Los Angeles Kings v Phoenix Coyotes

Why prospective teams shouldn’t give up on Ilya Bryzgalov

When it comes to assessing a player’s performance in the playoffs, many people fixate on the results rather than why something happened.

Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two back-breaking goals to begin the Phoenix Coyotes’ potentially fatal Game 3 loss and both of them made the excellent Russian goalie look pretty bad. Let’s be honest, Bryzgalov hasn’t been able to follow up his great regular season play with outstanding work in the postseason, leading many to wonder if his pending free agent stock is plummeting.

One thing that people seem to overlook when discussing his playoff struggles: he faced the Detroit Red Wings the last two years, aka one of the NHL’s greatest offenses. The Red Wings were the second highest scoring team in the NHL this year, with their 261 goals only trailing the Vancouver Canucks by one.

Yes, there have been goalies who managed to shut down the Red Wings offense over the years, but let’s not forget that Jean-Sebastien Giguere (the guy who once played in front of Breezy in Anaheim) worked his miracles in the clutch-and-grab era.

Bryzgalov’s defense is hanging him out to dry.

As regrettable as Breezy’s series has been, his defense hasn’t exactly been world-class, either. Bryzgalov faced 101 shots in the last three games, meaning that Phoenix allowed an average of 33.6 shots per contest so far. To put that number in perspective, the Carolina Hurricanes allowed 33.2 shots per game during the 2010-11 season, the worst total in the NHL. While it’s true that the ‘Yotes also allowed 32.6 shots per game in the regular season, that tells me that Bryzgalov’s been a life preserver for a team that probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs in the first place.

To expect him to be superman every single game is unrealistic.

In these past two series, Bryzgalov allowed 12 goals in three games against Detroit in 2011 and 24 in seven contests in 2010. Those aren’t gorgeous numbers, but to call him a playoff “choker” is just short-sighted, especially when you consider how well he played behind a competent team in Anaheim.

Breezy actually put up outstanding postseason numbers on a good team.

He was astounding in 11 games played in 2005-06, earning six wins, three shutouts, an all-world 94.4 save percentage and 1.46 GAA. He was almost as good when he subbed for Giguere in the Ducks’ first round series during their 06-07 Cup win, earning three victories, a 92.2 save percentage and 2.25 GAA. Ultimately he gave way to Giguere’s seniority in those two playoff runs, but one could argue that Anaheim would have been A-OK with Breezy in net instead.

So what’s the basic takeaway? He’s actually been just fine in the small sample of playoff games he’s appeared in. Even including his sometimes-ugly numbers against the Red Wings, Bryzgalov has nice career playoff stats: a 91.9 save percentage and 2.45 GAA. The only number that’s mediocre is his 12-12 record, but that’s a stat that has as much to do with the team as it does with the goalie.

Smart GMs will see the big picture with Bryzgalov.

It’s reasonable to say that these last two series hurt Bryzgalov’s ability to make the kind of $5-$6 million salary that franchise goalies acquired before the 2010 correction/meltdown.* There will be many GMs who will totally pass judgment on Breezy, especially if they take the type of stance that Jay Feaster took toward Tomas Vokoun.

A savvy GM will consider the very real possibility that Bryzgalov helped a shaky team overachieve until it ran into the Red Wings buzz saw. That same general manager could save some money at the bargaining table even if he knows that his questionable stats are quite deceptive.

Ultimately, I actually think Bryzgalov should stick with the Coyotes. If he ventures out of that franchise (a more likely possibility if the team moves), then a team like Tampa Bay or Colorado would be wise to scoop him up. It could be a great choice, too, as long as they provide him with more than the threadbare supporting cast offered by Phoenix.

* – Your stance that the 2010 free agent goalie market was an example of self-correction or just a meltdown says a lot about how you think NHL netminders should be paid.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.