Jason Brough

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Fixing the Avs’ defense through trades will prove tough

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The Colorado Avalanche are desperate to upgrade their defense.

They aren’t alone.

And that right there is why Joe Sakic’s got such a tough job ahead of him. Yes, he’s got some big chips to play in Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, but the price of top-4 defensemen has perhaps never been higher. And the price of young top-4 defensemen is even higher.

Case in point, the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson out of New Jersey. The Oilers don’t regret giving up Taylor Hall, what with being on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But let’s be honest here: it’s not like they added a Norris Trophy candidate. Larsson provides next to no offense. He’s averaging 20:08 of ice time. He’s been, in a word… fine.

Another young defenseman that was traded in the last little while was Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets got him from Nashville for Ryan Johansen. That deal solved a problem for both teams. The Jackets needed to upgrade their back end; the Preds desperately needed a legitimate first-line center, and they had a relative surplus of d-men to go shopping with.

There are not many teams today with a surplus of quality defensemen. The Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks come to mind, and with the expansion draft looming, they would certainly be worth calling on. So would the Vancouver Canucks, after their GM admitted that “if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.” And we’ll throw in the Flyers and Bruins, each of whom has built up a nice stable of young d-men. That being said, the Avs can pretty much forget about landing Ivan Provorov or Charlie McAvoy. Those two are the future in Philly and Boston, respectively.

Read more: Is Anaheim getting close to trading a d-man?

The problem for Sakic is the same problem that Peter Chiarelli ran into last summer. Teams know the value of defensemen. It’s high, and it’s high for a reason. In today’s NHL, if you can’t move the puck, you’re not going to win. If you can’t stop the cycle, you’re not going to win. And with all the shot-blocking that goes on, defensemen get hurt all the time. So teams always need extras.

As of right now, there are multiple teams in search of blue-line help. The Maple Leafs need help. The Red Wings need help. The Sabres need help. The Rangers could use a good, young d-man. Heck, the Oilers still need a d-man to run the power play.

Let’s assume for now that the Avalanche aren’t going to trade Tyson Barrie or Erik Johnson, arguably their best defensemen. Those two both play the right side, so it’s lefties the Avs need most. It would be great if Nikita Zadorov pans out one day, but the jury’s still out on him. One thing’s for sure is that Francois Beauchemin, 36, and Fedor Tyutin, 33, aren’t long-term answers. As for prospects, there just aren’t any blue-chippers. Why? Because the last time the Avs drafted a defenseman in the first round was 2011.

And at the end of the day, the best way to build a defense is through the draft. Just ask the Blackhawks, who got Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson that way. Trades can certainly enhance a group, but if Sakic wants to reboot the Avs the right way, and for the long run, he should be accumulating picks and scouting the likes of Miro Heiskanen, Nicolas Hague, Timothy Liljegren and Juuso Valimaki. Those are the d-men of the future. And it’s well past time for the Avs to start filling the pipeline with more than blue-chip forwards.

Neuvirth earns a start after saving the day for Flyers

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Expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start tomorrow afternoon in Boston.

He earned it last night.

Neuvirth gave the Flyers exactly what they needed after he replaced Steve Mason to begin the third period. At the time, the Flyers were trailing, 4-3. They ended up winning, 5-4, in the shootout.

Neuvirth stopped all 14 shots he faced in regulation and overtime. He then went three-for-three in the breakaway competition, which featured only one goal, by Claude Giroux.

The victory was just the second for the Flyers in their last nine games. Neuvirth’s record improved to 6-2-0 on the season — a pretty incredible mark considering his save percentage is just .876.

“(Mason) would probably admit there’s probably one more save he can make, but at least equal or more than that, it was time to make a change for our team,” head coach Dave Hakstol said afterwards. “(Neuvirth) went in and did a good job.”

As for Mason, well, let’s just say January hasn’t been his best month. In five starts, he’s allowed 16 goals on 127 shots for an .874 save rate.

“At the end of the day I just have to be better,” Mason said, per the Burlington County Times. “I am struggling right now and have to find ways to get back. Overall, I am just not happy with where the game is at right now. I have to find ways to work through this and like I said, to get back to where I normally can be.”

Blackhawks see all their one-goal victories as a positive, not a warning flag

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All the games the Chicago Blackhawks have won by the slimmest of margins could easily be used against them.

But Artem Anisimov sees it differently. Chicago’s 17 one-goal victories, by far the most in the NHL, is good practice for the playoffs, when tight games become the norm.

