Atlanta Thrashers v New York Islanders

Dustin Byfuglien sets Thrashers goal scoring record by a defenseman and its just December

During the Thrashers 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa, Thrashers defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored his 11th goal of the season late in the second period. For Byfuglien, that goal set a new Thrashers team record for goals scored by a defenseman.

He’s broken a franchise record in just December, a record that took just 31 games to break. If you’ll recall, we wondered aloud if moving Byfuglien back to his normal position on the blue line, one he played while coming up in the Chicago system, was a good idea. We know that Jeremy Roenick thought it was a really bad decision but perhaps that’s why he’s not a head coach. After being such a success as a forward and taking up space in front of opposing goalies all throughout the playoffs last year, it seemed like new Atlanta head coach Craig Ramsay was taking a risk.

As it turns out, Ramsay knew exactly what he was getting and that by putting Byfuglien back where he felt most comfortable has worked out pretty well for the Thrashers. Ramsay said he envisioned Byfuglien being a 15-goal scorer as a defenseman. That goal total is one that took him virtually a full season to reach in each of his last three years in Chicago. Now, he’s just four goals away from reaching 15 and you have to think that making a run at 20 isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Talk about silencing your critics. Byfuglien has been a major part of the rise of Atlanta this season and giving them something they haven’t really had before in team history, a defenseman that can score be a power play threat, is the key. Now Atlanta is in striking distance of the Capitals in the Southeast Division and they’re playing a brand of hockey that’s tough while also getting tremendous goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec. Sounds like the kind of team that might be a real pain in the butt to play in the playoffs, doesn’t it?

The Thrashers are hoping that they’ll be able to keep riding high to make it that far this year and have Dustin Byfuglien’s assistance and experience to rally around for it. For now though, the Thrashers are happy to continue climbing the ladder in the East and with the conference being as wide open as it is, who’s to say they can’t shake things up in the spring.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.