Adrian Aucoin: “I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert”

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Ever since May of 2009, there has been a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Phoenix Coyotes. Since the day Jerry Moyes put the team into bankruptcy and tried to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, the Coyotes have had two of the most impressive seasons in franchise history (yes, we’re still including the Winnipeg Jets seasons). In 2009-10, they surprised the entire NHL by finishing 4th in the Western Conference with 107 points. They followed up their Cinderella season with a 99 point effort (good for 6th in the West) and another trip to the playoffs. For a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002, back-to-back appearances have shown that the team was on the right track.

Unfortunately, fans and those within the organization haven’t been able to enjoy this period of success due to the insecure state of the franchise as a whole. Will they stay? Will they go? Will this owner be the one? These are the questions that have dominated Coyotes headlines across the national landscape much more than “Is Shane Doan the most underrated captain?” or “How good is Dave Tippett?” Until an owner has signed on the dotted line and the Goldwater Institute has given its tacit blessing to any sale, the ownership questions are going to continue to steal the headlines from the actual play on the ice.

Defenseman Adrian Aucoin admitted that doubts off the ice can be concerning—but once the players are on the ice, all of the peripheral issues concerning the sale fade away:

“The luxury we have is as soon as you step on the ice, none of that stuff really matters because we’re there for one reason. It doesn’t matter who owns the team we’re going to be playing as hard as we can.”

(snip)

“As far as family and everything goes, it would be really nice to get it settled just so knowing that where everything’s situated and especially in my case with young kids. And if I’m hoping to retire in Phoenix I’d love to know that there’s going to be hockey in the desert. That’s a huge factor.”

He’s not the only one who would love to know if there’s going to be hockey in the desert. There hasn’t been any new news surrounding the ownership situation, nor any news of potential owners throwing their hat into the ring. Since Matthew Hulsizer publically pulled his bid at the end of June, there haven’t been many investment groups jumping to fill the void. Jerry Reinsdorf’s name has been pulled off of mothballs, but any interest from that side is minimal at best at this point. All the while, Hulsizer has shown interest in purchasing (at least a portion) of the St. Louis Blues.

Wouldn’t it be a kick in the gut if the guy who tried to buy the team for seven months ended up purchasing another team only few months later?

The good news for the Coyotes and their fans is they are guaranteed at least one more season of hockey. Despite operating on a shoestring budget, only the Canucks, Sharks, and Blackhawks have had a better record in the Western Conference than the Coyotes over the last two seasons. This season they’ll have Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle returning for the first year of his new 5-year contract. They’ll get to watch youngsters Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season; and once they get restricted free agents Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker under contract, fans will get to watch the two young forwards blossom at the NHL level as well.  An increase in season ticket sales shows that the fans are ready to believe.

Just like any other team in the league, the Coyotes will have a few questions to answer throughout the course of the season if they want to make the playoffs. They’ll have to find a legitimate answer between the pipes to replace Ilya Bryzgalov. They’ll need to replace forwards like Eric Belanger and Vern Fiddler who gave the Coyotes strong depth. They’ll need to find someone to replace Ed Jovanovski’s 20 minutes per game. If they can quickly find answers for all three of these questions, they’ll be well on their way towards yet another playoff berth. After surprising people for two years in a row, it wouldn’t be fair to call it “surprising” anymore.

Whether they are able to succeed or not, we know they’ll be looking for the answers while they’re in Phoenix. Hopefully one day we can just look at the team during the offseason and not have to worry about an ownership dilemma. After all, questions about the team’s play on the ice would be a welcomed change from questions about the team’s ownership in a city council meeting.

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jaden Schwartz’s ankle injury derails career-year pace

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Jaden Schwartz was on pace to flirt with a triple-digit point total this season.

‘Was’ is the keyword here because, for the second time in three years, Schwartz will miss a significant chunk of time with an ankle injury.

How long he will be on the shelf this time around is undetermined, but Schwartz won’t be evaluated for six weeks after blocking a shot off his right ankle in a 6-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Schwartz’s ankles. During the 2015-16 season, he was limited to just 33 games after sustaining a broken ankle in practice.

The fresh diagnosis is a frustrating blow for Schwartz and the Blues, who have watched his line with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen turn into one of the top trios in the NHL this season.

Through 30 games, the 25-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points, placing him second on the Blues, behind Schenn, and ninth in league-wide scoring, tied with Connor McDavid.

At his current pace, Schwartz, playing roughly 20 minutes a night, would have hit 98 points. And a little lucky bounce or two here and there might have propelled him above the century mark, setting career highs along the way.

