Workhorse goalies, forwards from last season

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It’s Labor Day, so this seems like an appropriate time to consider hard work in hockey.

Sure, these players are all well-compensated for their efforts, but perhaps this will provide a little thematic entertainment. We took a look at the “hardest working” defensemen in this post, but now let’s consider goalies and forwards.

A few ground rules before you get too angry on your day off:

1. This is based on 2013-14 stats.

2. Quantity generally beats out quality in many cases, so players who logged 70+ games have a much better chance than someone who was injured but faced tough assignments when healthy.

3. By no means is this a comprehensive list and this isn’t meant to judge subjective things like “effort.” It’s mainly based on how a player was deployed. In other words, team styles and coaching in general made a big impact.

Got it? Let’s roll:

Anze Kopitar

At this point, leaving the Los Angeles Kings’ center off any “best forward in hockey” discussion is foolish. SB Nation’s Adam Gretz does a great job summarizing his all-around brilliance:

Since the start of the 2011-12 season with Kopitar on the ice at even-strength, the Kings have attempted 60 percent of the shot attempts (the third best mark in the NHL, behind only Kopitar’s teammate Justin Williams and Bergeron) and scored more than 61 percent of the goals. He’s also averaged more than two minutes of shorthanded ice-time per game over that stretch (tops among Kings forwards) and has 53 power play points.

Sean Couturier

Much like overall shorthanded time leader Braydon Coburn, playing for the league’s most penalized team probably inflates Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier’s PK numbers … but they still tower above other forwards expected to chip in at least some offense (sorry Manny Malhotra). Couturier’s only competition in total penalty killing time among forwards was Jay McClement, but Couturier logged more than four minutes of total ice time per game than the former Toronto Maple Leafs defensive specialist, giving him more all-around duties.

(Flyers fans are justified in smiling at the fact that his cap hit will only be $1.75 million for the next two seasons.)

Tomas Plekanec

It’s tempting to place Patrice Bergeron here being that he’s arguably the best two-way forward in the NHL (with a handful of others making a strong argument). Just look at this chart, which is one way of showing much opposing shooters struggle to score when Bergeron’s on the ice:

So consider that a mention of sorts, but the Boston Bruins probably share the defensive burden better than most (Bergeron averaged just under two minutes of shorthanded time per game, a healthy but not outrageous average). One might look to Boston’s hated rivals in Montreal for a guy who carries a remarkable workload for a quality scorer.

Tomas Plekanec wasn’t all that great at draws, yet he won the most shorthanded faceoffs in the league for a good reason: he was on PK duty a lot. Plekanec averaged 2:57 shorthanded time per game, not all that short of Couturier’s daunting 3:25 average. On top of that, Plekanec began only 38 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, which essentially places him alongside “defensive specialists.”

His offensive output of 20 goals and 43 points looks pretty solid considering all of that heavy lifting.

Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf and other scorers under pressure

While Erik Karlsson carries a staggering amount of offensive responsibilities in Ottawa, there are plenty of forwards who are expected to score on a nightly basis. Sidney Crosby was involved in 42.9 percent of the Pittsburgh Penguins 242 goals while Claude Giroux (36.9 of Philadelphia’s tallies) and Ryan Getzlaf (33 percent of Anaheim Ducks’ 263 goals) weren’t far behind. Getzlaf boasted one of the better alternate Hart arguments when you consider his 2:07 shorthanded time per game combined with his second-best scoring output.

Semyon Varlamov

It’s easy to see why the Colorado Avalanche’s No. 1 goalie pushed Tuukka Rask in the Vezina voting, as Varlamov was crucial to his team’s surprising season.

Varlamov easily topped all goalies in save attempts (2,013) and saves (1,867) as Kari Lehtonen came in distant second with 1,888 attempts and 1,735 saves. Varlamov’s 63 games played wasn’t short of the largest workload, finishing just two contests behind Lehtonen. All things considered, it’s really impressive that Varlamov topped all goalies with 41 wins while generating an impressive .927 save percentage.

(In case you’re wondering, Rask made 1,568 saves with an outstanding .930 save percentage.)

With a nod to Ryan Miller absorbing buckets of shots in Buffalo, it’s hard to make an argument for any goalie’s job being tougher than Varlamov’s last season. Should the Avs be worried about the goaltending equivalent of the NFL running back “Curse of 370,” then?

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Maybe even more than the defensemen list, omissions are likely here in part for space reasons (Ryan Kesler’s an honorable mention, for one). Feel free to add some names to consider in the comments, then.

The Buzzer: Tuukka Time isn’t running out

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Remember when people thought Tuukka Time was running out? Rask stopped 28-of-29 against the Flames in a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins on Monday. Rask, according to Sportsnet Stats, is now 20-2-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 25 games, 24 of which has been starts.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Rinne stopped 36-of-38 to help the Predators back into a tie first place in the Central Division. Rinne, who has won three of his past four starts, picked up his 30th win of the season, the seventh time he’s done so in his career, and fourth season in a row.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker notched two tallies in the game, his second and third goals in his past two games, to help the Wild to a much-needed win after dropping their previous two contests.

John Gibson and Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson left after the second period with a lower-body injury. He made 13 saves. Miller came in for a relief stint and stopped 20 third-period shots for the rare combined shutout, just the second occurrence in team history.

Highlights of the Night:

Poor Erik Karlsson:

Brad Marchand uses his head for some good:

The Chronicles of Rittich:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Wild 5, Islanders 3

Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Bruins 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Predators 5, Senators 2

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 2, Golden Knights 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

U.S. beats Slovakia 5-1, will play Czechs in Olympic quarters

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ryan Donato scored two goals, Troy Terry had three assists and the United States beat Slovakia 5-1 in the qualification round Tuesday to advance to face the Czech Republic in the Olympic quarterfinals.

