Jason Brough

AP

Sutter pins loss to Coyotes on Budaj

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Peter Budaj has been a great story for the Los Angeles Kings. The 34-year-old goalie wasn’t even supposed to be in the NHL this season, until an injury to Jonathan Quick forced him into action. Budaj has 26 victories, tied for seventh most in the league with Henrik Lundqvist.

All that being said, Budaj has struggled in his last four outings, surrendering 16 goals in all. Last night, his coach called a spade a spade after a 5-3 loss to Arizona in which the Kings outshot the Coyotes 44-22.

“I don’t think our goaltending was very good tonight,” said Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “Big saves and bad goals are the difference in most hockey games now.”

Sutter added, “I’m sure [Budaj] would like to have three of the four goals back.”

The fifth Coyotes goal was scored into an empty net, sealing the loss for the Kings, who remained one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot.

Quick, meanwhile, is not expected to return until early March, so it’ll be up to Budaj to carry the mail until then.

L.A.’s other goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage and hasn’t made a start in almost a month.

The Kings’ next game is Saturday at home to Florida.

Coyotes ‘capitalize early,’ hold on to upset Kings

AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Arizona Coyotes haven’t had many chances to protect a lead this season. They’re starting to learn what it takes.

Against the desperate Los Angeles Kings, battling to make the playoffs, Coyotes youngsters Brendan Perlini and Jordan Martinook got prime chances to put those lessons into practice.

Perlini scored twice and Martinook added short-handed and empty-net goals in the third period as Arizona held off the Kings’ late attempt at a comeback for a 5-3 win Thursday night.

“If you have a lead more, then you learn more about it,” said Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who made 41 saves. “We’ve been doing that a little bit more. Sooner or later, we’ll figure it out.”

After Tanner Pearson scored midway through the third period to cut the Coyotes’ lead to 2-1, Perlini responded with a clever wrist shot. Dustin Brown‘s goal was answered by Martinook’s short-handed goal.

Both goals were the kind of gut checks that the Coyotes couldn’t – or wouldn’t – have made earlier in the season, Perlini said, but are finally coming as they picked up their fourth win in their last six games.

“It shows how our group has kind of come together,” Martinook said. “They score and we score right back. Obviously it kind of kept going that way.”

Tobias Rieder chipped in with his 13th goal of the season and Oliver Ekman-Larsson picked up a point for the fifth consecutive game with his sixth assist in that span.

Pearson scored twice, Brown had a goal and an assist and Peter Budaj had 17 saves for the Kings, who trail Calgary by one point for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

While the Kings were coming off a four-game road trip and their bye week as Staples Center hosted the Grammy Awards, the Coyotes mustered more energy early on. Perlini scored a power-play goal 4:51 into the first period, and Rieder followed up 16 seconds later.

Perlini initially missed completely on his first shot attempt after Radim Vrbata‘s pass deflected off Drew Doughty, but was able to recover with a shot over Budaj’s left shoulder into the top corner. It was Perlini’s ninth goal of the season and second on the power play.

“We did that against Calgary the other night,” Perlini said. “We knew it’s tough coming off a break, obviously. You don’t have your legs or whatever, so we tried to capitalize early and did.”

Before the Kings could regroup, Alex Goligoski poked the puck from Brown in the neutral zone to start a wild sequence. Rieder scored over Budaj’s right stick side, but the referee initially waived off a clear goal. Josh Jooris then scored as play continued with Budaj buried on his back by a Kings player and a Coyotes player, but it was superseded by Rieder’s initial shot following a video review.

“You fell behind a couple early and you are chasing the game,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “Like I said, we’ve just got to play better. When you are down two, you are just trying to push the envelope as much as you can.”

Pearson finally got the Kings on the board with 11:22 remaining in the third period, only for Perlini to notch his second career multigoal game. Brown followed up his own miss to cut the Kings’ deficit to 3-2 with 8:53 to play, but Martinook delivered on the penalty kill after Smith hit Brown in the face with his stick in a typically chippy divisional rivalry.

Martinook scored into an empty net with 1:25 left, but Pearson made it a two-goal deficit again with 23 seconds remaining.

 

Pre-game reading: Sakic talks trade speculation

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— Up top, Kevin Shattenkirk addresses the trade rumors that have been following him for a while now. With five straight wins, Shattenkirk’s Blues are rolling under new coach Mike Yeo, and that’s going to make for an interesting deadline decision for GM Doug Armstrong.

