Ryan Miller, Tim Connolly

Ryan Miller responds to critics of his former teammate Tim Connolly

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In the grand scheme of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a reasonable gamble by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this off-season.

It’s true that the price tag is a bit steep, but the term is what makes the deal solid for both sides. Connolly gets more security than the one-year offers you’d expect him to receive elsewhere (and also might benefit from some extra time to get his feet wet in the hyper-scrutinized atmosphere that is Toronto) while the Maple Leafs limit the risk that comes with adding a notoriously injury prone player.

James Mirtle did a nice job of succinctly pointing out the pros and cons of Connolly. Even after throwing out some struggles with injuries in his earlier seasons, the shifty pivot missed 190 games since the lockout. With that risk comes a considerable reward, though; Connolly scored 250 points in the 302 games he managed to play in since the lockout.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Signing Connolly is a substantial risk and while my main question would be about his health, The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons lingered upon character issues that have been raised. Simmons spoke with many who watched Connolly’s career, including the man who drafted him in 1999: Mike Milbury.

When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.

Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.

And one more thing: Supremely skilled.

“We thought he would be great for us,” said Milbury, who traded him after two seasons to Buffalo in a deal for Michael Peca after a trade with Boston for Jason Allison fell through. “It just didn’t work out for us the way we thought it would with Tim.”

Connolly’s time with the New York Islanders almost seemed too brief to truly gauge the man or the player, but he spent nine up-and-down years with the Buffalo Sabres. While there’s an impression that Connolly fell out of favor with members of the media and (in some cases) Sabres fans, his former teammate Ryan Miller stuck up for him  – and called out some “talking heads” in the process – on Thursday.

“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap,” Miller said Thursday.

“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.

“In my book, that’s all that matters.”

When it comes to the thoughts of Toronto media types and Maple Leafs fans alike, Connolly’s successes or failures during the next two season will be all that matters.

It’s likely that he’ll line up on the team’s top scoring line with Phil Kessel, another talented player who has his fair share of critics. That combination could go either way. The two talented forwards could mesh beautifully, with Connolly setting up Kessel for a staggering amount of goals. On the other hand, Connolly and/or Kessel might run into another wall of injuries and raise the ire of fans in the process. There’s also the chance that they could experience a little bit of both.

Either way, the Maple Leafs are a tough team to gauge going into the 2011-12 season. If nothing else, they should be a lot more interesting to watch, though.

It sounds like there’s friction between Canadiens captain Pacioretty and coach Therrien

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After an incredible start to the season, the Canadiens have cooled off a little bit, but they still own an impressive 16-6-2 record.

One of the reasons they’ve hit a rough patch, is because some of their top forwards can’t seem to find the back of the net.

Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov continue to generate scoring chances, but captain Max Pacioretty, who’s hit the 30-goal mark four times in his career, is stuck on five goals.

Pacioretty hasn’t looked comfortable all season, and although he tends to be one of the streakier players in the league, he hasn’t put together many great performances in 2016-17 and it seems to be causing some friction in the room.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos is reporting that there’s some tension between Pacioretty and head coach Michel Therrien.

“There’s no indication that Pacioretty wants out of Montreal,” Kypreos said on Saturday. “But it’s clear from a few other teams that they want to watch this situation closely.

“Pacioretty is not being used like a four-time 30-goal scorer by the Montreal Canadiens. There seems to be some friction between Pacioretty and Therrien.”

The 28-year-old hasn’t been productive, but in fairness to him, he’s bounced around the lineup quite a bit. Lately, he’s been skating with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, who are also slumping.

In the past, Plekanec had been regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game. That’s no longer the case. His slump doesn’t just date back to the start of this year, it can be traced all the way back to 2015-16 (he has two goals in his last 31 games).

But getting back to Pacioretty, it’s interesting that the friction is caused by his utilization because he’s been getting plenty of ice time.

If you look at Montreal’s last 13 games, he’s played at least 18:22 in 10 of those contests. In two of his last four games, he’s played over 20 minutes.

Looking at the way the situation has unfolded from the start of the year, there’s a good chance he’s unhappy about being bounced around from center to center.

As I mentioned before, he’s played with Galchenyuk, Plekanec and he also had a stint with Phillip Danault.

Adding a second line center and another defenseman will be a priority for GM Marc Bergevin, but don’t expect him to sacrifice his captain to get a deal done.

Pacioretty still has two years left on a team-friendly contract that pays him $4.5 million per season.

But hey, the Canadiens have shocked us before.

Penguins score four unanswered goals in the third to take down Red Wings

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: The Pittsburgh Penguins congratulate Phil Kessel #81 after he scored a goal at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 27, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel scored twice, including one of Pittsburgh’s four goals in the third, and the Penguins rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 on Saturday night.

Nick Bonino, Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen also scored in the third, helping Pittsburgh win back-to-back games for the first time in a month. Marc-Andre Fleury had 28 saves in his second straight start.

