Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Five

Coyotes discuss Mike Smith’s tough task: replacing Ilya Bryzgalov


Few teams have leaned on their top goalies more than the Phoenix Coyotes did with Ilya Bryzgalov after they acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks. The Russian goalie was in the top 10 in shots faced and saves for four straight seasons, with the 2010-11 season providing his heaviest workload of all. (He ranked third in shots against [2,125] and saves [1,957].)

Some might give head coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney plenty of credit for guiding the Coyotes to two straight playoff berths amid franchise foibles – and they deserve much of it – but Bryzgalov was far and away the team’s most valuable player. He’ll face a different kind of pressure in Philadelphia, but Bryzgalov should be used to having a heavy burden on his shoulders, if nothing else.

With that workload in mind, we’ll find out an answer to a tough question for Tippett, Maloney and Coyotes goalie coach (and former NHL netminder) Sean Burke coming into next season: can they keep this overachieving run going without that star goalie? Burke admits it won’t be easy.

“Bryz is not exactly replaceable. We know that,” Burke, Phoenix’s goaltending coach, told NHL.com. “So for us, this offseason was about trying to search for the type of goaltending that gives the opportunity to win every night.”

The Coyotes brain trust committed to former Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith being that man this off-season, giving him a two-year, $4 million contract. Burke, for one, thinks he might have what it takes.

“I think we get a guy that has a lot of upside, but he also has a fair amount of experience and a lot of confidence,” Burke said. “Basically, I think we’re getting the perfect guy at the perfect time.”


Consistency hasn’t exactly defined Smith’s career — he’s posted season save percentages of .916 and .912 to go along with two of .899 and .893 — but Burke believes the Coyotes’ new netminder is ready to take his game to the next level.

“With age comes maturity,” Burke said of Smith, who is 29. “He just got married and just had a child. I think there comes a time when a lot of players are ready to take the next step and everything has to come together for you. I think he’s at that stage right now.”

Burke also pumps up Smith’s three games of playoff experience, but let’s face it: that bullet point stretches the boundaries of credibility a bit too much. That being said, Smith has at least two tangible assets going for him: he’s big and can move the puck very well. That second element might be a particular perk for Tippett, whose best coaching years in Dallas came when Marty Turco was at the height of his puck moving and goaltending powers.

Of course, Tippett coached Smith as a backup in Dallas too, so it’s reasonable to think that he was whispering in Maloney’s ear about Smith’s potential as a starter. Ultimately, the Coyotes are betting that Smith will play better than his career averages; a .906 save percentage and 2.71 GAA probably won’t cut it in the brutal Pacific Division. Especially if the low-scoring Coyotes cannot improve their average of 36.2 shots allowed per game from last season, the third worst total in the NHL.

As you can see, the deck might be stacked against Smith and the Coyotes franchise. Then  again, Phoenix have been beating the odds for two straight seasons, so who’s to say they cannot pull off another underdog act in 2011-12?

Benn, Holtby and Galchenyuk are NHL’s three stars of the week

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Stars winger Jamie Benn, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Benn shared the League lead in goals (4) and points (6) as the Stars (19-5-0, 38 points) won two of three games to continue their best start to a season in the franchise’s 48-year history.

Holtby posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.

Galchenyuk tied for first in the NHL with four goals and added one assist to help the Canadiens (18-4-3, 39 points) earn five of a possible six points and reclaim first place in the League standings.

As much as the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been frustrating for the Canadiens, those are short-term issues that should be forgotten soon enough. Galchenyuk’s play, in contrast, is reason for long-term optimism. The 21-year-old is trending towards becoming the elite No. 1 center the Habs have needed so badly. He’s not there yet, but when’s all said and done, he could turn out to be the best forward (or player, period) taken in the 2012 draft.

Stepan to miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs


Derek Stepan is out 4-6 weeks with broken ribs, the New York Rangers announced today.

Stepan was hurt Friday on a controversial hit by Boston’s Matt Beleskey. The Bruins’ forward did not receive any supplemental discipline for the check, despite admitting it was “maybe…a little bit late.”

At any rate it’s a big loss for the Rangers, who suddenly find themselves on a three-game losing streak. Considering the timeline, New York could be without one of its top centers for 12-18 games, give or take.

The Rangers host Carolina tonight.

Related: Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Price to miss minimum six weeks, so no Winter Classic for him

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Carey Price will miss a minimum of six weeks with a lower-body injury, the Montreal Canadiens announced today.

That means Price will miss the Winter Classic against the Bruins on New Year’s Day. The 28-year-old goalie has only appeared in 12 games this season.

On the bright side, the reigning Hart Trophy winner will not require surgery. And considering the Habs have already built up a 13-point playoff cushion in the standings, well, if something like this were going to happen during the season, now is as good a time as any.

Related: The latest on Price’s injury

Report: Jets offered Byfuglien for Hamonic, Isles said no

Dustin Byfuglien

If Travis Hamonic could choose one team to be traded to, he’d probably choose Winnipeg. The 25-year-old Islanders defenseman wants to be closer to his family, and his family is from Manitoba. Hamonic already owns a condo in Winnipeg.

So far, though, the Jets and Islanders haven’t been able to work out a deal. The Jets have three right-shot defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers who could, theoretically, be swapped for Hamonic, also a right shot.

“I think the Islanders were offered Byfuglien and they said no,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this morning on Sportsnet 960 (audio), per Today’s Slapshot. “And I understand why, because Byfuglien’s got no term left.

“I think they’d love to have Trouba, but the Jets aren’t really there to do it. Myers, if it’s happened – I can’t say for sure it has or hasn’t – I’m not sure that’s the deal either team really wants to make, to be perfectly honest.”

Byfuglien is a pending unrestricted free agent who’s expected to cash in big-time on his next deal. The 30-year-old may not be the most disciplined player, but at his best, he’s an absolute force on the back end.

That the Isles reportedly said no to Byfuglien shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given his contract uncertainty. However, it does make one wonder about his future in Winnipeg. Remember that the salary cap is not expected to go up by much, and the Jets have another pending UFA in captain Andrew Ladd, plus a couple of key RFAs in Trouba and Mark Scheifele.

While it’s never easy to tell what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is thinking, the big question with Byfuglien and the Jets may end up being when, not if, they part ways. Will it be after the season or before the Feb. 29 trade deadline?