Greed could be good for Winnipeg Jets goalies next season

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When people imply that the Winnipeg Jets are playing with house money this season – or, in other words, that they can have a rough season on the ice but will be spared because of the mere presence in Winnipeg – they’re mostly correct. Of course, those statements cover the team at the box office and in the hearts of fans, but the actual players suiting up during games will face a season-long audition to prove to new GM Kevin Cheveldayoff that they’re a part of the club’s future.

That might be especially true when it comes to their duo of goalies: Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason.* They’d be facing enough pressure just by the regime change alone and their own up-and-down moments during the 2010-11 season, but the interesting thing this is that both goalies are in contract years, so next season will determine their future with the Jets and the NHL overall.

Pavelec’s pressure

Pavelec will go into the 2011-12 season as the probable No. 1 goalie, but he might face more pressure since this is his chance to prove that he has the chops to be a top guy. As you may remember, Pavelec’s season started in a scary way with his out-of-nowhere fainting spell. Amazingly, he played his best hockey shortly after that frightening episode, but his play tapered off toward the end of the season to match the Atlanta Thrashers’ own struggles.

Still, he put up a solid .914 save percentage and 2.73 GAA while going 21-23-9, the best individual numbers of his short NHL career. Pavelec definitely showed some potential during last season, but he’ll need to put together a consistently strong 2011-12 season to convince the Jets’ brass to keep him in the fold.

Mason’s place

Mason has been one of the league’s most underrated 1b/backup goalies the last few seasons, but he fell on his face pretty badly in 10-11, sporting ugly individual numbers (.892 save percentage and 3.39 GAA) with a mediocre 13-3-3 record.

The stakes are probably lower for the journeyman goalie who can grow an all-world beard, although another .892 save percentage-type year might convince many that his days of being NHL-relevant are over. It wouldn’t be surprising if Mason finds himself in another uniform next season, because his main goal is simple: secure an NHL job.

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For what it’s worth, Mason seems confident that the duo will have a strong season in 2011-12.

Mason, who is in Winnipeg training, says fans can expect goaltending to be a strong point.

“I really think we can be a top-notch talent,” he said after skating with local NHL players at the MTS IcePlex Tuesday. “Pav’s an unbelievable talent, a good young goaltender and a great guy. I really enjoyed playing with him last year and this summer I worked a lot on my strength conditioning and I plan to try to push him.”

(snip)

“Last year (Pavelec) had a two-month stretch where, in my opinion, he was a top goaltender in the league,” Mason said. “The last half of the season was different for our whole team … we kind of fell off … but he definitely has the potential to be a great goaltender in this league.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that every year you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve played as little as 10-11 games to 60-some games. I just have to work on performing when it’s my turn.”

Ultimately, I think the dangling carrot of a contract year should propel at least one (if not both) goalies to reach their highest potential. When you consider the fact that they’ll be playing in a hockey hotbed like Winnipeg instead of a struggling market like Atlanta, it’s quite possible that the sheer excitement might help carry them on tougher nights as well. (Of course, the heightened pressure might break them down, instead.)

Either way, it’s one of the more interesting goalie duos to watch since the Jets rank as one of the few teams who haven’t determined their mid-to-long-term future in net just yet. We’ll have to see if greed is good for those goalies.

* This is assuming that David Aebischer doesn’t pull off a serious upset by stealing one of the jobs during a training camp tryout, of course.

The Buzzer: Tatar’s three-point night; Matthews makes more history

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Three Stars

1. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. Two big wins in a row for the Canadiens. Two big nights for Tatar, who now has six points in his last two games. During a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Tatar scored a goal and assisted on two others. Last season, Tatar had only two multi-point games the entire year.

2. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen continued his red-hot start with a pair of goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He now has four goals and eight points through seven games this season, really making most of this opportunity in William Nylander‘s absence.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. A 37-save effort from Anderson helped the Senators dispatch the Dallas Stars 4-1. It was Anderson’s second win in a row and over his last two games he’s stopped 73 of 75 shots faced.

Highlights of the Night

• During their game Monday night, the Senators remembered the late Ray Emery:

• Maxime Lajoie can’t stop scoring. The Senators defensman potted his fourth of the season and now has seven points on the season.

• In his 1,000th NHL game, Tomas Plekanec scored:

• One of Kapanen’s goals was this bank shot:

• Good luck trying to stop this Matt Dumba rocket:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1

Senators 4, Stars 1
Canadiens 7, Red Wings 3
Predators 4, Wild 2

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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.

Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The NHL announced on Monday evening that Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended two games for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct” against Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson over the weekend.

