Author: James O'Brien


Leafs lose Panik to upper-body injury


Toronto Maple Leafs forward Richard Panik scored a goal against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, but he won’t be able to finish today’s game.

The 23-year-old suffered an upper-body injury, with TSN’s Jonas Siegel noting some concussion worries:

Florida’s Scottie Upshall delivered the hit that hurt Panik. Video of the check will be added to this post if it becomes available. (You can view it via this link.)

It’s that much more of a shame because Panik was getting a boost in the form of better linemates, something he commented upon today.

He provided the first tally in a six-goal second period between the two teams:

All Varlamov: Avalanche send Pickard to AHL

Calvin Pickard

One of the best things to happen to the Colorado Avalanche this season has come to an end – or at least put on hold – and it was done by choice.

The Colorado Avalanche sent rookie goalie Calvin Pickard (pictured) to the AHL on Sunday. As head coach Patrick Roy told the Denver Post, it’s all about avoiding merely planting Pickard to the bench, as the team seems to be going all Varlamov, all the time.

“Varly is 100 percent. And we’re going to play him a lot. Period,” Roy said.

As for Reto Berra? It sounds like he’ll be lucky to get into any action.’s Rick Sadowski reports that Roy said that Berra will have to “earn” any playing time he receives, which isn’t shocking since Pickard is being primed to possibly step in when Colorado has back-to-back games in the middle of January.

It’s all on Varly

On one hand, leaning on Varlamov makes a ton of sense.

The 26-year-old carried Colorado to a playoff berth in 2013-14 even as the Avs were bombarded with heavy shot disadvantages, so management likely believes he gives the team the best chance to repeat history.

Some puzzling elements

That said, there are some elements that make Colorado’s decision making seem a little questionable.

For one thing, Varlamov’s been good but not great so far this season; his 5-6-5 record isn’t that different from Pickard’s 6-6-2 mark, yet Pickard, 22, sports a fantastic .934 save percentage while Varlamov stands at a more modest .913.

It’s easy to see why Berra, 27, is in the doghouse. His .882 save percentage is dysmal by just about any standard.

Even so, the Avalanche gave up a significant asset in a second-round pick to acquire Berra during the 2014 trade deadline, so it’s odd that management isn’t being a bit more patient with a guy who’s only played 10 games so far in 2014-15.


The ideal scenario is easy to see: Varlamov carries the load at the NHL level while Pickard gets more seasoning in the minors. Still, for a team in a bind like Colorado, you wonder if the Avs might be better off seeing if Pickard can steal them a few games.

Orpik reflects on ‘outside pressure’ in Pittsburgh

Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Brandon Dubinsky

As Brooks Orpik readies to face the Penguins in Pittsburgh as a member of the Washington Capitals on Saturday – a game you can see on NBCSN, by the way – he took time to reflect on his time with the team.

Two things seemed to stand out from his interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: that he needed to leave and that the pressure to win big weighs on many Penguins.

“There was something not right last year,” Orpik said. “I guess stale is a good word. Something needed to change. I thought guys were affected by the outside pressure. There is a standard in Pittsburgh that is tough. We’d win games, and people would still be criticizing us. People were saying we were winning games the wrong way. I don’t even know what that means, if there is such a thing.”

Orpik, 34, added that the pressure “was something that wore on guys.”

He also admitted that if there’s one series that still stings, it was getting swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The defenseman said that’s the series he’d most like a “do-over” on.

Ultimately, it sounds like Orpik doesn’t have any hard feelings toward the city or team that he spent so many years with, yet he also needed a change of scenery.

It’s a great read that’s worth your time, so click here for the full story.

Expect Ekblad to shatter Florida’s rookie D records

Aaron Ekblad

For a first overall pick, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s rookie season has been quite under-the-radar, especially considering how well it’s gone.

As the Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov points out, Ekblad tops all rookie defensemen in 2014-15 with five goals, 14 assists and 19 points (while his 22:05 time on ice average comes in second), but it’s not just that. He already owns the Panthers’ franchise record for rookie defensemen with those 14 assists and should shatter Ed Jovanovski’s rookie blueliner points mark pretty soon (Jovocop collected 21 in 1995-96).

By just about any metric, the 18-year-old seems like he’s beyond his years. Only Brian Campbell boasts better possession stats among Florida defensemen, and “Soupy” actually gets slightly cushier zone starts. If you want to talk about blueliners who defy conventional wisdom that it takes years to develop defensemen at the NHL level, you could do worse than to point to Ekblad’s remarkably quick growth.

Roberto Luongo raved about Ekblad’s quick learning to Yahoo earlier this month.

“He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old,” Luongo said. “He plays like he’s been in the league 18 years.”

Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant simply said “we trusted him from Day 1.”

The 2015 Calder Trophy race looks like a pretty crowded field so far, especially if Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg can even approach his current pace over an 82-game season. If nothing else, Ekblad’s made the Panthers look very smart – and maybe a little lucky – in grabbing him with the top pick.

Just imagine if this is merely the tip of the iceberg, too.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

Canada tabs Fucale for WJC opener

Zachary Fucale

Canada will roll with Zachary Fucale instead of Eric Comrie in net for its 2015 World Junior Championships opening game against Slovakia on Friday, TSN reports.

The logic seems simple enough: Fucale’s been through this before.

“We’re comfortable with both goalies, but we just think it was normal to start with the goalie who was there last year and give him a chance,” Canada coach Benoit Groulx said.

Fucale, 19, said that he doesn’t think “the guys in the room will care that much” regarding whether it will be him or Comrie, also 19, in net after today. (Groulx wouldn’t commit to a starter on Saturday just yet.)

The Montreal Canadiens selected Fucale in the second round (36th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft. The Winnipeg Jets selected Comrie with the 59th choice of that same draft.

If this post’s main image of Fucale being surrounded by a horde of media doesn’t sell the point that these guys are under quite a bit of pressure, note’s look at the seemingly struggling Canadian goaltending development system.

(For the record, Fred Brathwaite told the Canadian Press that such a issue was a “crock.”)

This tournament just takes on a different feel when it happens in Canada, so this could be a really fascinating situation to watch.