Around the rink – Saturday, November 13th

There’s far too much going on tonight to be really witty. As always, all times listed are Eastern because that was our favorite failed airline.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Boston

After winning four of their last five, Ottawa starts a four-game road trip in Boston against Tim Thomas, a guy who has owned them throughout his career. Thomas is 17-7-2 in his career against the Sens with a 2.02 goal against average. Ottawa could stand to see their offense continue to improve. During their stretch of success in their last five games they’re averaging over three goals a game.

Washington @ Buffalo

The Sabres are on a roll of late and their reward for that is facing the best team in the league. The Sabres have five points in their last three games, meanwhile the Caps and Alex Semin come roaring into Buffalo with a 12-4-0 record and the top scoring offense in the NHL. Semin leads the way with 11 goals and has been an offensive revelation making teams forget a bit about Alex Ovechkin the goal scorer. Meanwhile, Ovi leads the team with 12 assists and leads in scoring with 21 points.  For Buffalo, look for Ryan Miller to get the nod tonight for the first time since late October. They’ll need him to be in top form to stop the flying circus of offense from Washington.

Vancouver @ Toronto

Think there’s any pressure on Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri? After being called up from the AHL yesterday, the 2009 first round pick gets to make his debut on home ice on Hockey Night In Canada against gold medal winner Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. The Leafs are in desperate need of offense and Kadri’s been producing that of late in the AHL. No pressure, kid. Meanwhile, the Canucks continue their tour of eastern Canada looking to build off their stomping of the Senators the other night. This one could turn out to be special for Kadri and the Leafs or continue pouring gasoline on the speculation over Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s job security.

Carolina @ Montreal

The first place Canadiens welcome the Hurricanes to town fresh off of a 8-1 thumping at the hands of the Flyers. Meanwhile, the Habs are riding high after back-to-back wins over the Canucks and Bruins. The Habs are doing it with defense and after all the preseason speculation over Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, it appears that Price has settled in just fine and many Habs fans are happy to just stop talking about Halak from now on. Do the Hurricanes that won 7-1 or lost 8-1 show up tonight for the Habs to deal with? We shall see.

Florida @ Philadelphia

Florida will be without Steve Bernier after catching a butt-end in the face from Minnesota’s Brent Burns last night in their 2-1 win over the Wild. In his place, enforcer Darcy Hordichuk gets the call and it’s convenient considering the ever-forceful Flyers are the opponent. The Flyers, meanwhile, are winners of eight of their last nine games and have Sergei Bobrovsky and Claude Giroux to thank for that.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta

The Penguins look to keep things rolling after a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay last night. Marc-Andre Fleury redeemed himself for at least one night. Ondrej Pavelec gets the nod against the Pens and his history against them is a bit dubious. In his career, he’s 0-4-0 with a 5.22 goals against and just an .843 save percentage. Considering how shaky Atlanta’s defense and goaltending have been of late, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be putting on a show for the Atlanta fans tonight.

Colorado @ Detroit

An old rivalry renewed it’s not, so let’s put that to bed right now. Still, these two get together to play some exciting games of late. The Avs continue to do well despite all their injuries, including a 5-1 spanking of the Blue Jackets last night. Meanwhile, quietly, Detroit is having a very solid season. Jimmy Howard is playing well and the stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are producing in a big way for the Wings. This game shapes up to be like a movie script with the young, plucky upstarts going against the veteran machine of a team. Whether it plays out like Hollywood would dictate remains to be seen.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Nashville

The Predators get a big boost tonight with the return of defensemen Ryan Suter and Alexander Sulzer. With Suter back, the steadiness of the Preds blue line becomes even more improved. With Pekka Rinne in goal, tonight’s Preds lineup gets a bit closer to looking the way it should which means potentially big headaches for the middling Blackhawks. The Hawks have been inconsistent of late and while there have been flashes of brilliance, it’s not quite the same. With Dave Bolland back in the lineup for Chicago, they’ll have at least one more top producer out there and a key factor on special teams.

St. Louis @ Phoenix

We’ll say this right now to get it out of the way: If Vernon Fiddler strikes back with another hat trick tonight we’ll be stunned. One Fiddler hat trick last night was enough to throw the universe into disarray and having another one would have us questioning mankind. Meanwhile, the Blues M.A.S.H. unit rolls into town without David Perron once again and now without T.J. Oshie as well as a host of starting defenseman. Yet still they’re tied with Detroit atop the Central Division. Jaroslav Halak has to be some kind of miracle worker, right?

