Ramblings: Recapping the exhibition games with notes on Carlson, Tarasenko, Burakovsky, Vatanen, Pulock, and more – July 30

Michael Clifford


This is largely going to be a recap of the exhibition games from the last couple nights. Granted, there isn't a ton we can glean from the first game back after nearly five months away – during the middle of the summer, no less. All the same, we've been waiting a long time to watch NHL hockey so it would be a waste not to discuss some observations, even if nothing comes of them.

Let's head back to Tuesday night's games for a second.

I agree with most observers that Sidney Crosby didn't look right. The thing with Crosby is that even in games where he's not having his best night, or even a good night, he can still impact shifts regularly. He wasn't doing that on Monday. Let's hope it's nothing serious… Travis Konecny had a great pass on the game-winning goal by Scott Laughton. I hope the Flyers can go deep these playoffs, if only to get great players like Couturier and Konecny more exposure… Shayne Gostisbehere did seem to have a good game as well. He was also fourth among their blue liners in ice time. Could a resurgence be in the making?…

Montreal looked bad. The two short-handed goals against will obviously stand out, and there's no reason to expect their power play being any better than it was five months ago, barring a Nick Suzuki miracle. Maybe the ice is part of the reason for this, but they just did not look on the same page all night, whether on the PP or at even strength. They have a couple days to figure it out, or Pittsburgh will make quick work of them… I thought guys like Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman looked best for the Leafs in their win over Montreal, but that's almost to be expected, right? We don't expect the superstars to go all-out in one exhibition game before playoffs start (which is why I'm not remotely writing off Crosby yet). It is good news for the Leafs that some of their formerly injured players looked like their old selves.

The thing about watching Connor McDavid is that even in an exhibition game where he was giving about 80 percent, he still looked head-and-shoulders above anyone else on the ice. Not to say that guys like Yamamoto and Draisaitl looked bad – they didn't, they looked great together, like Cavan Biggio and Vlad Guerrero Jr. on the Blue Jays' right side of the infield – but even when he's going easy he's better than everyone else. It's just funny, to me, personally… The Edmonton defence, as a whole, looked very good. Broberg was fine, but I was impressed with Bear and Nurse. They're usually good, but they weren't hesitating in their puck movement, and if all of those guys are good in transition, this Oilers team becomes another beast entirely… I don't know if it was the ice, or the time off, or what, but the Flames didn't even look like they played the same sport as the Oilers. Mark Giordano looked as good as ever, I thought, but the rest of the team looked like it was in disarray. Not much time to get on the same page moving forward.


Steven Stamkos was not in the lineup for Tampa Bay's tune-up game. The top line was Palat-Point-Kucherov with Killorn-Cirelli-Johnson as the second trio. Goodrow-Gourde-Coleman constituted the third line. Victor Hedman was also not in the lineup.

Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar were scratched for the Panthers. Frank Vatrano remained on the top line for Florida, while they stacked the top PP unit with the usual guys: Barkov, Huberdeau, Dadonov, Hoffman, Yandle.

Mikhail Sergachev, in the one exhibition game the team plays before getting to their seeding games, decided to fight Brian Boyle. I'll leave it up to the readers as to the quality of that decision.

In all, Florida's defence looked bad in the 5-0 loss. That shouldn't be a surprise, but it portends the issues to come. They're fine when they have Weegar-Ekblad on the ice. When they don't, it's like watching a house of wax beat back a raging inferno.

I picked Florida in our Experts' Panel predictions, and I'm standing by it. If Ekblad/Weegar can shut down the Barzal line, they should be able to outscore the Islanders depth. But this team is sorely lacking the pieces – and structure – to make a deep run.


Colorado was going with Andre Burakovsky on the top line with Gabriel Landeskog down on the second line. It makes me wonder if they're going to use Landeskog-Kadri-Nichushkin in a shutdown role (they were the road team for the exhibition against Minnesota).

Andre Burakovsky was the fourth forward on the Colorado PP.

My observation about Nathan MacKinnon: he's good.