For the Blues, dealing with devastating injuries is all-to-familiar this season.

But what’s probably most impressive about how successful the Blues have been this season is how they’ve been able to exceed all reasonable expectations despite dealing with a hefty number of major ailments.

The injury bug has been more akin to a foul beast in the Gateway to the West. From Robby Fabbri gone for the season with a torn ACL and Zach Sanford sidelined for months with a shoulder problem to Jay Bouwmeester missing 20 games to start the year and Steen missing the first six.

Not many predicted the Blues to be where they are in mid-December: second place the Western Conference standings with 42 points, just two back of top spot in the league.

And now the Blues, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, will have to navigate another injury to a key piece of their lineup.

They’ve shown the ability to overcome injury adversity before, but losing a key piece of your top six and a top scorer is never easy.

If anyone has the formula down, however, it’s the Bluenotes.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Another shutout for Bobrovsky; Kings make it eight in a row

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Player Of The Night: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Already with a pair of Vezina Trophies in his trophy case, Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he wants to add another one to his collection. Thanks to his 35-save effort on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes Bobrovsky was able to record his league-leading fourth shutout of the season. His save percentage after Saturday’s game sits at .930, a mark that is tied for the top spot in the league (minimum 15 appearances) with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Eight in a row for the Kings

It wasn’t easy, and they nearly let it slip away by giving up two goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime, but the Los Angeles Kings extended their winning streak to eight games with a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Tanner Pearson scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

Vegas Does It Again

Speaking of winning streaks, the Vegas Golden Knights were able to keep pace with the Kings in the Pacific Division by winning their fourth in a row with a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars. They have already put together two five-game winning streaks this season and have a chance to do it again. They are an expansion team. It is early December. They have a shot at three five-game winning streaks in their first season and are likely headed to the playoffs. This is all astonishing.

Highlight Of The Night.

The Colorado Avalanche blew out the Florida Panthers on Saturday night with a 7-3 win. It also produced the highlight of the night when Nathan MacKinnon cruised through the Florida defense and scored this absolute beauty to tie the game, 2-2. The Avalanche would score five more goals after that.

He made that look easy.

The Panthers were happy to help, it seems.

Factoid Of The Night.

If Mike Cammalleri could play all of his games against the Montreal Canadiens this season he would be unstoppable. His goal on Saturday night in Edmonton’s 6-2 win over the Canadiens was just his fourth of the season. Three of them have come against Montreal. In three games against the Canadiens (with two different teams — the Los Angeles Kings and now the Edmonton Oilers) he has five points in those games. He has just six points against everybody else in the league in 22 games.

Panarin Offers Another Helping Hand

With his assist on the lone Blue Jackets goal Artemi Panarin has now assisted on each of the past six Blue Jackets goals. He set up all five of their goals in the Blue Jackets’ 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night. All six of those assists over the two games have been the primary assist on every goal. He is the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer with 26 points in the team’s first 30 games. He is eight points ahead of Josh Anderson, the second-leading scorer on the team.

Scores

St. Louis Blues 6, Detroit Red Wings 1

Boston Bruins 3, New York Islanders 1

Edmonton Oilers 6, Montreal Canadiens 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Winnipeg Jets 3

Colorado Avalanche 7, Florida Panthers 3

New York Rangers 5, New Jersey Devils 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Dallas Stars 3

San Jose Sharks 5, Ottawa Senators 0

Calgary Flames 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

Los Angeles Kings 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Backes ejected for head-butting; Marchand catches Tavares with late hit

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The NHL’s department of player safety will have a couple of things to look at from the third period of the Boston Bruins’ 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night as the Bruins were assessed a pair of major penalties, including one that was accompanied with a game misconduct.

Let us start with the latter play.

Bruins forward David Backes was ejected with just under nine minutes to play when he was called for head-butting Islanders forward Andrew Ladd during the skirmish seen below.

That is not one that you see get called very often, but it did get called here and it ended up giving Backes an early exit.

That came about 10 minutes after Bruins forward Brad Marchand was given a five-minute major for interference when he hit Islanders captain John Tavares with a high, late hit.

Video here (via Chris Abraham)

Tavares seemed to be a little shaken up initially but remained in the game.

Marchand and the Department of Player Safety are quite familiar with one another and Marchand does have a history of suspensions and fines throughout his career, so it would not be a shock if he ended up getting a phone call this weekend from the league for that hit.

Marchand has become one of the best players in the league in recent seasons, a development that makes his repeated run-ins with the DoPS all the more frustrating.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.