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

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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.)

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.

Subban out of hospital and ‘doing well’ after surgery to repair fractured larynx

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The Boston Bruins have provided another update on goalie Malcolm Subban, who suffered a fractured larynx Saturday when he was struck in the throat with a puck during an AHL game in Portland:

“Malcolm underwent successful surgery on February 8 at Mass Eye & Ear Hospital in Boston to repair his larynx fracture. He is doing well and has been released from the hospital. While there is no definitive timetable for his return at this time, he is expected to be out a minimum of eight weeks.”

Subban, 22, was the 24th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Related: Malcolm Subban feels he’s ‘taken a huge step forward’ from last year

‘No Spurgeon tonight’ for desperate Wild

ST PAUL, MN - MAY 9: Jared Spurgeon #46 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 9, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-2. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Desperate for a win and hosting the NHL-leading Washington Capitals, the Minnesota Wild be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for a second straight game.

“No Spurgeon tonight,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said this morning. “He’s not ready.”

Spurgeon has already missed one game, Tuesday’s 4-3 OT loss to Dallas. He suffered a “deep bruise” Saturday in St. Louis, and his status for this Saturday’s game against Boston is uncertain.

The Wild are also missing d-man Jonas Brodin, currently on injured reserve with a broken foot.

That’s two significant injuries on the back end, as Spurgeon and Brodin each average over 20 minutes in ice time.

In a related story, Ryan Suter played a season-high 33:15 against the Stars, while AHL call-up Mike Reilly was out there for just 12:27.

Related: Yeo was ‘disappointed’ to see Hoppy the rabbit holding a ‘YEO MUST GO’ sign