Connor Hellebuyck

AP Images

The Buzzer: Hall leads Devils; Jets’ Connor plays OT hero again

Leave a comment

Players of the Night

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Yeah, they lost, but it would have been a much worse outcome for the Anaheim Ducks if not for their goaltender. During a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Gibson was outstanding in stopping 39 shots while his teammates threw only 18 Connor Hellebuyck‘s way.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: The Devils earned a very important two points during a wild 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. After blowing a 3-1 second period lead, it was Hall (three points) who helped New Jersey claim the extra point with the winning goal 27 seconds into the extra period. He now has a career high 81 points.

Antti Niemi, Montreal Canadiens: Niemi earned his first shutout of the season with 35-save effort as the Habs blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring and Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher added very late insurance markers as Montreal snapped a four-game losing streak.

Highlight of the Night

Devils forward Blake Coleman gave us this one-handed beauty against the Penguins:


Patrik Berglund scored twice as the St. Louis Blues stayed in the playoff hunt with a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues have won six of seven and four in a row to put themselves a point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the West’s second wild card. In his return to the lineup, Vladimir Tarasenko gave Anders Nilsson the old change-up for this goal:

• The Jets gave us a pair of pretty goals Friday night during their 3-2 win over the Ducks. First, check out Blake Wheeler’s hands as he set up Mark Scheifele’s 22nd of the season:

Wheeler was also part of this pretty passing play that ended with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal:

In the end, it was Kyle Connor notching the overtime winner for the second straight game:

David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins dealt the Dallas Stars a big blow to their playoff hopes with a 3-2 win. “Pasta” scored the go-ahead goal with 11.1 seconds left in the third period, erasing a 2-0 lead the Stars had entering the final 20 minutes. The Stars are four points out of a wild card spot with seven games left in the regular season.

• No word if she was successful.

Factoid of the Night

Devils 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Sabres 0
Blues 4, Canucks 1
Jets 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Bruins 3, Stars 2


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Starting goaltenders battling fatigue as playoffs loom

Getty Images

Behind the mask is a mind filled with a web of a thousand thoughts, worries and a singular focus of what it takes to win a game.

Then the next game, then the one after that.

”There is no shut-off for a goaltender,” retired goalie Brian Boucher said. ”The mind doesn’t shut off.”

A starting NHL goaltender bears a burden unlike any position in hockey and few others in sports, and the resulting pressure builds up over the course of a season. By this time of year, with the playoffs on the horizon, No. 1 goalies have grinded through almost six months of work and are battling fatigue that threatens to derail their team’s hopes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is going through it for the first time while Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals is used to it by now. Goalies of all ages have no choice but to manage the physical and mental hurdles.

”It’s one of those things that you’ve got find ways to make sure you’re prepared and ready to play every game,” Holtby said. ”As a goaltender, there’s not much room to take nights off.”

It’s worse for the goalies whose teams can’t afford to start a backup. Boucher started the final 13 games for Philadelphia in 2010 to help them make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick started 20 of the final 21 games for the Los Angeles Kings when they tried to make a furious push to make it in 2015 and Kari Lehtonen could be counted on to play the final nine games of the Dallas Stars’ season now as they claw for a spot.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

”You’ll go through the whole night thinking about tomorrow, show up to the rink in the morning thinking about tonight and then you show up to the game thinking about the game,” said Boucher, now an analyst for NBC Sports. ”Not until that horn goes off at the very end can you finally go, ‘Whew,’ and take a deep breath and hopefully it’s in a celebration with your teammates. …. You have a shower, you feel good about things, you go home, you kind of decompress and then the next day it starts again: the butterflies, the nerves, the thinking about your opponent. And that’s the mental fatigue that comes into it.”

That’s what Vasilevskiy is dealing with at age 23, 58 starts into his first season as the full-time starter and the league leader in victories.

”Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.

The same goes for Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is between the pipes for meaningful games and on the cusp of his first playoff appearance. Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty talks to Hellebuyck almost daily about what he needs to be successful, and the staff pays careful attention to making sure the 24-year-old is good to go.

