Jason Brough

Mattias Ekholm

Preds sign d-man Ekholm to six-year extension

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The NHL’s defenseman factory, a.k.a. the Nashville Predators, has locked up 25-year-old blue-liner Mattias Ekholm all the way through 2021-22.

The Preds announced today that Ekholm has signed a six-year extension worth $22.5 million, for a cap hit of $3.75 million.

Ekholm was drafted 102nd overall by the Preds in 2009. He was developed patiently, staying in Sweden for a couple of years and then spending one season in the AHL. Today, he’s a trusted member of the Preds’ outstanding defensive corps.

“Defensively, he’s solid,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “Offensively, he moves the puck well. He skates well, he contributes in the offensive zone, he helps out on the power play, penalty kill, and he’s been a real strong player for us.”

The Preds now have four d-men signed through at least 2018-19, the other three being Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Ekholm’s regular defensive partner, Ryan Ellis.

Seth Jones is a pending restricted free agent.

Given the demand for top-four defensemen around the NHL, one does have to wonder if the Preds might eventually look to trade one of theirs, but for now they’ll enjoy what they’ve got.

Ducks need way more from Corey Perry

Corey Perry
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Corey Perry has taken 2,223 shots in his NHL career, just over three per game.

But to start the 2015-16 season, he’s only managed 10 shots in seven games.

So the fact he hasn’t scored yet isn’t simply a matter of bad shooting luck. For pucks to go in, first they have to be shot on goal.

Saturday in Minnesota, Perry didn’t register a single shot. Actually, he didn’t even have a single shot attempt. The Ducks lost 3-0, the fourth time they’ve been shut out this season. At 1-5-1, they’re already six points back of a playoff spot, and that’s in the worst division in the league.

The Ducks’ struggles have put their coach, Bruce Boudreau, squarely on the hot seat, even if his players have been sticking up for him.

“None of this is on Bruce. Bruce is a motivator. He’s a guy that sticks up for his players and someone you want to play for,” defenseman Cam Fowler told the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, when you lose in this business, the finger seems to be pointed at the coach, but as players, the responsibility is with us.”

Perry isn’t the only Duck who needs to start scoring, but he does have the highest cap hit on the club, at $8.625 million. The 30-year-old got that money because he can put the puck in the net. He didn’t get it to rank seventh among Anaheim forwards in shots, behind the likes of Chris Stewart, a guy that barely plays 10 minutes a night.

The Ducks play tonight in Chicago. They finish their road trip with stops Tuesday in Dallas and Thursday in St. Louis. If things haven’t turned around by the time they get home, can GM Bob Murray resist making a change behind the bench?

“We preach shooting and going to the net,” Boudreau said last week. “You’re not going to get the pretty goal if you wait for it to happen. You have to go out and make it happen.”

Desjardins defends benching of Canucks kids

Willie Desjardins
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The same coach who came under fire for not playing his stars enough in the playoffs is now being forced to defend the ice time he’s giving the kids.

Last night at Rogers Arena, Canucks coach Willie Desjardins shortened his bench in a close game with Washington, barely playing youngsters Sven Baertschi, Jared McCann, and Jake Virtanen in the third period.

The move did not pay off, as the Capitals scored twice in the third and won 3-2, leaving Desjardins to explain his decision-making this morning.

“I know you will look at it like these guys didn’t get that much ice time in the third or they didn’t get that,” he said, per The Province. “But you have to develop guys from junior to the NHL. There’s a growing phase. Usually, the growing phase is the [AHL]. But we’re trying to miss that phase.”

Indeed, if it were as simple as sending Baertschi, McCann and Virtanen to the AHL, all three of them might be there right now.

But it’s not that simple. Baertschi would have to be exposed to waivers; McCann and Virtanen are only eligible to be sent back to junior.

Desjardins — who’s been accused of being scared to play his youngsters — actually sees it quite differently.

It’s not him that’s scared. It’s the kids.

“They don’t want to get beat,” he said. “So, they back off and they give the other guy time. The guy doesn’t beat them but he has time to make a great play and that beats us. We have to get them more confident where they can be aggressive.”

The Canucks host the Red Wings tomorrow night. Vancouver (3-2-2) is winless in four tries at home this season.

Hextall surprised at no suspension for Rinaldo’s ‘irresponsible hit’

Ron Hextall
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Mark your calendars for Wednesday, Jan. 13. That’s the next time the Flyers get to play the Bruins.

Fortunately, the game’s on NBCSN, because there could be Zac Rinaldo-related fireworks in it.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall told reporters today that he was surprised that Rinaldo was not suspended for charging Sean Couturier in Wednesday’s game.

“It’s all how you look at it, but I thought it was an irresponsible hit,” Hextall said, per CSN Philly. “I thought there would be something.”

Though Hextall conceded that the NHL has a tough job when it comes to supplementary discipline, and while he did call Rinaldo “an effective NHL player,” he didn’t exactly shut down the notion that the Flyers could be looking for a little payback against their former teammate.

“I’m not gonna comment on that,” Hextall said. “I know better than that.”

Something tells us the NHL might have a word with both teams before that Jan. 13 affair in Philly.

Goalie nods: Looks like Gustavsson is starting over Rask

Wayne Simmonds, Tuukka Rask
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Two days after another tough night for Tuukka Rask, it looks like Jonas Gustavsson will get the start for the Boston Bruins, who are in Brooklyn to face the Islanders tonight.

Rask allowed five goals to the Flyers in an overtime loss on Wednesday. His save percentage sits at .854.

“I’ve let in some bad goals,” Rask told CSN New England. “[Wednesday] maybe I should have one [more save], but you know overall I felt pretty good and a lot of times…I always look at the goals, if I could have done something differently…I wouldn’t call it a struggle. But then again you let in five, four goals every game…[you] can’t be pretty happy about that.”

(More on Rask here.)

Gustavsson’s only start was a win, a 20-save effort last Wednesday in a 6-2 drubbing of Colorado.

Jaroslav Halak will be in goal for the Islanders.

Elsewhere…

Mike Condon will give Carey Price a rest for Montreal. Chad Johnson will start for Buffalo.

Ben Bishop for Tampa Bay. Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg.

Jimmy Howard for Detroit. Jonas Hiller for Calgary, which only has two goalies now.

Philipp Grubauer gets the start for Washington after Braden Holtby won last night in Vancouver. Anders Nilsson for the Oilers.

Cam Ward gets another start for Carolina. Jonathan Quick likely for the Kings after Jhonas Enroth beat the Sharks last night in San Jose.