with the Bruins), Esposito scored 717 goals and 873 assists for 1590 career points, or 1.24 points per game.  Esposito and the boys were able to bring home two Stanley Cups to Boston in ’69-’70 and ’71-’72.  Both Stanley Cup years, Esposito led the league in playoff scoring.

Esposito’s time in Boston ended on November 7, 1975 when he was traded to the New York Rangers.  Esposito may have finished his career in a Rangers jersey, but he will undoubtedly always be known as a Bruins legend.
Bobby Orr

The best Boston Bruins player of all-time, and arguably one of the best NHL players of all time.  Bobby Orr revolutionized the game of hockey and the defenseman position.  There was no one like him in the game before he joined the league, and there’s been no one like him since.  He was a hockey anomaly, a unique specimen of greatness.

Number 4 Bobby Orr only played 9 full seasons in the NHL.  After those 9 seasons, he only played 36 more NHL games across 3 seasons.  One with the Bruins, and two with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Due to injuries to his knees, his tremendous career was cut incredibly short when he retired at age 30 in 1979.

Orr was the epitome of an offensive-defenseman.  His contributions in both ends of the ice were off-the-charts.  Orr lead the league in assists five times in his career as a defenseman.  After winning the Calder Trophy his rookie season in ’66-’67, Orr went on to win the next eight Norris Trophies for best defenseman in the NHL.  Oh, and for good measure, he chipped in two Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in points in ’69-’70 and ’74-’75, and three consecutive Hart Trophies as league MVP (’69-’70, ’70-’71, ’71-’72).

Orr, like Esposito, was a part of the ’69-’70 and ’71-’72 Bruins teams that won Stanley Cups.  Unsurprisingly, Orr was named Conn Smythe winner for Playoff MVP in both Stanley Cup runs.

There’s a reason why a bronze statute of Orr’s famous goal adorns the plaza outside the TD Garden in Boston, MA.  He is, was, and likely always will be, the best of the best in Boston Bruins history.
Milt SchmidtGreatness recognizes greatness.  Bobby Orr has said that the greatest Bruin of all time was Milt Schmidt.  And it’s hard to argue with Orr.  Putting career numbers aside due to circumstances beyond Milty’s control, the impact he had on the organization is what earns him his spot.

In 776 career games spanning 16 seasons, Schmidt amassed 229 goals and 346 assists, for 575 career points.  While those totals may seem low, you have to take into account that NHl seasons were much shorter when Milty played.  Also, three years of his career in his mid-20s were lost due to World War II.

Schmidt, a member of the Bruins “Kraut Line” with Woody Dumont and Bobby Bauer, helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup victories as a player in ’38-’39 and ’40-’41.  Following his retirement after the ’54-’55 season, he was immediately named head coach of the team.

As head coach, Schmidt brought the team to two Stanley Cup Final appearances.  Then, later in his career as the GM for the team, he won two more Cups during the Orr/Esposito era.  Schmidt’s contributions to the Bruins organization, therefore, are more than just on the ice.  When it comes to overall greatness for the Bruins organization, that is where Schmidt shines.
Conclusion

There are so many players would could have made it on the list.  Older players such as Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyk, and Ken Hodge could have a place.  More modern players like Cam Neely or Adam Oates were great in Black and Gold.  Current players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron are making a case to be considered someday.  But to me, the four I have picked mean the most to the Bruins organization as a whole.

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Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas Golden Knights

Jonathan Quick’s teammates expect him to stop just about everything that comes his way, and for the first few weeks of this season he lived up to those expectations as he backstopped the impressive start that lifted the Kings atop the Pacific Division.

But they’ve been allowing too many dangerous shots to come his way the last two weeks, and when he has a less than stellar night, as he did Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in front of a lively sellout crowd at T-Mobile Arena, the result is going to be ugly.

“I think we’ve relied on Quickie a bit too much over the past six games,” left wing Tanner Pearson said after the Kings lost for the fifth time in their last six games. “He’s been doing his part, and we’ve got to step up and do ours and help him out.”

Quick was replaced by Darcy Kuemper after he yielded three goals on nine shots in the teams’ first regular-season meeting, which showed promise of becoming a fierce rivalry.

A defensive breakdown allowed William Karlsson to slip a shot between Quick’s pads 55 seconds into the game, Cody Eakin beat him to the short side to finish off a two on one at 9:21, and a miscommunication between Quick and defenseman Derek Forbort behind the net allowed Reilly Smith to swoop in and set up Karlsson for the third goal, at 11:22.

