Flyers stick with goaltending formula, sign Michael Leighton to two-year, $3.1 M deal

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Thumbnail image for 1-leighton.jpgMichael Leighton and Brian Boucher will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending duo for the 2010-11 season. Nick Kypreos just reported that Leighton signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract with the team. With that approximate $1.55 million cap hit, the team will spend about $2.5 million in net next season.

Year after year, the Flyers go cheap in net. This leads fans to blame their netminding when things go sour, but honestly, I think it’s a strategy that allows the team to produce consistently competitive squads. Sure, the ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but Philly has been arguably the second most successful Eastern Conference team behind the Pittsburgh Penguins the last three seasons. They have one Cup finals appearance, one Conference finals appearance and the only Eastern team to beat them is their cross-state rivals.

Philadelphia follows the Detroit Red Wings model of team building in that they sacrifice paying a goalie $5 million on the hopes that he’ll start 70 games a year and provide stellar work. While big-name guys such as Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury failed to pass the second round, borderline starters such as Leighton and Antti Niemi saw great success. Why? Because they had better teams playing in front of them and … perhaps, just maybe, the gap between an elite starter and a good goalie is rapidly closing.

The Flyers now have more than $9.87 million in cap space and only one significant free agent (RFA Braydon Coburn) to re-sign. I’ve pointed out that the team will have some tough choices to make in 2011 thanks to the expiring contracts of Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, but the team can enjoy some serious salary cap flexibility this summer. I didn’t put them in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but perhaps they could raise some eyebrows and land him tomorrow.

Either way, you might as well get that broken record out again. Many sports writers will write the same basic “weakness: goalies” section during season previews time, just with Michael Leighton’s name in the place of Ray Emery.* Yet that supposed Achilles Heel gives the team enough cap space to put some very competitive teams on the ice. I might be in the minority here, but I think the Flyers are taking a wise gamble.

If nothing else, the annual “Will the Flyers get a goalie?” trade deadline talk is always fun, right?

* – And don’t get me wrong, I might even be in that group, especially since the team could be well-stocked with forward and defensive depth. Too bad Leighton never ate any insects to settle a bet, though.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.