Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 24

Pittsburgh 2, Philadelphia 1 (SO)

The Penguins may not have ever had the lead against the Flyers, but there’s no doubt they were the better team for all 65 minutes. Make that 65 minutes plus a shootout. In fact, Pittsburgh was never ahead on the scoreboard until Chris Kunitz buried a beautiful shootout goal to clinch the victory for the Pens.
The Pens held Philadelphia to only 20 shots for the game including a paltry five shots in the final frame of regulation. If it wasn’t for Sergei Bobrovsky standing on his head all night, the scoreboard wouldn’t have even been close. It wasn’t just the volume of saves, but the quality of saves kept the Flyers in the game. The team can thank their goaltender for single-handedly extending their point streak to 8 straight games.

With both teams earning points, the Flyers are sitting at 98 points with 9 games remaining, while the Penguins jump to 94 points with only 8 games left on their schedule. But it wasn’t all smiles for the victorious Penguins. Rookie forward Dustin Jeffrey went down with a lower-body injury (right leg or ankle) and will be re-evaluated on Friday. Aside from that, it was the perfect trip to Philly.

Ottawa 2, NY Rangers 1 (SO)

Looking at the standings, this was one the Rangers felt like they had to win. Win in regulation, win in overtime, or win in a shootout, it didn’t matter; they just had to win. Upon closer review, this game wasn’t the slam dunk people may have thought it was. With the shootout victory, Ottawa is 9-1-1 in their last 11 at Madison Square Garden. How streaks like that happen is another story, but the point is that the Senators have made it a habit of walking into MSG and taking what they want. Even with this sad version that is playing out the string, they still made it happen. Again, you can’t help but wonder where this team would be if they had Craig Anderson playing like this all season. Maybe they’d be a playoff team, maybe they wouldn’t. But they’d certainly be in the conversation.

Things weren’t all bad for the Rangers though. They did get the charity point for losing in a shootout and the team they are chasing (Montreal) was dominated so severely they should have been given TWO losses. The loser-point brings the Rangers to within 2 points of the Habs with 7 games to go. Sure, they have to make the playoffs first—but all the sudden the 6th seed is looking like a possibility.

Atlanta 2, NY Islanders 1

In a bit of symmetry, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares both scored their 27th goals of the season. Rob Schremp scored a power play goal in the 2nd period against his former team that turned out to be the eventual game winner. In the record books it’ll look like a booming slap shot or beautiful deke, but in reality it was a semi-screened wrister that Al Montoya would love to have back. The win improves the Thrashers recent record to 5-2-1 over their last eight games, but it might be too little too late. They’re still in 11th place in the Eastern Conference needing to make up seven points in their final nine games. At least they won the season series against the Islanders by taking 3 of 4.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’re going to need more than 15 shots if they’re going to want to win games. They’ve been playing well down the stretch, but there’s no way they should get outshot 34-15 to a team that has been one of the worst teams of 2011.

Boston 7, Montreal 0

The game that was supposed to be the bloodbath of the night never really fully delivered. To clarify, the game didn’t deliver line-brawls, goalie fights, or game misconducts. But what it did deliver was a crazy atmosphere in Boston and a rather large statement from the Boston Bruins to their Adams Northeast Division rival. 7-0 routes have a way of saying things that translate better than anything said in a sound byte or press clipping.

It was the first game between the two teams since Zdeno Chara’s questionable hit on Max Pacioretty in Montreal. Since the hit, Chara has handled the media storm well as he has 2 goals and 8 assists in his last 8 games and owns a +7 rating over the same time span. Against Montreal, he (and David Krejci) picked-up three assists as he did his part to chase Carey Price from the game in the 3rd period. After the game, Mark Recchi explained that his comments this week about Pacioretty embellishing his injury were designed to “take the heat off of Chara.” It must have worked.

St. Louis 4, Edmonton 0

In retrospect, this game will please both teams when they look back on it after the season. The Blues showed resolve and played well in a game that means nothing to them. They’re not going to make the playoffs—but wins like this can help a team grasp onto something to build for next year. TJ Oshie showed that he would have been a huge help if he was healthy all year. Chris Stewart continued to show fans in St. Louis that he can be their power forward of the future and Jaroslav Halak showed flashes of the goaltender they thought they were going to get. Playing with heart down the stretch means something—just ask the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On the flipside, the Oilers lost again on their way to the worst record in the league. Sure, it’s good to win games—but they’ve been looking at one of the top picks in the draft for a few months. No one said “Losing for Landeskog” was going to be easy.

