Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Leafs’ Gardiner approves of Carlyle’s approach

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In a fairly short amount of time, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner went from someone who needed to be “freed” to someone who can freely spend a heaping amount of cash.

Whether you opt to take his comments at face value or attribute it to the happy glow of that $20.25 million extension, Gardiner told the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran on Wednesday that he’s just fine with the way head coach Randy Carlyle treats him.

“He is a coach that likes to push his players and get the most out of them,” Gardiner said. “I think that was what he was doing with me.

“I have a lot more potential than what I’ve been doing. I think (Carlyle’s approach was) good for me. It will help me down the road.”

Of course, it might also help that new assistant Steve Spott might be able to play “good cop” to Carlyle’s gruffer “bad cop” with players like Gardiner. (Meanwhile, Peter Horachek would put the 5 in “Five-Oh.”)

“He’s a really positive guy and a good guy to have around the locker room,” Gardiner said of Spott on Wednesday.

For many, seeing Gardiner at his best might come down to a possible paradigm shift in the Maple Leafs organization rather than the blueliner merely adapting to Carlyle’s ways. The Score’s Thomas Drance argues that Gardiner could be a key piece to a more possession-conscious style in Toronto … at least if he’s allowed to do so:

Gardiner’s skating ability and overall hockey sense make him an excellent spatial problem solver, which allows the Maple Leafs to be outshot and outscored less dramatically when he’s on the ice.

The problem, of course, is that the Leafs are still outshot and outscored dramatically, but it doesn’t have to be that way, not with a handful of talented forwards, excellent goaltending, and quality puck-possession defenders like Gardiner and – the Leafs hope – eventually Morgan Rielly. Gardiner and Rielly could be – and probably should be – the engine for a club with lots of speed up front.

In other words, Gardiner’s been paid, but it’s the system that still needs to “free” him up.

Panthers lament slow start versus Sens, as debate over controversial Gallant firing continues

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been one week since the shocking and controversial firing of Gerard Gallant. The decision made by the Florida Panthers continues to be a hot topic of debate.

Don Cherry weighed in on it Saturday. As you might expect, he wasn’t in favor of the decision. Meanwhile, the Panthers lost 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators in a game that completely swung in favor of the hosts in the span of just 19 seconds.

Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard scored early in the first period, giving Ottawa a two-goal lead and that was the only scoring of the evening.

On taking over from Gallant, interim coach Tom Rowe said, per the Sun Sentinel: “This isn’t a knock on Gerard, because he did a great job.

“I just thought some guys weren’t bringing it the way they’re capable of bringing it every single night. A little too much inconsistency. They’d come out one period and play great. Another period they just sit back a little bit too tentative.”

That second paragraph is interesting.

Against the Senators, the Panthers had a slow start, illustrated by their 19-second lapse leading to the Ottawa goals. The Panthers found their game in the second period but tested Mike Condon with only 24 shots on goal by the end of the night.

They also couldn’t capitalize on a five-on-three power play in the second period.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Keith Yandle, per the Miami Herald. “They had a good start, and sometimes you have to weather the storm throughout courses of games, and they did a good job in the first 10 or 12 minutes. If you look at the second period we were better.”

There were anxious moments for the Panthers, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad took a puck to the face in the second period. He missed about two minutes of game time, but did require stitches, according to Rowe.

Avs’ D-man Johnson suffers broken fibula, out six to eight weeks

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche in action against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Another loss for the Colorado Avalanche, but the news following this latest defeat is much worse.

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has suffered a broken fibula and is out six to eight weeks, the team announced following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Johnson left the game because of the injury and didn’t return.

This development occurred later in the same day the team’s captain Gabriel Landeskog skated briefly with his teammates, leading to the possibility that he may travel with the Avs on their upcoming road trip.

It’s obviously devastating news for Colorado, which recently had its effort ripped by coach Jared Bednar. Issues with consistency and work ethic have been around since Patrick Roy was in charge.

The Avalanche have struggled since the beginning of the season after a late-summer coaching change, but they now occupy last place in the Western Conference with five straight losses.

Johnson has 11 points, which ties him with Tyson Barrie for the team lead among defenseman in that category.

In addition to playing 22 minutes a night, which is a substantial loss because he plays on both the penalty kill and power play, he’s also one of only two blue liners with the Avalanche to have even-strength puck possession numbers greater than 50 per cent.

The difficult times for the Avalanche continue.

Video: Caggiula (finally) scores his first NHL goal

EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 26:  Drake Caggiula #36 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Calgary Flames on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Drake Caggiula had to wait to make his NHL debut because of a hip injury suffered in pre-season. He had to wait even longer for his first NHL goal.

On Saturday, the wait for the latter ended.

Playing in just his eighth career NHL game, the North Dakota product and NCAA Frozen Four MOP — pursued by at least half a dozen teams as a college free agent — ripped home a wrist shot from the slot on the power play for career goal No. 1 in the big league.

That goal gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.

Trotz wasn’t happy with Capitals top line for penalty trouble versus Lightning

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 29:  Head Coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals speaks during Media Day for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena on January 29, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Naturally, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz would prefer his top line, which includes star Alex Ovechkin, score goals instead of glide to the penalty box.

On Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ovechkin took two minor penalties, while Nicklas Backstrom had another.

Tampa Bay’s power play struck once in three opportunities, as the Lightning prevailed 2-1 in the shootout.

The Capitals did manage to score — a power play goal from Backstrom — to end their recent goal drought. But the issue of penalties — Ovechkin has a team-leading 10 minor penalties — is something Trotz plans to address.

“I wasn’t happy with that. Our top line took three of the penalties today. They needed to score a power play for us,” he told reporters. “They’ve got to stay out of the box. I need them on the ice. So yeah, we’ll talk about it for sure.”

The Capitals have now lost three in a row.

They sit in the first Wild Card spot in the East, alongside the Lightning, while the Philadelphia Flyers are right there, too.

“From my standpoint, we’ll take a good point on the road. Obviously we’re disappointed we didn’t get two. But the effort and the mindset was correct,” said Trotz.

“When you’re not winning, it doesn’t do anything for your confidence.”