The Wild were keeping the Greenway-Staal-Fiala line away from MacKinnon, deferring to depth lines to take the top-line matchup, Kunin-EE-Parise in particular. It was something I discussed in my previews of the play-ins, and a reason why I think Minnesota has a better chance than most are giving them. They don't need to use their top scorers against the Pettersson line, and can then have their scorers go up against the Canucks' depth, which isn't very good. It should be a fun game of playing matchups, anyway.


The big takeaway for me from the Washington/Carolina game was that the Capitals were using their typical power-play setup: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson. I know a lot of people – present company included – wish to see Jakub Vrana on the top PP unit. At least at the outset, that won't be the case. This was a team, though, that turned back to Braden Holtby for their Cup run after a few playoff games in 2018. Just because Vrana isn't PP1 now doesn't mean he won't be PP1 in two weeks.

Also, with Dougie Hamilton out of the lineup, Sami Vatanen was running the top PP unit for the Hurricanes. The top PP unit for Carolina was: Vatanen, Aho, Svechnikov, Teravainen, and Williams. If you're looking to your pools, those are the names that need to be circled on your sheet.

I honestly don't remember enough about Carolina's season to say whether this is true or not, but the Washington broadcast kept talking about how good Jake Gardiner looked, compared to 5-6 months ago. Remember, he had serious back issues before the 2019-20 season and he was abysmal for the Hurricanes. He is not an abysmal player; he's quite good, actually. If he can be the Jake Gardiner of a few years ago, rather than the Jake Gardiner of 2019-20, it would be a big boost to a Carolina roster that is missing a couple very important pieces.

We should note that John Carlson did not play the final half of the third period. According to Dan Rosen, he went down about five minutes into the third period, took one more shift, and that was it. We obviously won't know more, given the NHL's new rules.


I missed the first couple periods of the Hawks/Blues game, but Chicago lined up with Toews flanked by Saad and Kubalik, Strome between Kane and Nylander, and Dach between DeBrincat and Caggiula. I would take those with a grain of salt, as Nylander had these kinds of opportunities early in the season and he did not last.

On the St. Louis side, the trio of Schenn-Schwartz-Tarasenko was reunited, with Blais-O'Reilly-Perron constituting what is likely to be the checking line.

One note on this: it appears that St. Louis intends to use Vladimir Tarasenko on both power-play units, much like the Capitals do with Alex Ovechkin. How this impacts everyone else, well, we have a one-game sample. Consult your favourite Magic 8-Ball.

The top unit, by the way, was O'Reilly-Perron-Tarasenko-Schwartz-Pietrangelo.


The Islanders are indeed going through with their intention of playing Ross Johnston in the top-9. The lines for Wednesday night's exhibition game were as follows:




The top PP unit was the top line plus Pageau and Ryan Pulock.

The Rangers did not lineup Artemiy Panarin alongside Mika Zibanejad. Rather, Panarin was on the second line with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast, with the top line being Kreider-Ziba-Buchnevich. What I'll say is that I'm not sure how long this holds up. My experience writing about hockey if not every day, every other day, for years on end is that coaches will play with their toys. This is likely about trying to balance, given the Hurricanes have a pretty good shutdown line they can throw at the Rangers, so they don't want to have their two most dangerous offensive players on the same line. Smart!

Just as an aside: if Ryan Pulock can hold the PP1 role for an entire season, he's probably a top-12 defenceman in multi-cat leagues. That's something to keep an eye on these playoffs.


Vancouver had been moving their centres around in camp, but they went back to what is a normal top-6 for them: Pearson-Horvat-Boeser and Miller-Pettersson-Toffoli. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some interesting choices, as both Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson were scratched, but Olli Juolevi was in as the seventh defenceman. Whether the lineup they had Wednesday is the lineup they have for their first game of the play-ins, we’ll see. It does seem that things can change quickly.

The trio of Horvat-Pettersson-Miller was on the top power-play unit, along with Toffoli over Boeser.

Winnipeg was the same as they’ve been running in their summer camp.


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