“The first 10 minutes we were not ready to go,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “We put ourselves in a hole, and it’s tough to win games when you’re down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes.”

The Kings got within 3-2 on a second-period goal by Trevor Lewis and a third-period shot from the hash marks by Pearson for his fourth goal this season, but they were down too much too early to pull even in their fifth game in eight days and second game in two days. The Golden Knights, who trail the division-leading Kings by one point and have two games in hand, clinched the victory on an empty-net goal by Alex Tuch with 62 seconds left in the third period, leading Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to smash his stick against the goalpost.

Vegas is smashing the stereotype of the hapless expansion team, compiling an 8-1 record at home and competing hard as a team despite having to go to Plan E in its goaltending strategy book. Maxim Lagace, fourth on the depth chart, stopped 27 shots in front of a crowd that included nearly as many Kings supporters as fans of the Golden Knights.

“They showed why they’re a good team at home,” Pearson said.

The Kings showed they haven’t found the right balance between capitalizing on the offensive freedom that coach John Stevens has given them and consistently maintaining their defensive foundation. They were too defense-oriented in the later stages of Darryl Sutter’s coaching tenure but often have gotten too sloppy defensively in the early days under Stevens.

“I think when we’re playing well we’re checking, and checking leads to offensive chances instead of these turnovers and odd-man rushes going back the other way,” said Lewis, who scored on a backhander at 8:35 of the second period after Alex Iafallo kept the puck in the zone. “I just think we need to get back to more of our structured game. Just regroup and refocus.”

Even when they were winning they were giving up a lot of prime scoring chances but they could rely on Quick to be sharp. He wasn’t sharp Sunday, when his personal losing streak stretched to five. He has an .894 save percentage in that span.

“It’s the obvious. Those are pucks he’d love to have back. But it’s a team game. Johnny’s bailed us out many a nights,” Stevens said of his No 1 goalie. “It’s certainly not the start we wanted. You dig a hole on the road against any team, especially in here, it’s tough to come back, but I thought the guys did. I thought they got going. We climbed back in the game, we had some chances there. … That was probably the worst-case scenario for that start for us because it’s the end of the week, and if we just got through the first 10 minutes, I thought we’d be in pretty good shape.”

Quick said he wasn’t especially angry because the Kings lost to a division rival — he’s angry when he loses, no matter the circumstances.

“We lost a game. We’ve got another one in a couple days and we’ll get ready for that,” he said.

He and the Kings will have to be better prepared for that game, Wednesday at home against Winnipeg, than they were Sunday.

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Jonathan Quick makes the save against Brandon Sutter

Jonathan Quick makes the save against Brandon Sutter

LOS ANGELES — You’re often supposed to be careful what you wish for.

Travis Green knew what awaited his club Tuesday and he sounded part hopeful and part prophet.

“It’s a good challenge, a big challenge and I like it when you face some hard games,” the Vancouver Canucks coach said just before his club met the Los Angeles Kings. “You learn a lot about your team. And there might not be a bigger challenge in our division than coming into L.A.”

Well, he nailed that one.

The Canucks dug a two-goal hole before four minutes elapsed against the National Hockey League’s second-stingiest team and top-ranked penalty kill. They were overmatched and even overwhelmed at the outset and looked like they were going to go quietly into the SoCal night.

Then Derek Dorsett got mad.

Then the Canucks got resilient.

Then they found new power play combinations that actually worked.

It turned the improbable into an impressive 3-2 victory. And it capped a revealing four-game road trip in which the Canucks rode a roller-coaster of indifferent play yet finished 2-2 because they finally found some power play mojo.

Here’s what we learned:
Boeser and the dot

Brock Boeser was feeling it. He not only got to the faceoff dot on a new-look power play to let that heavy wrist shot go, it struck Jonathan Quick on the shoulder and Bo Horvat was there to jam home the rebound.

The goal was encouraging on several fronts.

For starters, there was movement. There was the symmetry of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and the smart cross-ice pass by the captain to find Boeser in his favourite shooting spot.

What took so long?

It was also Henrik’s first power play point of the season and the centre actually started the comeback. His shot off the wall went off the butt of Nick Short and found the short side.

And because you can’t really quibble with the Canucks’ play at even strength, the power play adjustment ended an 0-for-11 funk after being blanked with the man advantage in San Jose and Anaheim.

Green had three different power play alignments in practice Monday and said he had options. And his gut told him to find the right shooter and net-presence guy to complement the Sedins. It not only worked, it’s a bonafide first unit because there’s a passer, shooter and finisher.

