Michael Leighton, Andrej Meszaros

Five Thoughts: Home ice advantage myth, Flyers goaltending a recurring nightmare

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As proof that there’s always something to talk about in the playoffs, with only two games last night there’s more than enough on our plate this morning as we head into a non-stop hockey Saturday. Coming into focus today, how home teams and Flyers goaltending are stinking up the house in the playoffs, Tyler Ennis’ emergence, David Legwand’s bad night, and the comeback story of Jordin Tootoo.

1. Two nights in a row we’ve seen zero home teams hold down the fort and end up losing at home. Just how bad are home teams doing so far? Home teams are 14-21 in the playoffs and in the Montreal-Boston series, a home team has yet to win a game. Considering how hard teams fight to get home ice advantage in the playoffs it’s proven to be very unhelpful to most teams. It’s stunning to think that anyone can win anywhere at anytime but that’s how it’s gone so far. Whether or not that’s a trend we’ll see continue throughout the playoffs remains to be seen but one things for sure, home ice guarantees nothing.

2. At some point in the future the Philadelphia Flyers will figure out their goaltending. While it’s still very possible they’ll move on to the second round, the one thing that’s clear is that they’re not about to win the Stanley Cup this year with such a mish-mash mess in goal. After seeing Brian Boucher wilt in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo and end up replaced by last year’s playoff hero Michael Leighton, a guy who hadn’t played in an NHL game this year, it summed up every Flyers playoff run the last 20 or so years. A great team, and this Flyers team is very good, backed by highly suspect goaltending.

Last season the Flyers won in spite of their goaltending and this year they haven’t yet been able to do that. Playing without Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter doesn’t help that any, but Boucher’s performance yesterday and Sergei Bobrovsky’s in Game 2 are examples of what can happen without that ace goalie. I wonder if Ilya Bryzgalov would hate the weather in Philadelphia.

3. With how the Sabres have done this year, who knew that Tyler Ennis would become their latest big game player. Sure they’ve got Thomas Vanek and yes they’re without Derek Roy (and possibly Jason Pominville now as well) but Ennis is emerging as one of their most consistent offensive threats. That’s not too bad for a guy who was a late season call-up last year and after scoring 20 goals this season to breakout as a big game player. Considering they’re not getting goals from minutes eaters like Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad, Ennis is coming up big.

4. We raved about Bobby Ryan’s goal last night and it’s honestly one of the best goals we’ve ever seen, but how many posters would you see David Legwand end up on after that display? He gets his pocket picked by Ryan and then deked out of his skates twice on the same rush that turns into the highlight of the playoffs. Legwand is a lifelong Predator and while you’d think that would end up his lasting impression on the game, he made up for that set of errors by assisting Joel Ward’s goal that made it 2-2 right after Ryan’s stunner. Shaking off getting exposed that badly speaks a lot of Legwand’s ability to just keep moving on and not let it get him frustrated. The Predators getting the win in overtime makes it all the sweeter.

5.Speaking of the Predators, give it up for Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo took a leave of absence earlier this year to check into the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. After weeks away to get well, he’s come back a different player. The dirty hits and all-around jerky play have dissipated and in Game 5 he made two spectacular passes that led to Predators goals, including the primary assist on Jerred Smithson’s game winner.

If he can keep himself in check, having a grinder like that making pretty plays makes him the sort of player that can give Nashville an upper hand later on in the playoffs. Good for him on getting healthy and straightened out and turning himself into a tremendous feel-good story.

Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 21: Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on January 21, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

No hearing for Taylor Hall after Larsen hit

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils hits Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks in the second period on December 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Devils forward Taylor Hall will avoid supplemental discipline for his big hit on Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Midway through New Jersey’s eventual 3-2 win over the Canucks, Hall caught Larsen behind the Vancouver goal with a massive bodycheck, knocking Larsen unconscious. The Danish blueliner was prone on the ice for several seconds before receiving medical attention, and was eventually stretchered off.

Hall wasn’t penalized on the play.

Larsen spent the night in a New Jersey-area hospital, per Sportsnet, and is flying to Vancouver today to meet with team doctors.

Hall said he didn’t regret throwing the hit, but felt awful about the result. He and Larsen do have a history, having briefly played together in Edmonton.

“I’m looking to make contact there, but I never want to see a guy laying on the ice there like that,” Hall said, per NJ.com. “I only know how to play the game one way, and you’ve got to play it hard. But like I said, I feel terrible.

“When you see him laying on the ice like that, he’s a former teammate of mine, and I just would have loved to make a hit there and continue the play. I hope he’s OK.”

Related: The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record

The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 9: Cory Schneider #35 of the New Jersey Devils and teammates salute their fans after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on April 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 5-1. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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Last night’s game in Newark was mostly notable for the scary situation involving Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, who had to be stretchered off the ice following a devastating hit by Taylor Hall.

But the players played on, and the Devils eventually defeated the Canucks, 3-2.

The victory improved New Jersey’s record at Prudential Center to 8-0-2. The Devils are the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose in regulation at home. They’ve struggled on the road, going 4-7-4.

A quarter of the way through the season, the jury remains out on New Jersey as a legitimate playoff contender. The Devils have just six regulation wins, with four of their victories coming in overtime and two more in the shootout. Only the Panthers (5), Coyotes (4), and Canucks (4) have won fewer games in regulation.

But keeping games close has served the Devils well. Twelve times they’ve been tied after 60 minutes, guaranteeing them at least a point. Heading into tonight’s action, they sit just one point back of Washington for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re in a playoff race,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told reporters this morning ahead of his team’s game with the Bruins (on NBCSN).

The Devils don’t play again until Thursday in Montreal, where a tough stretch starts for John Hynes’ crew. New Jersey returns home to face St. Louis Friday, then it’s back on the road for games at the Rangers, Blues, Senators, and Rangers again.

Wings activate Howard off IR following six-game absence

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Red Wings have played pretty well lately — 5-1-2 in their last eight — and got some good news on Wednesday, as veteran netminder Jimmy Howard was activated off injured reserve.

Howard has been out since Nov. 25 with a groin injury, suffered early in a game against the Devils. He’s missed the last six games as a result, but will — per NHL.com — take part in Thursday’s practice and presumably be ready to dress in time for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets.

Howard was playing very well prior to getting hurt, posting a 1.82 GAA and .940 save percentage in 12 appearances, 11 of those being starts.

His return means it’s back to AHL Grand Rapids for Jared Coreau, who was recalled a couple weeks ago and made his NHL debut against the Penguins last Saturday, stopping 32 shots in a 5-3 loss. That game was the only one in the last eight in which Detroit failed to secure at least a point.

A big reason for that run was the play of Petr Mrazek. With Howard out, the Czech ‘tender has performed admirably, especially over his last five games — Mrazek has stopped 147 of 158 shots for a .930 save percentage, posting a record of 3-0-2.