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

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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.”

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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?

Sens prospect White signs ATO, contract talks moving in ‘positive direction’

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It hasn’t moved along as quickly as Clayton Keller-to-Arizona or Brock Boeser-to-Vancouver, but the Colin White-to-Ottawa transaction is slowly churning along.

Last night, White — the Senators’ first-round pick (21st overall) at the ’15 draft — sign an amateur tryout offer with the club’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton, while his agent continues to work with Sens GM Pierre Dorion on an entry-level deal.

“We are excited to see Colin make the next step in his development in turning professional after a great college career,” Dorion said in a release. “We have spoken to Colin and his advisors at length and we are all in agreement that getting him on the ice to play games in the AHL is what is best for his growth at this moment.

“While our ongoing contract discussions are moving in a positive direction, we all know there is a small window left this season for Colin to gain professional experience.”

Unlike Boeser, who made his NHL debut on Saturday, or Keller — who projects to make his tonight — White appears primed to travel a similar road as U.S. world junior teammate Luke Kunin, who last week left the University of Wisconsin to join the Wild organization.

Like White, Kunin signed an ATO and headed directly to the American League. Unlike White, Kunin also inked his ELC at the exact same time (it will kick in next year).

White, 20, has had a terrific last couple of years. He’s been a point-per-game player at BC and was a major catalyst at the world juniors. He finished second in the tournament in goals, with seven in seven games, and was a force in the U.S.’s gold medal win over Canada.

There was some thought White, like Boeser and Keller, could play in the NHL this year. But the Sens don’t have extra minutes at forward after picking up the likes of Alex Burrows, Viktor Stalberg and Chris DiDomenico at the deadline.

That said, Stalberg is currently sidelined with an injury.

NHL on NBCSN: Banged-up Lightning continue push for playoff spot against ‘Hawks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Despite the crazy amount of injuries that the Lightning have suffered (Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette and Jason Garrison are all out), they find themselves within striking distance of a post-season berth.

Coming into tonight’s tilt against the ‘Hawks, the Bolts are three points behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East. The Lightning have a game in hand on the Bruins, but Boston has five more regulation/overtime wins.

After dropping a 5-3 decision to Arizona on home ice last Tuesday, they rebounded by beating the B’s and Wings on the road on Thursday and Friday.

One of the big reasons why the Lightning have been able to stay in the race, is because of  the way Nikita Kucherov has played this season.

On Friday, with the Bolts trailing the Wings 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov helped set up Ondrej Palat‘s game-tying goal before adding the OT winner later on.

The 23-year-old is up to 38 goals and 40 assists in 67 games. He’s accumulated 29 of those points in his last 16 games and he’s put together four multi-point efforts in a row.

If the Bolts make it to the playoffs, is Kucherov the MVP?

Don’t expect the Blackhawks to be in a particularly good mood coming into this game. Not only did they drop Saturday night’s game in Florida, but they were absolutely annihilated, 7-0.

“There’s no reason we should be entirely satisfied at this point,” captain Jonathan Toews said after the loss, per the Chicago Tribune. “There’s always room to grow.

“We can’t expect it’s going to be easy hockey (the) last seven games. If we continue to play like that and think we’re going to turn it on come playoff time, we’ve got another thing coming.”

The Blackhawks had a bit of a rough week, as they lost 5-4 in OT to the Canucks on Tuesday before narrowly beating the Stars 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday. But overall, they’ve been on a pretty good run. In their last eight contests, they’ve gone 6-1-1, which is far from poor.

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Bruins to move on from Tuukka Rask?

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Tuukka Rask has shown that he can be one of the top goalies in the NHL, but CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty thinks that his inability to deliver in big games is becoming a serious problem. Haggerty even suggests that the Bruins should consider shipping him out of town this summer. It’s an interesting thought. (CSN New England)

–Nolan Patrick is expected to go first overall in next June’s entry draft, but his draft year has been anything but ordinary. He missed the first 34 games of the season with an undisclosed injury, which must be pretty frustrating. But Patrick has gone through a similar situation before. When he was a young teenager, Patrick broke his collarbone twice. He was able to shake the injuries off and turn himself into a top prospect. (Sportsnet)

–Take a look at the top seven plays of the week in and around the NHL. If you’re fed up of seeing Sidney Crosby score ridiculous goals, do not watch this video. (NBC Sports)

–The Flyers got six goals from six different players in their win over the Penguins last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page. Philly is now six points back of Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

–Sabres forward Brian Gionta will be playing in his 1000th NHL game tonight. As you’d imagine, the 5-foot-7 forward didn’t have an easy path to the big show, but he was still able to carve out a great career for himself. “To be out there and part of his 1,000th game, it’s a proud moment for me,” teammate Josh Gorges said. “I know it’s a proud moment for him. We’ve talked about it before, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. … We’re all looking forward to it.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

–Did you really think that changing the goalies’ pants was going to result in more goals scored? Well, let’s just say it hasn’t worked out that way. Before the change, teams were scoring 2.73 goals-per-game. Since the change, that number is slightly down at 2.70. (The Score)

–Jets super fan Kiera Neal was diagnosed with cancer at the age of one, but Neal, now 10, is doing well and is cancer free. Her wish was to meet the Winnipeg Jets and her favorite player Dustin Byfuglien, and the people at Hometown Hockey made it happen:

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.