James Reimer

Goaltending remains Leafs’ biggest x-factor

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Toronto’s core of forwards is pretty sound at this point, and only getting better thanks to the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the growth of youngsters like Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne.

Their defense seems similarly strong, led by Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner, and Carl Gunnarsson.

Still, whether or not the Leafs are a playoff team is open for debate, and the main point of criticism is their goaltending. Toronto might still make a move, but as things currently stand, they are likely to enter the season with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens as their goaltending duo.

Reimer had a remarkable rookie season, but his sophomore campaign was derailed early because of a concussion. Even when he returned, he was never able to get back on track.

One potential alternative would be to acquire Roberto Luongo, but the length of his contract makes that problematic. If the Toronto Maple Leafs are still three-to-five years away from competing for the Stanley Cup, then Luongo would be in his mid-to-late 30s before Toronto is ready to make a serious playoff run.

The alternative would be to get a veteran backup to help take some pressure off Reimer and maybe serve as a calming influence, but the unrestricted free agent market is devoid of any ideal candidates. Ty Conklin, Marty Turco, and Brent Johnson are still unsigned, but at this point the Leafs might not be comfortable having any of those three serve as their starter for extended periods should Reimer struggle.

With that in mind, it’s entirely possible that Toronto will not be able to make a significant move to address their goaltending situation over the summer. With that in mind, Toronto’s odds of making the playoffs in 2012-13 might be firmly tied to Reimer’s ability to bounce back.

Scrivens and slumping Habs face daunting task against McDavid and suddenly high-flying Oilers

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Connor McDavid is kind of good.

In the two games since his return to the Edmonton Oilers, he’s kind of — just kind of — had an impact. Five points in two games — that counts as an impact, right? Oh, and did you see this goal in his return earlier this week?

Since McDavid’s highly anticipated return Tuesday against Columbus, the Oilers have outscored the opposition 12-3 in two games. Small sample size? Yes. Against teams currently not in playoff positions? Yes.

But that’s still very impressive and with him in the lineup, there appears to be a sense of optimism in Edmonton.

Enter the free-falling Montreal Canadiens. Enter goalie Ben Scrivens, who only made his debut for the Habs at the end of December and will face his old team, the Oilers, on Saturday.

In four games with the Habs, Scrivens has been scored on 15 times.

The Habs, without Carey Price, have been in a tumble down the Eastern Conference standings for a long time now. And, really, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Now, the Habs and Scrivens are tasked with facing McDavid and the suddenly high-flying Oilers.

And Canadiens fans probably aren’t the cheeriest right now, as their team has gone from on the verge of NHL history in October to becoming an afterthought in the playoff picture in February.

No pressure.

“Unfortunately, it seems like my whole career has been playing behind teams that don’t have that confidence, except for my time in L.A.,” Scrivens told reporters.

“It’s a challenge as a goalie but all you can do is worry about your job. I can’t go out there and start trying to break pucks out and do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. My job is to try and stop pucks and try and stop as many as I can.”

With the way McDavid and the Oilers have been scoring since the break and his return, it appears that will be a monumental task for Scrivens.

And with the Habs in a 1-8-1 slide in the past 10 games, the timing probably couldn’t get any worse.

 

Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

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Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.