2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4: Michael Leighton growing more confident

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Leighton4.jpgI can forgive him the two goals in the third period. One came on a
dastardly tip-in on a 5-on-3 and the other was a fluky, bouncing goal
that careened off two players and over his pad. Until that point in the
game, and even after the Chicago Blackhawks had pulled within 4-3 late in
the third, I felt that Michael Leighton was having his best game of the
series.

There were still some iffy moments, with pucks going off the crossbar
and a couple of scary moments off the rush, but he was confident in the
net and making several big saves each time the Blackhawks threatened to
seize the momentum in the game.

He was especially good in the second period, when the Flyers sat back
a little and were outplayed by stretched by Chicago, as he made a
number of big saves to keep his team ahead by two goals. Obviously, that
lead would fall apart in the latter stages of the game but a allowing
two goals in the second period would have been much more devastating.

“I actually felt my best today, too,” Leighton said after the win. “I
was comfortable. I wasn’t nervous. I just — I had confidence in our
team that we would play well. And in the first period I felt I
made a couple of saves that really got me into the game and kept our
team in. And we scored a goal early and kind of fed off that.”

Leighton has a had a bit of a tougher series against Chicago than
when he basically rolled through the Montreal Canadiens, something that
was completely expected. The Hawks are one of the deepest offensive
teams in the NHL, and they have the ability to roll line after line
against you with neverending pressure.

The Flyers have done a tremendous job of keeping the Hawks to the
perimeter, not allowing Chicago to get any interior positioning and to
keep the shots coming from the outside. Leighton says that’s a big
reason he has been so successful this series against a team like the
Hawks.

“We knew they were going to come out and put pucks on the net,”
Leighton said when asked about Chicago’s attack. “That was kind of our
thing. Lavi said don’t let pucks get to the net. Those little wrist
shots from the point, try to step in front of the guys and knock those
down. We did a great job. They did let something get through. Without
screens it was pretty easy some of them.”

The Blackhawks have struggled with getting traffic in front of
Leighton, as Dustin Byfuglien has been completely rendered
inconsequential by Chris Pronger and company. The Hawks have tried a
number of other combinations to try and make Leighton uncomfortable in
net, but so far he’s been able to see pretty much every shot that comes
his way.

Headed back to Chicago, the Blackhawks will once again be looking to
use their matchups to their advantage and to get back to what was so
successful in Games 1 and 2. Leighton contends that it wasn’t so much
what the Hawks were doing in Game 1 that was frustrating him, but
perhaps a bit of nerves about being in the finals. Still, he says he
hasn’t changed anything as the series has progressed.

“I’m playing the same way. I know they’re a good offensive team.
They’re going to get chances. Game 1, I felt okay.

“But I wasn’t making the big saves and keeping our team into it. So
right from that game, I just said I have to make a few of those saves,
and we would have won Game 1 if I would have made two or three really
good stops. Just trying not to let in a bad goal. You play solid and
make the odd great save. Tonight it worked out.”

While there were the two goals allowed in the third period, it’s
tough to say that Leighton allowed a “bad goal”. Those goals plagued him
in Chicago, and I’m sure that Ben Eager’s game-winning goal in Game 2
is haunting him. Still, each game he’s grown more and more comfortable
and has settled down in net for the Flyers.

Michael Leighton is two games away from being perhaps the most
improbable Stanley Cup winning goaltender in recent history. He may not
be the flashiest, but he’s done a hell of a job against one of the best
offensive teams the NHL has had in a long time. But for that to
continue, the Flyers will have to do something they haven’t done yet in
this series; win in Chicago.

“We’re going back to Chicago,” Leighton said. “We have to win a
game there eventually.”

“So this is going to be the most important
game for us. Tonight was obviously a big win for us. We have to go
into Chicago and give the same effort and hopefully get the same
results.”

Coyotes place Max Domi on IR, out ‘week to week’

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A tough season for the Arizona Coyotes managed to get even tougher on Saturday when the team announced it has placed forward Max Domi on injured reserve with an upper body injury.

He is expected to be sidelined on a week-to-week basis. The earliest Domi is expected to return is next Saturday’s game against Minnesota.

Domi, 21, is one of the team’s best young players and has been an immediate success since arriving in the NHL a year ago. After finishing second on the team in scoring with 52 points as a rookie, a performance that earned him a sixth place finish in the Calder Trophy voting, he is once again second on the team this season with 16 points through the team’s first 26 games.

Domi played 10 minutes in the Coyotes’ most recent game against the Calgary Flames before exiting the game late in the second period following a fight with Garnet Hathaway.

This is the fight.

Domi is a skilled forward, but he is no stranger to dropping the gloves, with that fight already being his seventh in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season. Even if it is something he occasionally does it still has to be tough to lose perhaps your best player to an injury in a fight.

The Coyotes are in Nashville on Saturday night to play the Predators. They enter the day with an 8-13-5 record that has them tied for the worst record in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

With Ryan Miller injured, Canucks recall Thatcher Demko

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had to exit the team’s 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night with a suspected lower body injury after stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.

The team did not seem overly concerned about it at the time, but Miller did not participate in the team’s morning skate on Saturday before their game against the Florida Panthers.

The team also announced that goalie Thatcher Demko has been recalled from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.