Coach Paul Maurice said the Jets are aware of the balance between rhythm and rest but aren’t holding Hellebuyck back.

”There’s a fatigue component that a No. 1 goaltender also has to embrace,” Maurice said. ”He has to learn how to play when he doesn’t feel 100 percent right because that’s basically going to be his life.”

Winnipeg has been able to give Hellebuyck blocks of two or three days completely off, a rarity for top goalies this time of year. The Nashville Predators have a big enough lead atop the Central Division that they can afford to lighten Pekka Rinne‘s workload down the stretch, which could be a huge benefit.

”I like thinking outside the box,” former goalie Martin Biron said. ”You may have a Friday-Saturday game, have a Tuesday game, have a Thursday game. You can play your starter on Friday-Saturday and not play him on Tuesday so he gets Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (off) and then he gets ready for the weekend again for the Thursday. There’s a lot more days to be able to decompress and really think about how to reset and re-prepare.”

Holtby got a 10-day reset from a month-plus of struggles as Philipp Grubauer started four games in a row. Having a reliable backup is a luxury Washington has – and Holtby doesn’t like taking days off, either. Toronto starter Frederik Andersen recently joked that he’s more tired of being asked if he’s tired than he is from facing the most shots in the league.

Practice shots, warmups, travel and mental and physical preparation are also part of the wear and tear. Analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said those can be spaced out over weeks and months.

”Anything you can do to get a little bit of extra sleep over the course of the season is absolutely monumental when it comes time for the playoff push,” Goldman said.

Biron, who started 59 games for Philadelphia in 2007-08 and backed up Henrik Lundqvist when the New York Rangers realized the ”King” needed more time off, figures 60 is the perfect number for a starter. For someone like Vasilevskiy who can’t afford to learn and wait for next year, Boucher said he hopes a more relaxed market like Tampa Bay helps now and the rush of the playoffs gets him through the grind in a few weeks.

”I think Vasilevskiy’s going to be fine just because you watch his physical attributes, they’re through the roof,” Boucher said. ”So the physical side doesn’t look like it’s an issue. Now it’s his time to shine.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

More AP hockey:

Jets’ Josh Morrissey staying healthy while constantly getting in the way

AP Images

NEW YORK — Josh Morrissey is one of three Winnipeg Jets who has not missed a game since last season — Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers being the other two.

That the 22-year-old Morrissey hasn’t sat out due to injury is impressive considering the type of game he plays. Over that same time period, he’s fourth on the Jets in hits with 270 and leads the team with 293 blocked shots (He’s 12th in the NHL since last 2016-17).

Some of those blocked shots are of the fortunate variety where they might go off of Morrissey’s stick or a part of his skate where his shot blockers are, thereby decreasing the risk of injury. Others, of course, need to be absorbed by some part of the body, which is something that knocks players out of games on a nightly basis.

“There’s definitely been times over the course of the last few years where everyone in the room has little things bugging them,” Morrissey recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “But sometimes it’s sort of Murphy’s Law where all of a sudden you go down and you have protection pretty much everywhere and the puck seems to hit the one spot that’s open — so that can be a little bit frustrating, but nothing that a couple of ice bags can’t fix.”

To learn more about the skill of shot blocking, we chatted with Morrissey after a recent morning skate.

Q. When it needs to be a split-second decision, how are you able to recognize when you should block a shot or let it go through to the goalie?

MORRISSEY: “There’s times where I try to play with a desperation on defense where you don’t want to let any shots get to the net. There’s times where you have to block a shot, sometimes on the penalty kill or 5-on-5 where a guy’s coming and you see that it’s a dangerous shooting and you want to try to not allow that shot to get through. Obviously, it’s a split-second read. You try to put yourself in the best position as possible to be as protected as possible, but it’s something that I take pride in — not trying to let any shots up kind of thing. That’s something that I’ve worked up in my game.”

It’s chaos out there, so are you aware when you’re positioned in the sight line of the goaltender?

