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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Avalanche top line; Blackhawks' chances with Crawford

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 31 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What is so special about the Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen line. Can this line keep the Colorado Avalanche atop the Central Division or will they eventually slow down a bit? -- @TJRinger1

Other than their skill, which is elite, one thing I've noticed from watching the Avalanche top line is that each player has an explosive first two or three strides. I think that's a big reason why they generate chances off the rush and why they're able to get open in space. MacKinnon (18 points; nine goals, nine assists) may be the second-fastest skater in the League behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. He's so fast and has such powerful strides, such a low center of gravity when he skates both with and without the puck that he drives the defense back and creates room for Landeskog (16 points; 10 goals, six assists) and Rantanen (21 points; five goals, 16 assists).

The line will eventually hit a slump considering each player, through 12 games, is averaging well over a point per game (Rantanen 1.75, MacKinnon 1.50, Landeskog 1.33). At this pace, Rantanen would have 143 points, MacKinnon 123 and Landeskog 109 in an 82-game season. That's not happening. Defenses will tighten up and the Avalanche will need more secondary scoring. That is how we'll find out the true measure of the team.

Video: OTT@COL: MacKinnon buries one-timer to extend lead

 

Do you think the Chicago Blackhawks with Corey Crawford in net can return to a deep run in the spring/summer? -- @CanterburyCtApt

I've been saying for a long time that a healthy Crawford means the Blackhawks have a chance and that without him they'd have no chance. So my answer is yes, Chicago, which missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2007-08, can get back and possibly make a run with Crawford in net. His presence is that important. The Blackhawks tied for the second-most goals allowed in the League (182) in the 52 games Crawford missed because of his concussion symptoms from Dec. 24, 2017, through Oct. 17, 2018. They were 19-26-7. Chicago allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the League (93) in the first 35 games last season, when Crawford was healthy and played in 28 games, starting 27. The Blackhawks were 17-13-5. He was 16-9-2. Crawford has allowed 16 goals in six starts since returning this season, a number beefed up by the six he allowed against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Chicago is 3-3-0 in those five games. The Blackhawks have other issues to iron out, including their defense (they're not deep enough), secondary scoring (they're not getting enough) and special teams (neither is good enough), but there's no doubt that a healthy Crawford solves a huge problem.

Editor's note: Crawford's statistics and Chicago's record in his starts were updated following a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.

 

I've followed the NHL from the UK for around 10 years now and I am a Calgary Flames fan. What do they need to become a better team? In that time, they've hardly made the playoffs but never been bottom either to get a top draft pick. -- @MPBWFC

This has everything to do with a culture of accountability, which is exactly what the Flames, who are 7-5-1 after a 2-1 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, are trying to build this season. They thought they had a team that could compete last season. They did not. They finished 11 points out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. So they brought in Bill Peters to replace Glen Gulutzan as coach. Peters is big on structure, puck possession and defense. He also has more skill and talent in Calgary than he had in his four seasons coaching the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flames traded with the Hurricanes for top-six forward Elias Lindholm and top-four defenseman Noah Hanifin. They signed two middle-six forwards, James Neal, who can score, and Derek Ryan, who is responsible in all three zones. It wasn't a complete roster overhaul, but it was an attempt at a culture change, a fresh start and a re-energized focus on winning as a team. The results have been OK. They can and should get better if the Flames can get consistent goaltending. However, they won't be better if the Flames continue to rely on a handful of players to carry the team, as they did last season. The Flames need consistency through the lineup.

Video: CGY@TOR: Monahan, Lindholm score two in 55 seconds

 

Simply put: Your take on the Toronto Maple Leafs with the absence of Auston Matthews? How do they persevere? -- @hansbrieden

Isn't this another reason why the Maple Leafs have John Tavares? One goes down, the other must step up. It wasn't a great start in that department for Tavares and the Maple Leafs in their 3-1 loss against the Flames on Monday, their first game without Matthews this season, but nobody should base a team's ability to survive without a star player like Matthews on one game. The Maple Leafs went 11-7-2 in the 20 games Matthews missed last season because of injury. They didn't have Tavares then. They do now.

