Anze Kopitar

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Andrei Vasilevskiy makes probable save of the year (Video)

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Shut it down.

It’s over.

Let’s go home.

There are another 10 months to go before the end of the year and nearly a full season of combined hockey, including the playoffs, but the save of the year has likely been decided on this, Feb. 10, 2018.

Yes, that’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy this year, casually reaching around to get a glove on Anze Kopitar‘s wrist shot into what looks like an open cage.

Nope.

Instead, Vasilevskiy commits some of the finest robbery seen.

It’s just so majestic.

The save is just bonkers, the front-runner for save of the year, and one that will likely take divine intervention to dethrone at this point.

Ay Caramba


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

What happened to the Los Angeles Kings?

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They were doing so well, those Los Angeles Kings.

And it wasn’t that long ago, either.

Back on Jan. 4, these same Kings were tied for the second spot in the whole of the Western Conference. Hell, they were knocking on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s door at the summit of the league.

That night, the streak began.

Now, the Kings are fresh off their latest defeat, a narrow 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night. It was Los Angeles’ sixth straight loss and their second to the rival Ducks in less in a week.

But why?

Why has a team that looked so dominant prior to this fallen off a proverbial cliff so quickly?

Perhaps fans could blame Jonathan Quick.

He’s lost his past five starts now, allowing three goals or more in four of them. But while his numbers might be in a little bit of decline, it’s hard to pin the Kings’ woes on a man who’s sporting a .924 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average.

We must look deeper.

There we find some issues with getting the rubber puck in the back of the net.

When the streak began, the Kings were scoring. They posted three goals in each of their 4-3 losses to the Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators – tight games that may have gone another way depending on a bounce or two. But since then, they’ve scored two, one, one and one in their past four, respectively.

Winning hockey games where you score one goal and expect your goalie to stop a barrage of shots is, well, nearly impossible in today’s NHL.

The lack of scoring is perhaps the Kings’ biggest problem. They simply need more of it.

They’re a team that ranks among the top in goal differential. They have a starting netminder that gives them a chance to win nearly every night.

Yet, when Anze Kopitar registers just two markers in 15 games, it’s not exactly helping. And when a resurgent Dustin Brown stops surging with just three goals in his past 16 games, it’s not helping. And when 18-goal man Tyler Toffoli has one goal in his past seven games… you get the picture.

Scoring is a must. No one needs to be told this, let alone the Kings who have won a couple Stanley Cups in recent years.

The good news: those scoring slumps likely won’t last.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kings, Kopitar ‘not even in the ballpark’ on new contract

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Anze Kopitar is heading into the last year of his deal, and eligible to sign an extension at any time.

Just don’t expect that “any time” to be “anytime soon.”

From LA Kings Insider:

The Kings and Kopitar are are “not even in the ballpark” in their discussions, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told LA Kings Insider over email when asked whether the two sides were “close” to reaching an agreement.

Kopitar, 28, is making $6.8 million annually on his current deal, which expires next July. Given his status as one of the NHL’s elite centers, it would stand to reason his camp’s initial ask is sky-high; he’s big, he’s strong, he’s won a pair of Stanley Cups, been a Selke finalist two years running, topped 60 points in each of the last two seasons and, for his career, has 60 points in 70 playoff games.

Bottom line? Kopitar is going to get paid.

The question is how much.

One would think the bar’s been set by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews who, starting next year, will pull down $10.5 million annually. Another comparable would be Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who pulls in $9.5M per season.

The hangup, of course, is that Los Angeles might not have a ton of financial flexibility in the future. Dustin Brown’s deal, a $5.875M cap hit that runs through 2022, gets more onerous by the day and there’s still no clear picture if the termination of Mike Richards’ contract will hold up after the NHLPA’s grievance is heard.

Still, it’s hard — impossible even — to envision a scenario where Kopitar doesn’t get extended. Top-line centers are some of the most coveted entities in the NHL and, in a Western Conference featuring the likes of Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Tyler Seguin, Kopitar carries immense value.

The real question now, it seems, is if the Kings and Kopitar can avoid the distraction of entering the season without a new deal in place.

Wild’s biggest question: Who will step up at center?

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In addition to whether Devan Dubnyk can replicate his 2014-15 season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Minnesota Wild heading into this season is at center.

According to NHL.com, Wild centers were amongst the least productive in the league last season combining for 49 goals. Captain Mikko Koivu led the way with 14 goals while Mikael Granlund accounted for just eight goals.

In order to improve in this area they’ll need more from Granlund – the 23-year-old, who centered a line with Jason Pominville and Zach Parise last season, will be expected to contribute more offensively.

“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund to be an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” GM Chuck Fletcher said after signing Granlund to a new two-year, $6 million deal in July. “He is going to take off here over the next two years.”

The Wild also believe Charlie Coyle can be a full-time center. Speaking with Mackey and Judd on ESPN radio in Minnesota last week, Mike Yeo said Coyle would start the season at center.

Coyle scored 11 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season.

“You look at a guy like David Backes, for instance, he’s a centerman, he’s pretty much a fulltime centerman right now, but he spent a lot of time bouncing around,” said Yeo. “I like (Coyle’s) improvement at center last year, in particular, in his defensive game, I know he’s a real reliable guy especially to have a big body like that. You can throw him out there against an Anze Kopitar, who is (6-foot-3) and (225-pounds), you know he’s not going to get out-muscled down low. That’s a real valuable thing to have.

“What’s important for him now is if he can take another step offensively playing that position.”

More will also be expected of Erik Haula. The 24-year-old, who signed a two-year extension earlier this month, took a step back last season. Haula scored six goals and 15 points in 46 regular season games during the 2013-14 season. He added four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

Last season, Haula managed to score just seven goals and 14 points in 72 games.

“Just because he had a bit of a down year last year, we’re certainly not ready to give up on him because we’ve also seen the flip side,” said Yeo. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of and it’s just a process that these young kids have to go through.”

The Wild also lost Kyle Brodziak in free agency. The 31-year-old was amongst the top-scoring centers in Minnesota last season with nine goals.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Mike Reilly

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?

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Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure