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?

Health woes continue in Boston as Backes undergoes elbow procedure

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against New Jersey Devils during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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In last night’s 5-0 loss to the Wild, the banged-up B’s were without David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask, Kevan Miller and Frank Vatrano.

On its own, a bad injury situation.

But today, things got even worse.

GM Don Sweeney announced that Backes has undergone the remove of the olecranon bursa from his elbow, and that Backes’ condition will be updated after this weekend.

(It’s surgery to correct elbow bursitis, basically.)

That would mean, presumably, the veteran winger is out until after the weekend — meaning Backes will miss games tonight against the Rangers, and Saturday against the Red Wings.

It’s a fairly significant blow.

Backes looked good in his first few games in a Bruins uniform, posting two goals and four points in five games while averaging a healthy 18:45 TOI per night.

As mentioned, the B’s are back in action tonight on Rivalry Night at MSG (8 p.m., NBCSN).

NHL officials in South Korea to inspect Olympic venues

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 07:  South Koreans celebrate being selected as 2018 Winter Olympic host city at Alpensia Resort on July 7, 2011 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Pyeongchang finally won the Winter Olympic host race after being beaten by Vancouver for 2010 and Sochi for 2014.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) National Hockey League representatives are in South Korea to inspect Olympic facilities as the league mulls a decision on whether to let its players appear for a sixth consecutive Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee said the NHL delegation, led by vice president of international strategy Lynn White and facilities operation manager Dan Craig, will make inspections on Thursday and Friday of facilities in Gangneung, a city near Pyeongchang which will host the ice hockey tournament during the 2018 Winter Games. They will be joined by NHL Players’ Association officials Sandra Monteiro and Mathieu Schneider and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hannes Ederer and Christian Hofstetter, the organizing committee said.

Pyeongchang organizers consider securing the participation of NHL players as a critical issue as ice hockey is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee’s negotiations with the NHL over having the league’s players competing in Pyeongchang have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will compete in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, told reporters earlier this month that the NHL deciding to inspect the Gangneung facilities was a “very positive step,” but didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

Related: Jan. 15 is deadline for Olympic decision, says IOC

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up against Rangers

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Malcolm Subban #70 of the Boston Bruins allows a goal against Minnesota Wild during the second period at TD Garden on October 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Boston Bruins have been without starting goalie Tuukka Rask (lower body) for two games now and things haven’t gone well.

When Rask is between the pipes, Boston is 3-0-0, but when he’s not, they’re 0-3-0.

They dropped Saturday night’s game to the Montreal Canadiens with Anton Khudobin in goal and with him on the shelf too, the Bruins were dismantled 5-0 by the Minnesota Wild last night.

The Bruins turned to former first rounder Malcolm Subban yesterday and he lasted a little more than 30 minutes before being pulled for Zane McIntyre.

“There are some goals — I’m not going to lie — there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had,” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to Minnesota, per CSN New England.

But Julien wasn’t willing to pin it all on his rookie goalies.

“[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender — who’s in one of his first few games — because he let in a couple of bad goals,” added Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.”

Still, Subban has made two starts in his NHL career and has been pulled both times. He’s allowed six goals on just 22 shots during his two brief stints in the league.

It’ll be interesting to see which rookie Julien turns to tonight.

For the first time this season, the Rangers have strung together back-to-back wins.

They’re dealing with some injuries of their own, as Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich are both out for this one.

Kreider, who has seven points in five games this season, will miss his second consecutive game because of a neck injury, while Buchnevich remains on IR with back pain.

Unlike the Bruins, the Rangers have no question marks in their crease right now.

Henrik Lundqvist will make his fourth consecutive start tonight. The 34-year-old has allowed two goals per game in each of his last three outings.  That doesn’t exactly bode well for a Bruins team that’s scored four goals in their last three contests.

Don’t look now, but the Red Wings have won five straight

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his third period goal with teammates while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 5-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A 26th straight playoff appearance? It seemed, when this season began, that not many were giving the Detroit Red Wings much of a chance to accomplish the feat.

Time will tell.

Despite their doubters, the Red Wings have now won five straight games, following a pretty uninspiring start with back-to-back losses in Florida to begin the season.

Their latest win came Tuesday, as the Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. (For Carolina, that wraps up a six-game road trip to begin the season.)

Dylan Larkin, who had 23 goals as a rookie in 2015-16, finally got his first two goals of this season, scoring twice against the Hurricanes.

So far, 11 players on their roster have scored, with Darren Helm leading the way. Nineteen of 20 players have also recorded at least a single point. As a team, they’ve been able to extend leads against the opposition over the course of this streak, which is a welcomed change for coach Jeff Blashill.

“I said that to the coaching staff after the game,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “That’s the biggest difference – we score the fourth goal this year. So now you’ve got a two-goal cushion and if something goes the wrong way, you’re still fine.

“It’s a huge difference.”

A big help has been the play of their goalies — Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

As per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, the Red Wings currently have the second best save percentage (95.95) at five-on-five through six games, not to mention the 10th best shooting percentage (9.86).

Howard, who was part of trade speculation last season, has allowed only a single goal on 63 shots.

So far, so good for the Red Wings.

Not many seemed optimistic about this team as the season approached.

Sure, the Red Wings had made 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but they also entered this season with an older Henrik Zetterberg, and the health of Niklas Kronwall (click here) and Jonathan Ericsson (click here) in question.

They are also without Pavel Datsyuk, who returned to Russia. But the Red Wings tried to make up for that loss by signing Frans Nielsen.

Pundits and prognosticators, including the overwhelming majority at PHT, said the Red Wings’ playoff streak would be snapped this season.

A winning streak this early might not be enough to make doubters think twice.