Nashville 5, Anaheim 4

The game was supposed to be the triumphant return of the Ducks’ all-star goaltender in Nashville. Well, it was—for just over 11 minutes, the return of Jonas Hiller. After that, it was the Dan Ellis show as Hiller got the hook after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots. The Preds jumped all over the Ducks who were in the second game of a back-to-back situation. Considering Anaheim won an emotional game the night before and was trying to ease their goaltender back into the mix, Nashville couldn’t have started the game better by putting pucks on the net and putting the Ducks in a hole to start the game. Two goals from Sergei Kostitsyn helped Nashville jump out to a lead they’d never relinquish. The win was the fifth straight for the Predators; and also snapped the Ducks’ own four-game winning streak.

Things weren’t perfect in the Hockey Tonk as they nearly blew a 5-1 lead in the 3rd period. Coach Barry Trotz was happy with the win, but was clearly upset with his team letting the opposition off the hook. Whenever a coach compares a win to the previous year’s playoff loss, it’s never a good thing.

Toronto 4, Colorado 3

The Leafs are still alive. With 78 points and sitting only three points behind the final playoff spot, they’re most definitely alive. They can thank Nikolai Kulemin for his pair of goals. They can thank the rest of the Eastern Conference for making it easier to sneak into the 8th seed. They can thank James Reimer for being this year’s version of “Maple Leafs Savior of All-Time.” Whatever the reasoning, a win is a win and they’re still in the hunt. We’ll know a lot more after Tuesday night’s game when they face the Buffalo Sabres at the ACC. If they can win that game in regulation, fans in Toronto might have reason to plan for the playoffs. Note: plan for the playoffs, not plan a parade. There’s a difference.

Phoenix 3, Columbus 0

This was one of those games where one team needed the win to keep pace in a playoff race while the other is just playing out the string and waiting for April. Check out the score and you tell me which team is playoff bound and which one is heading to the golf course. If the score doesn’t do the trick, then the three goals the Coyotes scored should better tell the story. All three goals were the same: there was a Coyotes player in front of the net, all by himself with as much time to do whatever he wanted to beat Mathieu Garon. The effort was great for the Coyotes as they are 8-1-1 and have only given up 18 goals in their last 10 games. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots to earn his 7th shutout of the year and 21st of his career.

But in the other locker room, things weren’t quiet as cheery. RJ Umberger and Rick Nash called a players-only meeting to let their teammates know that they still need to have the attitude that these games mean something. Hopefully that translates into some goals since they’ve been shut out three times in their last five games.

Los Angeles 4, San Jose 3 (SO)

Any fans on the East Coast who chose to stay up past their bedtimes were treated to an amazing finish in Los Angeles. In a game that went back and forth, the Kings controlled the play in the first two periods as they outshot their No Cal rivals 27-13. In response, the Sharks came out attacking in the third period and controlled play just like the Kings controlled the first 40 minutes. The game was tied when Dustin Brown scored his second goal of the game with only 1:42 left in the 3rd period. Ordinarily, that would be enough for the victory—but not in the Western Conference this year. The unofficial “home of the 3-point game” lived up to its name as Patrick Marleau buried the game tying goal (his second of the game) with 4.1 seconds left in regulation. Both goaltenders made nice saves in the overtime session before Jonathan Quick improved his shootout record to an amazing 9-0. That’s the kind of crazy game it took to snap San Jose’s 4-game winning streak.

Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

“Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “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.

“He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

“There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.

Methot confident he can compliment Stars’ offensive d-men

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Talk about a hectic few days for Marc Methot.

Methot started last week as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was left unprotected when Dion Phaneuf opted not to waive his no-movement clause. He was plucked during the expansion draft process by Vegas and then dealt to Dallas, as the Golden Knights recouped another draft pick and a prospect goalie.

For the Stars, their offseason plan was simple: Improve their goaltending and improve on defense.

Putting that plan into action is certainly easier said than done, but general manager Jim Nill has made the necessary moves to address those areas, acquiring and then signing Ben Bishop and most recently acquiring Methot. Their new head coach is Ken Hitchcock, who has gained a reputation across the league for defensive structure.

