Mike Smith

Phoenix adds new wrinkle to the NHL goaltending debate

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Tonight in Toronto, it’s the tale of two vastly different goaltending situations.

The Leafs will start rookie Ben Scrivens in goal. He’ll get the nod over third-year pro Jonas Gustavsson, who was originally tabbed to be the starting netminder after sophomore sensation James Reimer got hurt.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, will counter with Mike Smith, a six-year veteran on his third NHL club. He’ll be backed up by Jason LaBarbera, a 31-year-old journeyman.

The two teams are at opposite ends of the goaltending spectrum stylistically…and statistically.

Toronto has the fourth-worst GAA (3.41). Both Scrivens and Gustavsson have save percentages below .900.

Phoenix has the NHL’s 10th-lowest GAA (2.47). Both goalies have solid save percentages — Smith: .931, LaBarbera: .900.

“[Nobody’s] been more important to the club so far this season than Smith,” writes CBC.ca. “Since allowing six goals in the season opener, the netminder’s goals-against average is 1.88.”

Smith’s ascension to a top-flight, No. 1 netminder is the latest in the ongoing debate of how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position. There’s no shortage of opinion on how to do it. Some say find a proven veteran and lock him up long-term. Others suggest grooming a less-expensive (and less-proven) youngster. Some say spend big while others preach frugality. Some say declare a clear-cut No. 1, others opt for the platoon system.

Thing is, Smith’s situation in Phoenix doesn’t really fit into any of those. When the Coyotes signed him to a two-year, $4-million deal back in July he was a run-of-the-mill 29-year-old goalie with marginal starting experience. (At $2 million per, he was being paid exactly like that — either a cheap starter, or a pricey backup.)

The thought was at best he’s a decent 1b to someone else’s 1a; at worst he’s one of the league’s better backups. Many assumed he’d be Phoenix’s starter, but they also assumed Phoenix would have the worst goaltending duo in the league.

Whoops.

Now granted, some of Smith’s success this year is due to Phoenix’s defensive style of play. But looking around the NHL right now — yes, Toronto included — there are more than a few clubs that could probably use Smith at $2 million per:

— The team he left, Tampa Bay, had to yank Dwayne Roloson again last night.

— Columbus’s goaltending woes are well documented.

— New Jersey is still on the lookout for 39-year-old Martin Brodeur’s heir apparent. (And if Smith wasn’t the heir apparent, he could’ve been a useful stopgap considering Brodeur’s backup, Johan Hedberg, is 38.)

It’s still early in the year and hey, Smith’s never played more than 42 games in a single season — this could still go pear-shaped. But for now, Phoenix has added yet another viable option as to how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position.

I’m just not sure how to describe it.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

The Penguins were already without defenseman Olli Maatta, who was injured on a late, high hit from Brooks Orpik, which resulted in a three-game ban for the Capitals’ veteran blue liner. With Maatta out for Game 3, the Penguins inserted Derrick Pouliot into the lineup. With Letang out for Game 4, that opens the door to the possibility of Justin Schultz entering this series.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Krug out six months, Krejci out five months after undergoing surgery

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins talks with Torey Krug #47 during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Some pretty significant health updates out of Boston on Tuesday:

— Defenseman Torey Krug will miss the next six months following right shoulder surgery.

— Center David Krejci will miss the next five months following left hip surgery.

— Winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks following left hand surgery.

Got all that?

Let’s go straight to the ramifications:

Krug

Assuming he had a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team — and given he was the fifth-highest scoring American d-man this year, you had to figure he did — that opportunity is now wiped out.

The six-month recovery window also means Krug will likely miss however many games the Bruins play in October (it was 10 this season.) That’ll prove difficult for head coach Claude Julien.

Krug’s a staple of the Boston power play and averaged 21:36 TOI per night this season. Finding someone to fill that role won’t be easy.

Krejci

Named to the Czech Republic’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup, Krejci’s participation is now (presumably) in question. Even if he’s healthy earlier than expected — say, four months, that would bring him right up to the start of September, and the World Cup runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Can’t imagine Boston would be too happy with Krejci, who just turned 30 last week, playing in this event fresh off major hip surgery.

This is also the second significant injury Krejci’s suffered in the last two years, having partially torn his MCL in 2015.

Beleskey

Figures to be back to full health in time for training camp, which has to be one of the few positives to come from today. Beleskey enjoyed a good first year in Boston during the ’15-16 campaign, finishing with 15 goals and 37 points.

It’s possible the hand injury affected him down the stretch, though. After scoring five goals and eight points in 14 games in February, Beleskey failed to produce much in March and April, and finished the year in a four-game pointless slump.

Report: Wild interested in MacLean, Carlyle for head coaching gig

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 4: Head coach Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators yells at the on ice-officials following a disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on April 4, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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With the coaching carousel now in full spin — another gig opened up today, as Bob Hartley was fired in Calgary — GMs are actively seeking permission to speak with potential candidates.

Like in Minnesota, where Chuck Fletcher is working the phones.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fletcher — who has reportedly reached out to Ducks GM Bob Murray about Bruce Boudreau — is now also looking at Boudreau’s assistant in Anaheim, Paul MacLean, along with ex-Ducks and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

More, from Mike Russo:

It’s believed on that same phone call with Murray, Fletcher asked about the status of Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean. I’ve been led to believe Fletcher has yet to receive permission to talk with MacLean. If that’s true, it likely means MacLean, the former Senators head coach, is a candidate to replace Boudreau in Anaheim. That would make sense since MacLean was Murray’s hire in the first place.

In addition, as I reported in my Boudreau piece in Saturday’s paper here, sources told me that Fletcher did plan to contact Randy Carlyle. I don’t know if that contact has been made yet with the former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Fletcher is currently in California. Logic suggests he’s getting two interviews done for the price of one, as both Boudreau and Carlyle live in southern California.

As for MacLean, he’s certainly going to be a figure worth monitoring. One has to think he’s in line to replace Boudreau in Anaheim — something predicted from the moment he was hired — but that’s assuming Murray doesn’t clean house behind the bench.