“It’s easy to win the games when you’re up three goals early,” Anisimov said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “But tight games keep you in shape. This team knows how to respond in tight games — if we have to come back, or play with a one-goal lead, or a tie game. It’s all different situations, and we’ve been through everything. You learn to relax and play hard every shift, and I think it’s a good thing to play so many.”

Still, people will point to their record in one-goal games (17-6-5) and conclude the ‘Hawks aren’t as good as their place in the standings (third overall) suggests. Chicago’s goal differential (+17) pales in comparison to juggernauts like Columbus (+45) and Minnesota (+44). And based on Corsi, the ‘Hawks are a mediocre puck-possession team.

Yes, this is what happens when you win three Stanley Cups in less than a decade — you get nitpicked. Simply winning isn’t good enough. The wins have to be convincing.

But that’s the bar the Blackhawks have set for themselves. When they won the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, they were a dominant team. This year, more than ever, they’ve really needed their goalies to stand on their heads.

It’s why, if they want to win another Cup, they’ll need their rookies to keep improving.

It’s also why many expect GM Stan Bowman to be active leading up to the trade deadline, in spite of a tight salary-cap situation.

The ‘Hawks will face a big test tonight when they take on the Capitals, winners of seven straight, in DC.

ggs

Related: Coach Q wants Seabrook to ‘get back’ to what he does best

Korpisalo remains with Blue Jackets, and he may get a start soon

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Tuesday night in Carolina, Anton Forsberg made his first start of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It may also have been his last. Forsberg allowed four goals on 27 shots in a 5-3 loss, and yesterday he was sent back to the AHL.

Staying up with the Jackets is young Joonas Korpisalo, who’d been recalled to back up Forsberg due to Sergei Bobrovsky‘s illness.

Bobrovsky is better now and is expected to start tonight in Tampa Bay. But Korpisalo may get a chance to play soon. The Jackets also have a game tomorrow in Sunrise.

Prior to getting called up, Korpisalo was not enjoying a particularly good season in the AHL, where he was 5-5-1 with a .900 save percentage for Cleveland. But unlike Forsberg, who’d been playing well for the Monsters, Korpisalo has been good in his limited time in the NHL. Last season, the 22-year-old went 16-11-4 with a .920 save percentage. He’d come up to the big club after Bobrovksy was sidelined by a groin strain.

Read more: Korpisalo is ‘poised’ and ‘confident’ in Jackets’ crease

Be it Korpisalo or Forsberg, the Jackets need somebody to step up and provide consistent backup goaltending. They don’t have Curtis McElhinney anymore, and they don’t want to wear down Bobrovsky before the playoffs even start.

Pre-game reading: On the sky-high price of top-4 defensemen

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks about Charlie McAvoy, Colin White, and Clayton Keller — three American players who really impressed him at the World Juniors.

— Sportsnet’s Mark Spector writes about the sky-high price of defensemen in the wake of the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade between the Oilers and Devils. It’s required reading for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an up-and-coming team that could really use another top-4 blue-liner to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner. Would the Leafs be willing to put William Nylander on the market? Because they’re not trading Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, and James van Riemsdyk may not get them what they need. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin surpassed the 1,000-point mark last night. It was a fantastic accomplishment, one that only 83 players had done before him. But we all know the big knock on Ovechkin. He’s never won a Stanley Cup. Heck, he’s never even been past the second round of the playoffs. Hence, this piece by SI’s Alex Prewitt: “Those close to Ovechkin will swear that individual marks occupy increasingly less of his attention these days. He’s 31 years old now, averaging the least time on ice (18:21) of his career by more than one full minute, because coach Barry Trotz wants him fresh for when it matters.” (Sports Illustrated)

— As the Dallas Stars continue to scuffle along, GM Jim Nill can’t help but think it would be nice to have Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup. “With all the injuries, it would have been great to have him here. He would have played a lot of minutes. Big, strong – it would have been great to have him. But he made a decision to go back (to the KHL) and I can’t control that.” (Star-Telegram)

— A list of players who did not deserve to be named to the All-Star Game, starting with Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban. Writes list-maker Michael Traikos: “He’s not the best player on the Predators this year. He might not even be their best defenseman. With seven goals, 17 points and a minus-11 rating, he’s certainly not having an all-star season.” Traikos then takes out the carving knife for John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Frans Nielsen, and five others. (National Post)

— Pierre LeBrun’s series on the expansion draft continues with a look at the Nashville Predators. “While the vast majority of clubs will opt for the 7-3-1 format (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie), I think there’s a strong likelihood that the Predators will go with the 8-1 format (eight skaters and a goalie) despite the fact that it allows for two fewer players to be protected. It’s worth it for a team like Nashville that’s so deep on defense. And, in this case, it would allow the Predators to protect defensemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!