Flyers GM Paul Holmgren holds closed door meeting, gives team ‘that look’

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Obviously, the Philadelphia Flyers are in a more comfortable spot today than they were around this time last year. Yet in an odd way, last season’s team might have had more confidence – or at least more momentum – even though they were fighting for their playoff lives while the 2010-11 edition have been a sure thing for quite some time.

With a mediocre 3-4-3 mark in their last 10 games and losses in 13 of their last 19, the Flyers keep meandering through the last days of the regular season, a slump that will likely force them out of the top seed in the East. They might even lose their grasp on the Atlantic Division title, too, because the Pittsburgh Penguins only trail them by one point with both teams having two games left. (Although the Flyers hold the tiebreaker advantage, so it’s more like a two point lead.)

The Flyers didn’t get to where they are by floating through tough times, so it’s no surprise that their imposing general manager Paul Holmgren decided to hold a closed door meeting with the team. CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio reports that players said the meeting was very business-like, although Scott Hartnell provided this amusing quip.

“Paul Holmgren can be a scary guy,” said Scott Hartnell. “Especially, when he gives you that look.”

This post’s main image provides a great example of “that look” even if it was proudly more intense since cameras weren’t focused on his face. (It’s OK if you flashed back to your worst P.E./high school sports memories because of that photo, by the way.)

Veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell gave a more descriptive explanation of the meeting, though.

“It was productive,” Sean O’Donnell said. “Everyone wants to get on the right page. This is a game, but it is also a business. They’ve invested a lot in this team and we have a good team here.

“We have all the pieces. It’s a matter of getting everyone on the right page to go through a run here in April, May and June. It was very productive. It wasn’t bad or calling anyone out, it was, ‘guys let’s wake up here.’ ”

Obviously, being properly motivated will be important to Philadelphia’s success, so don’t be surprised if they play better hockey in the playoffs. At the same time, they cannot assume that they can take a “light switch” approach to preparing for the big games.

Then again, the most obvious way to improve is to add Chris Pronger back into the mix, though. Panaccio reports that Pronger still isn’t sure if he will be ready for the team’s first playoff game, but also seemed to be in a jovial mood today.

If opposing teams know anything, it’s that a happy Pronger often means an unhappy opponent. In a way, it’s the opposite of “that look” from Holmgren.

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.