“Yeah, totally. It’s a thing we talk about and I think it’s similar for most teams. When you’re the D-man standing in front of the net and guys are shooting from the point or from far out, those are times where if it’s a wrist shot or something like that that you’re 100 percent sure you can get in front of, definitely get in front of it; but if it’s going to be one [that’s] sort of far away from you or it’s a slap shot that’s rising, those are the ones where you’re almost screening the goalie. I think those ones from farther out, unless you’re 100 percent sure that you’re going to block it, sometimes it’s best to get out of the way and try to box the guy out in front of you and try to give that sight line. Some wrist shots you can knock down and get going, but when the guy’s heat it up from outside, up top, it’s best to get out of the way for safety, and also just screening Helly [Connor Hellebuyck] or Mase [Steve Mason] or whoever’s in net.”

Is there a proper way to block a shot in a situation when you recognize it and have time to go down?

“If you watch a lot of guys, they sort of [take a] one knee down approach in certain situations. Obviously, you try to have your glove turned over so your hands not facing the puck — just little things like that. There’s lots of times where you go down, block the shot and you have protection in a lot of areas, but it just seems to hit the one area that’s not. A lot of it is luck and maybe a little bit of technique. I also think the closer you are to the guy, too. You can kind of make it so that you know the puck’s going to hit a certain area, whereas if you’re farther away there’s more time for it to go one side or the other, hit you in a spot you weren’t really ready for.”

Was this always part of your game or did it develop as you go into junior and into the NHL?

“Even in junior, we never kept shot blocking stats, but I don’t know if it was a huge part of my game. As time’s gone on, I’ve improved on it a lot more. It’s just sort of that attitude, trying to not allow any shots to the net. But it’s something you have to do as part of the game now and something that our defense as a whole take pride in doing it. Our whole team does. Most teams in the league definitely get fired up when a guy blocks a shot because they know it sucks sometimes, but it’s what you’ve got to do to win games. If you’re in the right position, you’re in the right spot, a lot of times you can just get your stick on it and not have to block the shot, but there are those times where you have to do it.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Steve Mason’s nightmare season continues

1 Comment

Heading into the 2017-18 season, it was reasonable to picture things working out for the Winnipeg Jets, but it would have been tougher to see this surge coming largely without Steve Mason‘s help.

The Jets handed Mason a two-year, $8.2 million deal hoping that he’d stabilize a goaltending position that’s been a weakness for the team since day one in Winnipeg. Perhaps he did help, but if so, Mason assisted the team in an indirect way: by giving Connor Hellebuyck even more incentive to make the most of every start?

That’s about as far as you can go when it comes to positives this season, as it’s been a disaster from his first start, when he gave up five goals on 20 shots against Toronto in a game he didn’t finish.

Mason’s rarely had a chance to make the Jets situation into the sort of platoon he disdained in Philly, as his appearances have been limited by a combination of injuries, his poor play, and Hellebuyck’s breakthrough season. Mason missed considerable time because of one or more concussions, and cruelly, he followed up a 31-save shutout return appearance on March 6 with a knee injury.

In a way, he never bounced back from a poor start to his debut season with Winnipeg, allowing 11 goals in his first two appearances. Hellebuyck stormed out of the gate, meanwhile, not even recording his first loss of 2017-18 until Nov. 10.

This photo from Getty Images almost seems to capture the spirit of a lost season for Mason, and it probably deserves the “Hello darkness” treatment …

Get Simon & Garfunkel ready. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)

The team announced today that Mason is expected to miss two-to-three weeks after getting that knee scoped.

Such a window gives Mason a chance to play another regular season game before the postseason begins, but knee issues can be tricky, so who knows? Beyond that, the Jets might be more comfortable rolling with Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, whose $1.15 million contract can’t be completely ignored by Winnipeg.

Actually, contracts are where the intrigue builds.

Hutchinson isn’t the only Jets netminder who needs a new contract after 2017-18 ends. Hellebuyck will be an RFA this summer – assuming Winnipeg doesn’t hand him an extension – and he’ll be a tough goalie to gauge. Hellebuyck managed 26 wins in 2016-17, but his work was middling overall with just a .907 save percentage. Hellebuyck’s really flourished this season, going 35-11-8 with a .923 save percentage.

