With his red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs sitting atop the Northeast division and just three points back of Pittsburgh for top spot in the East (with three games in hand!), head coach Ron Wilson decided now was an okay time to talk up his captain, Dion Phaneuf.
“Personally I think by a country mile he’s the best defenseman in the league. It’s not even close right now,” Wilson said following a 4-3 win over the Penguins. “I think he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s comfortable being the captain, he’s healthy and I think without taking away from his play, the way Carl Gunnarsson’s played has made Dion’s job a lot easier. It’s just freed up Dion to play as best as I’ve ever seen him.”
And you know what? Wilson might be right. Phaneuf could be the NHL’s best. He leads all Leafs in assists (nine), plus/minus (+7) and time on ice per game (26:34) and is third amongst all NHL defensemen in points (11). He also captains one of the top-three teams in the league. What other defensemen boast that kind of resume?
There’s only one that comes close: Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang. And he comes very close. Which is why Wilson’s “by a country mile” comment doesn’t work.
Letang’s been an absolute horse for the Pens, putting up 10 assists in 11 games while averaging over 26 minutes a night. And for as good as Phaneuf’s been in carrying the Leafs, he’s been aided by Phil Kessel (the league’s leading goalscorer) and Joffrey Lupul, who’s on pace for a career-high 90 points. Letang hasn’t had nearly the support thanks to injuries suffered by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Zbynek Michalek and Tyler Kennedy, yet the Pens are still off to an impressive start.
So sure, Phaneuf might be the league’s best. But it’s not like he’s squinting at Letang in his rear-view.
After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.
The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.
That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
Bob McKenzie shares his memories of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, who apparently was a big hockey fan. (TSN)
Don Cherry discusses John Brophy’s toughness after the former Leafs coach recently passed away. (Sportsnet)
A look at Vincent Lecavalier‘s career. (Greatest Hockey Legends)
The perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs … although it worked out for the Penguins at least last night. (The Hockey News)
Speaking of which, will the Blues get burned for switching back to Brian Elliott in Game 6 tonight? Here’s a preview:
Sidney Crosby has a chance to join a very rare club of clutch goal-scorers if he can win it for Pittsburgh in Game 7:
Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.
(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)
Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:
Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”
“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”
Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.
Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.
The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.
It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.
Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.
Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.
Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.
Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.
Read more about Game 6 here.