Detroit had recorded at least a point in five straight games. Henrik Zetterberg scored his 314th career goal, matching Pavel Datsyuk for seventh in team history, and Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen got the other goals for the Red Wings.

Detroit goaltender Jared Coreau stopped 32 shots in his NHL debut. Coreau was poised early, making a sprawling save on Sidney Crosby in the first five minutes and later denying Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, but he struggled in the third period.

Bonino’s goal was his second in as many games, and Schultz has two goals and four points in his last three. Malkin had two assists, extending his point streak to a season-high five straight games.

Bonino started the comeback with his third goal at 2:05 of the third. Schultz tied it at 3 at 6:28, beating Coreau with a shot from the point. Kessel then put Pittsburgh ahead to stay when he got a pass from Carl Hagelin and Coreau from the top of the crease.

Cullen was awarded his fifth goal when he was hauled down on his way to an empty net with 41 seconds remaining.

The Red Wings played without seven regulars due to injuries. The group, which includes Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard, has accounted for 36 man games lost in the last three weeks.

Forward Justin Abdelkader was placed on injured reserve Saturday morning after suffering a knee injury Thursday against Florida. He had four points in six games prior to his injury.

Pittsburgh is the healthiest it has been the entire season. The Penguins activated forward Chris Kunitz from injured reserve Saturday morning after he missed six games with a lower-body injury.

NOTES: Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall played in his 750th game. … Pittsburgh scratched Tom Kuhnhackl to make room for Kunitz in the lineup. Rookie Jake Guentzel also sat for a second straight game. … The Penguins honored the 1991 and ’92 Stanley Cup-winning teams, as nearly 40 former players, coaches and team executives attended the morning skate and were recognized during an on-ice ceremony before the game.

UP NEXT

Red Wings: Continue a three-game road trip Sunday at the New York Islanders.

Penguins: Complete a three-game homestand Monday against Ottawa.

Blue Jackets defeat Coyotes in shootout, but only after Mike Smith made franchise-record 58 saves

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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PHOENIX (AP) Columbus pummeled Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots, Alexander Wennberg scored with 2:16 left in the third period and the Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night.

Smith set a franchise record with 58 saves, but the Coyotes still lost their third straight.

Cam Atkinson and Sam Gagner scored on Smith in the shootout while Curtis McElhinney stopped both Arizona shooters. Boone Jenner also scored for Columbus, which has won three straight.

Shane Doan got his 399th career goal and Radim Vrbata also scored for Arizona, which was playing its eighth overtime game in 23 contests.

Doan put Arizona ahead 2-1 at 11:04 of the second when he redirected Michael Stone‘s lobbed shot from just inside the blue line along the right boards.

Wennberg tied it at 2 by backhanding the puck between Smith’s pads off a pass from Brandon Saad.

The Blue Jackets needed only 13 seconds to take the lead in the first period. Jenner took a pass from Jack Johnson between the hashes and fired over Smith’s glove.

Smith made 47 saves between the two Columbus goals and 21 in the third period alone.

After failing to take advantage of a two-man advantage late in the first, the Coyotes evened the score on Vrbata’s rising shot off McElhinney’s blocker from the left faceoff circle for a power-play goal 63 seconds into the second period.

Smith helped preserve the lead with 5:30 left in the second, stopping Saad’s breakaway attempt with a sprawling pad save.

McElhinney finished with 32 saves.

Related:

Why the Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest surprise

Panthers lament slow start versus Sens, as debate over controversial Gallant firing continues

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been one week since the shocking and controversial firing of Gerard Gallant. The decision made by the Florida Panthers continues to be a hot topic of debate.

Don Cherry weighed in on it Saturday. As you might expect, he wasn’t in favor of the decision. Meanwhile, the Panthers lost 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators in a game that completely swung in favor of the hosts in the span of just 19 seconds.

Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard scored early in the first period, giving Ottawa a two-goal lead and that was the only scoring of the evening.

On taking over from Gallant, interim coach Tom Rowe said, per the Sun Sentinel: “This isn’t a knock on Gerard, because he did a great job.

“I just thought some guys weren’t bringing it the way they’re capable of bringing it every single night. A little too much inconsistency. They’d come out one period and play great. Another period they just sit back a little bit too tentative.”

That second paragraph is interesting.

Against the Senators, the Panthers had a slow start, illustrated by their 19-second lapse leading to the Ottawa goals. The Panthers found their game in the second period but tested Mike Condon with only 24 shots on goal by the end of the night.

They also couldn’t capitalize on a five-on-three power play in the second period.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Keith Yandle, per the Miami Herald. “They had a good start, and sometimes you have to weather the storm throughout courses of games, and they did a good job in the first 10 or 12 minutes. If you look at the second period we were better.”

There were anxious moments for the Panthers, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad took a puck to the face in the second period. He missed about two minutes of game time, but did require stitches, according to Rowe.