Quick hits: Langenbrunner is a sad panda

langenbrunner.jpgThere have been a lot of different stories floating around the NHL today, but some of them might be more like a kernel and less like a fluffy, delicious piece of popcorn. While you contemplate smelling up your break room or kitchen by microwaving some popcorn, I’ll throw out a few quick hits from the league.

Reverend Nathan Horton’s heat

After yet another failed season, things got a little testy between Florida Panthers forward Nathan Horton and assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Horton and Kitchen reportedly got into a screaming match during the team’s pre-game skate, according to TSN. The two apparently had to be separated by Peter DeBoer and Horton smashed his stick before he left.

One bright side: the two have last names tailor-made for puns. One might joke that Kitchen riled Horton up by saying “you moved a lot faster when we were at Tim Horton’s, donut boy.” Or perhaps some inventive headline writer came up with a line like, “If Horton can’t handle the heat, he should stay out of Mike’s Kitchen.” ( … sorry about that.)

Jamie Langenbrunner = long in the last name, long in the face

While most of the Devils’ spotlight is likely on Brodeur seeking win number 600 and Ilya Kovalchuk’s awkward return to Atlanta, the most puck-relevant story could be the crisis facing captain Langenbrunner. The Fire & Ice blog reports that Langenbrunner refused to speak with the media for two straight days after Jacques Lemaire sat him out during New Jersey’s last game. Perhaps this will end up being a mere blip on the radar, but it’s a story to watch for the time being.

The hottest second-half teams

A lot has been made of Pierre LeBrun’s piece on second-half numbers and he makes a good point that both Detroit and Pittsburgh finished hot last season. Washington, Vancouver, Phoenix and Detroit were the top four teams in the study. While I think that finishing strong is a nice indicator of future success, the truth is that there is more than one way to skin that playoff cat. Ultimately, it comes down to willpower, matchups, bounces, goalies … basically everything that normally decides hockey games. Here’s the good news, though: Behind the Net’s numbers indicate that the games won’t be decided by refs. Don’t tell that to Angry Jilted Fan of the Moment during the playoffs, though, unless you want a lot of hot angry nacho breath directed your way.

Scroll Down For:

    Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

    Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
    Getty
    1 Comment

    So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

    First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

    “We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

    Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

    He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

    Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

    We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

    But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

    Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

    It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

    Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

    Toffoli unlikely to join Kings on road trip

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Tyler Toffoli #73 of the Los Angeles Kings gets a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    The Los Angeles Kings will have to keep on keeping on without Tyler Toffoli.

    Toffoli has not played since Dec. 20 due to a lower-body injury, and head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t expect the sniper will join the Kings for their upcoming road trip.

    “It was four weeks yesterday,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We thought he’d be further ahead. Once we came back and had the doctor’s evaluation we were told a three-to-six week time frame, so yesterday was four weeks, so we thought he’d be a little further ahead, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between the healing and the training. I think Tyler’s pushing hard and we want him back. We were hoping to have him for sure on this next trip, so that doesn’t appear to be the case right now because he hasn’t had any skating or practicing.”

    Toffoli did actually hit the ice for a skate this morning, but there remains no timetable for his return.

    Without Toffoli, the Kings have been leaning heavily on Jeff Carter to score. Carter has a team-high 23 goals; Tanner Pearson is next with 13, followed by Toffoli with eight.

    Read more: Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return 

    Los Angeles hosts San Jose tonight, then hits the road for five games starting Saturday in Brooklyn. A poor trip and the Kings — currently holding down the second wild-card spot, but only barely — could find themselves on the outside looking in.

    st

     

    Goalie nods: Pavelec to make season debut for Jets

    DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a break in the action as he defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    Well, it’s come to this for the Winnipeg Jets.

    Undone all year by shaky netminding from Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, the Jets finally saw enough this week and recalled veteran Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

    Tonight, Pavelec makes his season debut when the Jets host the Coyotes at the MTS Centre.

    Waived just prior to the start of the regular season, Pavelec — in the final year of a much-maligned five-year, $19.5 million contract — passed through unclaimed and was dispatched to Manitoba, where he’s performed reasonably well.

    The 29-year-old posted a .917 save percentage in 18 games and, while that’s hardly the stuff of legend, his play was steadily improving prior to his recall. On Sunday, he stopped 42 of 43 shots in a win over Chicago.

    The big question, of course, is if Pavelec can show some consistency, which he’s always lacked at the NHL level. He went 13-13-4 with a .904 save percentage last season, and his career save rate is just .907.

    For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

    Elsewhere…

    Matt Murray, fresh off allowing seven goals in a win over Washington, goes for the Pens in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who’s struggled lately and has just an .886 save percentage in January.

    Jared Coreau has two shutouts in his last four start for Detroit, so the Wings will go back to him tonight when they host the B’s. Tuukka Rask, hooked in Monday’s ugly loss to the Isles, goes for Boston.

    Roberto Luongo gets the night off after Florida lost in Calgary last night, meaning James Reimer goes in Edmonton. The Oilers will go with Cam Talbot, who’s embracing his heavy workload this season.

    — Speaking of heavy workloads, Martin Jones will be back in for the Sharks tonight, as they travel to Los Angeles. He’ll be up against Peter Budaj.

    Don’t expect a full-scale rebuild in Detroit

    Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
    Getty
    4 Comments

    Don’t expect the Detroit Red Wings to tear it down and start over. Even if they miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990 — which appears likely at this point — GM Ken Holland has no intention of changing course.

    “We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said today, per MLive.

    The long-time GM added that having veterans like Henrik Zetterberg and Jonathan Ericsson around to guide the younger players was key to maintaining the culture of the Red Wings.

    The Wings aren’t the only team that’s opted for a rebuild-on-the-fly model. The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks are also attempting similar transitions.

    “To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding,” said Holland.

    And that’s simply not something the Wings are willing to risk. So they’ll keep at it their own way, just trying to win every game they can.

    Related: Sedin says a ‘winning culture’ is important to maintain