But they can't and won't be as dangerous offensively without Matthews, which means the Maple Leafs must focus on defending and doing the little things right, like limiting turnovers, being tight through the neutral zone and getting the puck out of the defensive zone when they have a chance. They struggled in those areas against the Flames. Calgary's Sean Monahan scored after Toronto couldn't get the puck out of the zone. Lindholm scored off a turnover. The Maple Leafs have to lock it down and play a smart game to win without Matthews. They'll be better for it when he returns.

 

Do you think Igor Shesterkin will unseat Henrik Lundqvist next season or will the New York Rangers do a 50-50 timeshare? What about Ilya Sorokin and the chances Lou Lamoriello will be able to get him over to the New York Islanders next season? -- @GLaSnoST9

I wouldn't count on Shesterkin being ready to challenge Lundqvist for the No. 1 goalie spot next season. It's possible, certainly, but a better bet is for Shesterkin, the Rangers' fourth-round pick (No. 118) in the 2014 NHL Draft, to start next season in Hartford of the American Hockey League and go from there. Entering Tuesday, the 22-year-old Russia-born goalie was 9-1-0 with a .957 save percentage (224 saves on 234 shots), a 0.99 goals-against average and four shutouts in 10 appearances for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. He is 64-7-3 with a 1.57 GAA, .938 save percentage and 19 shutouts in 77 KHL games since the start of the 2016-17 season. However, Shesterkin has never played in North America, so a season of getting used to the North American game might be necessary. Lundqvist has two years left on his contract after this season. It's entirely possible that for the Rangers to be looking at more of a 50-50 split in the 2020-21 season with Shesterkin showing he's the heir apparent to Lundqvist.

Sorokin, the Islanders' third-round pick in 2014 (No. 78), could be on a similar timeline as Shesterkin and be ready for NHL action in the 2020-21 season. He still has next year remaining on his KHL contract. There are ways for him to break the deal, but at this point the best bet is to expect him to play next season in the KHL before he arrives in North America. At that point, he still might need some time in the AHL, but he could be NHL-ready. He'd be 25 years old. He's also been solid in the KHL this season for CSKA Moscow, going 7-3-3 with a .925 save percentage and 1.52 GAA in 14 appearances entering play Tuesday.

 

The Florida Panthers are off to another slow start. Is it indicative of what their season will turn out to be, or will they be a different team once Roberto Luongo returns? -- @djgoldman35

I don't think the Panthers' 2-4-3 start is indicative of the type of team they are, or at least the type of team I think they can be. They will be better when Luongo, their No. 1 goalie who sustained a Grade 1 sprain of the MCL is his right knee in the Panthers' season opener on Oct. 8, returns to the lineup, but to be a different team requires them leaping a mental hurdle. The Panthers' biggest problem has been their inability to hold a lead. They have had the lead in five of their seven losses. The worst defeat might have been Oct. 20 against the Detroit Red Wings, when they led 2-0 before giving up three consecutive goals. Mike Hoffman scored at 18:44 of the third period to tie the game at 3-3, but the Panthers lost in overtime. Florida was up 1-0 and playing well in the first period against the New York Rangers on Oct. 23 but gave up the next four goals and lost 5-2. The Panthers led 4-3 in a back-and-forth game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 11 but gave up two goals in the third period and lost 5-4. They gave away leads of 1-0, 4-1 and 5-4 against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 19 before winning 6-5 in a shootout. The Panthers have had some come-from-behind magic, including a three-goal comeback against the Philadelphia Flyers to earn a point in a 6-5 shootout loss on Oct. 16 and their three consecutive goals from the third period on in a 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders on Oct. 24. If they figure out how to lock it down with a lead, they'll be a different team.

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