Morning Skate: Has USA Hockey's junior program surpassed Canada's?


Morning Skate: Has USA Hockey's junior program surpassed Canada's?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while it’s probably still snowing on the outdoor rink in Buffalo. 
*Hockey media outlets in Canada are wondering whether USA Hockey has surpassed Canada in terms of the best junior hockey programs. It’s hard to argue against what the US National Team Development Program has been doing over the last 15-20 years while cranking out high-end talent that’s won medals, filled the NHL ranks and begun creating legit American-born hockey superstars.

*In case you were wondering, Gord Miller did the math for the prospects representing the 31 NHL teams at the World Juniors tournament. The Bruins have six players including a couple on Team USA and Team Finland.

*Pro Hockey Talk asks the eternal question about whom to root for in a fight between Ryan Kesler and Matthew Tkachuk? I’m going Tkachuk all the way.

*Check out this great Captain Phasma-inspired Star Wars hockey jersey for the Youngstown Phantoms that they wore in last night’s USHL action.

*Victoria Bach is lighting it up for the BU Terriers and remains a beacon for the women’s program as the men’s hockey team struggles a little bit this season after departures to the NHL.

*For something completely different: Friend of Haggs (FOH) Damon Amendolara has some tough love for the Last Jedi while comparing it to the New York Giants disaster.

Who are these Boston Bruins? We'll start to find out on this road trip

File Photo

Who are these Boston Bruins? We'll start to find out on this road trip

BRIGHTON, Mass – Are the Bruins the unwitting victim primed for a hockey beat-down that we saw on opening night against the Washington Capitals?

Or are the Bruins the team that pummeled the NHL’s weak sisters out of Buffalo, Ottawa, Edmonton and Detroit by outscoring them 22-6 over the last four games, including a perfect 3-0-0 homestand where they crushed the Senators, Oilers and Red Wings?

The answer probably lies somewhere in between with the 7-0 loss to the Capitals being much more of the outlier, but there is still plenty of unknown about this year’s edition of the Bruins after losing to the reigning Stanley Cup champs, and then squashing four of last season’s worst teams right afterward. The Bruins will start to answer those questions when they head on a four game road swing through Canada that includes three stops in Western Canada this week against the Flames, Canucks and Oilers before stopping in Ottawa for another chance to slap around the Senators.

Bruce Cassidy wasn’t going to discount any of Boston’s four straight wins just because those teams weren’t any good last season, but even the Bruins head coach knows that a few more challenges are going to beneficial for the Black and Gold.


“We need to take care of business at home after our start, and I think we did that,” said Cassidy. “We got progressively better away from the puck, which made us better with the puck. We’re finishing well, obviously. Our top line is scoring and the power play is contributing. Now you take it on the road, and Calgary has started off well.

“It’s always a tough swing no matter what. I know people talk about the schedule a lot. I remember last year in the first five games we lost to Colorado twice and to Vegas, and we thought ‘Wow.’ That’s why I never like to get ahead of myself with the teams that we’re playing. We’re playing the schedule in front of us, and they both ended up being playoff teams. So you never know how it’s going to shake out. We just need to take care of business, and now we need to do it on the road.”

Certainly it’s not going to be a murderer’s row on the road trip either when faced with Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa, but three of those four teams have winning records at this early juncture of the season. Beyond that, the Bruins will be dealing with Edmonton’s home opener after their long odyssey back from a season opener in Sweden, and they’ll be facing a different challenge simply being so far away from home.

“It was important to have a good home stretch before heading out West because we knew that was coming up,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s going to be important that we rely on what we’ve been doing well here in Boston. We just need to bring that with us. I think it’s going to good to go on the road for a little bit. It’s like a 10-day trip. You want to start on a good note. But it was good to get things on track and play the hockey that we want to play.”


The positives, of course, are that there will be team-bonding, and that the Bruins have traditionally been a strong road team over the last few years. But it’s all now a proving ground during the regular season to see if the Bruins can at least match the 112-point group from last season, or surpass it with a team more readily built for the playoffs.  

