Andy Greene

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The Buzzer: DeBrincat leads Blackhawks comeback; Zucker’s crazy goal streak

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Player of the night: Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. What made the Chicago Blackhawks a mini-dynasty a few years ago wasn’t just the fact they had a bunch of top-line players and superstar talents. That helped a lot, sure, but it was also the fact they always seemed to have a great complementary cast of players around those superstars. Often times young players on cheap, entry level deals. They might have another one in Alex DeBrincat.

After dominating the Ontario Hockey League the past couple of seasons DeBrincat has made the jump to the NHL this season and is starting to make an impact in the big leagues.

He played perhaps his best game of the season on Saturday night in helping the Blackhawks erase a 3-1 deficit in their 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Debrincat scored two goals to help get the game to overtime then picked up one of the helpers on Brandon Saad‘s game-winning goal.

He now has 10 points in 17 games this season but has been really starting to pick up the pace in recent games with six points in his past six games.

He looks like he might be a steal of a second-round pick. The only reason he was not picked higher is probably the simple fact he is “undersized.”

Highlight of the night.

The Columbus Blue Jackets were 2-1 shootout winners over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. They were able to win in the shootout because starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky did this in overtime.

Bonus highlight of the night.

Hey how about one more awesome save. New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene made the second best save of the night, sliding across the goal crease to give his goaltender a helping hand. This turned out to be a huge play because the Devils held on to win by a 2-1 margin.

Factoid of the night.

The Minnesota Wild were 1-0 winners on Saturday night over the Philadelphia Flyers thanks to a goal from forward Jason Zucker, his team-leading ninth of the season.

He has scored six of those goals over the past three games.

Why is that so noteworthy? Because he is the only Minnesota Wild player to score a goal in those three games, scoring each of the team’s past six goals.

Amazingly, the Wild have won two of those games thanks to his goal-scoring and a pair of shutouts from Devan Dubnyk.

Misc.

— No Auston Matthews? No problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night was their third in a row without their leading scorer and best player.

— Playing in his first game with the Nashville Predators Kyle Turris scored his first goal with his new team.

Mike Hoffman‘s two goals were the difference in the Ottawa Senators’ 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Sweden.

Scores

New York Rangers 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Ottawa Senators 4, Colorado Avalanche 3

New Jersey Devils 2, Florida Panthers 1

Minnesota Wild 1, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 1

Montreal Canadiens 2, Buffalo Sabres 1

New Islanders 5, St. Louis Blues 2

Nashville Predators 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3

San Jose Sharks 5, Vancouver Canucks 0

Winnipeg Jets 4, Arizona Coyotes 1

Celebrate Labor Day by pondering the ‘hardest working’ NHL defensemen

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It’s Labor Day (or Labour Day), so hopefully you’re getting those last summer nights/hot dog grillings out of your system.

(Not just talking to you, Phil Kessel.)

With the holiday in mind, it seems sensible to get into the theme of things and ponder the “hardest working” players in hockey. For the record, these lists are based on stats, so feel free to project your own opinions about hustle/grit/other things that would show up on a John Cena t-shirt.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discuss some stats that don’t get as much attention.

Defensemen tend to be some of the biggest workhorses in the sport, so this first post will be devoted to them.

For forwards and goalies, check out this post.

Sheer volume

In maybe the least surprising development imaginable, Ryan Suter continues to stand out as a guy who just logs an inane amount of ice time.

Suter headlines a list of five players who’ve logged at least 8,000 minutes of regular-season ice time from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

1. Suter: 9,201:55
2. Drew Doughty: 8,906:33
3. Erik Karlsson: 8,897:18
4. Shea Weber: 8,116:20
5. Alex Pietrangelo: 8,055:50

(Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi are very close behind them.)

Killing penalties is one of the toughest jobs, and it can be a very specialized one. Using the 2013-14 to 2016-17 standard, only one defenseman logged 1,000 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, six players logged at least 900.

1. Andy Greene: 1,115:48
2. Alex Pietrangelo: 996:28
3. Zdeno Chara: 986:38
4. Karl Alzner: 935:08
5. Jay Bouwmeester: 945:03
6. Francois Beauchemin: 900:15

(Big-minute guys Doughty and Weber also ranked up high in penalty killing.)

For a significant defenseman, Pietrangelo carries a considerable workload. Consider how much tougher his role has become over the last few seasons.

