Evgeni Nabokov

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman plays down talk about adding Evgeni Nabokov

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.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”