When the Chicago Blackhawks received a nice haul from the Atlanta Thrashers in a deal that featured Dustin Byfuglien, many people thought GM Rick Dudley gave up too much. Upon hearing that Dudley, coach Craig Ramsay and the jumbo-sized skater all agreed with the idea to move him back to his original position on defense, many people jeered.
(I was in that group to some extent, as I felt that the Thrashers’ greatest strength was their offensive ability on defense before adding Byfuglien.)
Well, it’s too early to officially say that Byfuglien and the Thrashers will make everyone eat some puck-flavored crow, but the experiment is passing with flying colors so far. Byfuglien’s highest moment as a Thrasher might have come tonight, as he scored a game-winning overtime goal and also produced an assist to help his team beat the struggling Buffalo Sabres.
Whether you judge him as a defenseman with a hellacious slapper or a gigantic winger whose big body can block the vision of even the largest goalies, he’s been outstanding in 2010-11. Byfuglien scored four goals and five assists for nine points in 10 games this season, with the only real blemish being his -4 rating.
It’s no accident that he’s producing at a higher level, either, as the skilled player is averaging far and away the most ice time of his six-year career, with more than 21 minutes per game. (He never averaged more than a little above 17 minutes per game in Chicago).
Now, one of the biggest critiques of Byfuglien’s game was that the enormous physical force would take a few nights off here and there, so it’s not safe to assume that he’ll maintain anything close to his near point-per-game pace during the entire year. Still, with that big boost of confidence he received from being frequently dominant during the 2010 playoffs, more ice time than ever and the financial incentive of a contract year, this could be a … well, Byfuglien-sized season for the young hybrid player.
It just goes to show you that the people paid to put together teams might know better than the rest of us every now and then.
Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.
He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.
The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.
It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.
“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”
Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”
The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.
Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.
But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.
Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.
If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.
“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”
Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.
The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).
Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.
Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.
The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.
— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.
— Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)
— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)
— Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)
— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)
— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)
Enjoy the games!
Chad Johnson, the Flames’ goalie of record in eight of their last 10 games, will once again be in goal when Calgary hosts Minnesota on Friday night.
Johnson, as we’ve written about on numerous occasions, was terrific for the Flames in November, going 7-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA and .939 save percentage. He essentially wrestled the No. 1 gig away from Brian Elliott, and closed out the month in style by posting a 39-save shutout against Toronto on Wednesday.
As a result, Calgary has clawed back from a disappointing start to draw within one point of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference (granted, the Flames have played four more games than the Preds).
For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.
— Just one other game this evening, as Montreal takes on the Sharks in San Jose. It promises to be a quality matchup as both teams are rolling with their No. 1s: Carey Price for the Habs, Martin Jones for the Sharks.