Chad Johnson

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New Flyers goalie Elliott hoping to build on strong second half

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When Brian Elliott joined the Calgary Flames before the start of the 2016-17 season his new team was expecting him to help solidify a position that had been a major weakness the previous year.

Through the first half of the season, things did not go according to plan for him personally as he ended up struggling and even losing some playing time to backup Chad Johnson. But things started to turn around for him in the second half of the season as he finished with a .924 save percentage of the final three months.

He is hoping to build on that strong second half and carry it over to the start of the 2017-18 season when he joins another new team, the Philadelphia Flyers, that will be counting on him to help fix a position that was a major weakness the previous year.

“As a team, we came together, and I benefited from that,” said Elliott, via Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi. “I felt real good from the middle to the end of the season in Calgary, and I want to continue that feeling. You feel confident and feel that, no matter what, you can make that save. When you have that feeling and that confidence back there, then the guys can go and do their job.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a one-year, $5.5 million contract this summer and will use him along with veteran goalie Michal Neuvirth in what will mostly likely be some sort of a platoon role. Neuvirth split time the past two seasons with Steve Mason. The duo was outstanding — and an incredible bargain — during the 2015-16 season but badly regressed this past season and played a major role in the team’s disappointing  year.

The Flyers are hoping that Elliott can help fix that.

General manager Ron Hextall has already said he does not consider this season to be a rebuilding year in Philadelphia and that he expects the team to compete, and if it is going to i it is going to need a big year from its two goalies playing behind what will be a mostly young defense.

Under Pressure: Mike Smith

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

Goaltending has been a major issue for the Calgary Flames in recent seasons and for the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position, bringing in two new faces in an effort to fix it.

Replacing Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson this season (after Elliott and Johnson replaced Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio the year before) will be the veteran of duo of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack.

Both goalies are looking to rebound with a fresh start in a new city.

Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is going to be the starter and is going to have the most pressure on him.

Not only because the Flames are still on the hook for the remainder of his contract (more than $11 million over the next two seasons) but because he is going to be playing behind a defense that is going to be one of the best in the NHL, led by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic. That is an outstanding group and even average goaltending should make the Flames one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

Smith, however, has not always performed at that level in recent seasons.

Looking at his past three years total his even-strength save percentage of .920 places him 38th out of 61 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games, while his overall save percentage of .911 places him 45th out of that group (his new backup, Eddie Lack, is 46th over that same stretch). Even if you look at only his performance from this past season in Arizona (a .914 save percentage) it wouldn’t be that big of an upgrade over what the Flames were getting out of the Elliott/Johnson duo.

Now, that was good enough to get the Flames into the playoffs and make them a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to preventing goals.

But the Flames are at a point now where their objective should be more than just simply “make the playoffs” or be an average defensive team.

If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have traded for a 35-year-old goalie and been willing to pay him more than $11 million over the next two seasons.

This is a team that has what should be on paper one of the best quartets of defensemen in the league, it has some outstanding young forwards that are just now entering the prime of their careers (Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund) and some emerging young stars in Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.

They are clearly in what they believe to be a “win-now” mode with a chance to compete in the Western Conference.

For them to do that they are going to need a big season from their new goaltender.

It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

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The Calgary Flames made it back to the playoffs in the spring, but were swiftly swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.

General manager Brad Treliving then went to work, making numerous changes to the roster, most notably in goal.

The Flames moved on from the duo of Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott after one season and acquired Mike Smith prior to the expansion draft trade freeze. They also picked up Eddie Lack from Carolina at the end of June.

The move to acquire Smith would suggest the Flames believe they’ve entered a window to win right now, with what should be a strong top-four unit on the blue line and a nucleus of skilled and still youthful forwards, including 2016 first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk, who made the roster at age 18 and had an immediate impact.

On defense, Treliving added Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, giving the Flames a top-four defensive unit of T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and Hamonic. The Nashville Predators may still be the envy of the league with their top-four on ‘D’ but the Flames appear to have a formidable group of their own heading into the upcoming season.

Calgary also re-signed defenseman Michael Stone, who they picked up in a deal with Arizona before last season’s trade deadline.

With only a few days left until September, Treliving still needs to get restricted free agents Sam Bennett, Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon under contract.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flames with training camp approaching.

Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Show me. Prove it. Make or break.

All three of those descriptors have been used to describe the season Robin Lehner‘s about to embark upon. And all three are fairly accurate.

The 26-year-old finds himself at a virtual career crossroads. Lehner’s biggest champion, ex-Sabres GM Tim Murray, is gone. Murray knew Lehner from their time together in Ottawa — Lehner helped AHL Binghamton win a Calder Cup in 2011 — and liked the big Swede enough to give up a first-round pick to acquire his services.

