Ryane Clowe, Jonathan Quick, Jack Johnson

Can Jack Johnson generate a ‘plus’ season in 2011-12?

Defensemen can be a tough group to gauge, especially for the guys with pronounced strengths and serious weaknesses.

Straightforward shutdown guys tend to please fans because of their efficiency, but their lack of creativity often makes them useless on the power play. On the other side of the coin, many offensive defensemen are double-edged swords in that their pinching tendencies and willingness to lead the rush can backfire on their own teams if a mistake is made. Savvy general managers might track down some solid two-way guys or the occasional elite player, but in order to win a Stanley Cup, teams also often need to make the most of flawed players.

Jack Johnson is one of those “live by the sword, die by the sword” types. On one hand, his offensive numbers continue to climb. Johnson went from scoring 11 points in each of the 2007-08 and 08-09 seasons to 36 in 09-10 and a career-high 42 last season. That being said, he’s never had a positive plus/minus (-78 in his career, including a career-worst -21 in 10-11).

To extend the dichotomy, the American blueliner even receives mixed messages from his team; GM Dean Lombardi griped about his unstructured background at the University of Michigan but also signed Johnson to a risky seven-year, $30.5 million deal. Johnson is supposed to be the Kings’ second star defenseman behind contract holdout Drew Doughty, so Rich Hammond wonders if Johnson can finally be on the “plus” side of the ledger next season. Hammond caught up with Kings head coach Terry Murray to get his take.

MURRAY: “He took some big strides early. In the first half, he was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league. I thought his play without the puck was really good. He tailed off in the second part. That plus-minus number is something that I look at, and it started to build up again. To me, when I look at his game, I think he got away from being a real hard player to play against, in the sense of being physical. That’s one of the areas that I wanted to talk to him at the end of the season (about), and he was out of town right away for the World Championships. So I haven’t had that meeting yet, but that will be the message. `It’s time to get back to being that hard guy, making sure you’re pinning and sealing.’ And I think that ends the play. Too often, in the second half, there was a little bit of stick-checking and backing off, giving a little bit too much space. Because he’s out there against the top guys, and that’s all those guys need, is one foot to make a play and things were happening around him.”

Of course, many in the hockey community – myself included – think that the plus/minus stat is limited because team and linemate success plays such a large role in the figure. The thing is, Johnson doesn’t pass the sniff test with nerdy stats either. The Battle of California gang revealed that just about every Kings defensemen fared worse with Johnson than without him last season.

So whatever way you slice it, Johnson’s defensive numbers are troubling. That being said, his offensive skills keep rising – he scored 28 points on the power play last season, which obviously isn’t reflected in his plus/minus.

The hope, then, is that he can keep his offensive punch while improving on the defensive end. On the bright side, Johnson usually plays alongside defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi, the Kings have a strong defensive system in general and he’s only 24 years old. Then again, perhaps his old habits won’t die – especially since Johnson won’t have financial incentive to improve until 2016 or even 2017.

I hate to say it, but that the Jack Johnson the Kings see today will probably be the one they see for the duration of that contract. Perhaps his offensive abilities make him worth the trouble anyway, though.

Late letdown costs Canucks versus their old rivals from Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrtaes a third period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Sure, the Vancouver Canucks clawed back against an old rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Sunday.

But, thanks to a late letdown in regulation, they missed out on a great opportunity to move into a playoff position.

Down a pair of goals in the third period, the Canucks managed to come back in hostile territory. It started with a Troy Stecher power play goal. Bo Horvat, in the lineup two days after getting hit in the back of the head with a slap shot, tied it up for Vancouver just 46 seconds later.

But the chance for at least a single point slipped at the worst possible time, as Jonathan Toews scored with 1:18 left in regulation and then set up an empty net goal from Marian Hossa just a few seconds later to secure the 4-2 win.

The Canucks remain stuck at five wins — just five wins — on the road. They have the 29th-ranked road record in the entire NHL. Only the Arizona Coyotes have been worse away from home ice. So, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed down the stretch.

Vancouver had a chance to move into a wild card spot. Instead, they let the Blackhawks regain momentum as the period went on, and as a result, they remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture for right now.

