Phil Kessel

Tonight on Versus: Maple Leafs and Avalanche look to stay hot

If you looked at the standings this morning and caught a glimpse of who was leading the Northeast and Northwest Divisions, you might be caught off guard. There you’d see tonight’s combatants on Versus in the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. ET). All right, sure, it’s early in the year and things get wacky – that’s fine but there’s a lot to like in what both teams are doing right off the bat.

The Leafs are seeing Phil Kessel take control as an offensive dynamo and making people think that he might not get picked last at the All-Star Game if he keeps up his torrid play (eight points in three games including five goals). We’re sure the jokes about Leafs fans planning the parade have been beaten into the ground already, but this time around their hot start doesn’t have the players thinking too big.

source: Getty ImagesJames Reimer’s play in goal also has the Leafs faithful thinking positively as he’s picked up where he left off last season when he took the starting job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Curiously enough, Giguere will be in goal for Colorado tonight hoping to cool off the Leafs. Money on the board, anyone? Giguere won’t be the only guy with money on the board as Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles gets his first crack at his old team as well.

If you want to keep an eye out on anyone on Colorado, 18 year-old rookie Gabriel Landeskog is about as good as it gets. Landeskog has been playing on the third line and looking like a first liner while doing it. Getting the second overall pick in the draft usually means good things. Having a former third overall pick in Matt Duchene (2009) and former first overall pick in Erik Johnson (2006) can make it easier to get turned around too.

PHT Morning Skate: Tarasenko gives young fan an unforgettable birthday gift

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Vladimir Tarasenko gave 11-year-old fan Arianna Dougan the birthday gift of a lifetime. Dougan, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was three, was given a trip for two on the team’s charter flight to Arizona and Colorado for her 11th birthday. “I was crying in the background,” said Arianna’s mom, Lorie Zucker. “She’s so over the moon she doesn’t realize what she’s got yet. It won’t hit home until she gets in the car. This has been the best birthday ever.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–To many, Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville being the best coaches in hockey is a foregone conclusion. But what if they’re not? Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert makes a case for Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “Boudreau didn’t inherit a sleeping giant of any sort when he took this job. The Wild were decent. He turned them into a team that’s not quite among the elites of the league, but is certainly a very good team that could do some damage in the playoffs.” (Yahoo)

–At one point, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes were going to make a serious push for a playoff spot, but they quickly faded and went back to being a non-contending team. If the Oilers make the playoffs this year, the Hurricanes would own the longest playoff drought in the NHL. Sportsnet’s Luke Fox explains that the ‘Canes need to sacrifice some of their depth on defense so they can acquire an offensive weapon up front. (Sportsnet)

–Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are making a serious run at a playoff spot. The team turned the corner once they got injured forward Jonathan Huberdeau back into their lineup and they haven’t looked back. In the 51 games he missed, the Panthers scored just 2.33 goals per game. Since he’s been back, they’re averaging over four goals per game. (The Hockey News)

–Former NHLer Jeremy Roenick knows what it feels like to be traded. Roenick told SI.com that the first trade he experienced was “horrifying”. He also described just how tough it is to go to battle with a team one day and be on a different squad the next. (Sports Illustrated)

–On Monday, the Calgary Flames acquired Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes. A few hours after the deal, Flames forward Mikael Backlund posted this funny tweet about Stone running him over when they were in junior:

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.