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

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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 ProHockeyTalk.com 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.

Canucks will be without Rodin ‘until his knee strength and function return’

SASKATOON, SK - JANUARY 3:  Anton Rodin #18 of Team Sweden skates with the puck while being defended by David Warsofsky #5 of Team USA during the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship Tournament Semifinal game on January 3, 2010 at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Team USA defeated Team Sweden 5-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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The last time Anton Rodin got into the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup, he sat on the bench the entire game.

Today, the Canucks announced that the 26-year-old winger has re-aggravated the same knee injury he suffered a year ago while playing in Sweden, and now he needs to rest.

“Our Canucks medical team and Anton have determined it is in his best interest to undergo a period of rest, followed by rehab, until his knee strength and function return,” said GM Jim Benning in a release. “Anton will undergo an MRI and orthopedic consult this week.”

In the same release, Benning confirmed that Rodin fell on his knee Jan. 6 against the Flames at Rogers Arena. It was the very next night in Calgary that he didn’t play a single shift, as the Canucks only had five healthy defensemen and were forced to dress 13 forwards.

“Rodin wasn’t 100 percent and once it gets past 10 minutes, it’s hard to get him in and once you do, it’s not fair to play him,” explained head coach Willie Desjardins, per The Province.

It’s a disappointing turn of events for Rodin, who waited a long time to make his NHL debut. He’s only been able to skate in three games for the Canucks, and his ice time was limited in all three.

Rodin started the season on injured reserve after re-aggravating his knee in the preseason.

Related: Anton Rodin is looking to make the leap

Banged-up Pens lose another — Cullen out 3-4 weeks with foot injury

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Matt Cullen #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Having already lost Kris Letang to a knee injury and Brian Dumoulin to a broken jaw, the Pens received more tough news in the health department on Tuesday — in the form of veteran forward Matt Cullen.

Cullen was hurt after taking a shot to the foot in last night’s wild 8-7 win over Washington and will miss the next 3-4 weeks, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced.

Cullen, 40, is one of the NHL’s oldest skaters but has been remarkably durable since joining Pittsburgh. In fact, he hasn’t missed a single game — he played in all 82 last season, then all 24 en route to the Stanley Cup, and is one of just seven Penguins to appear in all 43 games this year.

The cagey vet has been steady in terms of production as well. He has eight goals and 17 points thus far, which had him on pace to match last year’s impressive effort (16 goals, 32 points).

It’s a tough break for the Pens, but there is a silver lining. Shortly after announcing Cullen’s injury, Sullivan said Dumoulin would travel for an upcoming road swing through Montreal and Carolina.

 

Jamie Benn admits the stick-snapping rampages have to stop

Fans celebrate along with Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) after a score by Benn in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series game, Monday, April 21, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Expect a more composed Jamie Benn when the Dallas Stars take on the Rangers tonight in New York.

At the very least, don’t expect another stick-breaking rampage like we saw yesterday in Buffalo.

“I have to do a better job with body language and my play on the ice,” Benn said, per the Dallas Morning News.

He also said of his recent play, “I wish I could say how I really feel, but it’s probably not good for TV.”

The Stars’ captain is understandably frustrated. His team is four points back of a wild-card spot, and his production, with 10 goals in 41 games, is down significantly compared to last season when he finished with 40 goals in 82 games and his team won the Central Division.

Tonight, it doesn’t get any easier. The Stars will take on a Rangers team that will have Mika Zibenajad in their lineup for the first time since Nov. 20. Meanwhile, the rest of the Blueshirts have had two days to recuperate after their 5-4 loss in Montreal on Saturday.

It’s estimated the Stars will need to go around 21-11-5 in their remaining 37 games to make the playoffs. So regardless of their frustrations, they’d best get on a roll soon. A better performance from their captain would be a good start.

Preds claim AHL All-Star Hunt off waivers from Blues

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09:  Brad Hunt #77 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Petter Granberg all out with their respective injuries, the Nashville Predators are a little thin on the blueline.

So on Tuesday, they set about adding some depth.

Brad Hunt, the 28-year-old offensive defenseman, has been claimed off waivers from St. Louis, per TSN. Hunt has spent most of this year with the Blues’ AHL affiliate in Chicago but, in limited time with the big club, has shown pretty well.

The Bemidji State product has five points in nine games for the Blues, while averaging 13:36 TOI per night. He was widely praised for his passing ability, and how quickly he helped the Blues transition from defense to offense.

“[Hunt] just moves the puck,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcok said earlier this year, per the Post-Dispatch. “He gets himself out of trouble, he gets the team out of trouble. He’s a smart player.”

That offensive output is what Hunt’s known for — a consistently productive AHLer, Hunt recently made his fourth career All-Star Game on the strength of 29 points in 23 games for the Wolves.