2013-14: 52.3 percent offensive zonne starts vs. 47.7 defensive
2014-15: 48.4 offense, 51.6 defense
2015-16: 46.9, 53.1
2016-17: 43.1, 56.9

Pietrangelo still manages to produce offensively, so the 27-year-old is quite the all-around gem.

Gritty leaders

However you feel about certain “grit” stats and how helpful they actually are for a team, it’s easy to admire players who put their bodies on the line.

Using the framework of 2013-14 to 2016-17, Kris Russell easily leads the NHL in blocked shots with 907, even doing so in 277 games while Dan Girardi comes in second place with 719 in 300 contests. Russell blocks a hearty 3.3 shots per game.

It’s easier to understand Girardi slowing down when you consider the bumps and bruises he likely endures. Girardi blocked 719 shots during that span, and he also delivered 690 hits. (Shea Weber is a similar bruiser: 637 blocked shots, 644 hits in 313 games.)

Karl Alzner piles up those grit stats while spending a lot of time on the PK, which is predictable but also commendable.

***

These stats don’t guarantee that the listed defensemen work “harder” than others. Still, it’s easy to get lost in possession stats and other considerations, and lose sight of how much effort goes into the dirty work in hockey.

If you’re bored and hockey-starved on this holiday, consider clicking around the above links to notice certain names that show up consistently. It might give you a greater appreciation for players you otherwise might have dismissed.

After signing with Devils, Will Butcher thinks he is ‘NHL ready’

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Will Butcher believes he is ready to play for the New Jersey Devils right now.

A day after signing a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the rebuilding Devils, the 22-year-old Butcher said he was ready to make the jump from being college hockey’s top player to the NHL without a stop in the minor leagues.

Speaking on a conference call, the defenseman said he chose to sign with New Jersey because he felt good after meeting coach John Hynes and he thought the Devils’ up-tempo system best fit his game.

Butcher was drafted in the fifth round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013 at the Prudential Center – the Devils’ home rink. He became a free agent on Aug. 15 after failing to reach an agreement with Colorado, although the former University of Denver player said he knew by May he intended to test the free agent market.

After meeting with a number of teams, his decision came down to the Devils, Las Vegas, Buffalo and Los Angeles.

“It seemed like a great fit in how I wanted to play, and they saw me being in a better role with what they wanted to do there,” Butcher said of choosing New Jersey. “It kind of reminded me a little bit of how we were going to play with my college hockey.”

Butcher knows there will be competition to make the Devils’ roster with veteran defensemen Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and Brian Strait and youngsters Damon Severson, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller on the roster.

“I think my game is NHL ready,” Butcher said. “I think there is always stuff to learn and to pick up. That’s mostly the reason why I chose New Jersey, because I felt with coach Hynes (there) was the development and how they cater to guys and help you get ready for the NHL game.”

Butcher described himself as an offensive defenseman who can play defense.

“I am definitely more offensive than defensive,” he said. “I try to cater to my game in the sense of making smart decisions with the puck, joining the rush at the right opportunity and using my experience to help me play in the league that I want to play in.”

When asked what players would have a similar style to him he named Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks, Torey Krug of the Bruins and Greene.

“If I was fortunate to make the big team, he would be a great mentor to me, just because he does everything,” Butcher said of Greene. “He penalty kills, power play, all situations. He is a smart player, not necessarily the biggest guy, but he uses his abilities to defend well and play the game of hockey.”

Butcher could also help the Devils’ power play, especially feeding the likes of Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson and newcomer Nico Hischier, the Swiss-born center who was the No. 1 pick in the June draft.

“I might not be the fastest guy or biggest guy out there, but I like to pride myself that I think fast and use my brain to be fast, in a sense that I try to anticipate plays and just try to use my hockey smarts to help me be effective,” Butcher said.

Besides helping Denver win the national championship this past season, Butcher won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

A Wisconsin resident, Butcher had seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games last season. He had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.

Devils could be favorites to land Shattenkirk

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They have the cap space, and they have the need.

The day before July 1, the New Jersey Devils might be the favorites to sign defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

When the market officially opens tomorrow, Shattenkirk, 28, will be the consensus best player available. All year long, most observers expected the New Rochelle, New York, native to sign with the Rangers.

But the Blueshirts may have other plans. Clearly, GM Jeff Gorton wants to get younger. He acquired 21-year-old Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade with Arizona, and DeAngelo’s game is a lot like Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

The Buffalo Sabres were another team linked to Shattenkirk. But the Sabres today got Marco Scandella from Minnesota. And besides, they’ve already got a right-shooting, power-play quarterback in Rasmus Ristolainen.