The next four games in Canada aren’t going to make-or-break for the Bruins, of course. But they will either reinforce the goal-scoring juggernaut that everybody saw lay waste to unwitting opponents at home last week, or open up a new set of questions about some of the soft spots on this current edition's roster.

Are the Bruins going to find a permanent answer for the third forward on the David Krejci line?

Will the third line finally get settled with David Backes in the middle, or will it continue to be in flux until they find a combo that can give them the two-way play they absolutely need for depth up front?

Can the Bruins power play and top line continue to carry this Bruins group, or will the one-dimensional nature of their offense catch up them once again just like it did in the second round of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring?

Stay tuned to the answers to these questions and more as the Bruins continue to build their team identity with the first long road challenge of the season starting Wednesday night in Calgary. 

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NHL Power Rankings: Toronto off to a prolific, roaring start

NHL Power Rankings: Toronto off to a prolific, roaring start

Boy, it sure looks like the offensive firepower is going to be in the Atlantic Division again this season. Auston Matthews leads the NHL with a whopping 10 goals scored in six games for Toronto this season, and John Tavares is actually third in the league this season with six goals scored in his first season in Toronto. In between is David Pastrnak with his seven goals scored in five games this season for the Bruins with no signs of slowing down for Boston either.

Sure Alex DeBrincat and Nathan MacKinnon are next with six goals apiece as well, but Morgan Rielly (13) and Patrice Bergeron (11) are also top five in the NHL in points behind Matthews with his 14 points in six games in one of the hottest starts to a season in NHL memory. Perhaps it will even out and some of the Atlantic Division players will fall off the pace, but right now it sure looks like there are going to be nightly fireworks in the Atlantic with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston all boasting serious offense.

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s power rankings:

1.       Toronto Maple Leafs (5-1-0, rank last week: 7) – Auston Matthews and John Tavares have combined for 16 goals in six games so far. That’s pretty damn good.

2.     Chicago Blackhawks (3-0-2, rank last week: 2) – Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane are carrying the offense right now for the Blackhawks, but they also still haven’t lost a game in regulation as of yet.   

3.    Nashville Predators (4-1-0, rank last week: 3) – Pekka Rinne has allowed just five goals in his three starts thus far this season as the Preds continue to combine goaltending, defense and pretty decent offense for top results.


4.    Boston Bruins (4-1-0, rank last week: 9) – After getting shellacked by the Washington Capitals on opening night, the Bruins have outscored opponents by a 22-6 margin over the last four games. Those games have also been against the Sabres, Senators, Oilers and Red Wings, so the B’s still have some proving to do.  

5.  Anaheim Ducks (4-1-1, rank last week: 5) – It might be time for Nick Ritchie to start thinking about a new work address because it sure seems like the Ducks have shown that they don’t really need him. It’s an impressive start for a team that’s suffered injuries and the holdout from Ritchie.  

6.  New Jersey Devils (3-0-0, rank last week: 11) – Kyle Palmieri has as many goals (six) as everybody else on the Devils roster three games into the regular season. Who would have guessed that or the undefeated start for the Devils?

7.    Colorado Avalanche (3-1-1, rank last week: 6) – Semyon Varlamov and Nathan MacKinnon have sprinted out of the gate for the Avs and helped stake them out to a pretty good start in the Central Division. Now they have to show that they’re for real for the long haul, but the talent is there.

8. Dallas Stars (3-1-0, rank last week: 8) – So far it feels like Ben Bishop is making a difference for the Stars, and has given them that stability between the pipes that they desperately needed.

9.   Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-1, rank last week: 8) – Zero goals for Sidney Crosby through the first four games of the season for the Penguins. How many more games before we start to see the first hot take columns saying that Sid the Kid is now over the hill.

10. Carolina Hurricanes (4-1-1, rank last week: 10) – Four goals and 11 points for Sebastian Aho through six games for the Hurricanes as he continues his ascension toward being of the better players in the league. Carolina is playing some very good hockey out of the gate, but we’ll have to see how long that lasts.