10:00 pm

Calgary @ San Jose

The Flames roll into San Jose coming off a bad loss to the Coyotes last night. Sure, the final was 5-4 but it wasn’t actually that close. The Flames could stand to get those goals a bit sooner in the game and put the pressure on the opponents for once. Meanwhile, the Sharks are looking like they’ll roll out Antti Niemi in goal tonight and they’re looking to get things right. They’ve won two of their last three games, sure, but they’ve yet to look like the world beaters they’re expected to be. Thumping on an inconsistent Flames team will help them out as they’ve got a date with the Kings after this.

10:30 pm

NY Islanders @ Los Angeles

Speaking of the Kings, could they be looking at a trap game against the hapless Isles? Sure, the Isles have lost eight in a row, but they’re not losing games by a wide margin. They’ve looked tight but at least defensively responsible in their last three losses to the Flyers, Ducks, and Sharks. With the Kings slated to have a game with San Jose up next, the possibility for getting caught looking ahead is there and real. If the Kings fall asleep at the wheel in this one, the Isles might be able to break that streak.

Kings want to increase scoring, but can Stevens make it happen?

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If sheer exposure to a team translates to make that team better, then no candidate can lift the Los Angeles Kings quite like John Stevens.

The hockey world tends to lose track of assistant (or “associate”) coaches far more easily than the main guys, and that is the case with Stevens. Seriously, Stevens has been with the Kings since 2010-11. How many Kings fans occasionally forgot he was there?

(Be honest.)

Anyway, Stevens has been able to keep an eye on the Kings for some time, so does he really have a chance to make them better? That remains to be seen, but give Stevens and new GM Rob Blake credit; they at least seem to offer some specifics about improving Los Angeles’ offense beyond “score more goals.”

The presser starts around the 8:00 mark:

Stevens provides a fun line about wanting to “lead the league” in goalie interference challenges which …

*gets interrupted by Bruce Boudreau GIF*

No, but really, LA Kings Insider transcribed some of the more interesting bits about how management believes that they’ll approach zone entries and attempting to score from the center of the ice. Here are some choice bits via Rosen’s transcription:

Blake: “We were at the bottom of controlled entry, goals off of controlled entry … We were near the bottom at getting the puck to the slot whether we were skating it or passing it so there were a lot of things that, the way goals are being scored now, that we weren’t having success in.”

Stevens: ” … Analytics tells you we don’t get enough scoring opportunities from the middle of the ice and that’s clearly an area where, whether it’s quickly off a transition forecheck and you’re going to try to get to those areas, you’re going to have people there more, and spend more time around the net. But it’s clearly an area we’re going to focus on.”

***

OK, so there’s a blueprint. But roster construction matters as much as system – let’s not forget that the Kings remained a possession mammoth until the end and that Darryl Sutter remains a respected coach – and that’s where the real questions come in.

Simply put, there are some reasons to wonder if things might actually get worse.

The Kings will find out if Anze Kopitar merely experienced a down year or if this is the new reality as he turns 30 in August. Jeff Carter could hit the wall some expected him to already hit. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are two rare Kings scorers who are in their primes … but they’re not going to be nearly as cheap after getting new deals this summer.

Ultimately, Stevens can only do so much. Blake will need to be creative to help this team … be more creative.

But hey, at least they have a plan that seems a bit more concrete than only spewing out buzzwords like “being tough to play against.”

Blues think they’re ‘as sound as ever’ on defense without Shattenkirk

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Knowing Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the talented defenseman and braced for the immediate blow to their playoff hopes.

That never happened. The Blues actually got better without him.

When the Blues dealt the pending free agent at the trade deadline, they seemed to be creating a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrapping the NHL-best Washington Capitals with their deepest defense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the elevated play of captain Alex Pietrangelo and second-year defenseman Colton Parayko while Shattenkirk plays a limited, specialized role for Washington.

With Pietrangelo taking over top power-play duties, Parayko pitching in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bortuzzo providing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the second round with a 4-1 series win over Minnesota and haven’t missed a beat without Shattenkirk.

“We’re bigger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two players that play with a little more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Edmundson doing the majority of the physical work,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Now we have two players that are bringing some of that physical play.”

Armstrong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shattenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young forward Zach Sanford because there was no chance of re-signing him this summer.

On the flip side, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan only got involved in the bidding when it became clear Shattenkirk was a rental and not long-term commitment.

