Is Michael Leighton Philadelphia’s forgotten goalie?

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Just one summer ago, Michael Leighton seemingly came out of nowhere (OK, Carolina) to boost the Philadelphia Flyers to a spirited run to the Stanley Cup finals. Sure, the Chicago Blackhawks made him look silly at times, but there weren’t a lot of goalies who shined against that deep and talented team – the ‘Hawks didn’t face elimination one time in their championship run. If nothing else, it seemed like Leighton earned the right to fight for a starting job in goalie-starved Philly.

During that same summer, Leighton opted for back surgery, an injury-related moment that might go down with some of the most ill-timed in sports.* As you probably know by now, Sergei Bobrovsky seemingly jumped about a season or two ahead of his development schedule to become the Flyers’ surprise No. 1 goalie while Brian Boucher represented a steady backup. By the time Leighton seemed reasonably healthy again, it was too late. He wouldn’t serve as much more than fodder for waiver wire speculation during last season, with this paltry run of appearances in 2010-11.

Regular season: 1-0-0 with four goals allowed on 36 shots. (1 game played)

Playoffs: 0-1 with four goals allowed on 29 shots. (2 games played)

The only thing that was particularly memorable about his 2010-11 campaign (on the ice, at least) came when he lasted one period against the Buffalo Sabres when the Flyers were facing elimination. (Philly’s electric offense bailed themselves out, but not before Leighton looked really bad.)

As bad as things were for Leighton in 2010-11, the forecast isn’t looking that much better for next season. That’s the subject of Chuck Gormley’s piece today, as he rightly points out that Leighton will probably get lost in the shuffle thanks to Bobrovsky’s higher status and the high-profile addition of Ilya Bryzgalov. Gormley also points out that the Flyers signed minor league veteran Jason Bacashihua to a one-year contract, so Leighton isn’t even guaranteed an AHL starting job. It’s hard not to read Leighton’s comments as anything but glum.

Leighton said he continues to do rehab on his hip by swimming and walking sideways in a pool and believes his injury woes are behind him. He just isn’t sure what lies ahead.

“Last year was disappointing, frustrating — there are lots of words for it,” he said. “It was definitely a setback for me, but now I’m kind of back where I started. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. There are quite a few goalies.

“If there’s a trade somewhere or there’s going to be two veteran guys (Leighton and Bacashihua) in the minors, I don’t know. I just want to come to camp, work hard, and wherever it gets me I’ll accept it.

“I don’t think it’s worth asking for (a trade). I’m sure (Holmgren) has an idea, but he’s not going to tell me where I’ll be. I just need to get healthy and hope it works out that I get to stay here, play another year and go from there.”

Perhaps Leighton will receive a chance to prove himself by the same route that doomed him last year: an injury to one of the Flyers’ top goalies. With a one-way contract, Leighton would need to clear waivers (if he doesn’t make the big club to start the season, obviously). Aside from a low-value trade, that scenario would provide the most likely scenario for Leighton to receive another chance.

If nothing else, the guy probably deserves another shot at an NHL job – even a backup role – somewhere. He might just have to wait until next season to get it.

* – Two NFL quarterback injuries come to mind as the most memorable recent examples: whatever ailment plagued Trent Green and allowed Kurt Warner to rule the world for a few seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Drew Bledsoe’s injury that opened the door for Tom Brady.

Flames sign free agent defenseman Josh Healey

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The Calgary Flames announced on Saturday that they have signed undrafted free agent defenseman Josh Healey to a two-year entry level contract. He will join the Stockton Heat of the AHL for the remainder of this season on an Amateur Tryout contract before his entry level deal begins next season.

Healey, 22, has spent the past four seasons playing for Ohio State and has developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters and most physical players at the NCAA level.

“Hits too hard for college,” is how one NHL scout described his play back in February.

That style of play has resulted in him getting himself into hot some water in the form of several ejections and suspensions over the past two seasons.

Along with his willingness to play a physical game, Healey’s offensive game took off a bit during his junior and senior seasons, including the 2016-17 season when he finished as the top scoring defenseman on the Buckeyes with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 35 games.

In 133 games over four years at Ohio State he has accumulated 212 penalty minutes, leading the team by a pretty wide margin the past two years.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.