Phoenix to debut ‘Czech line’ tonight


There are checking lines, and there are Czech-ing lines — and on Thursday, the Coyotes will unveil the latter when they take on the Panthers at Jobing.com.

Martin Erat, acquired at the trade deadline from Washington, will play on a line with fellow Czechs Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, marking the first time the three have played together this season.

“Let’s get the line out there,” Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “Let’s see how they work out there.

“Obviously, they understand each other and understand how they play.”

Though Erat has been with the Coyotes for two weeks, the Czech line’s debut was stalled due to an injury to Hanzal, who missed seven games before returning for Monday’s win over the Kings. Erat also missed time with a head injury but, with the trio now healthy, the Coyotes will look to take advantage of the chemistry developed through years of participation with the Czech national team.

The three all suited up for the Czechs at the 2008 World Hockey Championships, and combined to score 16 points in seven games.

“You can see that we can find each other in the offensive zone, tight corners, that we get open for each other and we’re able to make those passes,” Vrbata said. “It’s nice to see.”

Tonight’s game is huge for the Coyotes, though most of their remaining contests are. Phoenix currently holds the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but is just two points up on Dallas and three up on Vancouver.

The Canucks are idle tonight after beating Nashville on Wednesday, while the Stars are in action this evening against the streaking Flyers, who have won three straight.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.

Bergevin agrees to multi-year contract extension with Habs

Marc Bergevin
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Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has agreed to a multi-year contract extension that runs through 2021-22, the club announced today.

“This new agreement brings added stability for our organization and particularly for our hockey operations. It enables us to continue our efforts in giving our fans a winning team,” said Habs owner Geoff Molson in a release. “Marc is an excellent general manager who quickly made an impact in the league with his leadership skills and his ability to identify the needs and find the personnel to assemble a championship team.”

Bergevin was named GM in May of 2012. The Canadiens have made the playoffs in all three seasons of his tenure, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014.

Still, it’s going to take time before we can truly judge his work, as is the case with any GM that’s only been on the job a few years. The lone player that Bergevin’s drafted that’s made it full-time to the NHL is Alex Galchenyuk. How the likes of Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and Noah Juulsen develop remains to be seen.

For Bergevin, the lengthy contract extension is a nice reward, and a strong vote of confidence that he’s on the right track.

“I am very pleased with his work and the results he has achieved since his appointment as general manager,” said Molson.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.