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Kari Lehtonen proving to be a goaltender the Stars can depend on

Tonight, the Stars travel to Anaheim and are looking to win in a place where they haven’t won since the beginning of last season. The Stars have won 3 in a row without Brad Richards (also out tonight) and are in the middle of an extremely important four game road trip that has them facing four divisional rivals. This trip might not make their season—but it certainly could ruin it if they dropped a few and lost ground on the rest of the Western Conference contenders.

Even though they’ve lost ground over the last month, most people around the Stars would tell you they would have been happy just knowing they’d have a shot at the playoffs in March. This was supposed to be a rough season with most of the pundits projecting a 4th or 5th place finish in the Pacific and a top 10 draft pick in June. Sure, they still might finish in 4th or 5th in the Pacific—but that might be good enough for a playoff spot in this crazy season.

The person most responsible for the surprising success: Kari Lehtonen.

When the Stars picked up Lehtonen last season from the Atlanta Thrashers for highly-touted prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy, they were getting a goaltender that had all the talent in the world. They were getting a former #2 overall pick and a guy who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Thrashers in net for years to come. They also got a guy who had never been able to stay healthy for an entire NHL season. So it seemed pretty simple from the Stars’ perspective—if they believed he could stay healthy then they were getting a player who could make a difference. Well, 60 games into the season and he’s stayed relatively healthy. And he’s been a difference maker.

People around hockey will tell you that as important as save percentage and goals against average can be for a goaltender, it’s when the goaltender makes the saves that is important for the team. Does he keep his team in the game when the opponents come out of the locker room like gangbusters? Does he make that one save when his team has been dominating but has been unable to score? Does he make the saves at the end of a close game? Is he usually his team’s best penalty killer? Find a goaltender that makes those saves on a regular basis and statistics are almost secondary.

The biggest knock on the Stars coming into the season was the gigantic question mark that hung over their defense. They had the underrated Stephane Robidas coming back to anchor the blueline, but just about every other player had uncertainty surrounding them. Would Nicklas Grossman be able to play big time minutes? Would Trevor Daley continue to develop into a stable defenseman instead of an out-of-place forward? Could Mark Fistric limit errors in his own end and become the kind of player who could play minutes on the 2nd power play unit? Could Matt Niskanen resemble someone other than Matt Niskanen?

There was a ton of uncertainty.

Not all of those questions have been fully answered. The positives have been that Grossman proved to be a strong top 4 defenseman (when healthy) and Daley has played his way to a long-term contract extension. The negatives have been Fistric only shows flashes of taking the next step and Niskanen played his way out of town. It’s certainly been a mixed bag that should be helped by the Alex Goligoski acquisition, but things could be better.

The difference this season has been that Kari Lehtonen’s stellar play has quieted most of the complaining. When the players in front of him make a bad read or miss a coverage assignment, Lehtonen has been there to bailout his teammates time and time again. If there were a statistic that measured the unbelievable to regular save ratio, Lehtonen would be putting up Tim Thomasian numbers. Its one thing to make 29 saves; it’s something totally different when a lot of them are of the spectacular variety. Not only has Lehtonen done that for the Stars this season—they’ve expected it.

The Stars will need him to be on the top of his game for the rest of the season if they want to fulfill the promise they showed at the beginning of the season. It starts tonight against the Ducks and after an expected break against San Jose, should continue in Los Angeles on Monday night.

Remember, as Kari Lehtonen goes, so go the Stars. Luckily for fans in Dallas, he’s getting hot at just the right time.

Maurice: ‘Zero repercussions’ for Jets prospect Laine following offseason knee surgery

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 21: Patrik Laine #29 of Finland looks on against Russia at Ice Palace on May 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Finland defeated Russia 3-1.(Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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With NHL training camps approaching and the beginning of the World Cup of Hockey next month, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice had some good news to report.

It appears that forward Patrik Laine, the second overall selection in this year’s draft behind Auston Matthews, is progressing well from the minor knee surgery he underwent following the NHL scouting combine. That same operation kept him off the ice when the Jets held their development camp early in July.

“He was held out of (Jets) development camp for precautionary reasons, but he’s back to full training and has been for quite some time,” Maurice told NHL.com.

“There will be zero repercussions moving forward.”

Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP from earlier this spring, was named to Finland’s World Cup team. The tournament begins Sept. 17. Finland begins the competition the next day against Team North America.

After an unbelievable 2015-16 season — he was named the Finnish league’s playoff MVP and won gold for Finland at the 2016 world juniors with seven goals and 13 points in seven games — Laine now looks to make the leap to the NHL.

With his shot and skill — not to mention an entry-level deal with that carries an AAV of $3.575 million, including $2.65 million annually in performance bonuses, as per General Fanager — he’ll be given plenty of opportunities.

“Patrik is going to be able to do all those things he’s always been able to do,” Maurice continued.

“How long it takes him to do it, I don’t know, but he’s going to get a chance to play. He fits in to what we’re trying to do as a hockey team, so you’ll live with some mistakes that are youth-generated, but he’s a very special talent and I would not be surprised if he comes in and is able to finish and put up numbers.”

Capitals coaching staff remains intact, after close calls for Reirden and Lambert

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — After the best regular season in franchise history, the Washington Capitals almost lost two assistant coaches to other NHL teams.

