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.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams die in shootout

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

The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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

A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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

You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. rides Zapolski, college kids to Olympic quarterfinals

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Tony Granato knew going into the Olympics that Ryan Zapolski would be his goaltender and that the college kids on the Team USA roster would be counted on to supply offense.

It’s worked just like Granato and the late general manager Jim Johannson had hoped, and just in time: Zapolski stopped 21 shots in his best game of the tournament and NCAA players Ryan Donato and Troy Terry dominated offensively in a 5-1 win against Slovakia that put the United States into Wednesday’s quarterfinals against the Czech Republic (Tues., 10:10 p.m. ET, CNBC).

”Jimmy, like we said since Day One, this is his plan,” Granato said Tuesday’s win. ”It’s been a really nice mix.”

Zapolski and Donato both took hits to the head against Slovakia, and both said they were fine afterward.

It looked worrisome at the time.

In a frightening play, Ladislav Nagy crashed into Zapolski’s head and the goaltender was down on the ice for several minutes. Needing to be on top of his game in the Americans’ first elimination game, Zapolski was, even after jamming his neck.

”My hands and feet went numb a little bit, so it just kind of pinched my nerve, I guess,” Zapolski said. ”I think I just needed time for the feeling to come back. It took a little bit. It was a little bit of a scary thing for me kind of losing feeling in your body for a little bit, but it went away pretty quickly.”

Donato took a shoulder to the jaw from 6-foot-4 Slovakia defenseman Michal Cajovsky, who was ejected, and didn’t miss a shift despite a bloody nose he thought might be broken. On the next play, he set the screen on James Wisniewski’s 5-on-3 power-play goal in a game that helped the U.S. get its offensive groove back.

”He’s a really tough kid, and you see how much just of a natural goal-scorer he is,” Terry said of Donato. ”He’s fun to play with, and if I get the puck to him I know it’s got a pretty good chance of going in.”

Donato and Terry have had fun and made some magic playing on a line with former NHL forward Mark Arcobello, who Granato joked was the happiest person at the Olympics because of his skilled linemates. Arcobello, who scored his first Olympic goal against Slovakia, knew at the first practice how good Donato and Terry would be.

”You could just see the talent they’ve got,” Arcobello said. ”They look like pros. They don’t look like college players. They’re poised and they do the right things. They’re smart players. So I knew right away they were going to be pretty good.”

Johannson and Granato wanted to bring three to seven college players and hoped they’d be this good. But their first conversation about a player was about Zapolski, a 31-year-old journeyman with no North American professional experience above the ECHL.

Zapolski is among the best goaltenders in the Kontinental Hockey League but conceded ”maybe things weren’t going the way I had hoped the first few games” when he allowed a few soft goals. There were none of those against Slovakia.

”In a tournament like this, you only win if you have a good goalie,” Wisniewski said. ”You’re going to have to have a good power play and a good penalty kill, but your best penalty killer is going to be your goalie. With his numbers he’s had in the KHL, he’s come in ready to play every game, which has been huge for us.”

It’s huge for the U.S. to get its power play and offense going. And to no one’s surprise, Harvard’s Donato, University of Denver’s Terry and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway are at the forefront.

”You see it more and more in the NHL with these young kids coming in and making a huge impact,” Wisniewski said. ”They come in guns a blazing, they get every opportunity and they want you to make plays. The game has changed and you can see with the guys on our team.”

The U.S. came into the game scoring only four goals in three games. Scoring five against the team Granato called perhaps the best defensive team in the tournament has the Americans feeling good going into the quarterfinals.

”I think people saw tonight we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey,” Terry said. ”So we have a lot of belief in our team and we’re excited to keep going.”

Despite a 4-0 loss to the Russians to wrap up group play, Granato and his players believe they’ve gotten better each game and see a benefit in playing the extra qualification-round game to keep improving. The Czech Republic is up next for the U.S.

”There’s some different weapons that we’ll have to be aware of,” Granato said. ”I think what we learned from our team is it doesn’t matter what the other team does. We have to attack, we have to get in on the forecheck, we have to use our offensive players that we do have, the skillset that we do have.”

Elsewhere in the qualification round:

– Norway eliminated Slovenia 2-1 in overtime for its first Olympic win since 1994. Norway will face the Russians on Wednesday in its first Olympic quarterfinal appearance, while Slovenia played without Ziga Jeglic, who was suspended for doping.

– Finland eliminated South Korea with a 5-2 win, advancing to play Canada on Wednesday night.

– Germany eliminated Switzerland 2-1 in overtime, advancing to play top-seeded Sweden on Wednesday night.

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

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org