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Slovenes have ‘heads up high’ after Olympic elimination, and rightly so

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Slovenia’s Olympic journey came to an end on Wednesday as it was defeated 5-0 by Sweden in the tournament quarterfinals.

While it wasn’t the way any of the Slovenes wanted it to end — it was a one-goal game heading into the third period, after all — players were quick to put the loss in perspective.

“It’s been a great tournament for us,” leading scorer Ziga Jeglic told IIHF.com. “We’ll have our heads up high when we come home.”

In terms of Olympic Cinderellas, Slovenia has etched itself in history alongside Belarus in 2002 and the Slovaks in 2010. But to be honest, those don’t really compare — Belarus really only did one notable thing at the Games (beat Sweden in which was, admittedly, one of the biggest upsets in hockey history) and were routed on a number of occasions. The Slovakians certainly surprised in ’10, but had a roster rife with NHL talent: Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Lubomir Visnovsky and Jaroslav Halak, to name a few.

What Slovenia did in Sochi was unique.

Selecting from a pool of 148 registered hockey players — which, let’s be honest, is a good-sized North American beer league — Slovenia came to the Olympics boasting just one NHLer (Anze Kopitar) and zero history of international success. Heck, the Slovenes are still playing in the second-tier of the World Hockey Championships, along with luminaries like South Korea, Great Britain and Hungary.

Yet none of that kept the Slovenes from getting after it in Sochi. “Getting after it” is the key, because they didn’t sit back and try to play for ties. They were down 3-2 heading into the third period of a daunting opener against Russia. They beat the Slovaks 3-1 while putting 31 shots on goal. The Slovenes then scored three more against Austria in the opening playoff round to advance to the quarterfinals. They were aggressive. They worked hard.

Slovenia even kept in close in today’s loss to the Swedes, despite the 5-0 scoreline. Sweden needed four third-period goals to put the Slovenes away, an effort that drew high praise from goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

“They hang around for two periods and you never know if it can be a different game,” he said, per NHL.com. “You just need to play your best and have that little extra luck in these types of games by working hard.

“This was a game we had to win. We didn’t expect to go easy and it didn’t, until the end. Up until then, it was a big fight out there.”

With their Olympics now over, the Slovenes will head home with an unexpected eighth-place finish and the respect of the hockey world. It’s quite the accomplishment — just ask Kopitar.

“To be quite honest, we thought we could come in and stir the pot a little bit, maybe get a point here and there, and see what happens,” he said, per NHL.com. “After we played Russia I thought our confidence came up a bit. The way we played against the Slovaks was obviously a huge confidence-builder. After that, I mean, we were a confident bunch.

“We felt we got a few more tricks up our sleeves. Again, the quarterfinals at the Olympics is really well done for us.”

Kings place Zatkoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed goalie Jeff Zatkoff on waivers.

With Jonathan Quick not expected back until next month, it’s possible that the Kings intend to recall Jack Campbell from the AHL. (They had reportedly been considering it.)

Zatkoff has had a tough time in his first season with the club. The 29-year-old is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage. He hasn’t made a start since Jan. 23, leaving all the work to 34-year-old Peter Budaj.

Campbell has a .913 save percentage in 38 games for AHL Ontario this season.

The Kings host the Bruins tomorrow.

Treliving won’t say if Wideman’s been asked to waive NMC

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Dennis Wideman #6 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The writing is pretty much on the wall for Dennis Wideman.

The Flames haven’t been happy with their defensive group outside the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. To that end, they signed Matt Bartkowski from AHL Providence and acquired former Arizona blueliner Michael Stone via trade.

Those moves have trickled down to Wideman, who’s in the last of a five-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit.

After getting over 20 minutes in last Monday’s ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona, the 33-year-old received two of his lowest ice times of the season — 12:32 against Philly, 13:35 against Vancouver — before sitting as a healthy scratch in last night’s win over the Preds.

Could Wideman be moving on? More, from the Herald:

I asked Treliving if he had approached Wideman to waive his no-movement clause and he said he didn’t want to get into any of that.

Suffice it to say, Wideman and his $5.25 million cap hit have been shopped for years, with hopes that if anyone was willing to take him on, the player would see the move as a better option to staying put.

No takers.

It’s easy to forget that, in ’14-15, Wideman posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (56) while playing a boatload of minutes (24:39 per night). He also had seven points in 11 playoff games.

But the last two years have been extremely difficult. Injuries and the now-infamous hit on linesman Don Henderson — one that resulted in a 20-game suspension — have clearly taken their toll, and Wideman clearly isn’t a favorite of head coach Glen Gulutzan.

There may be a glimmer of hope for a trade, though.

Wideman’s bloated cap hit can be mitigated between the small number of games left in the regular season, and the possibility of Calgary retaining salary. That said, Wideman would be seen by most as an insurance policy for the playoffs — which is exactly why the Flames might keep him around.

This is a club with postseason aspirations, one that could use a serviceable d-man on the depth chart.

Vegas won’t be active at the trade deadline after all

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee (L) listens as majority owner of the Las Vegas NHL franchise Bill Foley speaks after announcing McPhee as the team's general manager during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The Vegas Golden Knights will not be active at the trade deadline after all.

It was thought a few weeks back that they might be, but owner Bill Foley said in a radio interview yesterday that the final payment would not be made in time.

“We won’t make it before the trade deadline,” Foley told KXNT, per The Sin Bin. “The documentation is unbelievable. I have documentation with the league on a franchise agreement. I have documentation on a loan we are taking out with CitiBank. I’ve got my personal stuff, which all has to get in and get approved. If you saw the stack of documents you’d say it’s not a pretty picture.”

Foley added that it was other teams that wanted to make deals more than it was his team.

“They want to lock up some of their players for the playoff run and after the playoff run,” he said.

What’s he talking about there?

Well, if the Golden Knights were active at the deadline, teams could’ve sent them draft picks or prospects to not select certain players in the expansion draft.

But that’ll have to wait now.

‘There’s a lot of flaws’ — Smith sounds off on concussion protocol

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, we wrote about Columbus head coach John Tortorella taking issue with the NHL’s concussion protocol.

Now, another vocal critic — Arizona goalie Mike Smith.

In the third period of Monday’s game against Anaheim, Smith was run into by Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg. The collision knocked Smith’s mask off, and a spotter watching the game in Toronto asked that he veteran goalie be removed for concussion testing.

That happened at the 4:29 mark of the third. By the time Smith had been checked out, tested and cleared, there were only 90 seconds remaining — meaning Smith’s night was essentially over. (Marek Langenhamer secured the win in relief).

Arizona’s longtime No. 1 was displeased with the way things played out.

“I think there’s a lot of flaws in the system, especially with the goalie position, and it needs to get fixed,” he said, per the Arizona Republic. “What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie? It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out?

“I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will.”

The 35-year-old added that his initial reaction to getting hit — grabbing his face and head — was only an instinct to protect himself, not an indication he suffered a head injury.

Smith also said that, for a goalie, sitting out for as long as he did makes it extremely difficult to jump back into action.

“I’m cleared, but now I’m coming back and now I’m more at risk of injury than before,” he explained.

Smith had yet another issue with the concussion protocol as it pertains to goalies. What if, he asked, the starter gets knocked out and requires testing, then the backup has the exact same thing happen? As unlikely as the scenario sounds, the possibility is out there.

As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league looks to reassess the policy this offseason. In an email to the Republic, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said concussion protocol “is something that has been debated and discussed over a number of years and in great detail.”

One has to think those discussions will continue.