Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Five

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?

Burmistrov expecting ‘weird, awkward’ return to Winnipeg

Alexander Burmistrov
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It’s been two weeks since the Coyotes claimed Alexander Burmistrov off waivers from the Jets but, because of visa issues, tonight will be just Burmistrov’s second game in an Arizona uniform.

And it’ll be in Winnipeg, against his former team.

“It’s going to be a special night,” Burmistrov said, per NHL.com. “I’m sure it’s going to be weird, awkward, seeing your ex-teammates skating on the other side in the warmup.”

It’s been a weird, awkward season for the 25-year-old Russian. After appearing in 81 games last year — racking up a career-high 21 points — he became an afterthought in Winnipeg, often sitting as a (frustrated) healthy scratch.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged the role Burmistrov wanted — something in the top-9 — probably wasn’t going to happen in Winnipeg, so the club set about letting him get a fresh start elsewhere.

Arizona was happy to grab him.

“[Burmistrov’s] a guy our scouts for a long time have identified as someone they think has got more potential than what he’s shown,” GM John Chayka said shortly after the waiver claim, per the Coyotes website. “(Claiming him) was unanimous across the board with our scouts, which is actually fairly rare.”

Burmistrov played a fairly significant role in his first game with the Coyotes. He received just under 18 minutes of ice time and finished with an assist in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers, getting the primary helper on Radim Vrbata‘s power-play goal.

Talbot embracing busy workload with the Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 and goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game is the final game the Oilers will play at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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At some point, Cam Talbot will get the night off to sit on the bench and watch somebody else tend goal for the Edmonton Oilers.

But it won’t be tonight when his Oilers host Florida. Talbot will make his fifth start in the last nine days. No NHL goalie has played more minutes (2,459) than he has this season. No goalie has made more saves (1,115), either.

“This is what you work your whole career towards,” Talbot told reporters today. “I was working my butt off day in, day out, in New York, hoping to get this opportunity at some point behind (Henrik Lundqvist). And Edmonton, I was lucky enough (they gave) me an opportunity last year. You’ve just got to be ready for it when you get it. … I feel great doing it.”

He’s been playing pretty great, too. The 29-year-old is 23-12-6 with a .918 save percentage. He’s won his last three starts while allowing just four goals combined.

And that’s partly why Todd McLellan keeps running Talbot out there — the head coach is riding the hot hand.

The other part relates to the Oilers’ backup. It’s currently Laurent Brossoit, a 23-year-old with just six games of NHL experience. Brossoit was called up from the AHL to replace Jonas Gustavsson, who simply wasn’t getting the job done as Edmonton’s No. 2.

The Oilers, you may have heard, haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade. They desperately want to break that drought, and Talbot has helped put them on pace to do it.

Still, this situation will be worth monitoring. Talbot has never started more than 53 games in an NHL season, and he’s already started 41 in 2016-17. As great as he feels today, there’s absolutely a risk that fatigue sets in down the stretch.

At least the Oilers have the All-Star break and their bye week (Feb. 6-10) on the horizon. Talbot wasn’t selected to participate in Los Angeles later this month; Mike Smith and Martin Jones will represent the Pacific Division instead.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Brossoit is 0-4-1 with an .873 save percentage in those six games with the big club. It’s possible the youngster could start Friday at home to Nashville, as the Oilers also play Saturday in Calgary on Hockey Night in Canada.

Talbot has been busy, but he’s yet to play on consecutive days this season.

The 10 busiest goalies this season

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Wild’s Brodin out ‘weeks’ with hand injury

Minnesota Wild v Anaheim Ducks
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Minnesota’s been very fortunate in the health department this season — a whopping 11 players have appeared in all 43 games — but that changed on Wednesday, as GM Chuck Fletcher announced d-man Jonas Brodin would be out “weeks” with a hand injury.

Brodin was hurt in Tuesday’s loss to the Devils, finishing with just 9:23 TOI. It’s a significant loss — the Swedish rearguard was one of the guys that had appeared in every contest, averaging 19:47 per night.

Per Russo, Nate Prosser is expected to fill the Brodin void. Prosser has been in and out of the lineup this year — though mostly out — appearing in 17 contests while getting just over 13 minutes per.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau insisted the club would take the Brodin injury in stride.

“Good teams persevere,” he said, per the Wild’s Twitter account. “We don’t fold like an accordion.”

Jeff Skinner has some advice for Grayson Allen

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 01:  Jeff Skinner #53 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 1, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Hurricanes defeated the Devils 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a time that Carolina forward Jeff Skinner — now at the ripe ol’ age of 24 — was an emotional, hyper-competitive young buck earning himself a reputation across the NHL.

OK, not really.

But Skinner was suspended once, back in 2012, for kicking then-Blues forward Scott Nichol.

Given the nature of the suspension — look, you just don’t see a lot of kicking infractions — and the fact Skinner had been warned the day prior for slew-footing Dmitry Orlov, there was a bit of history.

And in Carolina, if you’ve got a history with tripping-related offenses, you’re probably going to be asked about Grayson Allen.

From the News & Observer:

Allen, after twice tripping players in ACC games last season and receiving a reprimand from the league, said before this season that he had learned a hard lesson. He said the incidents were embarrassing for him, his family and the school.

Then, it happened again. In a Dec. 22 game in Greensboro, Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana as Santa Ana attempted to drive the baseline, kicking out his right leg. [Duke University head coach Mike] Krzyzewski suspended Allen for one game.

Skinner’s suspension in 2012 is his only one. He’s now 24, a veteran player.

“Experience helps because you’ve seen situations and you put yourself in better spots and you’re able to react to situations better,” Skinner said.

Skinner realizes the scrutiny is intense, especially for star players. There’s always that spotlight, especially in the ACC.

“I know one thing, UNC, Duke and N.C. State basketball gets a lot of media attention,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of pressure on those guys at a young age.”

The genesis of Skinner’s advice was “learn from your mistakes,” and “the more you experience, the better you’ll react to things.” And in that regard, he’s probably a guy worth listening to — he broke into the NHL at 18 and now, even though he’s only 24, is veteran of seven seasons and nearly 500 games played. Discipline hasn’t been much of a problem since the aforementioned Nichol and Orlov incidents.

He has, however, been whistled for two tripping penalties this season. Guess some habits die hard.

Biggest takeaway from all this, though, could be that Skinner’s in the midst of a career campaign. With 35 points through 43 games he’s on pace for a personal high of 65, which would be the most he’s scored since his rookie year.