Shocking: Ian White energized to play with Lidstrom

There are jobs around the league that are like holding the winning lottery ticket. Playing next to Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin? That’s probably a little easier than playing next to a 4th line fringe player. What about playing behind Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, or Ryan Miller in the playoffs? Yeah, they probably won’t be seeing very much action. There are jobs that are certainly easier than others—all the NHLer has to do is play their usual game and they’ll probably have a successful season. It’s taking the term “put in a position to succeed” to a completely different level.

For defensemen—the easiest job in the league for the last 15 years has been playing next to Nicklas Lidstrom. Time after time, he’s made good blueliners look extremely good. Word out of Detroit is that newcomer Ian White has beaten out Jonathan Ericsson to be the next contestant on “luckiest man in the hockey world.” (Note: his words, not mine)

Ian White said what a hundred defensemen around the NHL are probably thinking right now:

“I’m probably the luckiest guy in the hockey world right now. To be a new guy coming in here and to be paired up with one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, it’s quite an honor. He’s got a lot to teach me.”

It has become an annual rite of passage for hockey fans to question the Red Wings lineup and wonder aloud if they’re too old to compete with the elite teams of the Western Conference. Last season, people thought the game had passed Lidstrom and he responded by winning his seventh Norris Trophy. But as far as last stands go, the Red Wings could be looking at one this season.

The Red Wings have four unrestricted free agents on the blueline at the end of the season. Lidstrom is always toying with retirement, but Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, and depth defenseman Mike Commodore are all free to explore the open market on July 1. That leaves only Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White as NHL defenseman the organization can depend upon for more than a single season. GM Ken Holland always seems to find a way to work things out, but there are quite a few moving parts to address over the next nine months.

For White, this is an opportunity to find permanent home for the first time in his career. Since coming up with the Maple Leafs organization, he’s played for four different NHL teams in the past two seasons. Making matters worse, he suited up for three separate teams in 2010-11 alone! Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly since leaving Leafs either. Since leaving Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, he’s struggled to replicate the success that helped him to 23 goals over two seasons.

The good thing about being repeatedly traded over the last two seasons is that it’s shown that he’s a desired commodity around the league. He was to be the defenseman to replace Phaneuf on the blueline for the Flames when he was traded from the Maple Leafs. Then he was supposed to be the missing piece in the Sharks defensive corps to help them over the hump in the West. Now, he’s being asked to fill the shoulder some of the load that has been left by Brian Rafalski’s retirement. It’s not an enviable job, but working with Lidstrom should help ease the transition.

Playing with Lidstrom, under the watchful eye of Mike Babcock, fans should keep an eye on Ian White to have a breakout seasons this year.

Senators top Maple Leafs but lose Bobby Ryan for a month

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The Ottawa Senators’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night came with a price.

After the game coach Guy Boucher confirmed that veteran forward Bobby Ryan broke his right index finger during the game and is expected to miss at least the next month.

Ryan has yet to score a goal for the Senators in eight games this season but has recorded five assists.

He fought through an injury plagued season in 2016-17 that ended with one of the worst individual stat lines of his career. He was able to salvage the season however with a tremendous postseason performance that saw him finish with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 games as the Senators went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose in double overtime.

The Senators are off to a great start this season earning at least a point in seven of their first eight games (4-1-3).

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.

The Penguins seem to have a backup goalie problem

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The Penguins worked to address one area of concern on Saturday when they acquired forward Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings.

Now they need to start working on another major area of concern — their backup goalie.

The Penguins had to know Antti Niemi was never going to step into Pittsburgh and replace what Marc-Andre Fleury gave them on the ice, but they had to be expecting a little more than what they have received thus far.

After giving up seven goals in the Penguins’ 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Niemi has now given up 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey this season. His save percentage is a brutal .797.

In games Niemi starts the Penguins are 0-3 and have been outscored 22-6, losing games by margins of 10-1 and 7-1.

In the games he hasn’t started they are 5-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 24-17.

It would be unfair to put all of the blame on Niemi, because even with regular starter Matt Murray in net they have also had stretches where they have struggled defensively and not quite played at the level they showed the past two seasons.

Niemi has also made all of his starts in the second half of back-to-back situations against teams that were not only rested the night before, but also teams that should be among the best in the league this season (the Chicago Blackhawks, two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning).

But none of that can excuse the way Niemi himself has played thus far, either. At some point you  need your goalie to make a save no matter who your team is playing or what is happening around him. His rebound control has been shaky, he looks uncomfortable when he is making saves and it is not like he is coming off of a great performance a year ago. In 42 appearances with the Dallas Stars he finished with an .892 save percentage, one of the worst marks in the league, and was at .905 the year before. He is 34 years old and has not performed at a better than league average level (or even at a league average level) in several years.

It has to be an area of concern for the Penguins because if Murray has a flaw early in his young career it is that he has missed some time due to injury. In the past they have had Fleury there to step in. They do not have that luxury now.

Niemi is only signed for one year at $700,000 so it is not like they have a huge investment in him.

If they decide to go in another direction already (they will probably give Niemi a little bit of a longer leash, I am sure) they have Tristan Jarry in the American Hockey League, or perhaps explore a trade if they are uncomfortable with such a young duo and inexperienced backup behind Murray.

Either way, it is really difficult to see them sticking around with this sort of performance from their backup for much longer.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals

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The Washington Capitals, fresh off of a 4-3 overtime win on Friday night thanks to Alex Ovechkin‘s NHL record 20th overtime goal, return home on Saturday night to host the Florida Panthers.

After winning their first two games of the season the Capitals have stumbled a little bit over the past couple of weeks winning just two of their past six games. They are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since those back-to-back wins to open the season.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night that cost them goaltender Roberto Luongo who was placed on injured reserve on Saturday afternoon.

You can catch all of the action on NBCSN. Game time is 7:30 p.m. ET.

Click here to watch live.

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.

Red Wings trade Riley Sheahan to Penguins for Scott Wilson

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It was simply a matter of when, and not if the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to swing a trade in an effort to improve their center depth.

On Saturday, they finally completed such a deal.

They hope.

The Penguins acquired forward Riley Sheahan and a 2018 fifth-round draft pick from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for forward Scott Wilson and a 2018 third-round draft pick.

The move accomplishes something for both teams.

For the Red Wings, it helps them clear some necessary cap space following the new one-year deal for Andreas Athanasiou while the Penguins get some much needed center depth.

After losing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen over the summer in free agency the Penguins did not make any corresponding moves to fill those spots. They opened the season with Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney occupying those spots. While they have done a solid job so far there was obviously still some room for improvement.

The question is whether or not Sheahan can help provide that.

Sheahan, 25, has had some reasonable success in the NHL scoring 27 goals between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Since then, however, he has been mired in one of the most unbelievable goal scoring droughts in recent memory, scoring just two goals (both in the final game of the 2016-17 season) in his past 88 games. He has a shooting percentage of just 1.7 percent.

One way to look at it if you are the Penguins: He has to be due to bust out of that drought at some point because players that have shown the ability to score close to 15 goals in the NHL don’t typically lose that when they are still 25 years old. Perhaps a fresh start, in a new situation with better teammates around him can help him along. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened in recent years with the Penguins (looking at you, Justin Schultz).

As for Wilson, he has appeared in 108 NHL games with the Penguins scoring 13 goals to go with 19 assists. He scored goals in 20 playoff games during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run a year ago. Given the Penguins’ depth on the wings, as well as the potential for a mid-season callup for Daniel Sprong there just was not much room for him in Pittsburgh.

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.