Petterson has been entered in to the NHL’s concussion protocol and is expected to be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as a result of the play.

The incident took place early in the third period of Saturday’s game in Florida and left the Canucks completely furious. Just after Pettersson had dangled around Matheson in the offensive zone, Matheson again encountered the talented rookie along the boards and after checking him, proceeded to slam him to the ice with the puck nowhere near the two players.

Here is the video as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner tried to defend his play on Monday by saying that Matheson is an honest player and that he was just attempting to finish his check hard, while Matheson’s agent said that his client was “surprised” by how light Pettersson is and that it all happened very quickly.

On Monday, Canucks coach Travis Green was still upset about the play and how it resulted in his team losing a bright young star to injury on a play that was not necessary.

“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset, I still am,” Green said. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now, still talking about it.”

Matheson forfeits $52,419.36 in salary and is eligible to return to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday against Detroit.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Crosby, MacKinnon surprise Kenyan hockey team (Video)

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Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon have teamed up before to promote Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and donut shop, but their latest venture saw them help spread the gospel of hockey.

Tim Hortons flew 12 members of Kenya’s senior men’s hockey team to Canada over the summer for a game. The African team, which was formed in 2012 and has set a goal for future Olympic participation, has only been able to play against themselves back home and this would be a new experience playing against an actual opponent.

As the players gathered inside their locker room, which featured brand new equipment and Kenya hockey jerseys, in came the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and Colorado Avalanche star to join their team.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play – for the first time – in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” said team captain Benard Azegere. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

“That’s the best part about the game, just how it reaches so many people in a place like Kenya where you wouldn’t think there’s even ice,” Crosby said on Monday via the Tribune-Review. “To meet people from different places and to share the game that we love to play, I think I had as much fun as any of those guys today.”

The Kenyan Ice Hockey Federation is coming soon, and the men are not alone in their pursuit of a national team. As ESPN.com documented last week, a group of five women make up the Nairobi Ice Lions, who, like the men, see Olympic participation in their future.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Alex DeBrincat is Blackhawks’ next rising star

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Alex DeBrincat spent three seasons between 2014 and 2017 absolutely dominating the Ontario Hockey League. He was one of the most productive and prolific scorers in all of junior hockey during his time with the Erie Otters, and never finished a full season with less than 50 goals or 100 points.

That sort of production, combined with his obvious talent level, should have made him one of the first picks in the 2016 draft class.

It didn’t. Mainly because he was listed at 5-7 and under 170 pounds, making him one of the smallest players in the class and, today, one of the smallest players in the NHL. As he slid out of the first round in 2016 there was always the potential for somebody to get a steal of a player.

That somebody turned out to be the Chicago Blackhawks, who ended up snagging him with the 39th overall pick in the draft.

Today, that pick is looking like one of the steals of that draft.

DeBrincat has been one of the offensive stars for the Blackhawks in the early going this season and already has nine points (including six goals) in the team’s first five games. That comes after a rookie season that saw him finish as the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer. So far, he is one of the most productive players to come out of his draft class as the only players to outscore him have been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mathew Tkachuk, and Clayton Keller, all of whom were among the first seven players taken in the draft.

Only Matthews, Laine, and Keller have been better on a points per game basis.

All of this is a huge development for the Blackhawks.

Given their current salary cap situation they are going to need young players on cheap contracts to fill in around their big-money stars at the top of the lineup. DeBrincat is well on his way to giving them such a player and should be part of the organization’s next wave of young talent. And that next wave seems to have some promising prospects. Along with DeBrincat the Blackhawks are also getting a ton of production out of rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and they also have Adam Boqvist, the No. 7 overall pick from 2018, waiting in the wings.

The lesson that the rest of the teams in the league should take away from this is to never let a player’s size stand in the way of giving them a chance. Over the past decade teams have been far more willing to take “undersized” players than they used to be, but they are still a little too fearful of that lack of size because there was nothing in DeBrincat’s production or play as a junior player that should have resulted in him being anything other than a first-round pick … and probably a very high one. Obviously if all things are equal with players the bigger, more physical player is preferable. But in cases like DeBrincat (and Johnny Gaudreau, and Nikita Kucherov, and so on and so on before him) all things are not usually equal.

DeBrincat has always been a highly skilled player that produced at an obscene level. There was always the potential for him to be a top-line player. A lot of teams couldn’t get past the lack of size and allowed him to slip all the way down to the second round. The Blackhawks were the team to take the “chance” on him and are being rewarded with an emerging star that could be a potential difference-maker for them for a very, very long time.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.