Yandle improving after ‘adjustment period’ with Rangers

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With a goal and an assist, Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle had one of his more productive outings in Saturday’s 6-1 victory over the Devils.

The fact he was named third star must have been a nice bonus for the 28-year-old, given it hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions since being traded from Arizona prior to the deadline.

According to coach Alain Vigneault, it’s natural for players to endure an “adjustment period” before they get comfortable with new teammates.

“How quick guys get available, how quick they get into open ice,” Vigneault explained ahead of tonight’s game against Columbus (video).

“Keith’s a real smart player, real good with the puck. Every day he’s gotten a little bit better at understanding when it’s the opportunity, when it’s a good percentage to jump in, to stay back, etc. And I think as we move forward here, he’s only going to get better.”

Yandle has also been playing considerably less for the deeper Rangers (19:22 per game) than he did with the Coyotes (23:55). That’s probably been an adjustment, too.

On top of that, he’s called the defensive system the Rangers play “much different” than he was used to in Arizona.

“You have to try to take time and space away no matter what side of the ice,” he said, per the New York Post. “You get the puck back and go.

“There’s so much skill here, and everyone works so hard. The will, the effort; it’s a fun system to be a part of. Everyone has 100 percent bought into AV’s system.”

Yandle’s real value will be measured in the playoffs. For example, can he help a power play that’s scored just four times in the Rangers’ last 18 games? That would go a long way to proving his worth.

Tonight against the Jackets, Yandle is expected to start on the third pair with Matt Hunwick.

Goalie Nods: Halak looks to bump slump vs. Sabres

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Halak gets the nod for the Isles

Jaroslav Halak will look to get back on track against the lowly Buffalo Sabres Saturday night. Halak has lost two of three starts while allowing 10 goals on 101 shots. He gave up three goals on 39 shots in the Islanders 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus on Thursday. New York has lost four of five, but can clinch a playoff berth with a regulation win tonight.

Andrey Makarov gets the start for Buffalo.

Elsewhere…

Penguins at Blue Jackets: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

Canucks at Jets: Eddie Lack vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Red Wings at Wild: Jimmy Howard vs. Devan Dubnyk

Devils at Rangers: Cory Schneider vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Lightning at Panthers: Ben Bishop vs. Roberto Luongo

Capitals at Senators: Braden Holtby vs. Andrew Hammond

Leafs at Bruins: James Reimer vs. Tuukka Rask

Stars at Predators: Jhonas Enroth vs. Pekka Rinne

Sharks at Coyotes: Antti Niemi (unconfirmed) vs. Mike Smith

Flames at Oilers: Karri Ramo vs. Ben Scrivens

Avalanche at Kings: Semyon Varlamov vs. Jonathan Quick

Masterton nominees include Doan, Darling and Dubnyk

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The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player that “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.” It was awarded last year to Rangers forward Dominic Moore, who lost his wife, Katie, to cancer in January of 2013.

This year’s 30 nominees (one for each team) can be found here at the website of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Nominees include Arizona’s Shane Doan, whose bout with Rocky Mountain spotted fever was well-documented; Chicago’s Scott Darling, who started his pro career with the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern Professional Hockey League; and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, whose NHL career has been resurrected in a most remarkable way this season.

Here’s video of Moore from June:

Maurice: ‘Vigneault wanted the electric chair’ for Byfuglien

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Jets head coach Paul Maurice addressed the media Friday, one day after the NHL levied a four-game suspension against Dustin Byfuglien for his nasty cross-check on Rangers forward J.T. Miller.

Maurice, it seems, took issue with two things. One, what he perceived as inconsistency between the Byfuglien ruling and other cross-check suspensions and two, how Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault portrayed Big Buff in the aftermath.

“Vigneault wanted the electric chair, and I’ve got a lot more time for Dustin than that,” Maurice said, per the Winnipeg Sun. “So we will always be a little agitated by what we feel is the unfairness of it.

“From my point of view, though, you can hand out heavier suspensions on all these events. The players will make the adjustment.”

Maurice mentioned a few incidents from this season for comparison purposes, including the cross-check Dallas’ Antoine Roussel landed on Boston’s Adam McQuaid in early February, which resulted in a two-game suspension for Roussel:

As for the Vigneault quote, Maurice appeared to be referring to what the New York bench boss said immediately following Tuesday’s tilt.

“[It was] violent, deliberate, could have broken his neck,” said Vigneault. “It was one of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year.”

What are the Oilers going to do about their goaltending?

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Given the unpredictable nature of goaltending — a notion we’ve been hammering home all season — it seems a bit unfair to bring up something Craig MacTavish said a year ago and hold it against the Oilers’ general manager.

But here’s the quote anyway, made after the Oilers had 1) signed Ben Scrivens to a two-year contract extension and 2) acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim:

“I think anyone who tells you they’re sure about the performance of their goaltenders based on a relatively small sample size, is not likely accurate. But we have two really good options next year and it will be a competitive position, as it always is. When I was driving into the office today, I thought that if we could stabilize our goaltending for next year and check that box off, that was my objective going in.”

Yada, yada, yada, based on their team save percentage of .888, the Oilers have had the NHL’s worst goaltending this season.

That’s right — instead of improving, it’s actually gotten quite a bit worse. Out of 44 goalies that have played regularly this season, Scrivens (.893) and Fasth (.888) rank 42nd and 44th in save percentage, respectively.

Now, two things:

1. The Oilers have defensive deficiencies, no doubt about it. How much that impacts a goalie’s save percentage is up for debate, but there’s sure good reason to believe it doesn’t help.

2. MacTavish wasn’t the only one who thought he’d stabilized the position. And he did acknowledge the unpredictability of goaltending with his “relatively small sample size” disclaimer.

Neither of those things changes the fact the position remains a problem, and how the Oilers try to solve the problem will be interesting to watch. Scrivens has one year left on his contract, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent. Fasth can become unrestricted this summer. There’s no obvious option in the AHL; 22-year-old Laurent Brossoit is developing nicely, but he’s still just a prospect.

So, assuming Fasth isn’t back, the Oilers will need to go out and get a goalie.

One name that’s been bandied about is Kings backup Martin Jones. Of course, the risk there is his limited body of work in the NHL, just like it was with Scrivens and Fasth.

Instead of going the “promising backup playing behind an entrenched starter” route (Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta fall in that category as well), it may behoove the Oilers to acquire a more experienced netminder, similar to what the Canucks were thinking when they brought Ryan Miller aboard last summer.

So, would Antti Niemi be worth talking to when he becomes a UFA this summer? He’s not the most exciting option, but there’s something to be said for consistency:

source:

Or, if not a free agent, might the Oilers be able to pry Eddie Lack out of Vancouver? It’s unlikely the Canucks will be able to keep Miller, Lack and Jacob Markstrom past this season.

Unfortunately for MacTavish, there just isn’t a glaringly obvious candidate for him to pursue. Not one that we can think of anyway.

In a cruel twist for Oilers fans, the most sought-after UFA goalie this summer will probably be — yep, you guessed it — Devan Dubnyk.

Related: ‘Amazing how quickly we regained our confidence’ with Dubnyk, says Wild GM