Nicklas Lidstrom tops list of top 10 penalty killing defensemen

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lidstrompk.jpgMany people find Norris Trophy voting to be a flawed process because it overvalues offense (since assists and points in general are the easiest stats to track) while overlooking the most important job of any defenseman, namely protecting their goalie and playing their best in their own end. Let’s not throw hockey writers under the bus too much, though, because only the most stubborn stat head will fight this fact: there just aren’t many easy ways to gauge defensive impact right now. We simply haven’t gotten the point where some of the best stats (particularly “Quality of Competition”) are easily digestible numbers.

(I will say that Corsi Ratings might be the simplest “new” stat that people mistakenly think is complicated. This is a slight oversimplification, but a Corsi Rating is basically the same thing as a Plus/Minus only goals are replaced by shots.)

Anyway, the reason why I bring up this point is because it’s possible that the NHL Hot Stove’s list of the top 10 penalty killing defensemen is an interesting (if flawed) exercise. According to that post, they judged the best by time on ice (a decent factor, but something that might be determined by a lack of decent teammates), blocked shots (not a great stat because number crunchers will point out that it’s often a sign of being out of position), shorthanded points (eh, not great) and penalty kill percentage (good, but kind of like TOI).

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for zdenochara.jpgWhile I note that those standards are imperfect, I’d probably use many of the same stats if I was compiling such a list. Let’s look at the top 3.

3. Anton Volchenkov – The “A-train” doesn’t have that name as a sarcastic joke. Known to be one of the League’s finest shot blockers, he’ll patrol the New Jersey blueline in charge of the penalty kill. With solid numbers throughout his entire career, he did dip a bit in the amount of blocked shots last season ending the year with 172. Regardless, he is a machine and a quiet weapon on the blue line and should help Martin Brodeur clear the crease or keep pucks out of the net.

2. Zdeno Chara – It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins play in a defensive-minded system and that allows Big Z to flourish. Chara will continue to log big minutes for the Bruins in his contract season. Playing with the shot blocking phenom Dennis Seidenberg for an entire season could see Chara return to his 2009-09 Norris Trophy winning numbers.

1. Nicklas Lidstrom – What can be said about the ultimate defenseman in the National Hockey League that has not been said already throughout his outstanding 18 year career. Lidstrom is the model d-man in the game today, and though he plays and excels in all occasions on the ice, he averaged 2.56 minutes a game short handed last year with Detroit and earned three short handed points. However, this is the ultimate machine patrolling the blueline and is one reason the Red Wings are constantly competitive.

All of my misgivings aside, that is a solid final three. Volchenkov’s penchant for blocking shots might inflate his value on this list, but he is one of the better single-minded defenseman in the league. Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom are the kind of players you throw out there when your team needs a stop, so they make sense in the top two.

Overall, it’s a solid depiction of the best penalty killers in the league. Check out the rest of the list here.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski