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Eastern Conference players who will be under big-time pressure next season

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There’s inherent pressure to making millions while playing a professional sport. You won’t get much sympathy if you fail (or fail according to other peoples’ perceptions, at least) because of those big paychecks and all the fame that comes with it. Most people don’t even realize that merely getting to the NHL level is an enormous success in its own right.

Yet while just about every NHL player will deal with some degree of pressure and scrutiny, there are certain ones who will feel the burn of that media gaze a bit more if things don’t work out. NHL.com’s John Kreiser pointed out 15 Eastern Conference players who will be on the “hot seat” next season, ranging from star goalie Ryan Miller to high-profile players who had “off-years” (Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin) to guys who hope to make good on breakthrough seasons (P.K. Subban and James Reimer).

It’s a great read so feel free to check that out at your leisure, but I thought it might be enjoyable to throw in a few more Eastern Conference players who might feel some added pressure in 2011-12. Some hope to bounce back next season while others carry a considerable burden on their backs.

source: APTim Thomas – Much like a music group trying to follow-up a groundbreaking comeback album, Thomas will be hard-pressed to match his 2010-11 season. Just look at the 09-10 season, when he struggled after winning the 08-09 Vezina Trophy and eventually lost the starting job to Tuukka Rask. My guess is that his performance next season will rest somewhere in between the two extremes, mainly because it’s difficult to imagine anyone putting two consecutive record-breaking seasons together. Rask will be waiting in the wings if the unorthodox goalie struggles, though.

Brad Richards – One thing that was lost in all the hype about Richards’ unquestionable talents was his immediate struggles after signing his last huge contract, so here’s hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself there and compared to the Rangers’ own recent woes with costly additions. The difference between Richards and guys like Chris Drury and Bobby Holik is that he’s a legitimate first line center while those Rangers free agent blunders were hopeful top guys. That being said, if Richards falls on his face, he’ll be just another of Glen Sather’s Follies.

Carey Price – I must admit, I didn’t expect Price to be as strong as he was in the 2010-11 season. It was a matter of underestimating both Price’s talent and Montreal’s defensive system. This will be a big campaign for the highly-touted prospect, though, as he stands to make a lot of money in a contract year and must face the constant pressure of being the Habs goalie.

Vincent Lecavalier – Kreiser rightly points to Steven Stamkos after he signed his big $7.5 million per year contract, but what about Tampa Bay’s other big-money pivot? Hopefully his postseason results (19 points in 18 games) will be a better forecast for his 2011-12 campaign than his regular season run of 54 points in 65 games, because his huge, long-term deal brings a lot of criticism with it.

source: APMartin Brodeur – The Devils are a tough nut to crack and their future Hall of Fame goalie is a big mystery in his own right. He had a strong 2009-10 campaign but injuries ravaged two of his three most recent seasons; could it be that Marty’s workhorse mentality finally caught up with him? New Jersey is banking quite a bit on the answer being “No.”

Mike Green/Alex Semin – The Capitals’ two most-criticized players are both in contract years next season, which means that Washington could decide to make a serious change in direction if they don’t perform well. A bad season from Green and Semin might even put Bruce Boudreau’s job in danger, too.

Dion Phaneuf – Phaneuf ranks as Part II of Brian Burke’s biggest trade gambles (Phil Kessel is Part I). The hard-hitting, somewhat defensively leaky blueliner will receive a $7 million salary next season. If the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs yet again, the Leafs captain might get just as much heat Burke, Ron Wilson, Reimer and Kessel. Come to think of it, maybe we should just throw the whole Maple Leafs roster on the hot seat, then?

Craig Anderson – $3.2 million per year isn’t outrageous for a starting goalie, but there are some who are not convinced that Anderson is a genuine NHL starter. I happen to think he has potential to be at least an average No. 1 goalie (which is actually strong praise since the goaltending position is very strong right now), but it might not be easy for him in talent-poor Ottawa. The team’s fortunes will be tied to his successes and failures more than any other player.

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So those are my nine additional players who will be under big-time pressure in the East this season. That isn’t a comprehensive list, so go ahead and share your own choices in the comments.

Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.