Slovenia

‘It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey’

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The Slovenian Olympic hockey team is in the midst of something unforgettable.

Just ask the players.

With a country featuring just 148 registered senior players, seven rinks and only one professional team, Slovenia has done the unthinkable in Sochi by advancing to the tournament quarterfinals after Tuesday’s 4-0 playoff win over Austria. To a man, the Slovenes almost all acknowledged the enormity of what they’ve accomplished.

“It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey,” said Ziga Jeglic, per NHL.com. (Jeglic has played a crucial role in writing history; he leads the Slovenes in scoring and assisted on Anze Kopitar’s game-winner against Austria.)

The magnitude of the win immediately resonated. Slovenia’s postgame reactions were a mix of happiness with the effort against Austria, and several remarks about how unfathomable this scenario was at the onset of the tourney.

Goalie Robert Kristian, who now has 87 saves on 93 shots for a .935 save percentage, couldn’t believe what transpired.

“The way I feel right now, I’m just speechless,” he said, per the Olympic News Service. “This is a dream come true for everybody, for all the people in Slovenia. Nobody believed that we could accomplish what happened today.”

“I know we were a little bit lucky against this opponent but that doesn’t matter. We’ve showed everyone that we can play hockey and you have to count us. This is the biggest thing in our hockey career.”

At this point, the Slovenes really are living the dream. Getting to the quarterfinals means a guaranteed top-eight finish at the Olympics — crazy, considering Slovenia is playing in the second tier of the 2014 World Hockey Championships — and they’re gaining huge recognition from the hockey world, evident by this anecdote from IIHF.com:

Kopitar said: “Yesterday I was talking to a certain someone who knows a lot about the game of hockey and he said that he’s been following us the last couple of years and he said we’ve done a tremendous work. You can just tell it’s a huge jump from where we were five years ago. To hear that from a guy like that, it’s unbelievable.”

Asked to identify the “certain someone,” Kopitar said: “A guy named Steve Yzerman.”

Following the Austria game, Kopitar expressed huge pride in what he and his teammates had accomplished.

“It means a great deal to me, a huge deal to me,” he said, per ONS. “To represent your country like we are now, it’s great.”

Goalie nods: Jones heating up, will start again for Sharks

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
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Martin Jones has rediscovered the form he showed this past spring.

Jones, who was arguably the Sharks’ MVP through their Stanley Cup Final run, will look to win his fourth straight start when when San Jose hosts Ottawa this evening.

It’s been a banner past couple of weeks for the 26-year-old. Things started with a 26-save shutout against New Jersey on Nov. 21 — from there, Jones won three of his next four starts, allowing just six goals over that span, to finish the month of November with a .924 save percentage.

On Friday, he kicked off Decmeber in similar style, making 31 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens.

It’s a nice turnaround from the beginning of the season, when Jones was OK — but not great — and finished October at 4-3-0 with a .916 save percentage. Given how vital he is to the club’s success, it’s no coincidence San Jose has played well of late. The Sharks are 6-1 in their last seven and within one point of first-place Edmonton in the Pacific Division (the Sharks do have three games in hand, and could surpass the Oilers this evening).

For the Sens, Mike Condon gets the start in goal. Craig Anderson didn’t make the trip with Ottawa out west.

Elsewhere…

Devan Dubnyk makes career start No. 300 when the Wild take on the Leafs in Toronto. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen, who projects to get a ton of work moving forward, given ex-backup Jhonas Enroth is now with the AHL Marlies.

— Tantalizing matchup brewing in Washington, as Braden Holtby and the Caps host Boston. Tuukka Rask, who has been busy lately, projects to get the nod as he was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate.

— The ‘Canes continue to roll with Cam Ward as they begin their three-game California trip in Anaheim. The Ducks will counter with John Gibson, after Jonathan Bernier was in for all eight goals in Sunday’s ugly loss to Calgary.

The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could get only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

“I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

“He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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