Could four extra inches behind the net open up 'Gretzky's office' again?


ingretzkysoffice.jpgIn Oliver Stone’s otherwise middling football move “Any Give Sunday,” Al Pacino gives a great and typically over-the-top speech about the sport (and life) being a “game of inches.” If hockey is the same way, a small change could pay dividends for the NHL’s most clever players.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa discussed the NHL’s subtle decision to decrease the depth of its nets by four inches, a small-and-barely-noticeable change that could be a boon to the best finesse players and defensemen. Even if it’s a tiny difference.

One of the minor tweaks made during last month’s research and development camp in Toronto was to reduce the depth of the net by 4 inches. By creating just that much more space behind the net, NHL thinkers believe it could free up room for offensive chances at one end and breakouts at the other.

There used to be a time when Wayne Gretzky made his living behind the net, holding onto the puck and looking to set up teammates for in-front chances. But one of the most significant shifts across the league has been the embrace of collapsing zone defenses.

In Gretzky’s prime, coaches were still instructing their forwards to stretch out and take away the points. Now, the emphasis is on eliminating the slot as a danger area.

Defensemen are stationed in front of the net. Forwards are scurrying away from the points and collapsing. As a result, there is less breathing room in front, and playmakers haven’t been as free to create from behind the net.

Perhaps with a few more inches of open ice, a playmaker like Nicklas Backstrom could dangle around defensemen, force others to commit one way, then look for Alex Ovechkin the other way.

As superhuman as Wayne Gretzky and other prolific scorers look in those hazy replays from the 1980s, one thing that also stands out is the absurd amount of space defenders used to give up. To say that coaches have caught up to many of the best offensive tricks is an understatement. There’s a reason why the league keeps searching for little ways to open up the game, even if it’s come a long way since the putrid Dead Puck Era of the mid-to-late 90s.

It won’t make the passing lanes any bigger, but I’d love to get the chance to watch Marc Savard, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Backstrom show up to work in “Gretzky’s Office” more often. Perhaps this tweak will make that entertaining option more viable for NHL teams.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

Pens’ Pouliot on IR, after getting hurt in season debut

Derrick Pouliot
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Pretty lousy start to the campaign for Derrick Pouliot.

Pouliot, a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first four games of the year, made his season debut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose — but played just over 12 minutes before getting knocked out with an injury.

And on Friday, the Pens put Pouliot on IR.

David Warsofsky has been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a replacement, and could suit up on Saturday when the Penguins visit Nashville.

The bigger story, of course, is Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012 — taken ahead of defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Michael Matheson and Brady Skjei — Pouliot has struggled to make his mark at the NHL level.

After appearing in 34 games as a rookie, he dressed just 22 times last year, and only twice during the playoffs as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup.

This year, he was unable to crack a six-man defensive unit comprised of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. Letang missed the San Jose game with an upper-body ailment, which paved the way for Pouliot to draw in.



Dropped by Blues, Weber catches on with Wild’s AHL team

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Mike Weber #6 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at Verizon Center on March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Mike Weber, the veteran blueliner who was dropped from his PTO in St. Louis earlier this month, has signed on with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, the club announced.

Weber, 28, has appeared in over 350 big league contests with Buffalo and Washington.

The move to the Minnesota organization is interesting. The club’s had some issues with its young defensemen lately — Mike Reilly has been up and down between the AHL and NHL, and head coach Bruce Boudreau nearly made Mathew Dumba a healthy scratch the other night, explaining that the 22-year-old is “trying to do too much.”

(Dumba was a late addition to the lineup after Marco Scandella went down with an illness.)

Jared Spurgeon, one of the club’s mainstays on defense, suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Toronto on a big hit from Matt Martin. Spurgeon is currently listed as day-to-day.

Even with those developments in play, Weber still has to make some significant leaps to become a factor for the Wild. The team has eight d-men in its rotation.


A healthy Brandon Sutter has been a difference-maker for undefeated Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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Brandon Sutter only got to play 20 games last season, his first as a Canuck, and the 33 games he missed with a hernia, quickly followed by the 29 games he missed with a broken jaw, were held up by the head coach and management as a prime reason that Vancouver struggled so badly.

Not everyone bought that excuse, but after four straight Canucks wins to start the current season, nobody can deny that Sutter has been a major factor. He has one goal and three assists, and his line, with wingers Jannik Hansen and Markus Granlund, has been Vancouver’s best.

“You always want to get a good start to the year,” Sutter said after last night’s 2-1 win over the Sabres. “You just want to be playing well. You don’t really pay much attention to the points of it all this early. I think the biggest thing, when you miss this much time, is just getting your timing back, and just getting back into form, and just playing your game the way you want to.”

If there’s a concern for the undefeated Canucks, it’s the play of the Sedins with new winger Loui Eriksson. They’ve had flashes of greatness together, but not the consistency. The twins were even split up for a short time last night, and that rarely happens.

Granted, Eriksson did set up Daniel Sedin for the winning goal on the power play, so it hasn’t been all bad. But the Canucks would love to see those three spend more time in the attacking zone together. At five on five, they spent most of their night defending the Sabres’ top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Sam Reinhart.

“Some games are going to be like this,” said Daniel Sedin. “I mean, that’s a good team over there, you’re not going to create chances each and every shift.”

Next up for the Canucks is a two-game road road trip. In their first action away from Rogers Arena, they play the Kings Saturday and the Ducks Sunday.

“It’s never easy going down to California, so it’ll be a good test for us,” said Sutter. “We’ve played some good teams so far, but divisional games coming up here, so we’ll be ready.”

Related: Desjardins sticks up for Horvat, whose job has been tough with Sutter missing

The injury situation in Dallas is out of control

Lindy Ruff

Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler and Mattias Janmark.

Those are the six — count ’em, six — forwards Dallas is currently without, at least as of this morning, due to a myriad of ailments.

Sharp and Eaves were lost in last night’s controversial OT loss to L.A. According to head coach Lindy Ruff, Sharp is dealing with concussion symptoms and will be out “a while,” and the club is expected to know more about Eaves’ lower-body ailment today (per the Morning-News).

So, what about the rest of the suffering six?

Hemsky (groin) appears the closest to a return, and could possibly make his season debut in Saturday’s tilt against the Blue Jackets. Hudler, dealing with what appears to be a serious case of the flu, is still a ways away from recovering (remember, Montreal goalie Carey Price missed three games and lost 7-8 pounds with a similar illness to start the year.)

Hudler’s unlikely for the Columbus game.

Eakin, who’s been out since late September with a knee injury, was originally slated to miss six weeks. That would put his return somewhere in the beginning-to-middle of November, which is still a ways away.

Janmark is out 5-6 months following knee surgery.

Add it all up, and Lindy Ruff’s team could be severely shorthanded at a tough time — after home dates on Saturday and Tuesday, the club will head out on a three-game road swing through Winnipeg, Minnesota and Columbus.

Ruff did say he will have to recall a forward from AHL Texas.

Heck, he might have to recall a couple.