College kids again led the way for the U.S., which scored more against Slovakia then it did in all three preliminary-round games. James Wisniewski, Mark Arcobello and Garrett Roe also scored for the Americans, who took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play for hits on Donato and goaltender Ryan Zapolski.

Shaking off a collision with Ladislav Nagy, Ryan Zapolski had arguably his best game of the tournament, stopping 21 of the 22 shots he faced. Zapolski and the U.S. also beat Slovakia 2-1 in the preliminary round when Donato scored twice. With his second two-goal game, Donato equaled his father, Ted, who scored four goals for the U.S. at the 1992 Games in Albertville.

Slovakia goaltender Jan Laco allowed five goals on 33 shots and Peter Ceresnak scored a power-play goal for Slovakia, which became the first team eliminated from the men’s side.

After a listless first period with no goals and few scoring chances, the U.S. wasted little time getting on the board early in the second. Terry, as he has done all Olympics, used his speed to get to the net, and Donato picked up the loose puck and beat Laco 1:36 into the period.

The Americans got not one but two scares 26 seconds later when Nagy ran over Zapolski and Slovakia defenseman Michal Cajovsky put a shoulder into Donato’s head in the neutral zone. Trainers attended to Donato and Zapolski as backup goaltender Brandon Maxwell stretched and prepared to go in.

Donato got stitched up on the bench and Zapolski took a few minutes before deciding not to leave the net. The ’90s hit ”Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba blared over the speakers when both players got to their feet and provided a fitting soundtrack for the next few minutes.

With Cajovsky given a match penalty – a five-minute major and an ejection – and Nagy in the penalty box for goaltender interference, the U.S. scored 18 seconds into its 5-on-3 power play with Donato screening Laco for Wisniewski’s first goal to make it 2-0 at the 2:20 mark. Terry took advantage of all the time in the world behind the net and found an open Arcobello for a one-timer to put the U.S. up 3-0 at 13:30.

After Jordan Greenway was penalized for slashing, Slovakia scored on the power play 16:54 into the second to cut it to 3-1, but the lightning-fast line of Roe, Brian O’Neill and Broc Little combined for a tic-tac-toe goal to make it 4-1 at 9:52 of the third. O’Neill flashed his speed down the right wing, took a hit while making the pass to Little who found Roe for a tap-in.

Donato scored his second of the game, this time on the power play, 16:46 into the third.

NOTES: St. Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen was a healthy scratch again for the United States. … Veteran forward Jim Slater returned to the lineup, replacing Chad Kolarik. … Former NHL player and coach Craig Ramsay coaches Slovakia.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Desperate for goaltending help, Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek

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The deal: The Philadelphia Flyers acquired goaltender Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is Philadelphia is making this deal? Simple: With the injuries to Brian Elliott (out five-to-six weeks with a core muscle injury) and Michal Neuvirth (out indefinitely with a lower-body injury), the Flyers had Alex Lyon, a veteran of just four NHL games, left to shoulder the load. Philly needed help after Neuvirth went down on Sunday and they went out and got it in 25-year-old Mrazek. The Flyers are currently third in the Metropolitan Division. Even with their six-point cushion from the second wildcard spot, relying on a rookie to see out the rest of the regular season could have been met with disastrous consequences.

Why is Detroit is making this deal? Sam Carchidi of Philly.com said Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had spoken with the Red Wings about Mrazek prior to Neuvirth’s injury, but the Detroit Free Press reported that the Flyers turned down a deal that would see a third-round pick go the other way. With the Red Wings being sellers, and with Hextall even more desperate for help after Sunday, he had no choice but to fold to Detroit’s demands.

Who won the trade? Pretty even. The Red Wings get a couple of picks over the next two years as they rebuild their team. The Flyers get immediate goaltending relief and perhaps an upgrade on the oft-injured Neuvirth. And Flyers fans will like that the team didn’t overpay to fix their problems. A good move from Hextall.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks ban fans after racist chants directed at Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly

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The Chicago Blackhawks took action on Monday, banning a few fans from team home games after their involvement in directing racist chants at Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly on Saturday.

In a post on the team’s website, the Blackhawks said they have “contacted the offending individuals and notified them that they are no longer welcome at Blackhawks home games.”

“Racist comments and other inappropriate behavior are not tolerated by the Chicago Blackhawks,” the Blackhawks said in a post.

Four Blackhawks fans were kicked out of Saturday’s game against the Capitals at United Center after racially-charged taunts were made toward Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly, serving a five-minute major for fighting in the third period, got upset with a fan next to him who, according to the Washington Post, was chanting, “Basketball, basketball, basketball,” toward Smith-Pelly, who is black.

On Monday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville spoke about the incident.

“Totally unacceptable in our game, in any sport and in society,” Quenneville said. “We have to learn from something like that. (It) can’t happen. I talked to (Capitals coach Barry Trotz) yesterday, apologized to the organization and the player, Devante. We’re sorry about what happened and let’s learn from it.”

Anthony Duclair, who is black, also spoke to the media.

“It’s not ok,” Duclair said. “Whether it happens to Devante Smith-Pelly or a random person on the street, you should be comfortable in your own skin and gender and nationality or religion, your beliefs. Everyone’s equal. Everyone should love each other.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on Sunday morning:

“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

February is Hockey is for Everyone month in the NHL.

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck