Vancouver Canucks officially confirm Manny Malhotra is cleared to play, listed as day-to-day

4 Comments

In almost every playoff game, a player’s individual toughness emerges to a startling degree. Just look at Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos shaking off a puck to the face as an example that even the “pretty boys” fight through jarring pain.

Even with high expectations for their tolerance to pain, it’s still difficult to get jaded when hockey players keep topping themselves. Rumors were already circulating that Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra was pushing toward a possible playoff comeback, but the team announced that he has officially been cleared to play. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said that Malhotra is day-to-day and would not discuss his lineup for Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. In other words, a Game 1 return isn’t guaranteed, but it remains a tantalizing possibility.

No doubt about it, Malhotra’s comeback would be one of the most unlikely in recent hockey history. There were many people who thought that Malhotra’s career – not just his regular season and playoffs – would end after taking a puck to the eye that required two surgeries.

Who knows how close Malhotra could be to the player he was during the 2010-11 season, but the two-way center could be a great asset for Vancouver in what should be a tight defensive series. He was actually my mid-season pick for the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, a stance that probably left me alone among hockey writers. Still, when you look at Kent Wilson’s breakdown of Malhotra’s importance to the Canucks, it shows just how strong a player he really is/was.

One of the reasons Malhotra is so effective in his “defensive only” role is his incredible ability to win draws. Most of the time I consider face-off skill to be rather unimportant since most players are +/- 50% on the dot. Malhotra, though, is an extreme outlier. This season he finished with a 61.7% win rate, trailing only New Jersey’s David Steckel (62.3%) by that measure. As a result, Malhotra won the second most defensive zone draws amongst centers this season with 296 and he likely only trailed the leader (Steve Ott) because he missed the final 10 games of the year. Malhotra’s win rate in the defensive zone was even higher, a mind-boggling 63.5% at even strength. This is notable because as Gabriel Desjardins has noted in the past, losing a defensive zone draw can spike shots and chances against in the immediate aftermath. As Gabe says “it’s as though you gave the other team a 10-15 second power-play. For several seconds, the rate of shots allowed is as high as it is on a 5-on-3.”

This issue is especially pertinent in one goal games and, obviously, when killing penalties. Naturally, Malhotra also figured prominently on the Canucks penalty kill this season, averaging a team high 2:45 a game a man down. He won the second most draws on the club (136) on the PK behind only Ryan Kesler (138), again primarily because Kesler played the whole season and Malhotra didn’t.

The effect of Malhotra’s absence ripples across the Canucks line-up. It means guys like Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre are forced into more defensively oriented positions at even strength. It means less defensive zone face-off wins in general and it lowers everyone elses zone start ratio across the board.

When you look at the success of strong puck possession teams like the Detroit Red Wings, it’s no coincidence that their systems operate more smoothly when they dominate in the faceoff circle. Malhotra is the kind of player who quietly makes the Canucks’ system work.

Since Rod Brind’amour retired, Malhotra and a few other players (such as Jarret Stoll) are among the truly “elite” guys when it comes to winning key draws. If Malhotra is reasonably healthy, he makes an already formidable Canucks team that much deeper down the middle. We’ll keep you updated if Vigneault reveals lineup information closer to the first puck drop on Wednesday.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

Los Angeles Kings/Juan Ocampo
1 Comment

The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

Leave a comment

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goaltending ‘legend’ Tre White tests hockey knowledge of Bills’ teammates

Bills
1 Comment

Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was bit by the hockey bug after attending a Sabres game last season. He became a big fan of goaltender Carter Hutton, who he mistakenly called “Sutton” at first, and Tweeted out support for the team.

White tried to test the level of his Bills teammates’ hockey knowledge during this week’s episode of “Chill with the Bills.” It features White quizzing his teammates, who weren’t quite up to par. Though, Ed Oliver nailing the butterfly technique after failing at the rest of the test was quite the twist.

A “Louisiana hockey legend”, White was a “hockey All-American” and the “best player in Louisiana history” after not allowing a goal during his high school career, and he was an “inspiration” for Hutton, as the Bills documented earlier this month. White’s love of hockey was first promoted last December when the Bills created a video showcasing his goaltending abilities with a spoof ad for “The Tre’Davious White Goalie Academy of Louisiana at Buffalo.”