After being a top-four defenseman in St. Louis, Shattenkirk is a third-pairing player and power-play specialist for Washington. He was among the team leaders in overall minutes in Games 1 and 2 before having his ice time slashed to a career playoff low 12:54 in Game 4 and ranking fifth or six on the Capitals’ blue line the remainder of their first round series against Toronto.

Shattenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an explanation from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “irrelevant” to players this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in crucial situations and leads Capitals defensemen with three points.

But he’s not in St. Louis anymore.

“I do think that we roll our D pairings a little bit more here, and everyone gets to play a regular shift for the most part,” Shattenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a little more reliant on our top two guys of playing the big-time minutes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of determined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

Saying so long to Shattenkirk shifted the big-time minutes on the right side to Pietrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL defensemen in points and 11th in ice time before the Shattenkirk trade, Pietrangelo was second with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game after it.

Thrown into tougher situations than his first playoffs last season, Parayko has grown up fast without Shattenkirk around.

“It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues prepared to face the Nashville Predators. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from experience.”

Even the experienced Blues defensemen like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the structure of Mike Yeo, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach in early February, but the defensive improvements have made up for the loss of Shattenkirk’s offensive talent that will earn him a big contract somewhere July 1.

“Defensively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gunnarsson said. “Without Shatty I think we were lacking, especially the first couple games (of the playoffs), some offense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

Yeo said his team being in must-win mode from the deadline on helped spur a late-season run that allowed them to also eliminate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an offensive spark from a right-handed-shooting first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jordan Schmaltz into their lineup.

In Washington, Shattenkirk is glad to be on a Stanley Cup contender readying for a second-round matchup against the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis enjoying success without him.

“When I was there this year, we knew we had that capability. For whatever reason we just couldn’t get to our full potential,” Shattenkirk said. “They were a group that believed that they could play this way all year, and they’re doing it at the right time.”

AP freelance writer Nate Latsch in St. Louis contributed.

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:Jake Allen gives Blues “a sense of calm.”

Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan named 2017 Masterton nominees

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The PHWA announced the three finalists for the NHL’s 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Andrew Cogliano and Derek Ryan.

As a reminder, the award is for “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Ryan distinguished himself as a 29-year-old who battled his way to time in the NHL, managing a goal in his debut game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

For what it’s worth, some believe that Bryan Bickell should have represented the Hurricanes.

Cogliano stands out as one of the “iron men” of the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks. The PHWA notes that he’s never missed a game in his career, managing a streak of 779 games.

Finally, there’s Anderson, who managed an impressive season in net for the Ottawa Senators while his wife Nicholle battles a rare form of throat cancer. That emotional story continued after Anderson backstopped the Senators in beating the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Marleau says he wants to return to Sharks, but it might not be so easy

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It seemed strangely fitting that Patrick Marleau scored the final goal of the San Jose Sharks’ season as the Edmonton Oilers eliminated them in Game 6.

Monday presented questions about what that goal means.

For one thing, it definitely doesn’t sound like Marleau expects that to be his final goal in the NHL, as he believes he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more,” according to NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz.

“I still think I can contribute and play,” Marleau said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The 37-year-old made a strong argument that he can still light up the lamp in 2016-17. He scored 27 goals and 46 points during the regular season and ended his playoff run with three goals and an assist (all in the final three contests vs. Edmonton).

Marleau was especially effective once the new year rolled around, collecting 29 points in his last 41 games.

Before we get to the more unpleasant stuff, let’s watch that last goal:

So … yeah, that’s a pretty convincing case that he can at least still play now.

The bigger question is: if Marleau really wants term, are the Sharks willing to give him what he’s looking for?

Marleau admitted that discussions on an extension haven’t even happened yet. When you consider the upcoming challenges for San Jose, you wonder if this is it for a player who’s suited up for a whopping 1,493 regular season games with the franchise (even after there were significant trade rumors over the years).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s outstanding value $4.25 million cap hit evaporates after 2017-18, and the same can be said for Martin Jones‘ $3 million mark. One could imagine the Sharks approaching Marleau with a very appealing one-year offer, but it would be a big leap to imagine the franchise going for a guy who’s approaching 40 instead of a solid starting goalie and one of the best pure defensemen in the NHL.

So, really, the question isn’t “Will Marleau really play for five more years?” Instead, it might be “Does Marleau value playing for the Sharks enough to take a shorter deal or does he want that term right now?”