Manny Malhotra

Vancouver Canucks officially confirm Manny Malhotra is cleared to play, listed as day-to-day


In almost every playoff game, a player’s individual toughness emerges to a startling degree. Just look at Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos shaking off a puck to the face as an example that even the “pretty boys” fight through jarring pain.

Even with high expectations for their tolerance to pain, it’s still difficult to get jaded when hockey players keep topping themselves. Rumors were already circulating that Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra was pushing toward a possible playoff comeback, but the team announced that he has officially been cleared to play. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said that Malhotra is day-to-day and would not discuss his lineup for Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. In other words, a Game 1 return isn’t guaranteed, but it remains a tantalizing possibility.

No doubt about it, Malhotra’s comeback would be one of the most unlikely in recent hockey history. There were many people who thought that Malhotra’s career – not just his regular season and playoffs – would end after taking a puck to the eye that required two surgeries.

Who knows how close Malhotra could be to the player he was during the 2010-11 season, but the two-way center could be a great asset for Vancouver in what should be a tight defensive series. He was actually my mid-season pick for the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, a stance that probably left me alone among hockey writers. Still, when you look at Kent Wilson’s breakdown of Malhotra’s importance to the Canucks, it shows just how strong a player he really is/was.

One of the reasons Malhotra is so effective in his “defensive only” role is his incredible ability to win draws. Most of the time I consider face-off skill to be rather unimportant since most players are +/- 50% on the dot. Malhotra, though, is an extreme outlier. This season he finished with a 61.7% win rate, trailing only New Jersey’s David Steckel (62.3%) by that measure. As a result, Malhotra won the second most defensive zone draws amongst centers this season with 296 and he likely only trailed the leader (Steve Ott) because he missed the final 10 games of the year. Malhotra’s win rate in the defensive zone was even higher, a mind-boggling 63.5% at even strength. This is notable because as Gabriel Desjardins has noted in the past, losing a defensive zone draw can spike shots and chances against in the immediate aftermath. As Gabe says “it’s as though you gave the other team a 10-15 second power-play. For several seconds, the rate of shots allowed is as high as it is on a 5-on-3.”

This issue is especially pertinent in one goal games and, obviously, when killing penalties. Naturally, Malhotra also figured prominently on the Canucks penalty kill this season, averaging a team high 2:45 a game a man down. He won the second most draws on the club (136) on the PK behind only Ryan Kesler (138), again primarily because Kesler played the whole season and Malhotra didn’t.

The effect of Malhotra’s absence ripples across the Canucks line-up. It means guys like Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre are forced into more defensively oriented positions at even strength. It means less defensive zone face-off wins in general and it lowers everyone elses zone start ratio across the board.

When you look at the success of strong puck possession teams like the Detroit Red Wings, it’s no coincidence that their systems operate more smoothly when they dominate in the faceoff circle. Malhotra is the kind of player who quietly makes the Canucks’ system work.

Since Rod Brind’amour retired, Malhotra and a few other players (such as Jarret Stoll) are among the truly “elite” guys when it comes to winning key draws. If Malhotra is reasonably healthy, he makes an already formidable Canucks team that much deeper down the middle. We’ll keep you updated if Vigneault reveals lineup information closer to the first puck drop on Wednesday.

Unbeaten no more: Canucks fall to Kings in shootout for first loss

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Tanner Pearson #70 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with Nic Dowd #26 and Dustin Brown #23 in front of Alexander Edler #23 of the Vancouver Canucks to take a 2-0 lead during the first period at Staples Center on October 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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One of the biggest early surprises of the 2016-17 NHL season was the fact the Vancouver Canucks were the NHL’s only unbeaten team entering play on Saturday. Not Washington. Not Pittsburgh. Not Tampa Bay. Not Chicago. Not Dallas.


Their stunning four-game winning streak to open the season came to an end on Saturday night when they opened up a brief two-game road trip in Los Angeles with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings, handing them first loss of the season and making it so all 30 NHL teams now have at least one loss this season.

The Canucks have made a habit so far this season out of falling behind early and rallying for overtime or shootout wins, and they nearly did it again on Saturday. After spotting the Kings a 3-0 lead early in the second period Vancouver came back with three consecutive goals, including a game-tying goal from defenseman Alex Edler in the final minute to send the game to overtime. But the Canucks know that is not a sustainable long-term strategy and that eventually their luck in those games is going to run out.

On Saturday, it kind of did.

Tanner Pearson scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Kings the win.

As tough as this two-game road trip through Los Angeles and Anaheim looks, playing both teams within 24 hours, the Canucks seemed to catch a little bit of a break when the Kings had to turn to Peter Budaj, their third string goalie, after Jeff Zatkoff was injured in the morning skate on Saturday. With regular starting goalie Jonathan Quick already sidelined it seemed to be a good opportunity for the Canucks to extend their winning streak against a goalie that has only played 38 games in the NHL since the start of the 2012-13 season (with below average numbers during that stretch).

