Andrei Kostitsyn shouldn’t blame Jacques Martin for his struggles

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It’s been a rather strange week when it comes to European players and their relationships with various Canadian NHL front offices. At first, it seemed like it was just going to be isolated to the whacky old Ottawa Senators, as Alex Kovalev blasted former coach Cory Clouston on his way out the door while GM Bryan Murray reportedly “promised” unproven forward Nikita Filatov a spot on the team’s first or second line.

Now it looks like a similarly strange situation is brewing with Andrei Kostitsyn and the Montreal Canadiens. In a way it’s a combination of the worst parts of those two previous stories. Like Kovalev, Kostitsyn is griping about his relationship with his coach – the only difference is that Kostitsyn will actually play for that coach next season. In something of a reverse of Filatov’s situation, it appears that Kostitsyn’s main issue with Jacques Martin is where he’s playing in the Habs lineup. Kostitsyn told Belarus Web site Goals.by that his struggles can be traced back to his third or fourth line duties.

“I can’t guess about next season,” Kostitsyn told the site. “My relationship with the coach is not too good.”

(snip)

“It wasn’t me who started to play badly,” Kostitsyn explained to Goals.by. “It’s just that I was being put into (the) third and fourth line…I’ve tried talking to (Jacques Martin) more than once. But he doesn’t care.”

Andrei’s brother Sergei Kostitsyn found his way even deeper into Martin’s doghouse during his fleeting moments in Montreal, but it’s apparent that both forwards clash with the taskmaster of a coach. To be fair, lower line duty would be a solid reason to complain, but is it totally accurate?

To get an idea of who he played with, I took at a look at Andrei Kostitsyn’s most common even strength linemates during the 2010-11 regular season using Dobber Hockey’s tools. The results don’t exactly speak well to Kostitsyn’s complaints.

Most common linemates: Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec (26.24 percent)

Second most common combo: Plekanec and Brian Gionta (11.25 percent)

It isn’t until you get to his third combo of Travis Moen and Lars Eller that you see why Kostitsyn is complaining, yet that combo only took place 8.62 percent of the time.

Perhaps Kostitsyn’s memory is simply selective. Either way, it’s kind of hard to feel bad for the winger for complaining about a role he might not be willing to earn. It’s easy to blame your coach for not giving you playing time, but for whatever alleged preferences a coach might have, Martin ultimately wants to win more than anything else. If he viewed Kostitsyn as his best option, he’d play him there. (And, again, the numbers indicate that he had plenty of chances with top linemates.)

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if some of these European players are familiar with going “off the record.” Maybe Kostitsyn was just venting to someone he thought he could trust, because his complaints are soaking with a sense of entitlement.

He averaged a bit under 16 minutes per game last season, which is slightly higher than his career 15:18 per minute average. His point per game average in 2010-11 (.56 via 45 points in 81 games played) is almost an exact match for his .57 per game career average. What do all these numbers indicate? To me, it says that he doesn’t want to accept his own shortcomings.

Either way, it wouldn’t be surprising if this is the last season Kostitsyn appears in Montreal (if he even makes it through the campaign).

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.