Jason Brough

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MacKinnon concedes that ‘changes are necessary when you lose like this’

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LOS ANGELES — Nathan MacKinnon knows he’s lucky to be in the NHL. He understands life could be a lot worse than getting paid big money to play a game. He’s not pouting.

Still, all the losing is getting to him. His Colorado Avalanche (13-31-2) are the worst team in the league. Trade rumors are swirling. Big changes are coming.

“It’s tough,” MacKinnon said Saturday. “You don’t wake up with the same excitement that you used to. Even in your personal life, it takes a hit on you. It’s draining. Especially when you’re losing like this.”

Two of MacKinnon’s teammates, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, are the most likely to be on the move.

“They’ve been in Colorado for a long time,” said MacKinnon. “They don’t want to get traded. Everyone wants to figure this thing out. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, but I think changes are necessary when you lose like this.”

It remains to be seen when the changes will occur. Some may happen before the March 1 trade deadline, others may wait for the offseason.

But changes are coming, there’s no real doubt about it anymore.

Related: Fixing the Avs’ defense through trades will prove tough

Bobrovsky feeling ‘really good right now,’ and that’s great news for the Jackets

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LOS ANGELES — Sergei Bobrovsky is still feeling great. Though only five goalies have started more games than he has this season, he insists he’s not tired. And more importantly, his groin hasn’t acted up again.

“Last season was tough, especially with injuries,” the Blue Jackets’ star netminder said today. “So far, I’m happy that I’m healthy. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’m just happy to play hockey, being around the guys, with my teammates.”

Bobrovsky was limited to just 37 starts in 2015-16. He’s already made 39 this season, and Columbus still has 34 games to go.

“I love to play, I love the game,” he said. “I feel really good right now.”

Read more: Keeping Bobrovsky healthy is ‘a huge priority’ for Columbus, and for good reason

Bobrovsky doesn’t know if the weight he dropped during the offseason (almost 20 pounds, so not an insignificant amount) has helped him stay healthy. But he’s glad he decided to do it.

“I just felt I would have more of an advantage, being lighter and quicker,” he said.

His numbers, 28-9-2 with a .929 save percentage, certainly support that notion. In fact, only Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk might have a stronger Vezina Trophy case at this point.

Bobrovksy is likely to remain busy after the break. The Jackets lost their veteran backup, Curtis McElhinney, on waivers to Toronto, and youngsters Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg still have some developing to do.

“I’m happy to help my teammates at any time,” said Bobrovsky. “It’s good that the organization and the coach trusts me and that they put me in lots of games.”

Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

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LOS ANGELES — John Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and there’s plenty of talk around the league about his future.

But based on what Tavares said today, all that talking may be a waste of time. The New York Islanders’ captain, one of the best centers in the game, said he’s open to negotiating a contract extension this summer.

The CBA allows him to sign one on July 1.

“Yeah, of course. Yeah, for sure,” Tavares said. “I mean, I’ve always stated how much I enjoy playing on Long Island, and the organization, how well they’ve supported me. Obviously, we’ve had some new ownership come in. They’ve brought some real good commitment and show their vision for the future. I’m excited about where the Islanders are headed, and hopefully we can work something out.”

Of course, Tavares understands there’s going to be speculation regardless of what he says.

“It is what it is,” he said. “Obviously, my contract’s coming up in a year and a half. People are talking, but all I can do is just focus on playing the game and try to make the playoffs. … It’s obviously been an up-and-down year for us and (head coach Jack Capuano) getting let go wasn’t easy.”

But Tavares doesn’t see this season’s struggles as emblematic of a problem with the franchise. He’s committed to the Isles, and he believes the Isles are committed to winning.

Related: All of a sudden the Isles are back in the playoff race

Gretzky credits more athletic goalies for making it so darn hard to score

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LOS ANGELES — In 1981-82, when Wayne Gretzky scored an NHL-record 92 goals, the Vezina Trophy went to Islanders legend Billy Smith.

Smith, a fiery competitor who Gretzky knew all too well, was listed at 5-foot-10, and that was about average height for a goalie in those days. A few, like Mike Liut, were tallish. But many others, like 5-foot-7 Richard Brodeur, whom a teammate once described as “this fat little guy,” were downright short.

In today’s NHL, 5-foot-10 is about the bare minimum for a goalie. Any shorter and he’d better be some sort of spectacular to even get a chance to play in the league.

And today’s goalies, according to Gretzky, are the biggest reason it’s so hard to score now. Most of them are over six feet, and many, like Ben Bishop and Devan Dubnyk, are well over six feet.

“It used to be, and I say this in a nice way, the chubby guy was the goaltender because he couldn’t skate,” said Gretzky, “and now the goalies are the best athletes on each team. It’s harder to score. It’s really difficult. That’s the way it is right now.”

Indeed, it’s not just the height of modern-day goalies. It also that they’re more athletic than ever, and their techniques have evolved to the point that many of the goals Gretzky used to score would be routine stops.

The nets, meanwhile, are the same size today as they were when The Great One was piling up scoring records and his Oilers were averaging over five goals per game.

And there’s shot-blocking today. Lots of shot-blocking.

And everyone back-checks.

“The game has changed. Obviously it’s more defensive now,” said Gretzky, who spoke to reporters alongside Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr ahead of tonight’s NHL100 event at Microsoft Theater.

But for the record, Gretzky wouldn’t concede that everything was easier for scorers back in his day.

“They get more power plays now,” he said with a smile. “We used to get one five-on-three every 10 weeks, now we get three a game. That’s pretty nice. And three-on-three in overtime, I like that, too. The three of us would have been pretty good in three-on-three.”

Comparing the eras

1981-82: Billy Smith won the Vezina with a save percentage of .906
2015-16: Braden Holtby won the Vezina with a save percentage of .922

1981-82: 10 players scored 50 or more goals, led by Gretzky’s 92
2015-16: One player scored 50 goals, Alex Ovechkin

Coyotes head into All-Star break on three-game win streak

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Their chances of making the playoffs are basically nil, but the Arizona Coyotes are feeling a lot better about themselves after going into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak.

The Coyotes put together a defensive masterpiece Thursday in a 3-0 win over Vancouver. Forget about surrendering a goal, the Canucks didn’t even get their first shot until the ninth minute of the second period.

“You look at our young players, and they’re starting to play like good NHL players,” head coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic. “When you get that, your team looks like a better team.”

It wasn’t that long ago that veteran neminder Mike Smith tore into the Coyotes after a lackluster loss in Edmonton.

And now?

“We definitely have played better as of late and it’s definitely calmed the workload down for me significantly,” Smith told reporters Thursday. “That just shows the good things we’ve done in front of me and the work we’ve put in to get better.”

Lawson Crouse, 19, got the winner against the Canucks. He’s racked up seven shots in the last three games.

Alexander Burmistrov, 25, tallied the insurance marker. He now has six points (1G, 5A) in six games since being claimed off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets.

Tobias Rieder, 25, and Christian Fischier, 19, have also been finding the back of the net.

 

It’s a good thing the youngsters are starting to find their way, because the Coyotes could soon be unloading some veterans. Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal, and Radim Vrbata are all pending unrestricted free agents who could be sold as rentals before March 1.