The Chicago Blackhawks will be without starting goaltender Corey Crawford on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an illness. That means his backup, Scott Darling, will get the start in goal. Nothing really out of the ordinary here until you realize somebody has to serve as the backup for Darling.
With Crawford unavailable, and a 1 p.m. ET puck drop preventing the team from making a call up from the American Hockey League, the team needed to scramble to find another goalie.
To fill that vacancy the team announced less than an hour before the start of their game that it has signed Eric Semborski to an amateur tryout contract to serve as Darling’s backup for the day.
If that name does not register with you, it is understandable.
According to the Blackhawks the 23-year-old Semborski “played club hockey with Temple University and for the Empire Junior Hockey League’s Jersey Wildcats.”
He has no professional hockey experience.
Every year you see a handful of situations like this when a team needs a goaltender at the last minute. It is usually a former college player or a team’s junior prospect that is closer to the team at that moment than the minor league team is. It is sure to be an amazing experience for Semborski to get to spend a day in an NHL uniform and take in the game from the bench.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are probably hoping nothing happens to Darling over the next two-and-a-half hours.
A growing list of injured players forced the Detroit Red Wings to make a couple of roster moves on Saturday morning before their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Along with placing forward Justin Abdelkader on injured reserve, the team also announced that it has moved moved forward Andreas Athanasiou from the seven-day injured reserve to the long-term injured list.
Abdelkader was injured earlier in the week against the Florida Panthers and is expected to miss two-to-four weeks with an MCL sprain, while Athanasiou, has not played since Nov. 11 with a knee injury. Along with those two the Red Wings are also without Darren Helm, Brendan Smith, Jimmy Howard, Alexey Marchenko and Tyler Bertuzzi.
With those two roster moves made, the Red Wings made a couple of call ups from Grand Rapids of the AHL. Joining the team in Pittsburgh will be forward Tomas Nosek and defenseman Brian Lashoff.
The 24-year-old Nosek has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 11 games for Grand Rapids so far this season. He appeared in six games for the Red Wings a year ago and did not record a point. Lashoff, meanwhile, has been in the Red Wings organization since the 2008 season and has spent the bulk of his time since then playing in the AHL. He has 115 career games at the NHL level, 75 of them coming during the 2013-14 season, but has not played for the big club since 2014-15 when he appeared in 11 games.
He has three points (one goal, two assists) in 18 games for Grand Rapids this season.
After a 6-2-0 start to the season the Red Wings are just 5-8-3 in the 16 games that have followed.
Coming off of a season where they finished with the fourth-worst record in the league, expectations were remarkably low for the Columbus Blue Jackets entering this season. Being on the outside of the playoff picture for the third year in a row seemed like a given. Being one of the worst teams in the league again, if not the worst team, seemed like a real possibility.
But entering play on Saturday they have been, by far, the NHL’s biggest surprise with a 13-5-4 record through their first 22 games, putting them in third place in the Metropolitan Division just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, and only three points behind the New York Rangers with multiple games in hand on both teams. It is still the best start in the history of the franchise.
Let’s take a look at what is behind their newfound success.
Sergei Bobrovsky is back
One of the biggest factors in Columbus’ miserable start a year ago was the struggles of starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. A former Vezina Trophy winner, the 2015-16 season was by far Bobrovsky’s worst campaign since arriving in Columbus. So far this season, he is back on track and once again playing like one of the top goalies in the league.
In 20 starts this season he owns a .929 save percentage and has already recorded three shutouts.
At this point last season he was carrying around a .905 save percentage and talking about how he had little confidence in his game.
How much of a difference is that swing in his performance making? A massive one. He has faced an almost identical number of shots through his first 20 starts (562 in 2015-16, 566 this year), but the difference in his performance has shaved 13 goals off of the Blue Jackets’ goals against total. Add 13 goals to that total right now and they go from second in the NHL, all the way down to 15th. That alone has to be worth a couple of wins.
Goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey, and if you have a good one, or one that is simply on an incredible hot streak, it is going to mask a lot of flaws. Likewise, a goaltender that is struggling can make an otherwise good team think it has a lot of problems.
