The Winnipeg Jets had one of their best games of the young season when they hammered the Lightning 5-2 at the MTS Centre. Dustin Byfuglien led the way with a goal, an assist, and #1 star of the night honors. It’s no coincidence that the Jets’ best game of the season came during their most important player’s best game of the year.
Head coach Claude Noel saw it the same way. “This was Dustin’s best game with the Jets,” he said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He can be a great player, not just for us but in this league. He can be outstanding.” First thing is first though. He needs to be a great player for the Jets. Then we can start talking about Byfuglien as one of the best defensemen in the league.
Byfuglien is in an interesting situation in that the Jets depend on him so heavily to contribute offense from the blueline. He was the second leading scorer in Atlanta last season and he’s well on his way to be among the team’s leaders against this season. Forwards included. That may say more about the forwards than it says about Byfuglien though.
The difference between Byfuglien being “good” and “elite” was on full display against the Lightning on Monday night. He was all over the place—both offensively AND defensively. When he finds the right balance between the risky offensive defenseman and the imposing, physical defender, he’s the kind of guy who can be a difference maker on a Stanley Cup contender. He’s already proven that much. When he struggles to find the right balance, he’s the out-of-shape player that some Jets fans think is overpaid and should be traded for a bag of pucks.
Rest assured, Claude Noel wants to figure out a way to keep last night’s version around as long as possible. If he can, the Jets may find a way to climb out of the Southeast Division cellar. Otherwise, it will be a long winter in Winnipeg.
The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.
Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.
The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.
As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.
It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.
The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.
“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”
It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.
“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”
Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.
It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.
Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.
Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.
Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.
Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.
An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.
The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.
From the team press release:
Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.
Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.
The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.
True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.
“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”