Martin Gerber's return from the KHL sees battle with goalies rather than henchmen

martingerber2.jpgWhen a player takes off the KHL from the NHL, they usually go away to never be heard from again aside from the occasional “What ever happened to…?” profile pieces. In an effort to prove that you can go home again, so to speak, former Hurricanes/Leafs/Senators goalie Martin Gerber is back trying to win a spot with the goalie-overloaded Edmonton Oilers. For Gerber, it’s a move he was more than happy to make after a year in Russia.

Take away the shady-looking guys in black leather jackets and Martin Gerber rather enjoyed most of his KHL experience.

Not so much that he was willing to play there forever, but it was fun while it lasted.

“There’s some really good stuff and there’s also some bad stuff,” said Gerber. “You have to be kind of open and don’t ask too many things. Language is a huge challenge over there. Things can get really, really complicated. It’s a different lifestyle, that’s for sure.”

And the famous Russian henchmen?

“Lot’s of those,” he said. “I think it looks scarier than it is sometimes, but sometimes you also think to yourself, ‘Holy crap, what did I get into here?'”

Russian henchmen? I hope this is only a really poor reference to former Coyotes enforcer Andrei Nazarov. As for Gerber, a year away in the KHL may have been just the thing he needed to recharge his batteries for a shot at the NHL once again. Playing for Mytishchi Atlant last year, Gerber put up stellar numbers with a goals against average of 2.19 and a .914 save percentage. If Gerber did find his game again, he might be making life very hard on Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk in Edmonton.

Gerber is at one disadvantage compared to those two and Nikolai Khabibulin: he’s signed to a two-way contract making it easier to send him to the AHL and Oklahoma City. This just means that Gerber will have to play out of his mind to get head coach Tom Renney and GM Steve Tambellini to keep him in Edmonton and force their hand in sending either Deslauriers or Dubnyk (or both of them) down through waivers to get them to the AHL.

It’s a long shot, but Gerber’s got a better NHL pedigree than either Dubnyk or Deslaruiers and if Khabibulin’s back isn’t in good shape or if the courts in Arizona make him go to jail for 30 days sooner rather than later, taking a shot at signing Gerber might be the sort of gamble that pays off.

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    NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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    With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

    If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

    Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

    MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

    Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

    Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

    MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

    Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

    Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

    SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

    It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

    Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

    In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

    Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

    Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

    (If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

    OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

    Atlantic Division rankings

    1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
    2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
    3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

    Bruins – 64 in 58
    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    From a wild card perspective

    Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
    Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Islanders – 62 in 57
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Flyers – 61 in 58
    Devils – 60 in 58
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Hurricanes – 56 in 54
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

    And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

    Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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    It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

    Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

    Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

    “This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

    Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

    “What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

    As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

    Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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    So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

    The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

    It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

    Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

    Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.