Murray’s replacement, Jason Botterill, didn’t acquire Lehner. He inherited him. And that could be why Botterill’s been somewhat hesitant in proclaiming Lehner as the club’s long-term No. 1. In May, Botterill offered a lukewarm vote of confidence, then went out and signed Chad Johnson on the opening day of free agency.

In late July, Botterill furthered the “show me” narrative by inking Lehner to a one-year, $4 million extension.

That contract came on the heels of an up-and-down ’16-17 campaign, one in which Lehner posted career highs in games played (59) and finished with a solid .920 save percentage. And that was on underachieving Sabres club, playing behind a suspect blueline.

Granted, Lehner’s play was erratic at times. And his trademark intensity was on display on several occaions — and not necessarily in a good way.

More: Fiery Lehner won’t apologize for being fiery

But there’s something to be said for a guy that finished 12th among goalies in save percentage while playing for one of the worst teams in the league. There’s also promise for the future, given Lehner is still reasonably young and responded well to his first full NHL workload.

Really, this season will come down to meeting expectations.

The bar has been raised in Buffalo, and there’s a level of excitement — franchise legend Phil Housley is behind the bench, and there have been significant additions (Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu, Viktor Antipin) on defense. The team is no doubt looking to crack the 90-point plateau after posting 81 and 78 in the two seasons prior, and wants to make a push for the playoffs.

So it’ll be fascinating to see how Lehner responds.

Don’t forget to add Johnson’s presence into the equation. He started 36 games for a Calgary team that made the playoffs last year and acquitted himself quite well, holding down the No. 1 gig when Brian Elliott struggled. It’s also worth noting that Johnson is returning to the city where he had his greatest NHL success — in ’15-16, he posted career highs across the board in Buffalo, making 45 starts, winning 22 games and finishing with a .920 save percentage.

“I think the fans really embraced me by the end of the season,” Johnson said upon inking his one-year, $2.5 million deal, per the News. “They got to see what kind of goalie I was. I won a lot of games and had good numbers. To be able to come back and be a part of the organization again and have that drive to win and get back in playoffs is special for me.

“I always felt like there was unfinished business.”

There’ll be plenty of things to watch in Buffalo this season, but the battle between the pipes might be the most intriguing of all.

Poll: Will the Sabres snap their playoff drought?

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been to the postseason in quite some time. In fact, the last time they played playoff hockey was in 2011 when they were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since then, the Sabres have undergone a massive rebuild that has tested their fans’ patience.

As bad as they’ve been for most of this decade, there seems to be a little more optimism surrounding this group of players.

It all starts with landing Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Sure, they may have wanted Connor McDavid instead, but Eichel has proven to be an effective NHLer already.

They’ve surrounded him with some good forwards like Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. Those players might not be perfect, but they’re capable of being part of the supporting cast.

As good as each of those players can be, they’ll need to be better than they were last year. Okposo’s first year in Buffalo didn’t go as planned. It took him time to get used to his new surroundings and he’s also dealt with some injury scares.

Evander Kane is playing for a new contract, so he’ll need to be a little more motivated than he’s been in the last few seasons. Kane has all the physical tools to be a dominant power forward, but like a lot of his teammates, consistency has been the biggest problem.

They’ve been pretty thin on the blue line over the last few seasons, but Buffalo has a quality defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen. New general manager Jason Botterill made it a point to surround his young rearguard with more talent, as he acquired Marco Scandella from Minnesota and Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal during the offseason. Youngster Jake McCabe will also be back in 2017-18. Veterans Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian are also back in the fold.

But the biggest addition to the team’s defense wasn’t a player, it was a coach. After they let go of Dan Bylsma, the Sabres decided to hire Predators assistant Phil Housley, who has worked with many great defensemen during his coaching career. If he can help bring this young group to the next level, it would go a long way in helping the team get back to the playoffs.

Goaltending has also been a huge question mark for the Sabres. They paid a first round pick to get Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators a few years ago, and that trade hasn’t worked out. Buffalo clearly believes that too, as they were only willing to give Lehner a one-year contract this summer.

Chad Johnson, who is back in Buffalo after a stint in Calgary, will be competing for starts with Lehner. Neither goaltender is a proven starter at the NHL level, but one of them will have to figure out how to find a certain level of consistency.

Alright it’s time to vote. The Sabres have made changes to the roster, front office and coaching staff, but is it enough to get them out of this rut? On top of voting, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.