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Life after Bryzgalov: how will the Coyotes succeed in net?


There’s not much hope among the hockey community for the Phoenix Coyotes this season. There’s a shocker. Despite back-to-back season with people all over the NHL doubting the desert dogs, the Coyotes have posted back-to-back playoff seasons. Yet still, after repeated success, most people are expecting them to fail.

Each season there are question marks surrounding the team; each season Don Maloney and Co. prove that they have the answers. But this season could be different. This season there’s a larger question mark—and the old answer between the pipes that could bail the team out is 2,000 miles away in Philadelphia. So what do the Coyotes plan on doing now that star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has moved onto a new contender in the Eastern Conference?

The first thing the Coyotes needed to do was bring in a goaltender they believed could lead the team. Even though there were other alternatives on July 1 (like Tomas Vokoun), Phoenix management had a certain guy in mind: Mike Smith. Coyotes GM Don Maloney spoke to earlier in the summer about the problematic goaltending situation:

“We looked at a couple of different veterans that might have been there. We looked at a couple of younger goaltenders, there were a number of goaltenders available in trades, but we kept coming back to Mike Smith. His style of game – he’s a big goaltender – Sean Burke has had good success with big goaltenders. Dave Tippett had him in Dallas and liked him a lot. We think our system will help his game progress. He has all the tools to be a top goalie in this league; we just need to bring it out of him. He was really our #1 pick.”

Smith may have been management’s #1 option—but he probably wasn’t the fan’s first choice. He’s shown flashes of potential over the course of his career in Dallas and Tampa Bay. But he’s also had bouts of inconsistency that relegated him to platoon duty or even the bench.

Many forget that Bryzgalov had similar bouts with inconsistency when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. He’s shown stretches where he could carry the team and look like a legitimate #1 goaltender. Then he’d show flashes that reminded everyone why he was the back-up and a guy who eventually hit the waiver wire.

One of the big questions surrounding Bryzgalov was if he’d be able to play well for an entire 82 game season. He succeeded—but why? Was it the Coyotes team defense? Was it the system that Dave Tippett brought from Dallas that put him in a position to succeed? Perhaps, but GM Maloney has another reason for Bryzgalov’s asset to stardom in Phoenix.

“I think it was maturity,” the Coyotes general manager argued. “I think the way we treated him—to his credit he played [well], but I thought Sean Burke did a terrific job instructing him. I think the way we handled him, and I think our system is a very detailed system. Everybody knows what’s expected. I think it helped to just get a little more consistency in his game. If you look back at Bryzgalov prior to coming to us, there were periods of brilliance and then periods where you couldn’t put him in the net. We were able to get him to the point where he was consistently a top goalie.

“And that’s the same with Mike Smith. You saw it last year; he was fantastic in one playoff game. Now we just need to get about 70 of those games out of him.”

That could be easier said than done. Everyone looks for consistency between the pipes and a starter they can lean on for 70 games per season. Judging by the preseason predictions floating around, not very many people believe that Smith will be able to step into Bryzgalov’s rather large skates. If the Coyotes can’t get elite goaltending, then it will be tough for the team to compete for their third straight playoff berth.

Of all the people worrying about the Coyotes’ goaltending situation, the folks in the Coyotes’ front office don’t seem all that worried. They got their man. They have confidence in their goaltending coach because they’ve seen him do it before. Now it’s up to Smith to learn from Sean Burke and start fulfilling the vast potential that made him the main piece in a trade for Brad Richards.

If Mike Smith is the goaltender that Maloney thinks he is, the Coyotes will be set to raise eyebrows yet again. But if he can’t—well, all of the prognosticators may finally have their doubts confirmed.

Goalie injury wave hits Boston, Subban recalled on emergency basis

Malcolm Subban
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The injury bug that’s sweeping NHL creases has hit Boston.

Ahead of Tuesday’s home tilt against the Wild, the Bruins — without the services of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin — goalie recalled Malcolm Subban from AHL Providence.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to Khudobin, who played in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Montreal. Rask, who hasn’t suited up since Thursday’s win over New Jersey, was absent from practice with no clear word on what his ailment is.

All this points to Subban, 22, potentially making his second career start tomorrow night against Minnesota. The former first-round pick’s had a nightmare start to the year in Providence, going 0-3-1 with a 4.50 GAA and .846 save percentage.

“I don’t know if he’s where he wants to be or where we want him to be,” head coach Kevin Dean said, per the Journal.