— Avalanche GM Joe Sakic isn’t going to make a trade just to say he did. “If it’s the best possible deal for us long term, we’ll look at that possible deal and make that decision. But … it’s not going to be, ‘Let’s do it and shake things up.’ It has to be what’s best for the Avalanche.” Sakic has a tough challenge ahead of him. He desperately needs to address the Avs’ defense, and that’s not an easy thing to fix, even with chips like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog to play. (Denver Post)

— Expect to see a fair number of draft picks thrown around at the deadline. But what if that draft pick turns into a star? Sportsnet’s Sean McIndoe lists 10 such occasions, starting with the third-round pick the Jets sent the Canadiens in 1984 that turned into Patrick Roy. (Sportsnet)

— The Associated Press delves into all the short-side goals that are being scored in the NHL these days, and how it relates to the Reverse-VH technique that goalies use to stop sharp-angle shots. Says goaltending analyst Justin Goldman: “The problem is because goalies rely on this stance so often, they’re dropping down into it before the puck is actually off the shooter’s stick.” (Associated Press)

— On Senate Bill 1149, a.k.a the Arizona Coyotes’ plan to get a new arena built in a yet-to-be-determined location. As reported by Arizona Sports, “the team would contribute $170 million and the host city $55 million. Another $170 million would be raised through bond sales.” This legislation is obviously key to the team’s survival in the desert. If it doesn’t pass…. well, let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it. (Arizona Sports)

— An interview with Eric Lindros, who apparently still has his Quebec Nordiques jersey, which he keeps in a safety deposit box. Lindros was drafted first overall by the Nords in 1991, but he did not don their jersey, choosing instead to simply hold it. He was eventually traded to the Flyers, but not before another team, the Rangers, got involved in what proved to be a very mess situation. (Yahoo Sports)

Enjoy the games!

Report: Leafs put three players on LTIR, have lots of cap space now

AP

The Toronto Maple Leafs suddenly have a boatload of cap space.

From Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

They quietly placed Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) earlier this season — giving themselves the flexibility to operate more than $15-million above the $73-million cap for the remainder of the year.

That unlocks a world of possibilities in a cap-strapped league, especially since the cap itself is projected to rise only minimally in 2017–18.

It remains to be seen how the Leafs will use the cap space. Last year, one of their deadline moves was taking Brooks Laich’s contract off the Washington Capitals’ hands, for the price of Connor Carrick and a second-round draft pick.

But the Leafs are in a different position this season. They’re currently in the hunt for a playoff spot, and though their focus will remain long-term, if it’s the right deal, there’s at least the ability to be a serious player in the rental market.

The trade deadline is March 1.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has new priorities following a life-saving liver transplant — and renewed focus on some old ones, too.

Away from the rink, he’s taking up a close-to-home fight. Melnyk launched his new foundation, The Organ Project, on Wednesday, with an aim on ending wait lists for transplant patient. Melnyk received a live liver donation in May 2015 and wants to take an active role in creating more awareness about organ donation.

Meanwhile, at Canadian Tire Centre, Melnyk’s hockey team is making a push for the postseason.

In the 14 years since he bought the Senators, Ottawa has played in the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2007. Since then, Ottawa has not made it past the second round.

Entering Wednesday night’s games, the Senators (29-19-6) were tied for second place in the Atlantic Division. A postseason berth is a real possibility, and Melnyk sees reason to be hopeful.

“I think now, finally, (we) have dug out of a three-year hole,” he said. “It was kind of sad. One out of three years you get into the playoffs, and you get blown out and the others you don’t get in. Now it’s exciting.

“I just think we have the potential, first, of getting into the playoffs and secondly, potentially going into the second, third and even the fourth round. I think finally I’ve become optimistic cautiously.”

With the trade deadline two weeks away, the Senators are still interested in adding a few pieces. However, Melnyk said he would wait until after Saturday’s game against Toronto before sitting down with general manager Pierre Dorion to discuss how to proceed.

“Did you see what they want for (Colorado forward Matt) Duchene and stuff? Oh my God,” Melnyk said. “It’s going to be silly because there’s so many competitive teams, especially in our conference. From bottom to top, even if I was at the bottom I’d still have hope. I think it will be way too expensive, and we’re not going to jeopardize our future. Everyone wants our young stars and I don’t blame them.

“I think we’re going to be smart about it to build a longterm base and a longterm team, but we’re urgently wanting to win of course.”

Melnyk said he’s not opposed to bringing in a player or two, but doesn’t want to spend excessively. He added that team payroll is connected to how well the Senators can draw on home ice.

Over 31 home games this season, the Senators have averaged 16,336 spectators at Canadian Tire Centre. That’s well below the arena’s capacity of 18,572.

“It’s a catch-22,” he said. “You need more people to come to the games to spend more to get a better team and the better your team is the more people come.”

Melnyk is also hopeful the league will soon announce an outdoor game for December.

“We’re done as far as the Senators are concerned, we’re all in,” he said. “We’ve made our deals. I think all the other parties, which includes the city, OSEG, the NHL, they have to do their deal. That’s the only reason. We’re done. We’re in. I want to do it. I’m excited about it.”