Corey Crawford earned his 200th career win, making 26 saves. That’s a milestone night for him. For Toews, that’s his most productive night of the season, as he factored into all four Chicago goals, which, of course, included the winner.

This has been a difficult year for Toews. He’s been injured. His point production has been down.

Video: Giroux bumps scoring slump to give Flyers the OT win

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The Philadelphia Flyers needed a win.

So overtime against the New York Islanders seemed like a perfect time for captain Claude Giroux to bust his scoring slump.

Without a goal in his last 12 games, or since Dec. 21 before the holiday break, Giroux finished the Flyers comeback with an overtime goal to give Philly a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Jakub Voracek did great work along the boards to force a turnover from John Tavares, and Shayne Gostisbehere followed up his chance with a quick pass to a wide-open Giroux at the top of the crease.

That comeback win — Philly trailed by two goals early in the second period — bumps the Flyers back into a wild card spot.

Steve Mason had a big game in net for Philly, with 36 saves, while the Flyers fired 47 shots on goal toward Thomas Greiss, although it’s a difficult task trying to re-set and stop Giroux — an accomplished scorer in the NHL — on the doorstep.

Goals, goals and more goals! Blue Jackets outlast Senators for overtime win

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 19:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stops a shot from Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets as Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates back on defense during the third period on January 19, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Ottawa defeated Columbus 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Plenty of goals. A little three-on-three overtime. Seemed like an enjoyable afternoon of hockey between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Well, maybe the goalies, Mike Condon and Joonas Korpisalo, didn’t enjoy it as much.

The Blue Jackets prevailed for a 7-6 overtime win, with Cam Atkinson scoring just 1:09 into the extra period. That’s his 23rd goal of the season. Only two players — Jeff Carter (24) and Sidney Crosby (28) — have scored more goals than Atkinson this season.

With the win, and the Capitals sitting idle today, the Blue Jackets move back into a tie with Washington at 68 points in the fight for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

There were some anxious moments for Columbus.

Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was hurt blocking a shot in the third period. He briefly left the game, unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was helped off.

The good news: He only missed a few minutes, returning late in regulation and for the overtime as well, which is important for the Blue Jackets.

Despite his rookie status, and being a 19-year-old blue liner, Werenski is having an impressive season with six goals and 26 points in 45 games before Sunday.

“The thing that has impressed me the most about him is he’s a bit unflappable,” coach John Tortorella said earlier this season.

“He’s made a couple of huge mistakes in a game and he comes to the bench, shakes it off and then goes out and makes a great play. For a 19-year-old playing that position and the amount of time he’s getting in key situations with this organization, it’s pretty impressive.”

Julien: ‘We don’t have enough talent to … get away with a mediocre game’

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien looks up at the score board during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Boston, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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Another game, another loss for the Boston Bruins, who came apart in the third period of Sunday’s game versus Pittsburgh, resulting in a 5-1 defeat.

That’s four straight losses for the Bruins. Claude Julien’s job security appears on the line. Following talk of Julien’s future in Boston, there has been criticism toward the Bruins front office for failure to improve key areas of their roster during the offseason.

On Saturday, Julien said he wasn’t quitting on his team. On Sunday, after another frustrating defeat, in which Boston carried the play, particularly in the second period, Julien offered a pretty frank assessment of his team and its current make up.

“This is a team that needs all 20 guys going to win. We don’t have enough talent to think we can get away with a mediocre game,” he said, per Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.

Scoring is a major issue for the Bruins. They’ve been terrific with puck possession, the best team in the league in that category at even strength, but they’re in the bottom third of the league when it comes to goals-for. Against the Penguins, they tested Matt Murray with 45 shots, including 22 in the second period, and could only manufacture one goal.

It didn’t help Boston’s cause that their starting goalie Tuukka Rask left the game due to migraines and didn’t return. Zane McIntyre entered the game and was ventilated for three goals in under three minutes in the third period. Game over.

And that just adds more scrutiny on the Bruins and Julien’s job security.

“Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron, per CSNNE.com.

“But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”