As mentioned above, Boston isn’t the only team dealing with goalie injuries at the moment. The L.A. Kings are without Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, forcing No. 3 netminder Peter Budaj into the starting role.

The Coyotes have listed injured starter Mike Smith as week-to-week with a lower-body ailment, the Penguins are still without Matt Murray (hand) and Nashville had to play without Pekka Rinne on Saturday night, as he dealt with a bout of food poisioning.

‘Lots of try,’ but Coyotes still winless on tough road trip

New York Rangers' Josh Jooris, right,reacts after scoring past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Two more games and it’s over.

Two more games and the Arizona Coyotes can go home.

The ‘Yotes lost their fourth straight road game Sunday in New York, falling 3-2 to the Rangers. They play at New Jersey tomorrow and at Philadelphia Thursday. Then, mercifully, the six-game trip will be done.

“We knew this was going to be a tough trip,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We were going to find out about our team. Every game we find out a little more. There’s some areas that are improving. There’s some areas that still need lots of work. We got lots of players that are getting good experience right now.”

The Coyotes actually played quite well in New York. The game was tied, 2-2, until Dan Girardi scored early in the third. Arizona ended up outshooting the Rangers, 29-26.

But a 1-4-0 record has the Coyotes in last place in the Pacific Division. It’s an early hole for this young team, with five rookies on the roster, including three teenagers. And even when they finally get home, tough games await against Colorado, San Jose, and Nashville.

“Lots of try in our group. Lots of try,” Tippett said. “But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”

Arizona’s next opponent, New Jersey, isn’t the most offensive team in the league. In fact, the Devils rank dead last in scoring, with just eight goals in five games. And the Flyers haven’t been all that great either.

So perhaps the Coyotes can still salvage something from this trip. It’s been a tough one so far, but end it on a high and the flight home will be that much more enjoyable.

Related: The Coyotes are in a tough spot

Isles bring back Steve Bernier on two-way deal

NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steve Bernier #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 25, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After attending training camp on a PTO, Steve Bernier has signed with the Isles.

On Monday, the club announced Bernier had agreed to a one-year, two-way deal, which gives him a second go-round with the club. Last year the veteran forward caught on with the club and proceeded to score six points in 24 regular-season games, and appear in six playoff contests.

A former first-round pick, Bernier’s deal comes with the Isles dealing with a few injuries up front — Shane Prince is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Mikhail Grabovski is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

The Bernier deal could also give the Isles flexibility with their two 19-year-old rookies, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, as both are eligible to be returned to junior (and the Isles would prevent “burning” a year on their entry-level deals if they do it before the nine-game threshold.)

That said, Beauvillier is off to a terrific start, with five points through five games. Barzal has been less effective, dressing just once.



With three straight wins, the Oilers have ‘responded well’ to the Buffalo debacle

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Oscar Klefbom #77 of the Edmonton Oilers congratules Cam Talbot #33 on his shutout against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers improved to 5-1-0 with Sunday’s outdoor shutout of the Jets. They’ve now won three straight since getting embarrassed, 6-2, at home by the Sabres, leaving head coach Todd McLellan quite satisfied with the response he’s seen from his group.

“I thought we started the season sloppily and (still) won games,” said McLellan. “We gave up a lot of opportunities and chances. We were very sleepy and casual against Buffalo, and we went after the group pretty hard. But after that, we responded well, and we played three pretty good teams over the last little bit and played the game a lot better.”

Since the debacle versus Buffalo, the Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Jets, all in regulation. Goalie Cam Talbot has been excellent, improving his save percentage on the season to .919. Over the past three games, it’s been .970.

“I think it started after that Buffalo game that none of us were happy with obviously, so we knew we had to address some things after that,” said Talbot. “We came out Tuesday hard against a tough Carolina team, got a 3-0 lead and kind of let them back in the game there. We talked about it again after that game that we’re going to have to tighten up when we do have these leads, and Thursday was a big win against St. Louis going 1-1 into the third, getting a lead and then holding onto it. And then tonight we took it to another level (with a 3-0 win).”

There are still concerns, to be sure. At five-on-five, the Oilers rank 23rd in Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick, and that’s often a better predictor of success than a team’s record. Overall this season, the Oilers have surrendered more shots (199) than they’ve registered themselves (173).

So while happy, McLellan was careful not to spread the praise too lavishly.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, and when we do, we seem to have a goaltender that makes some pretty good saves, which is nice to have,” he said. “But we’re a growth team. I wouldn’t consider us a championship team or anything like that right now. We’re still a growth team. We’re learning how to do things.”