Demko, the team’s second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) in 2014 is in his first year of pro hockey after a successful collegiate career at Boston College. In 14 games with Utica this season he has .909 save percentage. While the overall numbers are not anything overly impressive, he has been playing significantly better in recent weeks after a tough stretch to start his pro career.

Miller has a .916 save percentage in 15 games for the Canucks this season. If he can not go on Saturday night look for Jacob Markstrom to get the call with Demko serving as his backup.

There is no word at this point on how long the Canucks expect Miller to be sidelined.

Take a look at the Flyers 2017 Stadium Series jersey

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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will be taking their long-time rivalry outside on Feb. 25 when the two teams face off at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 2017 Stadium Series.

On Saturday morning, the Flyers unveiled their uniforms for the game.

The uniforms are primarily black, accented with orange arm bands and nameplates.

Along with the outdoor game in February, the Flyers will also wear them a week later at home against the Penguins on March 5.

Here is a look at the uniforms, via the Flyers.

The Penguins unveiled their jersey for the game back in November. It is solid yellow.

Why the Clutterbuck signing is a bad gamble for the Islanders

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 25: Jaroslav Halak #41 and Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders celebrate a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 25, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a pretty significant move on Friday when they committed a long-term contract to energy guy Cal Clutterbuck, signing him to a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension.

As far as depth players go, it was an eye-opening contract because it is a big investment in a player that is going to be 30 years old when the contract begins, has topped 30 points in a season only one time (seven years ago), and is similar to the long-term contract the team signed Casey Cizikas — a very similar player — to just a few months earlier.

When the two contracts are added up, that means the Islanders are going to be committing nearly $7 million in cap space through the 2020-21 season to players that — at best — project to be third-liners, and most likely, fourth liners.

That is a big chunk of change going to the bottom of your lineup.

Not every contract is going to be perfectly fair for team and player. Sometimes teams are going to overpay. Sometimes a player is going to outperform his deal. It is a reality of professional sports.

But where this becomes a big gamble for the Islanders is they, like all NHL teams, have a set amount of money they can spend to construct their roster under the league salary cap. Every dollar spent comes with an opportunity cost, because that is a dollar that can’t go to somebody else. In this case, the Islanders seem to be prioritizing their bottom-six over the top of their lineup. This is after all a team that already lost Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen over the summer, both of whom will cost less over the next five years than the Clutterbuck-Cizikas duo. By keeping the latter, you’re essentially choosing quantity over quality.

There is also the fact that the Islanders are one year away from having to deal with the potential unrestricted free agency of John Tavares.

His next contract is not going to be the $5.5 million steal (at least compared to other top players in the NHL) that it is now. When Tavares is eligible for free agency, the Islanders are already going to have more than $32 million committed to only eight players. And again, a significant chunk of that money ($7 million) will be going to two players that are skating in their bottom-six. That could be a problem.

But that’s not even the biggest part of the gamble for the Islanders when it comes to the Clutterbuck deal.

The biggest gamble is the fact that players like him do not tend to age well into their mid-30s (and Clutterbuck will be signed through his age 34 season).

Using the Hockey-Reference database I went back over the past 20 years to find players that resembled Clutterbuck’s career to see how they did after turning 30.

What I was looking for:

  • Players that played in at least 500 games between the ages of 20-29 (Clutterbuck has played 595)
  • Players that averaged less than 0.35 points per game during that stretch (Clutterbuck has averaged 0.31)
  • How many games, and seasons, they played after turning 30 and what their production looked like

This is some of what I found.

  • There were 27 previous players during that time period whose careers compared to Clutterbuck
  • Only 10 of them played in more than 200 games (the equivalent of 2.5 seasons) after their 30th birthday
  • Only six of them played a single game in the NHL after their 33rd birthday
  • 11 of them were out of the NHL entirely before they turned 32
  • There are still five players, other than Clutterbuck, that are still active in the league: Chris Neil at age 37, Jay McClemment at 33, Brad Richardson at 31, Daniel Winnik at 31, and Jared Boll at 30. How far their their careers go remains to be seen.

The defense for signing a player like Clutterbuck to a long-term deal like this is that they bring more to the team than just scoring. And that is fair. Not everybody is going to be a goal scorer or produce points. He seems like a great teammate. People like him. That is all fine.

But forget production here, we are talking about a type of player that generally does not stick long in the NHL after they hit 30. Plus, when it comes to Clutterbuck, this is player that has spent nearly a decade in the NHL playing a grueling style of hockey that is almost certain to wear a player down physically.

Every player in the league, no matter how good they are, starts to slide and lose a step once they get on the other side of 30 because father time is still, and will continue to be, undefeated. The players at the top of the league are still able to remain productive because they had so much skill and so much production at their peak. Even if they start to lose a step, or lose some of their production, they are still able to contribute something. But the guys at the bottom of your lineup that have spent years grinding their way through the league do not really have that step to lose. If they lose a step, they lose everything. If they lose even a little bit of their production, there is not much left.

The reality of a salary cap league is you can not keep everybody you want.

Every team has had to experience this at some point over the past decade. Teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins have decided to keep the players at the top of their lineup no matter the cost and sacrifice around the edges.

The Islanders, by letting players like Okposo and Nielsen leave, and committing to their bottom-six, seem to be trying to build from the bottom up.

It is a gamble. Let’s see how it works.