But Budaj was able to do just enough to get the win, stopping 22 out of 25 shots through regulation and overtime and not giving up any goals in the shootout.

Even with the loss, the Canucks still managed to pick up a point and have earned nine out of a possible 10 points to start the season. No matter how they did it, collecting points like that is never a bad thing. They have now played four overtime games this season and the one game that did not go overtime was still decided by a single goal. If nothing else you have to give them a ton of credit for keeping things interesting.

The Canucks are back in action on Sunday against the Ducks before returning home for a three-game homestand.

Juuse Saros helps Predators shut down, dominate the champs

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28:  In his first career NHL game goalie Juuse Saros #1 of the Nashville Predators plays against the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Weird times in Nashville right now as a significant portion of the Predators’ roster is sidelined by food poisoning. They went into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh without Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, Colton Sissons and starting goaltender Pekka Rinne all out of the lineup. That meant a bunch of call-ups and a rookie goaltender getting the start against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

While the Penguins were also playing without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, it is still a very formidable lineup (one that just rallied to beat San Jose the other night). That is part of what made Nashville’s 5-1 win so convincing and impressive.

The Predators used a four-goal second period, including a pair of goals from Kevin Fiala, to pick up their second win of the season and what is easily their most impressive of the two.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the play of 21-year-old goalie Juuse Saros, playing in only his second NHL game.

Saros stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up his very first NHL win. Things got off to a rough start for him when Nashville’s defense got caught up the ice and created an odd-man rush for the Penguins that resulted in a Scott Wilson goal less than a minute into the game. After that one blemish on the scoresheet Saros was flawless the rest of the night.

It was a really special night for Saros not only because of the win and the way he played, but because Marc-Andre Fleury started at the other end of the ice for Pittsburgh. Saros said after the game that Fleury has been an idol of his.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Predators after a season-opening win against Chicago. Even though it’s been a slow start, this should still be a team that is going to compete for the Western Conference crown once they get their full roster on the ice.

The Maple Leafs fell apart late (again)

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 15:  James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to stop a shot by Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Maple leafs 7-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No matter how much young talent the Toronto Maple Leafs have on their roster (and they have a lot) this was still always going to be another long season. The organization is on the right track, but it’s not where it needs to be just quite yet.

There will be flashes of brilliance and potential, but there are still going to be some pretty significant growing pains and a lot of frustration along the way.

Just five games into the season, they have already experienced plenty of the latter.

First there was rookie sensation Auston Matthews scoring four goals in his NHL debut and the team still finding a way to lose the game.

Then there was the game in Winnipeg where they jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then ended up losing in overtime. Earlier this week they let another third period lead slip away against Minnesota.

On Saturday, they added another one to the list in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

For 57 minutes it looked as if the young Maple Leafs were going to add to the Blackhawks’ early season woes as they held a 4-2 lead and seemed to be in control of the game. The young players were scoring goals, they were the latest team to beat the Blackhawks’ shoddy penalty killing unit, and they seemed on their way to a big early season win on the road against a top team.

Then everything fell apart. Again.

Chicago’s Artem Anisimov scored with less than three minutes to play to cut the deficit to one.

Then just one minute later Richard Panik (former Toronto Maple Leaf Richard Panik) continued his early season goal scoring surge by netting his league leading sixth goal of the year to tie the game and send it to overtime.

After the two teams failed to score in the 3-on-3, it went to a shootout where Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin scored goals to help the Blackhawks get back into the win column and sent the Maple Leafs home with another tough loss.

If you’re an optimist in Toronto you have to look at the fact that this young, talented Maple Leafs team has at least earned a point in all but one of its first five games.

They are competing, they are showing signs of being an entertaining team with a strong foundation in place.

They have actually had the lead going into the third period of every game they have played.

Yet here they are, five games into the season, still sitting with only one win.

The Jimmy Vesey show leads Rangers over Capitals

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Jimmy Vesey #26 of the New York Rangers waits for the faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on October 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin had the big highlight early in the game on Saturday night, but it was New York Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey that ended up stealing the show.

Vesey scored a pair of goals for the Rangers — the first multi-goal game of his career —  to help lead his team to a 4-2 win in Washington.

Even though he had never played a game in the NHL before this season, Vesey was still one of the most sought after free agents this summer after he completed his college career at Harvard. He eventually signed an entry level deal with the Rangers, and given how much attention his free agency saga generated it seemed hard to believe that he could ever match the hype. Especially given the track record of players signed as free agents coming out of college (it’s not a great one).

It’s obviously still very early in his career, but so far Vesey has not disappointed in New York.

Saturday was by far his best performance of the season, scoring both of his goals just three minutes apart in the second period. The first goal tied the game at two to help erase a two-goal deficit, and then his second goal proved to be the game winner.

It was also a heck of a play.

Rick Nash would add an empty net goal late in the third period to put the game away for the Rangers while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced.

For Washington, the loss is its first regulation loss of the season and snaps what had been a three-game winning streak.