Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle looks on with players, left to right, Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul, and Peter Holland against the New York Rangers during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch)

Leafs rise to coach Carlyle’s defense

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The Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff hopes are essentially dead after dropping eight straight games in regulation. All the same, the team’s core players will probably be back next season, but will head coach Randy Carlyle?

With speculation about his potential firing at a fever pitch, his players are trying to deflect the blame away from him.

“No, this shouldn’t be (on Carlyle),” defenseman Jake Gardiner told the Toronto Sun. “It’s on the players. It’s on everybody.

“We’re the ones on the ice, not him.”

Forward Dave Bolland echoed Gardiner’s remarks by saying that those looking to assign blame should direct it towards the players.

The public support of his players might not be enough to save Carlyle after overseeing the team’s worst regular-season collapse since, uh, 2012.

Given that the Maple Leafs are turning disappointing finishes into an annual tradition that predates Carlyle, it’s natural to wonder if this might also be a summer of major moves for the team.

There’s always some turnover, but Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf are all signed through at least 2017-18 and many of them have at least partial no-trade clauses. Those six players also come with a combined cap hit of nearly $34 million annually, per Cap Geek, or roughly half of what next season’s ceiling is likely to be.

So while some of them — most notably Kessel — are players worthy of building a team around, the fact is that as the Leafs are set up right now, they have to be the go-to guys for years to come.

Without dismissing the possibility of a major offseason trade, as things stand, the Maple Leafs have to hope that eventually those players efforts breed different results. Likely with a tweaked supporting cast — and perhaps with a new bench boss.

Related:

Leafs collapse should be cautionary tale for young Avs

Fight video: Zack Kassian racks up penalty minutes, faces Brian Strait

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Pulling Anders Nilsson didn’t stop the bleeding for the Edmonton Oilers. Instead, it really just spread the “wealth.”

The New York Islanders are up 7-1, so don’t be surprised if there’s some ugly stuff in the final frame.

Zack Kassian is an author of at least one outburst, as he was tagged with 19 penalty minutes for a display that included fighting Brian Strait, as you can see in the video above.

It’s not the only fight stemming from the blowout, either, as Eric Gryba just tangled with Matt Martin.

Could there be more?

Isles chase Nilsson from Oilers’ net in less than 12 minutes

Edmonton Oilers goalie Anders Nilsson, of Sweden, makes pad save against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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There was a time when Anders Nilsson seemed like the best bet in the Oilers’ net this season. This … is not that time.

Less than 12 minutes into Sunday’s game, the New York Islanders roared to a 3-0 lead, and that was enough for Edmonton to give Nilsson the hook.

He allowed those three goals on 10 shots, so to be fair, that’s a pretty impressive chunk of chances (almost a shot on goal per minute).

Still, the Oilers were likely hoping to give Cam Talbot a breather, and instead he was rushed into action. Nilsson hadn’t played since Jan. 19, and he’s only appeared in three games in 2016.

As if this didn’t sting enough for Nilsson, consider the fact that he began his NHL career with the Islanders, who eventually decided he wasn’t worth keeping.

Ovi scores 30th as Caps beat Flyers for third straight victory

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Alex Ovechkin scored to join Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner as only players with at least 30 goals in each of their first 11 NHL seasons, and Matt Niskanen netted the game winner as Washington beat the Flyers 3-2 at Verizon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz replied for the Flyers, who suffered their second straight loss.

The win was the Capitals’ third in a row.

It didn’t always look as though Washington would emerge the victor, however. The Caps were out-shot 35-30 on the day and looked disjointed at times, finishing with 12 giveaways (Philly was credited with just five, for comparison’s sake).

But good teams find ways to win when they’re not playing especially well, and the Caps are a pretty good team — especially when Braden Holtby is on his game.

Holtby, atop many Vezina lists at the moment, had another terrific outing on Sunday, making 33 saves, perhaps none better than this one on Mark Streit in the second period:

Holtby’s counterpart, Steve Mason, had a solid outing as well, finishing with 27 stops.

Looking ahead, the Caps will now head out on a three-game Western Conference swing through Minnesota, Nashville and what promises to be a high-octane game in Dallas on Feb. 13.

The Flyers, meanwhile, will now kick off a three-game homestand against Anaheim, Buffalo and New Jersey.

 

Jets’ Stafford to have disciplinary hearing after high-sticking Holden

Colorado Avalanche's Nick Holden (2) hits Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault (85) during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford will meet with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden on Saturday night, the DoPS announced this afternoon.

There was no immediate video of the incident available. Stafford wasn’t penalized on the play, which occurred during the third period; Holden finished the final frame with 10 shifts for 6:46 of ice time.

Stafford, 30, has a clean disciplinary history and hasn’t been fined or suspended during his 10-year NHL career.