Under Pressure: Patrick Roy

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Colorado Avalanche, we pick … head coach Patrick Roy.

A treacherous jump

Plenty of head coaches have jumped from lower leagues to the NHL, yet the likes of Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau didn’t leap from the QMJHL. They also didn’t come with the built-in hype of being one of the greatest goalies in league history.

Controversy and/or eyeballs tend to follow the 47-year-old around wherever he goes, but let’s not forget that the Hall of Famer also seems to bring success to whatever team he joins.

Of course, that legacy of winning might mean that the noose could tighten around Roy’s neck much faster than other coaches if things go poorly.

Return to relevance?

Avalanche fans remember how quickly Roy can turn a team around, at least when he was wearing leg pads. The recently moved franchise made a leap from playoff team to genuine contender when Roy was famously traded from Montreal to Colorado in 1996, spoiling Avs fans with Stanley Cup victories right out of the gate.

The franchise is learning that early success in a “nontraditional” market can be something of a double-edged sword, however, as interest has plummeted since Roy left.

During the team’s gravy days, attendance came in at about 18,000 fans per game. Things began to really drop off in 2007-08 (16,842), dropping to a disturbing low of 13,947 per game in 2009-10. Things have only gotten a bit better the past two seasons, as crowds are coming in at a little under 15,500 per contest. (Attendance figures via hockeydb.com.)

The hope isn’t just that the Roy-Joe Sakic combo improves this team in the standings; it’s likely that the Avalanche handed this duo the keys to return this franchise to prominence, even with some stiff marketplace competition in the Denver Broncos and Denver Nuggets.

Some weapons

On paper, the Avalanche remain a flawed team. Still, considering the addition of Nathan MacKinnon, the return of Alex Tanguay and possible full seasons for Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie, it’s not as if Roy has nothing to work with.

For obvious reasons, people will expect the biggest improvements to come in net. Roy receives two interesting pupils in wildcard netminder Semyon Varlamov and stylistic cousin Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Both netminders have glories, injuries and frustrations in their past, so Roy will be tasked with getting the most out of them.

Fair or not, the Avalanche have missed the playoffs four out of the last five seasons and haven’t won a postseason series since 2007-08. Slow and steady might not work for fans raised on instant success.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.