It’s quite good.

A Shreveport, La native, White’s hometown team, the Tier II junior Mudbugs, honored him last season during a February game.

Following back-to-back shutouts for Hutton this week and a 5-0-0 record to start the year, White surely has to be proud of his former goaltending protege.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

What’s wrong with the Dallas Stars?

3 Comments

The Dallas Stars were an overtime goal away from playing in the Western Conference Final last year. Unfortunately for them, the St. Louis Blues got a goal from Patrick Maroon in double OT during their second-round matchup last spring and the Stars were sent packing.

But heading into this season, expectations were sky-high for Dallas partly because they managed to sign Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency. Let’s just say they haven’t lived up to the hype so far.

Through eight games, the Stars have gone 1-6-1. Only the Minnesota Wild have collected fewer points (two) than Dallas (three) so far this season.

Look, it’s early enough that head coach Jim Montgomery could get this figured out, but they have to at least be concerned about where this season is heading.

“As frustrated as we are right now, there’s 90 percent of the season left,” goalie Ben Bishop told NHL.com after Wednesday’s loss to Columbus. “There’s still time to fix this ship, but there’s got to be more urgency from everybody from start to end. We’ve got to find ways to get [wins], no matter how it is.”

So what’s gone wrong for Dallas through eight games? What can they correct?

• Where are the Stars’ stars?

Alexander Radulov (four points in eight games), Tyler Seguin (four points in eight games) and Jamie Benn (two points in eight games) simply aren’t producing enough right now. Again, the sample size is small, but it’s hard for teams to win when their three most important offensive players aren’t putting the puck in the net.

That trio has spent a good amount of time together and it should be the best line the team has. There’s no way the Stars can have success if the all three players don’t produce at a 70-plus point clip. Even though it’s encouraging to see a youngster like Roope Hintz take the next step in his development, they still need their three veterans to come through for them.

The Stars are averaging less than two goals per game (they have 15 goals in eight contests) and their 4.2 percent power play isn’t striking fear in anybody. Is the power play being bad tied to their stars’ lack of production? Probably. No matter what the reason is, everyone involved has to get this figured out as soon as possible.

• Where are the new guys? 

The Stars invested big money in Pavelski and smaller dollars on Perry. Let’s just say that the return on investment hasn’t been there for them yet. In Perry’s case, it’s not really his fault. He was forced to miss the first seven games of the year because of a foot injury, but he was finally able to make his season debut on Wednesday night. The 34-year-old finished the game with an even rating and one shot on goal in just under 14 minutes of ice time. He was a nice addition, but not one the Stars were counting on to dominate offensively.

Pavelski is in a different boat. The 35-year-old changed teams for the first time in his career and he’s clearly not as effective as he was as a member of the San Jose Sharks. Pavelski scored his first goal as a Star late in Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jackets. Is that something he can build on? We’re about to find out. But they brought him in to be a secondary scorer behind Benn, Seguin and Radulov. Not only are those three not scoring, but Pavelski is also failing to do his part in that department.

They better hope the veteran figures it out because there’s still another two years left on the free-agent contract he signed in July.

The encouraging thing for Dallas, is that they rank ninth is high danger chances for percentage and they’re 13th in expected goals for percentage. Does that guarantee that the offense is coming? Probably not. But it’s something positive. (Stats provided by Natural Stat Trick)

• Bishop needs to get back to Vezina form

Bishop didn’t necessarily have the heaviest work load last season, but he managed to put himself in the Vezina Trophy discussion thanks to a solid season. Yes, the Stars did a great job of limiting high-quality scoring chances, but he still managed to step up when called upon.

Blaming him for the early-season struggles his team is having isn’t necessarily fair. It’s not so much that it’s Bishop’s fault, it’s more that he has to take his game to another level while the offense in front of him is struggling. It’s hard to imagine Dallas winning many games when they score less than two goals per game. The only way they can do that is if their goalie stands on his head.

The 32-year-old has a 1-4-1 record with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage this season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.