Todd Reirden was a finalist for the Calgary Flames’ head coaching job and Lane Lambert for the Colorado Avalanche’s. The Flames hired Glen Gulutzan in June, and then after the abrupt resignation of Patrick Roy the Avalanche hired Jared Bednar last week. That left Jack Adams Award-winning coach Barry Trotz’s staff intact for another run at the Stanley Cup.

Trotz was selfishly glad to still have Reirden and Lambert on the bench, especially considering the Capitals have most of their players back and are again a Cup favorite.

“You never like to lose high-quality people and coaches, but at the same time these are guys that if they’re not replacing me, they’re replacing someone else in the league,” Trotz said Tuesday. “Both of them were right there in the end. It says a lot about them. It says a lot about our program here in Washington.”

Reirden and Lambert contributed to and benefited from the Capitals’ success last season, which ended with a second-round loss to the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Reirden comes back for 2016-17 as an associate coach after being given that promotion Monday when the team announced he’ll run training camp while Trotz is on Canada’s staff at the World Cup of Hockey.

Going through the experience of interviewing is something Reirden believes will help him and Lambert moving forward.

“We went through those situations, both of us, with different teams, but not for one second was I disappointed about coming back and being a part of this team,” Reirden said. “We’ve invested a lot in the last two years and our growth of our team in two years I think has been outstanding.”

The success so far has made Reirden and Lambert two of the more sought-after assistants in the NHL. Reirden learned just how competitive the process of earning a head job is and was able to help Lambert through his situation two months later.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a more difficult decision to make on Lambert, too, given that Joe Sakic of the Avalanche asked permission to talk to Lambert a month before the start of camp. Trotz had to come up with four or five potential replacements but agreed that Lambert should get the chance to interview.

“It might’ve been a different decision if it was the Rangers or someone else calling that you play a lot more,” Trotz said. “But for the most part I think we’ve developed a relationship with our staff that if you get an opportunity to move up, we want to give you that opportunity.”

Next year one if not both will be in the mix for vacancies and likely gone. Players understand that’s part of the business

“Todd is certainly on the horizon, I think,” Niskanen said. “He’s probably going to get a chance. Selfishly I was hoping that it waits another season, at least, and I think that’s good for our team, too.”

The future looks bright in Toronto, but no sense rushing prospect Mitch Marner

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock (R) of the Toronto Maple Leafs talks with Mitchell Marner (L) after being selected fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

What remains for Mitch Marner to accomplish in junior hockey? What’s the point of another year in the Ontario Hockey League?

Selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons with the London Knights in the OHL.

Actually, that’s understating his production. In his draft year, he scored 44 goals and 126 points in 63 regular season games. The following season, he played in six fewer games, with 39 goals and 116 points. He won a Memorial Cup in London this year and was the OHL’s playoff MVP.

That’s quite a list of accomplishments. However, it’s possible that following Maple Leafs training camp, the highly touted forward prospect could be sent back to junior. After turning 19 years old in May, he’s not yet eligible to play a season in the American Hockey League. So the options for him next season include making the NHL, getting sent back to junior or potentially playing in Europe. According to the Toronto Star, Marner doesn’t seem into the latter option.

Skill isn’t an issue.

The more pressing concerns facing Marner are size and strength. He’s listed at five-foot-eleven-inches tall and, as per the Leafs, 160 pounds. There were reports this summer Marner tipped the scales at 163 pounds.

The Maple Leafs continue through their rebuild.

Retaining the No. 1 overall pick that turned into Auston Matthews (he’s Under Pressure) is a boon for the task the Maple Leafs are currently undertaking. They also have forward William Nylander, who had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the big club last season.

Head coach Mike Babcock told TSN that Marner has a “good chance” of making the Maple Leafs roster this upcoming season. The big focus, the coach continued, isn’t so much about putting on weight, but getting stronger.

“I want to make sure I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard, and make sure I can go out there and do the things that I like to do,” Marner said earlier this summer.

The speed of today’s game has allowed for smaller players — Johnny Gaudreau, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi to name a few — to excel. This is something Marner himself has pointed out.

“The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays,” Marner told Sportsnet.

“It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”

It’s understandable for Maple Leafs fans to want to see Marner in the NHL as soon as possible.

With the talent the Maple Leafs have been adding to their system, the future looks bright. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense to rush a player of Marner’s talent into the NHL if his body isn’t physically ready for the demands.

Canada’s world junior team, which looks to reclaim gold on home ice, would certainly welcome the news.

Bruins sign Dominic Moore to one-year, $900K deal

Dominic Moore
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Dominic Moore preached patience when it came to navigating potential opportunities and destinations as a veteran NHL free agent.

After being on the market for almost two full months, Moore is now under contract.

On Tuesday, the Boston Bruins announced that they had signed the 36-year-old center to a one-year, one-way deal worth $900,000.

Moore has never been known for his offensive abilities. His career-high in points was 41, back in 2008-09 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But he can add veteran depth up the middle for the Bruins.

He spent the last three seasons with the New York Rangers, scoring six goals and 15 points in 80 games last season. He also won more than 55 per cent of his faceoffs, and averaged 2:09 of ice time on the penalty kill.