Even if Hellebuyck doesn’t break the bank, the Jets could plausibly find it difficult to justify Mason’s $4.1M cap hit. They’ll see Nikolaj Ehlers‘ cap hit jump to $6M and will need to pay up for Jacob Trouba, who’s also set for restricted free agency.

Whether those factors force Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hand or not, Mason finds himself right where he was heading into this season, and also when he was traded to the Flyers. He’ll need to start from scratch once again and hope that his luck will work out better in the future, whether that means during the playoffs or 2018-19.

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

Other goalies gain on Vasilevskiy in Vezina race

1 Comment

At the end of 2017, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy looked like an absolute no-brainer to win his first Vezina Trophy. He already had 24 wins and a sparkling .934 save percentage, checking the boxes for basically every type of hockey person.

The gap has been closing for some time now, and while Vasilevskiy still stands as the best choice, the race could really heat up during the final quarter of the 2017-18 season.

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to look at the top seven goalies in wins (28 or more) to get a quick viewpoint on how things are starting to get snug. You can dive deeper here, noting some reasonable dark horse candidates including Marc-Andre Fleury and John Gibson.

Vasilevskiy: 38 wins, 2.41 GAA, .925 save percentage
Pekka Rinne: 35 wins, 2.33 GAA, .927
Connor Hellebuyck: 34 W, 2.40 GAA, .922
Frederik Andersen: 32 W, 2.74 GAA, .920
Braden Holtby: 29 W, 3 GAA, .908
Devan Dubnyk: 28 W, 2.61 GAA, .917
Sergei Bobrovsky: 28 W, 2.44 GAA, .920

Right or not, voters still weigh wins fairly heavily, so it would probably be tough for “Bob” and others to catch Vasilevskiy. Rinne stands as the biggest threat right now, as he’s been a huge part of the Predators currently leading the Western Conference and Central Division.

Rinne is often the source of derision on Hockey Twitter, but it’s difficult to imagine too many harsh criticisms of his play this season (they’re out there, mind you). Consider this: many prefer even-strength save percentage as it ignores poor penalty killing that can submarine a goalie’s stats. Rinne is tied with Carter Hutton for the best even-strength save percentage among goalies who’ve played at least 30 games with an impressive .939 mark. Vasilevskiy isn’t far behind at .933, yet Rinne does edge him there.

The next month or so could conceivably swing things to Rinne’s favor, or possibly to someone else.

While the Predators continue on a hot streak, Vasilevskiy has stumbled lately, at least by his lofty standards. Via Hockey Reference’s split stats, Vasilevskiy went 29-9-2 with a .931 save percentage, 2.18 GAA, and seven shutouts in 41 games heading into the All-Star Break. In the 13 games since, he’s 9-3-1, but with a .911 save percentage, 3.11 GAA and zero shutouts.

There’s no shame in those post-break numbers, especially since he’s continuing to pile up wins. That, along with his continued health, is what the Lightning really care about.

That said, if Rinne finishes the season with more wins, more shutouts, and a better save percentage, who knows? The Finnish netminder’s already been piling up milestones this season, and with zero Vezina wins to his name, the 35-year-old might get a sentimental vote or two over Vasilevskiy, who’s just beginning his prime at 23. Such thoughts might be significant if the goalies end up with very similar stats.

To reiterate, Vasilevskiy still stands as the goalie who would justifiably win the Vezina if it were decided today. He leads the NHL in multiple categories, including when you go deeper. According to Hockey Reference, Vasilevskiy is tied for point shares alongside workhorse Frederik Andersen with 12, and he leads the league in Goals Saved Above Average at 22, edging second-place Rinne at 21.

Vasilevskiy is a big part of why the Lightning currently sit atop the NHL’s standings. In fact, his strong work is cited by many when they’re trying to argue against Nikita Kucherov‘s Hart credentials.

Still, the final stretch of the season could shrink his lead even more, whether it means Rinne grabbing edges or Connor Hellebuyck continuing his contract year for the ages by passing both of them with a red-hot March. It should be a fun race to watch, and maybe a palate cleanser if you want to mix things up after going blue in the face arguing semantics over “most valuable” in Hart debates.


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