Methot will never be known for his offensive production. He didn’t score a goal in 68 regular season games during the 2016-17 campaign, though he changed that with a pair of goals and four points in the playoffs. What the Stars see in Methot is a “steady defenseman that can play well with an offensive-minded partner,” Nill said two days ago.

It remains to be seen exactly who Methot will be paired with to start next season. Of all the Stars’ defensemen, John Klingberg packs the most offensive punch. In three seasons with Dallas, he’s never gone below the 40-point plateau, hitting 58 points in 2015-16.

“I complement well an offensive-minded player,” Methot told NHL.com. “It allows whoever I’m playing with to roam around a little bit more and take more opportunities offensively. At the same time that doesn’t mean your partner can skate around all over the place at free will. I think you still as a tandem have to be fairly good in your own end.”

The Stars have struggled in that last department. But they’re also in a window to win right now, as their offseason moves have illustrated.

Report: Red Wings re-sign Lashoff to two-year, two-way deal

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The Detroit Red Wings are bringing back defenseman Brian Lashoff.

According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Red Wings have re-signed Lashoff to a two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 per season. He re-signed with Detroit last year for the same amount of money, only on a one-year contract.

Lashoff has been with the Red Wings organization since 2008, eventually joining its AHL team in Grand Rapids. He has since gone on to play 122 career NHL games, all with the Red Wings, with a total of two goals and 13 points.

This past season, Lashoff played five games in Detroit, while spending the majority of the year with the Griffins, who won the Calder Cup.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings still have interest in defenseman — and former first-round pick — Dylan McIlrath. (CapFriendly reported Wednesday evening that Detroit had re-signed him to a two-year, two-way deal.)

From the Detroit Free Press:

McIlrath towers at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. He’s not a skill guy, but he’s great at keeping the waters calm for young defense prospects – and this coming season the Griffins’ fold will include Filip Hronek, the 53rd overall pick from 2016 and Vili Saarijarvi, the 73rd overall pick from 2015. McIlrath creates a lot of room because of his size, and that should help young defense partners adjust to pro hockey.

McIlrath was selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010. He was dealt to Detroit at this year’s trade deadline.

Report: Canucks meet with pending UFAs Gagner, Weal

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The Vancouver Canucks reportedly met with a pair of pending unrestricted free agent centers on Wednesday, as Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal were said to be in town.

That is according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger.

Vancouver’s top three centers for the 2017-18 campaign appear to be in place, with Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter. However, center is an area the Canucks especially need to improve going into next season and for the future.

Horvat’s development the past three years has provided hope he can eventually take over as the No. 1 center, and, as a pending restricted free agent, the Canucks need to get him under contract. Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is 37 in September and in the final year of his contract, along with brother Daniel, following a difficult year for the brothers. Sutter has four more years remaining on his deal, but his time in Vancouver has been disrupted by injury.

Gagner and Weal could provide interesting options for the Canucks.

Playing this season on a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner ended up having his most productive campaign with 18 goals and 50 points, despite the fact he averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, and barely over 11 minutes at even strength under John Tortorella.

Read more: Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for surprising Blue Jackets

Where he made his mark was on the power play, with 18 points. That number would’ve led the Canucks, who were dismal on the power play with a 14.1 per cent efficiency rating, good enough for 29th overall. At 27 years of age, and nearing 700 career games played, almost 30 per cent of Gagner’s career points have come on the power play, so perhaps Canucks’ management may look to him as a possible remedy for that ailment when next season begins.

But after giving big money and term — and a no-movement clause — to Loui Eriksson last summer, it would be wise for the Canucks to be a little more sensible in their spending, especially during a rebuilding phase.

Weal is from the Vancouver area, and is hoping to turn a productive two-month stretch (12 points in 23 games) with the Flyers into a raise from the $650,000 he made at the NHL level last season. At last check, Weal and the Flyers appeared good on term but weren’t on the same page when it came to compensation, leading the 25-year-old forward to check out other possible opportunities across the league.

He’s had no problem putting up big numbers in the AHL, reaching 70 points in 76 games three years ago. And the Canucks could desperately use more offensively gifted players in their lineup, particularly if they have age and time on their side.

When it comes to the Canucks, there is another free agent forward with apparent interest. That would be former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov.

NHL teams can now talk to pending unrestricted free agents to gauge potential interest, however no contracts can be signed until July 1.