11. Washington Capitals (2-2-1, previous ranking: 1) – The Capitals have been okay out of the starting gate, but one had to suspect that it was going to take a while for Washington to get the whole Stanley Cup celebration thing out of their system.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2-0, rank last week: 18) – The Artemi Panarin watch is on in Columbus as he’s the team’s leading scorer with three goals and seven points, and also registers as their biggest potential trading chip this season as well.

13. Winnipeg Jets (3-2-0, Rank last week: 20) – Kyle Connor leads the Jets with four goals scored in five games as Winnipeg is just starting getting started at what’s expected to be another potential Stanley Cup-contending season.

14. Calgary Flames (3-2-0, rank last week: 23) – The Flames are scoring plenty with their throng of skilled young players, but they’ve got to do a better job of keeping the pick out of their need if they want to truly contend.


15. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, rank last week: 4) – Three goals in three games for Brayden Point, who has to be one of the most underrated stars in the NHL right now.

16. Buffalo Sabres (3-2-0, rank last week: 15) – So far it’s been a decent start for the Sabres, and that’s something that Buffalo will gladly settle for at this point.  

17.  Minnesota Wild (1-1-2, rank last week: 24) – A perfectly “meh” start for the Minnesota Wild that’s at least seen Devan Dubnyk off to a really good start with the Wild.

18.  Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0, rank last week: 27) – It’s a darn shame to see Elias Pettersson concussed after getting off to such a brilliant start for the Canucks. Vancouver may not be headed anywhere special this season, but they’re definitely building something.

19. Los Angeles Kings (2-2-1, rank last week: 12) – It’s a good thing for the Kings that Jack Campbell is off to a strong start in the wake of the injury to Jonathan Quick.

20. San Jose Sharks (2-3-1, rank last week: 13) – Everybody’s preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup has won only two of their first five games. So much for the preseason picks, but I’ll reserve final judgment until I see what they become once they get their footing under them.  

21. Montreal Canadiens (2-1-1, rank last week: 25) – A modestly good start for the Habs up in Montreal, who have allowed a solid 10 goals in their first four games and seem to be playing Claude Julien’s brand of hockey up there.    

22. Ottawa Senators (2-2-1, rank last week: 26) – The Senators certainly haven’t been terrible as was thought prior to the season, and Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk have both been pretty awesome as young players.  

23. New York Islanders (2-2-0, rank last week: 14) – It’s early yet, but it looks like Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss might turn out to be a pretty strong goalie tandem on the Island…or in Brooklyn…or wherever they are at any point this season.   

24. Vegas Golden Knights (2-4-0, rank last week: 10) – No goals in six games for offensive big gun William Karlsson, who might be the epitome of that was then this is now for a Golden Knights team that looks a lot different than last year’s magical group.   

25. Philadelphia Flyers (2-3-0, rank last week: 19) – Slow start for Nolan Patrick with the Flyers as he’s pointless in four games with a minus-5 rating after ending so strongly for the Flyers last season.


26. St. Louis Blues (1-2-2, rank last week: 30) – The Blues look like a team that might fall behind in the Central Division, especially if they continue to get shaky goaltending from Jake Allen.

27. Edmonton Oilers (1-2-0, rank last week: 22) – Connor McDavid was ready to go at the starting bell for the Oilers this season, but it looks like many of his teammates didn’t get the memo. It could be another tough start for the Oil.

28. Arizona Coyotes (1-3-0, rank last week: 29) – Three goals scored in four games for the Coyotes thus far this season. You can’t win hockey games if you can’t score goals.

29. New York Rangers (1-4-0, rank last week: 31) – King Henrik has been brilliant for the Blueshirts early in this season, but clearly not enough of his teammates are on Hank’s level on Broadway.  

30. Detroit Red Wings (0-3-2, rank last week: 30) – Nobody has allowed more goals than the 23 goals allowed by the Red Wings, and it’s reflected in the zero wins thus far this season.  

31. Florida Panthers (0-2-1, rank last week: 16) – A disappointing start for a Panthers team that many are expecting will compete for a playoff spot in the Atlantic division behind the Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins.