PHT readers think Tampa Bay makes the most sense for Evgeni Nabokov

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman downplayed – but didn’t totally deny – the talk that newly minted free agent goalie Evgeni Nabokov could help the up-and-coming team take a step forward in net.

Simply put, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are struggling despite the fact that the Lightning are tied with the St. Louis Blues for the league lead in allowing the least amount of shots allowed per game (27.1). Ellis is 8-5-4 with a pitiful 87.6 save percentage and 3.23 goals against average and Smith’s numbers are nearly identical (9-5-0 with an 87.9 save percentage and 3.36 goals against average).

The “Mendoza line” for a starting NHL goalie is around 90 percent and every percentage point is actually a pretty big deal, so it’s obvious that the Lightning are receiving well below average play from their goalies.

Now, there’s also no doubt that Nabokov is having a tough year. While the KHL said that they terminated his contract for “family circumstances,” the goalie clearly wasn’t earning his $6 million pay check. So if an NHL team signs him, it will be with his 10 seasons in San Jose in mind, not his semi-disastrous run in the KHL.

While it might be some time before Nabby returns to pro hockey, we couldn’t help but wonder which team would make the most sense. The Washington Capitals and (his former team) San Jose Sharks earned a lot of votes, but the team that received the most is Tampa Bay.

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Obviously, adding Nabokov would develop a crowded situation in the Lightning net.

That being said, the Lightning boast plenty of cap space ($11.35 million, according to CapGeek.com) and their other two goalies might not be that tough to move. Smith is in the last year of a contract that nets an annual $2.2 million cap hit while Ellis has an affordable two-year, $3 million deal. Whether it be through a trade or placing those goalies on waivers, the team could lose one (or both) of Smith and Ellis.

Of course, it all comes down to whether or not Yzerman actually wants to do that. We’ll have to wait and see there, but if you ask PHT readers, Nabokov would make a lot of sense in a bolts uniform.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)