Ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, November 4th

Philadelphia 4 – NY Rangers 1

No matter how many times the brawlers for each team managed to fight each other, none of that could inspire the Rangers to actually try to score goals in this one. The Flyers, on the other hand, took full advantage of the Rangers uninspired play and took advantage of the Rangers inability to stick up for themselves. Mike Richards, Blair Betts, and Nikolay Zherdev scored three straight second period goals after Brandon Dubinsky lead off the scoring in the game for New York to give the Flyers a lead they wouldn’t give up. Chris Pronger scored an salt-in-the-wound goal in the third to provide the final decision. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots in the win on an easy night for him.

What’s got the Rangers upset after the game is the lack of a penalty on Flyers agitator Dan Carcillo who caught Ruslan Fedotenko with a head shot. Both Fedotenko and head coach John Tortorella were livid after the game that no call was made on the play. Expect the NHL to take a look at what happened and perhaps hand down punishment anyhow.

Columbus 3 – Atlanta 0

Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason might have to get comfortable with the bench. Mathieu Garon stopped all 25 shots he faced in earning his second shutout of the year and extending his shutout streak to 133:54. Derick Brassard and R.J. Umberger each scored their fifth goals of the year, meanwhile Jakub Voracek got his first of the season as the Jackets pounded Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 41 shots on goal. What helped the Blue Jackets feel more like they were at home? Just 8,461 in attendance in Atlanta tonight for the game. OK so maybe Atlanta has a bit of a problem there too.

Ottawa 4 – NY Islanders 1

After getting iffy goaltending and a tough start to the season from both goalie Brian Elliott and center Jason Spezza, they both showed up in a big way for the Senators in a 4-1. Elliott stopped 28 shots, including two stellar shorthanded breakaway stops while Spezza factored into all four Sens goals, getting  a goal and three assists in the win. Matt Moulson prevented Elliott from getting a shutout, scoring a power play goal. Dwayne Roloson, who had been playing well for the Isles, looked bad tonight stopping 23 shots in the loss. The loss marked the sixth straight for the Islanders who are quickly running into problems with a defense that just can’t keep up with teams.

St. Louis 2 – San Jose 0

Jaroslav Halak’s great season continues as Halak stopped 25 shots in earning his third shutout of the season, tying him with Bruins goalie Tim Thomas for the league lead. Fellow former Canadien Matt D’Agostini as well as David Perron scored for St. Louis and for Perron it made for sweet revenge after being the victim of a blindside hit by Sharks captain Joe Thornton. Thornton was kicked out of the game for an illegal check to the head in the second period. Later on in the second, Perron would score on a backhanded rebound past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. Niemi stopped 27 shots in the loss. Meanwhile, the Sharks have been shutout in two straight games. The Wild shut them out on Tuesday night in Minnesota.

If you’re interested in such things, with wins by both St. Louis and Columbus tonight, those two teams now sit atop the Central Division

Vancouver 3 – Colorado 1

The Canucks big guns came out to play tonight as Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin scored goals while Raffi Torres added his seventh goal of the year in giving the Canucks a win against their divisional rivals. Cory Schneider got the start over Roberto Luongo tonight and played solid stopping 33 shots in the win. David Van Der Gulik scored his first NHL goal to spoil the shutout for Schneider who has been lights out when getting spot starts for Luongo. If nothing else, that’s exactly what the Canucks want to get out of their backup goalie and Schneider has been stellar in his role.

Los Angeles 1 – Tampa Bay 0

For two teams that rarely play each other, the Lightning and Kings sure do have some great dislike for each other. In what proved to be an overly physical and occasionally dirty game, the Kings came away with a Jon Quick 24-save shutout and a Justin Williams goal to secure the win. As for the dirty stuff, the game saw Tampa’s Mattias Ohlund take a five-minute major for boarding Kings captain Dustin Brown.

Later in the game, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty went out of his way to hit Tampa’s Steve Downie from behind in open ice. Doughty got a two-minute minor for the hit, but Downie would try to get him back shortly after that attempting to make a leaping hit on Doughty in the corner but missing. Downie then went after Doughty to try and fight him, but Willie Mitchell intercepted him and did the deed. Downie was given a ten-minute misconduct after blowing a gasket after the fight yelling at anyone in stripes he could find. And he wonders why it’s tough to warm up to him.

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

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San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

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Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.