Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Do the Leafs still need a No. 1 defenseman?

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— Up top, watch NHLers auditioning for their roles in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. (Personally, we think Evgeni Malkin showed more range in that old car dealership ad, but he was pretty good in this too.)

— Do the Toronto Maple Leafs still need a No. 1 defenseman? And if so, would they trade young William Nylander to get one? Pierre LeBrun tackles a topic that won’t go be going away anytime soon. The Leafs are a good, young team with tons of talent up front, but when most people look at their blue line, they see the need for at least one more top-4 d-man to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner. (TSN)

— In a potentially related story, if the Canucks are going to make a trade, it’s likely they’ll move a defenseman for help up front. We’re not sure if Erik Gudbranson would be of any interest to the Leafs, but he might be of interest to some team, and the situation on Vancouver’s blue line has definitely changed in the last year. (Daily Hive Vancouver)

— The oral history of Fox’s glowing puck is a fun read. Here’s Brian Burke on the prototypes they tested: “I remember one of the first tests was in Boston. One of these pucks went into the crowd, we had to race over to them with some volunteer and say, ‘Here, we’ll give you another puck, and we’ll give you a T-shirt.’ The first two or three guys were like, ‘F— you. I’m keeping this puck.’ I think we lost $1,200 in that first game.” (Sports Business Journal)

— Sounds like deputy commissioner Bill Daly had a good trip to China, where the NHL soon hopes to hold some preseason games. “It seems that the NBA, having brought games over there, has been a game-changer over there as far as basketball is concerned. Now everybody is excited about the prospect of NHL teams coming over. So, we’re obviously trying to make that happen as soon as possible. We’re still holding out hope it can happen (this year) but if that doesn’t happen I expect it’ll happen the following year.” (Postmedia)

— A profile of 96-year-old John “Chick” Webster, believed to be the NHL’s oldest ex-player. Webster lives in a small Ontario town called Mattawa, where he’s been known to make cracks like, “I don’t even buy green bananas at my age.” Webster played 14 games for the Rangers during the 1949-50 season. (boston.com)

Enjoy the games!

Sens nab Wingels in trade with Sharks

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The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Tommy Wingels from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two AHL forwards, Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, and a 2017 seventh-round draft pick.

The Sens announced the trade via Twitter. As part of the deal, the Sharks will retain 30 percent of Wingels’ $2.6 million salary this season. The 28-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent. His total cap hit is $2.475 million.

Wingels has just five goals and three assists in 37 games this season, and his average ice time under head coach Pete DeBoer had fallen from 13:38 last season to just 10:03.

Perhaps he’ll find a bigger role now under Guy Boucher. Wingels is expected to join the Sens tomorrow in Ottawa.

In a press release, Sharks GM Doug Wilson called Wingels “a valuable member of our franchise for many years, a phenomenal teammate and a true role model on and off the ice for our organization and the NHL.”

Wilson added, “As a team evolves and younger players push for roster spots, unfortunately tough decisions have to be made. We wish Tommy and his wife, Molly, nothing but success in the future.

“We also want to welcome Buddy and Zach to our organization. They add size and depth to our reserve list and we look forward to having them in San Jose.”

It’s crunch time for the Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are desperate for wins.

How desperate?

Well, it’s estimated they’ll have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

So, pretty darn desperate.

It is shocking, frankly, that the Lightning have found themselves in this position. After 48 games, they sit dead last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-22-5. Even without Steven Stamkos, most observers thought they’d hang in there.

But if it’s not one thing (allowing too many goals), it’s been another (not scoring enough) for Jon Cooper’s bunch. Heading into tonight’s game in Chicago, the Bolts have just two wins in their last 10 games.

Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Coyotes, one of the NHL’s worst teams, was a low point.

“Disappointing is probably not even the right word,” veteran forward Brian Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “We’ve got to do a better job in (the room), I guess, especially the veteran guys. It’s got to be way better from the start, maybe in preparation? Obviously, our focus wasn’t where it needed to be. That’s a hard one to swallow.”

The Lightning outshot the Coyotes by a big margin, 48-23, but for the 13th time this season they lost a game in regulation despite finishing ahead on the shot clock. Only Carolina (17) and Boston (15) have lost more games that way. 

In a related story, Ben Bishop‘s save percentage has fallen from .926 last season, when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, to .905. He was pulled Saturday after allowing five goals on just 17 shots.

To be fair, Bishop had played well in his three previous starts since returning from an injury. But Saturday was a bad time to have a bad game. Those were two points the Lightning really needed, and they didn’t even get one.

Tampa Bay has two games before the All-Star break — tonight in Chicago and Thursday at the Panthers in Sunrise.

That game Thursday will be huge for both teams, each of which went into the season with high hopes, before injuries and other frustrations arose.

The reality now is that both Florida clubs are likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, there’s still time to climb out of their respective holes, but the odds say they’ll probably fail.

Coyotes’ Holland fined for punching Palat

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Arizona’s Peter Holland has been fined $3,611.11, the maximum allowable under CBA, for punching Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat during Saturday’s Coyotes-Lightning game in Glendale.

Holland threw the punch halfway through the second period after getting taken out along the boards by Palat. Holland didn’t like the hit, so he got up, dropped his gloves, and leveled the unsuspecting Palat with a bare fist to the face.

Holland received four minutes for roughing, but the Lightning failed to capitalize with the man advantage.

The Coyotes would go on to win, 5-3.

Update:

Elliott has cooled off, and so have the Flames

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It looked for a while like Brian Elliott had regained his form. From Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, he went 5-0-0 with a .922 save percentage.

Alas, things have gone sideways again. From Jan. 6 onward, Elliott has gone 0-3-1 with an .872 save percentage. Last night, he allowed four goals on 28 shots as his Calgary Flames fell, 4-0, in Toronto.

“I think the difference tonight was they capitalized on some chances that they had and we had some really good looks that we didn’t capitalize,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano, per the Calgary Herald. “That’s the end of the story — it’s a 4-0 game. You have to score at least a few goals to win games in this league.”

Indeed, it’s hard to blame the goalie when he doesn’t get a single goal of support. The Leafs’ first goal, the winning goal, certainly wasn’t Elliott’s fault.

But the second goal could’ve been stopped…

…and the third was the back-breaker, coming with his team on the power play.

The Flames didn’t put up much of a fight after that. The loss was their third in a row, and tonight they have to play in Montreal.

Expect Chad Johnson to get the nod against the Canadiens. He hasn’t been too good lately either. In fact, he only lasted 5:58 of his last start, before he was pulled after allowing three goals on four shots in an eventual 7-3 loss to Edmonton.

Read more: ‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

The Flames are still in a playoff spot, thanks in large part to the struggles of the Kings and Jets. But for a team that thought its goaltending problems had been solved by the addition of Elliott, it has to be frustrating that the position remains a weak spot.

Both Elliott and Johnson are pending unrestricted free agents.

Related: An interesting goalie market awaits in the summer