Which brings us back to New Jersey. The Devils had all sorts of trouble scoring goals last season, and that’s something Shattenkirk could help. By himself, Shattenkirk had eight power-play goals in 2016-17. Meanwhile, the Devils’ d-men combined for just two — one by Andy Greene, the other by John Moore.

The Devils also have plenty of room under the cap. They bought out Mike Cammalleri today, adding even more. They’ll need to spend money somewhere.

Where Shattenkirk ends up, we’ll have to wait and see for sure. The Tampa Bay Lightning could make a play for him. And the Bolts, unlike the Devils, could offer a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup in the next year or two.

Just don’t be surprised if he picks New Jersey.

If it matters, Newark to New Rochelle is a one-hour drive.

Shero warned there are ‘no shortcuts’ in turning around the Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) If anyone needs the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, it is the New Jersey Devils.

After making the playoffs for 20 of 22 seasons, the Devils have fallen on hard times. They have missed the postseason for the last five years and they are coming off their worst season in nearly three decades.

In some ways, it’s not surprising. After years of success that included three Stanley Cup championships and two other trips to the championship round, New Jersey ran into problems after going to the final in 2012.

The team was aging. It drafts were weak. High-scoring wing Zach Parise used free agency to sign with Minnesota after losing the Cup to the Kings. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk returned to play in Russia after the following season. There was a lack of scoring, a little less defense and little depth throughout the roster.

A team that knew how to make the postseason suddenly didn’t have the assets to get there.

Read more:

Devils GM keeping options open, but expects to keep No. 1 pick

Moving on up: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery, secure No. 1 pick

The Devils finished seven points out of a playoff spot in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, a campaign that saw long-time goaltender Martin Brodeur miss a month with a pinched nerve in his neck and had Kovalchuk battle a shoulder injury down the stretch. While they collected 88 points in 2013-14, Pete DeBoer’s team missed the postseason by six points, in large part to 18 overtime losses, including 0-13 in shootouts.

DeBoer was gone the following December after New Jersey started 12-17-7, and the team eventually finished 20 points out of a playoff position with Scott Stevens and Adam Oates sharing head coaching responsibilities.

Ray Shero was hired as general manager in 2015 and picked John Hynes, the coach of the Penguins’ top farm team, to run the Devils. The team exceeded expectations in 2015-16, posting a 38-36-8 mark and staying in contention until the final two months as goaltender Cory Schneider and forwards Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique had big seasons.

Despite the addition of Taylor Hall in an offseason trade, last season was a disaster. The team opened 9-3-3 then went 19-37-11 in finishing last in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey’s 70 points were its fewest since 66 in 1988-89.

The Devils need help everywhere on the ice, particularly at center.

The problem with this year’s draft, which begins Friday in Chicago, is that there seemingly is no franchise-changer on the board. There are a lot of good players, but no Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews.

Shero is not saying who the Devils will take with the top pick, if they use it.

However, most experts think it will be either center Nolan Patrick of Brandon of the WHL or center Nico Hischier of Halifax of the QMJHL. Both fit into Shero’s desire to have a fast team on the ice.

It’s the model the Pittsburgh Penguins have used to win the last two Stanley Cup championships, and one that Shero is familiar with since he was the Penguins’ general manager until after the 2013-14 season.

“When I came in, I said to ownership, we have to get younger, we have to get more assets and that was not going to happen overnight, but that is OK,” Shero said. “When you see the teams that are having success, that’s the way it has been done. There are no shortcuts or patchwork in signing a bunch of free agents, or you get back in the same spot you were before.”

There are only five players over 30 on the current Devils’ roster: Mike Cammalleri, Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Travis Zajac and Schneider.

Patrik Elias just retired, and over the last five years Brodeur, Dainius Zubrus, Scott Gomez, Martin Havlat, Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky were either traded or left to sign with other teams.

Still, the Devils have a way to go, even with the No. 1 pick and 10 other choices in the draft this weekend.

Shero isn’t certain how long it will take the Devils to get back to the playoffs.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough league, a tough division,” Shero said. “Nashville made the playoffs in the West as the eighth seed, and they were picked for the Stanley Cup by some before the season. That’s how close this is. It’s not like the NBA, where there is no competition.”

The Devils played like an also-ran NBA teams last season. They were not competitive most nights.

They need more talent, more depth – and maybe a top pick who surprises the league next season.