Early Ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 17th

For recaps of the three games that had an impact on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, click here. We’ll pass along notes on the final two games later tonight, but in the mean time, here are recaps of six other contests.

Detroit 2, Columbus 0

When you become a group that only includes Scotty Bowman during his days with the golden era Montreal Canadiens and Glen Sather when he coached the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers in its ranks, you’ve done something special. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock became only the third coach in NHL history to win 300 games in six seasons. With 11 games left, the Detroit bench boss might even be able to match Sather’s 307 wins in a six season span (Bowman’s out of reach with a staggering 321).

Babcock can thank a goalie who hadn’t earned many of those wins, as Joey MacDonald earned a 37-save shutout to preserve a 1-0 lead Drew Miller created just 33 seconds into the game. Valterri Filppula scored the Red Wings’ other goal, helping the team win its fourth in a row.

Montreal 3, Tampa Bay 2 (SO)

For years, Canadiens fans salivated at the idea of having French-Canadian star Vincent Lecavalier on their team. That didn’t stop them from cheering when he was booted from tonight’s game for slashing P.K. Subban, though.

Carey Price stopped 35 shots for his 34th win of the season, while Michael Cammalleri earned the shootout winner. Nigel Dawes scored the Habs’ other shootout goal in his debut for Montreal.

This win moves Montreal three points behind Boston for the Northeast Division title and also puts the Canadiens only three points behind Tampa Bay for the fifth seed in the East.

Nashville 4, Boston 3 (OT)

Sure, the Bruins wanted to win this game, but the Predators needed to if they wanted to keep pace in the complicated West bubble. Shea Weber scored an overtime power-play goal to win the game.

It wasn’t the Vezina Trophy matchup many were hoping for, as Tuukka Rask played instead of Tim Thomas. Pekka Rinne still made a statement, though, stopping 35 out of 38 shots.

Dallas 5, Chicago 0

With this win for Dallas, the Stars and Blackhawks have identical 38-25-8 records for 81 pts. In fact, they both have the same amount of regulation wins (33), shootout wins (5) and shootout losses (5).

Kari Lehtonen lead the way with a 25-save shutout while the Stars employed a scoring by committee approach. Red-hot youngster Jamie Benn scored yet again, justifying the feeling that he would fill James Neal’s shoes (or skates?) quite comfortably.

Meanwhile, Blackhawks players called it their worst loss of the season.

Phoenix 3, Edmonton 1

After struggling mightily, the Coyotes are hot again. They earned their fourth win in a row thanks to a great performance by Ilya Bryzgalov (35 for 36 saves) and nice work by forwards Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata (both scoring a goal and an assist each).

Phoenix is only one point behind the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks. Then again, the Kings could pass them based on games remaining if they win tonight, which is perfectly reasonable in this division.

Calgary 5, Colorado 2

This was probably the least surprising result of the night. The Flames handed the Avalanche their 10th consecutive loss in a row, but if that didn’t make it foreseeable enough, Calgary apparently beat Colorado on St. Paddy’s last year. In fact, the Flames must play well with green beer in their bellies, because apparently they are 9-5-2 on the holiday.

The Flames now find themselves in eighth place, although the Predators are nipping at their heels.

Looking to make the leap: Josh Ho-Sang

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders made something of a gamble when they selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now that bet could start to pay off handsomely.

Even before Ho-Sang was drafted he was attracting quite a bit of attention. He had the tools to be a big offensive threat, but there were concerns about his attitude.

“I don’t think it’s from unfair labels, it’s from stuff that I’ve done,” he told the Windsor Star back in June 2014. He later added, “I’ve just not done certain things the proper way. That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up.”

Those statements of acknowledgment can be seen as encouraging, but the warning signs continued as he showed up late for the first day of training camp in 2015 and the Islanders addressed it by immediately returning him to the OHL. Fortunately since then there has been more encouraging news about Ho-Sang.

He went pro in 2016-17 and had an strong season in both the AHL and NHL. With the Islanders he scored four goals and 10 points in 21 contests while getting a solid 16:27 minutes per game. That left an impression on Islanders coach Doug Weight.

“Josh was great,” Weight said. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.”

Ho-Sang’s spot on the Islanders still isn’t guaranteed, but he’s put himself in a position where it’s very plausible that he’ll be part of the team’s opening game roster. If he plays well he could end up being a significant presence on the club throughout the season.

All the while he might be making the case that the Islanders’ gamble has turned into a steal.

Beauchemin signs on for third stint with Ducks (Updated)

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Francois Beauchemin will once again be playing for the Anaheim Ducks, according to TVA Sports and Renaud Lavoie.

Updated: The Ducks have since confirmed a one-year deal for Beauchemin.

The contract reportedly comes with a base salary of $1 million and the potential to earn roughly $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

This would be Beauchemin’s third stint with the team. He played with Anaheim for parts of four campaigns from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Along the way he averaged a staggering 30:33 minutes per game in the playoffs during the Ducks’ 2007 championship run. His second stint with the club spanned parts of five seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. As was the case during his previous run, Beauchemin was a workhorse and in the 2013 lockout shortened season he also finished fourth in the Norris Trophy vote.

Beauchemin spent the last two seasons with Colorado. Although he’s 37-years-old now, Beauchemin has only missed one game over the last two seasons and still averaged 21:31 minutes in 2016-17.

Despite that, Colorado decided to buy him out this summer, which freed up a protected list spot for the expansion draft and created an opening for the club’s younger defensemen as the Avalanche focus on rebuilding.

Given that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen might start the season on the sidelines, adding another blueliner capable of serving in a top-four role like Beauchemin has the potential to be a big boost for the Ducks.

Gaborik unlikely to be ready for start of training camp

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Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from a non-surgical procedure to address his “chronic” knee issue will likely bleed into training camp.

“He’s progressing pretty well from the summer,” Kings GM Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider. “He still has some difficulty with some of the lifts and the strength. We’re probably not sure if we’ll see him in training camp right away, but again, he’s a guy that trains at a very high level and he’s made a commitment to stay in L.A. after he got married, get the rehab back on course. We’re hopeful he can get back to the level that he started last season and the World Cup at.”

Gaborik has been an elite scorer at times during his career, but injuries have been a recurring issue for him. Over the past four seasons he’s played in 220 of a possible 328 contests and he’s been limited to 43 points in 110 games over the last two campaigns.

That’s particularly worrying given that the 35-year-old forward still has four seasons left on his seven-year contract worth roughly $34 million. At the same time a bounce back campaign out of Gaborik would go a long way towards addressing the offensive woes Los Angeles endured in 2016-17.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.