Jason Brough

Kings’ defensive depth goes under the microscope

He’s not the flashiest defenseman in the world, but Alec Martinez is an important player for the Los Angeles Kings.

That’s why his mysterious injury has been monitored so closely leading up to the Kings’ first-round series with the Sharks. Los Angeles may have Drew Doughty, but the blue-line depth beyond Doughty, Martinez and Jake Muzzin has been in question since Slava Voynov went back to Russia.

Per LA Kings Insider, Martinez is expected to play tonight in Game 1. At this morning’s skate, he was on the third pair with Rob Scuderi. The first pair was Doughty with Brayden McNabb; the second was Muzzin with Luke Schenn.

Martinez has not played since Apr. 2, so head coach Darryl Sutter may be taking a wait-and-see approach with the 28-year-old. It’s possible, if he looks good out there, that Martinez gets moved up to the second pairing with Muzzin. Those two played together for most of the regular season.

Again, Martinez isn’t the flashiest player, and this isn’t the flashiest story. But Kings GM Dean Lombardi is well-aware of the importance of depth on defense.

“Look at those teams that won in Chicago when we went to the conference finals,” Lombardi said, referring to the 2013 and 2014 postseasons. “They’re pretty much able to roll three sets, right? Three pairs. And that’s the way it was designed. And if you look at Chicago, and the year we beat ‘em, and the year they beat ‘us, they had the same thing. Right? Leddy was Martinez. Right down the frame, it was almost like a carbon copy. Keith, Doughty, Seabrook, Muzzin. It matched up entirely. Both teams could roll three sets. Chicago started getting hit last year. They lose Oduya. They’re doing the same thing. Funneling guys in, Keith has to play a lot of minutes just like Doughty has to play a lot of minutes.”

As for the Sharks, they might not have a Doughty, but you could argue they have the Kings beat in defensive depth. Per CSN Bay Area, here are San Jose’s expected pairings for tonight:

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Paul MartinBrent Burns
Brenden DillonRoman Polak

Related: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

Malkin could return in first round; Fleury a ‘work in progress’

Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins
Getty

Evgeni Malkin can’t say for sure when he’ll be able to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

But he did shoot a few pucks on Marc-Andre Fleury this morning, and he didn’t rule out a return sometime during the Pens’ first-round series with the Rangers.

Malkin has not played since March 11 due to an upper-body injury that was expected to keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

Malkin’s availability in the first round may depend partly on how his teammates are doing versus the Rangers. The Pens took a 1-0 series lead last night, so, for now, the desperation factor is fairly low.

But if the series were to turn against them, Malkin could become extra motivated to get back in there, and the Penguins could become extra motivated to grant his wish.

As for Fleury? He wasn’t sharing any specifics about his status either.

Game 2 goes Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh (on NBC).

Seguin to miss Game 1, but Ruff expects him back for Game 2

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) yells after scoring a goal agains the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP

The Dallas Stars will have to wait for Tyler Seguin‘s return to the lineup. It won’t be tonight in Game 1 of their series versus Minnesota.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff shared that news this morning, while adding on an optimistic note that he expects the star forward to return Saturday for Game 2.

Seguin has not played a game since suffering a partial tear of his Achilles tendon last month.

The Wild, meanwhile, have their own injury issues, led by Zach Parise‘s upper-body injury that could soon, according to the Star Tribune, require “season-ending microdiscectomy surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal nerve column.”

Vrbata: ‘If I wanted to get traded, I would have been traded’

Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Henrik Sedin,
AP
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Hey, remember the Vancouver Canucks’ disaster of a trade deadline?

Most of the focus on Feb. 29 surrounded veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, and the Canucks’ failure to get anything for the pending unrestricted free agent.

But there was another somewhat high-profile UFA that the Canucks failed to trade, and that was winger Radim Vrbata.

During GM Jim Benning’s press conference that day, Benning insisted that Vrbata, armed with a limited no-trade clause, had presented the Canucks with a “fair list” of teams to which he’d accept a move. But, alas, “We didn’t receive a concrete offer on him.”

At the time, Vrbata was not enjoying a good season — he finished with just 13 goals, after scoring 31 last year — so Benning’s explanation was generally accepted by fans and media (who were more focused on Hamhuis anyway).

But to hear Vrbata tell the story this week?

“I don’t think I handcuffed them, but I knew what I was doing,” he told Postmedia. “I could have given a lot more (options) and I would have moved. If I wanted to get traded, I would have been traded.”

Vrbata also said he would’ve welcomed a trade last summer, had he known he’d spend most of this season centered by youngsters Bo Horvat or Jared McCann, as opposed to last season when it was veterans Henrik Sedin or Nick Bonino.

“At my age, I know what my game needs to be successful,” he said. “That’s why I signed here in the first place, to play with [the Sedins].”

At 34, Vrbata still believes he can contribute.

“In the right situation, I can be similar to last year,” he said.

But that situation won’t be in Vancouver anymore. That’s for sure.

Julien will be back behind Bruins bench; Sweeney has ‘work to do’

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Claude Julien will be back behind the Bruins bench next season. Boston’s GM, Don Sweeney, said so this morning at a press conference, where he sat alongside his head coach and sung his praises.

“I believe in Claude as a coach,” said Sweeney. “I think our core principles align very well.”

But after the disappointment of missing the playoffs for the second straight season, there will be at least one change to Julien’s staff, and there could be more coming.

“Doug Houda will not be back,” Sweeney said of the long-time assistant, while noting that there are other assistants who are currently without contracts.

When asked where it all went wrong this season, Julien pointed to his team’s failures to get results in the big games. He used the Winter Classic as a prime example. (Boston, you’ll recall, was blown out by the Canadiens at Gillette Stadium. At the time, Julien called it “one of our worst games at the worst time.”)

As for the offseason?

“I have work to do,” said Sweeney. “There’s no question that we have areas that we want to address.”

Expect the defense to be one area that he’ll try to improve. The Bruins went young on the blue line for this season, and things didn’t work out as planned.

In a potentially related story, Sweeney wrote a letter to Bruins season ticket-holders this morning, in which he shared the following:

“One of our objectives last year was to improve our salary cap situation, and through various trades and signings, we were able to accomplish this. We now have some cap flexibility heading into the offseason and this summer’s free agency planning period. This will allow us to re-sign players or make competitive offers to free agents on the market that we believe will help our club.”

Still, despite seeing a clear need to make some changes, Sweeney does not believe the Bruins need a “major overhaul.” He thinks it’s important to remain patient with the organization’s youth, using 19-year-old David Pastrnak as an example.

“We have a very, very bright future with a number of young players that we have,” he said. “It’s rightfully so to be excited about that, but it’s also imperative to be patient to allow them to hit their ceilings.”