Almost – if not every – NHL team is guilty of taking its feet off the accelerator to at least some extent to preserve a win. Call it “going into a shell” or “playing not to lose,” but plenty of head coaches would rather go into prevent defense mode instead of trying to enhance a lead.
Tuesday just happened to provide two of the starkest examples of such practices, and for those who cringe at such tactics, the troubling part is that both the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers were rewarded with wins in the process. Let’s take a simplistic look at what happened:
The Florida Panthers enter the third period against the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 lead
- The Sharks scored once on 29 shots in the third period and lost 3-2 overall. Roberto Luongo made 52 out of 54 saves.
- To be fair, the Sharks received four power-play opportunities in that final frame. Still, teams tend to take penalties when they exert such limited pressure that they only fire two shots on goal in a period.
- Overall, the Panthers fired 24 shots on net. Yes, that’s less than what San Jose generated in the third period. The Sharks fired 30 more shots on goal overall.
The Carolina Hurricanes go into the third period with a 3-0 lead against the Columbus Blue Jackets
- Kirk Muller says losing is for losers, but maybe winning isn’t necessarily for shooters. They didn’t register a single shot on goal in the third period.
- Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets fired 19 shots on goal in that final frame, with Boone Jenner being the only player who could beat Anton Khudobin all night. Carolina managed to cling to that lead and win 3-1.
- Unlike the Panthers, the Hurricanes at least technically aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, even if their chances are very slim (tonight’s win bumps them to 1.6 percent odds, according to Sports Club Stats). Still, unlike the other game, the gap between teams doesn’t seem that pronounced; Columbus now has seven more standings points than Carolina while San Jose has 37 more than Florida. The Hurricanes even approached the Blue Jackets’ shot total in the second period, as Columbus only held a 17-15 advantage.
- Khudobin finished with 46 saves.
It’s tough to say if it’s the best bet to play conservatively or aggressively, but these two contests might embolden a coach or two to lean all the way toward the former.
The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.
Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.
This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.
This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.
This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.
Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.
“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”
The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.
The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.
A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.
That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?
“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”
Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.
But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.
Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.
Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.
On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.
He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.
The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.