Some young talent is making a big impact
One of the biggest concerns with the construction of the Blue Jackets’ roster entering the season was the amount of money they had tied up in veteran players that were starting to get into their late 20s or early 30s and how little some of them had produced a year ago. Nick Foligno. Scott Hartnell. Brandon Dubinsky. Jack Johnson. Long-term some of those contracts are still a concern (though, Foligno is having a nice bounce back season with 20 points in 22 games), but what is really helping Columbus this season is the number of young players that have stepped into the lineup and are making huge contributions.
Six of the team’s top-10 scorers, including three of the top-five, are age 24 or younger.
Among that group is 19-year-old Zach Werenski who has been a huge addition to the team’s blue line. With 16 points he is the leading scorer in the NHL among rookie defensemen and is one of the best possession drivers on the team.
Up front, Alexander Wennberg, the team’s first-round pick in 2013 (No. 14 overall) is taking a huge step in his development and has seen his production skyrocket across the board while playing alongside Brandon Saad and Foligno.
Even though his minutes have been limited and coach John Tortorella still wants to see more consistency out of him, 22-year-old Josh Anderson already has seven goals on the year.
There is probably a little bit of luck on their side
When trying to figure out if a team is for real or not there are a couple of underlying signs you need to look for.
For example: A team that is getting badly outshot and is winning because of a sky high shooting percentage or save percentage (or both) is probably a team that is getting a lot of good luck and is setting itself up for a big collapse in the future (take, for example, the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs. Or the 2014 Colorado Avalanche. Or the 2015 Calgary Flames).
And while that is not entirely the case with the Blue Jackets right now, they have been a little on the lucky side so far.
Their shot on goal and shot attempts numbers are decent and have them around the middle of the pack in the league, but there is still probably a regression coming in the future when it comes to their offense which is currently tied for sixth in the league in goals scored.
At the moment they are scoring on nearly 11 percent of their shots, while five individual players are carrying shooting percentages higher than 15 percent. Those are all numbers that are likely to drop as the season goes on. It’s just too hard, both for teams and individuals, to maintain that type of shooting success over the course of an 82 game season. Over the past five years only 11 teams (total) have finished an 82-game season with a shooting percentage higher than 10 percent, and none have been over 11. In 2015-16 only 32 individual players (minimum 100 shots) finished the season with a shooting percentage higher than 15 percent. Again, the Blue Jackets right now have five of them. Some of that is going to regress a bit.
But again, they also aren’t the 2013 Maple Leafs or the 2014 Avalanche here when it comes to luck. They are keeping teams to less than 30 shots on goal per game, and while their possession numbers are not great, they are not exactly overly concerning, either. They are probably not playing that far over their heads at the moment.
As long as Bobrovsky stays healthy and keeps playing like the goalie he’s been for most of the past five years (the 2015-16 season excluded) they are going to have a shot to hang around in this thing.
A bad first period was enough to send the Montreal Canadiens to a 2-1 loss to the Sharks on Friday night, extending the franchise’s losing streak in San Jose to 10 consecutive games going back to the 1999 season.
The star of the game has to be Sharks goalie Martin Jones for his 31-save effort, including a couple of highlight reel saves throughout the night. One of his best came in the first period when he absolutely robbed Alex Galchenyuk with a fancy glove save.
The Sharks really needed Jones to be on top of his game to get the win.
For as good as they looked in the first period, when they seemed to be on the verge of running the Canadiens out of the building, they were not able to maintain that level of play in the second and third periods and allowed Montreal to turn the tables on them a little bit.
Things really started to get a little tense for them with four minutes to play in the third period when Logan Couture was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Alexander Radulov, resulting a nasty cut to Radulov’s face that left a trail of blood on the ice as he skated to the bench.
Montreal was able to cut the deficit to one when Artturi Lehkonen scored his third goal of the season but were never able to get the tying goal.
After a 13-2-1 start to the season the Canadiens have hit their first slump of the season and are now 3-5-1 in their past nine games.
The Sharks on the other hand are starting to hit their stride a little bit and have won six of their past seven games to open up a three-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific Division.