If that wasn’t enough man-advantage hope, the game winner started with a sweet cross-ice feed by Thomas Vanek to Sven Baertschi on the second power play unit. He got Quick moving the wrong way and went far side.
Dorsett being Dorsett

Green didn’t expect Derek Dorsett to back down against the Kings, even though the pesky winger and leading goal scorer is skating on thin suspension ice. He has two instigator penalties and a third warrants a two-game suspension.

That didn’t stop Dorsett when he attempted to shift momentum after the Kings needed just 23 seconds to open scoring on Anders Nilsson, who got better as the game progressed. He stopped Tanner Pearson on a short-handed break with the game tied 2-2 early in the third period and then stopped Adrian Kempe with 3:48 left.

Dorsett took on Andy Andreoff but made sure he didn’t start the bout or throw the first punch. After that, he landed several blows.

The Canucks attempted to get Dorsett’s instigator penalty Thursday in Anaheim against Josh Manson rescinded, but the league cited distance travelled and fight initiation in its ruling. So, what do you say to a guy who needs to play on the edge, but not go over it?

“There’s not much to say,” said Green. “He’s an aggressive player and sticks up for his teammates. You never want to take that away from a player. I think both of his instigator calls could have gone either way, to be honest.

“He’s not a guy who goes and instigates a lot fights — he fights straight up his whole career.”
Gaunce versus Virtanen

Green said his rationale for playing Brendan Gaunce with Sutter and Dorsett was based on moving Markus Granlund to the middle between Vanek and Sam Gagner. Gaunce is a big body, but so is Jake Virtanen and there’s the debate.

Both have played 80 NHL games, but Virtanen is a better skater, has more scoring potential and Tuesday was tailor made to bring physicality back to his game. He sat while Gaunce took a bad offensive-zone tripping penalty in the first period that led to an Anze Kopitar goal.

You could argue giving Virtanen more minutes on a shutdown line might be too big an ask, but why not find out? Then again, it was Gaunce’s backhand saucer pass that sprung Sutter and resulted in his failed penalty shot.

OVERTIME: Green said he expects to have Chris Tanev (thumb) back in 1 1/2 weeks. That might make the defenceman eligible to return at some point in the team’s six-game road trip that opens next Tuesday in Philadelphia.

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St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues

Before heading off for the airport and a three-game, weeklong trip to western Canada, the Blues held a rare Sunday practice that included some rearranged lines and some new faces.

Jay Bouwmeester and Patrik Berglund both took part in the session, and both will accompany the team on the trip. Part of that is practical; with the team being gone for a week, if they stayed at home they would be skating on their own, and part of it is because both players are apparently getting close to returning.

Coach Mike Yeo said that while neither would play on the trip, which starts in Calgary, then goes to Edmonton and Vancouver, Berglund’s status would be re-assessed when the team got home, and he wouldn’t commit to anything beyond saying he wouldn’t play on this trip. That sounds an awful lot like he could be ready ahead of his originally projected December return.

As for Bouwmeester, he’s further away, but this was the first time he’s skated with his teammates in a practice since taking a puck to his ankle in a scrimmage three days into camp. He took part in some drills, but when the team began doing contact-heavy battle drills, he went off by himself, shooting on one of the goalies. (Berglund, meanwhile, took part in the drills.) Bouwmeester still has a ways to go, but this is the first sign of a light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s a progression,” Bouwmeester said. “I practiced today. Ideally, if we had ice (separate from the practice), I wouldn’t have practiced. I would have been skating on my own or with other guys. There’s steps you have to take. Morning skates, certain things you can’t do. Hopefully the way things are going, that’s progressing, that will turn pretty quick and I’ll get back out.”

Bouwmeester acknowledged that with the way the team has been playing, there’s not a rush for him to get back out on the ice.

“We’re in a position here, the team’s doing so good, there’s no pressure to force anything,” he said.

More immediately, Yeo did some line rearranging, including breaking up the successful Schenn-Schwartz-Tarasenko line. Beau Bennett was inserted in Tarasenko’s spot, with Tarasenko joining Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny. That dropped Vladimir Sobotka down to the third line, with Oskar Sundqvist and Dmitrij Jaskin, which pushed Magnus Paajarvi to the fourth line.

“Just trying to spark something,” Yeo said. “We’ll think more about it tomorrow. We wanted to give it a look here in practice. It felt like the last couple games things were getting a little stale and so we’ll see what we come up tomorrow.”