With the news breaking yesterday that Evgeni Nabokov was returning to North America for personal reasons after signing in Russia in the off-season, speculation began almost immediately about where, if anywhere, Nabokov would end up back in the NHL. One of the teams that was mentioned almost immediately was Tampa Bay where both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have struggled to keep pucks out of the net this season.
Today, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman spoke about Nabokov in a polite manner as to whether or not there’s mutual interest to be had there. Craig Custance of The Sporting News heard from Stevie Y and about what, if anything of importance, was discussed between himself and Nabokov’s North American agent Don Meehan.
“(Meehan’s) got a guy who is an unrestricted free-agent goaltender. It’s safe to assume that he’s going to look around the league at all the clubs where there may be interest and call those teams,” Yzerman told Sporting News. “He’s doing his job.”
While acknowledging the Lightning’s goaltending has to get better, Yzerman said he’s still not counting out improvement from Ellis and Smith as the ultimate solution.
“I have two goalies here working hard every day trying to improve,” he said. “We have to improve. There’s lots of different ways to improve and that includes sticking with our own people.”
Tampa Bay is doing well this year sitting just three points back of Washington in the Southeast Division and they’ve been doing it without getting much help in goal. Both Ellis and Smith’s numbers this season are less-than optimal for a starting goalie in the NHL. Ellis checks in with a .876 save percentage and a 3.23 goals against average with two shutouts through 20 games. Meanwhile, in 15 games Smith has a .872 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average.
Through 30 games, the Lightning have given up 106 goals, the most in the NHL. If the Lightning plan on being a playoff team, those numbers have to improve either from having Ellis or Smith snap out of their collective funk or by bringing in a guy who can get it done now. At 35 years-old Nabokov has a ton of experience and has the NHL know-how but his season this year with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL was less-than optimal.
In 22 games, Nabokov put up a .888 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against. Those are underwhelming numbers considering the level of competition. Whether the distractions from any possible family issues played into that or if it was just poor play it’s tough to gauge, but at the moment, Tampa Bay certainly looks like a team that could use any kind of help in goal.
For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.
Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.
But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.
Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.
When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.
Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.
The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.
Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.
This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.
Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.
Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.
Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.
Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?
Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.
Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.
Official update on the really important story of the evening:
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.
Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.