Jeff Carter

Panthers leading goalscorer Bjugstad (back surgery) ‘feeling 100 percent’

3 Comments

For the most part, this was a tremendous year for Nick Bjugstad, who scored a career-high 24 goals and inked a six-year, $24.6 million extension.

The only downer was the way it ended.

In late March, Bjugstad underwent season-ending back surgery, a procedure that kept him out of Florida’s playoff push and from representing Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.

Thankfully for Bjugstad and the Panthers, recovery is going well.

“Basically, I’m feeling 100 percent,” Bjugstad said this week, per the Panthers website. “I don’t feel any tingling or soreness in my back. They just have to remind me all the time that you can’t rush it, you can’t overdo it right now.

“Just trying to get back into shape which is nice. I feel like I could play a game right now, but obviously they’re not letting me get to that extent.”

The club’s first-round pick (19th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad has been rock solid for the Panthers sign becoming a regular last season, in what was his rookie campaign; the University of Minnesota product led the Panthers in points, with 38, and finished 13th in Calder voting.

This year, Bjugstad proved a quality scorer at even strength — his 17 goals put him on par with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Jeff Carter and Phil Kessel — and averaged a career-high 16:35 TOI under new head coach Gerard Gallant, while gaining invaluable experience from playing alongside veterans like captain Willie Mitchell and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who joined the team at the trade deadline.

“Obviously a big help from the older guys, the team was a whole different dynamic, as far as leadership,” Bjugstad explained. “Who we had playing, we had a lot of winners, Stanley Cup winners on the team. It changed the whole morale and attitude of the team.

“It was good learning a lot from those older guys, they’re all really good with the younger guys. It did nothing but help me this year.”

The Ducks got Kesler for a game like Saturday’s

32 Comments

Yes, the Ducks have lost a Game 7 at home the last two seasons.

And yes, they have another Game 7 at home tomorrow versus the Chicago Blackhawks, with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

But for one simple reason, what happened the last two years doesn’t have much predictive value, according to Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin.

“The last two years, we were a different team,” Beauchemin said. “We were a younger team. We added some players last summer that have been making the difference all year long for our team. Like I said, it’s not going to be the same Ducks that played Game 7 the last two years.”

Anaheim’s major offseason addition was Ryan Kesler, acquired from Vancouver to give the Ducks the kind of one-two punch at center that the Los Angeles Kings — the team that eliminated Anaheim last year on its way to winning the Stanley Cup — boast with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter.

“I think I can fit into this team and be a good No. 2 behind Ryan Getzlaf,” Kesler said in June. ”I’m going to Anaheim to win a championship.”

Adding to the optimism created by the Kesler acquisition, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau remarked: “I’ve never coached a team in the NHL that’s had a second-line center that you’re going to have with Ryan Kesler.”

And for adding Kesler, as well as all the other moves he made, Ducks GM Bob Murray was named a finalist for NHL GM of the year.

So yeah, quite a bit on the line tomorrow in Anaheim. This is exactly why the Ducks got Kesler, for a game like this. To prove that, this year, things are different.

“Our goal wasn’t to get to the conference final. Our goal was to get to the Stanley Cup Final,” said Beauchemin.

“We have a chance to do that in Game 7 here.”

Related: Kesler gives Ducks the Selke Trophy type that Cup champs usually have

Kings sign Pearson to two-year, $2.8M extension

1 Comment

The Los Angeles Kings locked up one of their prized youngsters on Thursday, agreeing to terms with rookie forward Tanner Pearson on a two-year deal.

Per Sportsnet, the contract is worth $2.8 million for an average annual cap hit of $1.4M, which is nearly double what Pearson made on his entry-level deal.

All told, it’s a pretty good arrangement for both the club and player. Pearson, 22, was L.A.’s first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and rose to prominence during last year’s Cup run on “That 70s Line” with Jeff Carter and fellow youngster Tyler Toffoli.

This year, Pearson got off to a great start — he was October’s rookie of the month — and racked up 12 goals in 42 games before suffering a broken ankle in early January. (He’s currently out of the lineup and isn’t expected back until the playoffs… if the Kings make it.)

With Pearson now signed, Kings GM Dean Lombardi will turn his attention to Toffoli and the club’s other pending RFAs: Nick Shore, Andy Andreoff and goalie Martin Jones.

Kings top Rangers as playoff battle tightens

23 Comments

The New York Rangers would have certainly liked to beat their 2014 Stanley Cup Final adversary, especially given how badly Los Angeles needed to win tonight. However, the Kings would not allow New York to slow them down as they claimed a 4-2 victory.

Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot made 31 saves and it would be wrong to put this loss squarely on his shoulders. That being said, he did have some questionable moments tonight, including Robyn Regehr’s goal midway through the first period.

A turnover by Talbot also led to Marian Gaborik scoring early in the second period to give the Kings a 2-1 edge. Jeff Carter was credited with the game-winning marker at 1:05 of the third frame.

Los Angeles has kicked off its five-game road trip with back-to-back wins. The Kings are now tied with the idle Calgary Flames in the battle for the third Pacific Division spot with 86 points. Both squads have nine games remaining, but the Flames have the edge in the tiebreaker ROW so if the regular season ended today, Los Angeles would still be eliminated.

The Kings and Flames are scheduled to play against each other on April 9.

Are the Capitals still just a ‘one-line team?’

18 Comments

The Washington Capitals seem to face an all-too-familiar situation.

The good news is that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are on a tear with Ovechkin leading the league in scoring (73 points) and Backstrom tied for second with 72. Capitals blog Japers Rink’ trots out some interesting new ways to express thoughts like “Yes, Ovechkin’s by far the best player in the NHL when it comes to scoring goals.”

There are great things to be said about Backstrom, too, but Japers’ Rink also provides a familiar “Yeah, but ..” in the fact that, after all these changes, the Capitals may rely on their dynamic duo too much.

Indeed, looking at the Capitals’ top forward scorers, the picture looks remarkably similar to 2013-14, aside from the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom are producing at a better clip.

2014-15 scoring leaders:

Ovechkin – 73 points
Backstrom – 72 points
John Carlson, a defenseman – 47 points
Marcus Johansson and Mike Green – tied at 39 points

2013-14 scoring leaders:

Ovechkin and Backstrom – tied at 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Johansson – 44 points

Look, in a salary cap league, it’s tough to put a team together that won’t see a drop-off from players at the level of Ovechkin and Backstrom. And yes, it at least helps that they’re enjoying contributions from an improved defense.

Still, when you look at some of the league’s most successful teams, they often enjoy strong depth and obvious one-two punches. When Jonathan Toews’ line was ailing, the Chicago Blackhawks could count on Patrick Kane to make magic happen (before he got injured, of course). The Los Angeles Kings saw Jeff Carter light up scoreboards alongside Anze Kopitar’s line.

The way Ovechkin and Backstrom’s playing, it seems like their line can create a goal or two per night. That said, if they make it to the playoffs and a team finds a way to slow them down, will Washington get the offense it needs from other forwards?