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Olympics give goalies chance to paint country all over masks

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The top of Florence Schelling’s goalie mask looks like a red toque, or boggan, with a gondola climbing the sides over the Matterhorn. A train chugs along the jaw line, while chocolate, cheese and a watch decorate the back.

Then there’s the Swiss cross over the chin and ”SUISSE” across the forehead.

Somewhere else that might be too much. Not for Schelling.

”I’m here to represent Switzerland, so it has to scream Switzerland all over,” Schelling said.

Goaltenders are the only players in Olympic hockey allowed to get truly creative with such things. Their teammates are stuck with helmets featuring basic colors, uniform numbers and a small flag decal representing their country. Goalies decide what they want, then turn to artists who can air-brush their visions onto the hard-plastic helmets used to protect heads from those screaming pucks and wayward sticks.

”Anyone who plays goal, it’s our second Christmas,” said Canadian goalie Ben Scrivens, whose second helmet features a custom black-and-red maple leaf mask for the Olympics.

Playing in the Olympics means representing an entire nation, so International Olympic Committee rules limit exactly what goes on a helmet and anything deemed political, religious or racial propaganda is barred. The IOC tells athletes the rule is intended to keep them focused on their performance, limit commercialization and prevent the games from being used for protests.

All that aside, issues still come up.

There were questions whether changes might be in store for U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley, who has the Statue of Liberty covering the left side of her helmet, or fellow goalie Alex Rigsby, who also has an image of the statue on her helmet. U.S. officials said the masks had been approved and required no modifications.

Others have had to make changes, either to the helmets being worn at the Pyeongchang Games or during the design process. A handful of men’s goalies like Slovenia’s Gasper Kroselj are wearing blank white masks with Pyeongchang 2018 stickers, and goalie Nadezhda Morozova’s helmet is white with red tape across the forehead with the Russians competing only as Olympic athletes from Russia in these games.

Korea goalie Shin So Jung has white tape over a picture of her late father on the back of her helmet, though a beloved late dog remains visible. U.S. men’s goalie Brandon Maxwell wanted to honor former NHL goalie Mike Richter and simply change the New York Rangers to USA. The rules wouldn’t allow that.

”I just kind of wanted to do a little tribute to him, but the IOC’s pretty strict on what goes on the goalie mask, which is fine,” Maxwell said. ”I’m really happy with how mine turned out. I have stars on my pads, so I wanted to stick to kind of a star cluster theme on my mask and throw in some different stripes and colors.”

American goalie David Leggio wanted ”Land of the free, home of the brave” emblazoned on the side of his mask, but that wasn’t allowed. A buffalo to represent Buffalo, New York, was among the ideas he pitched for his helmet.

”You’re a little limited at the Olympics with what you can put on there, what kind of content,” Leggio said. ”We had tried some different stuff that was rejected. I just wanted it to be unique and definitely be patriotic. I think those were the two words I told the designer. I’m really happy with how it came out.”

Leggio does have a feature that could draw the attention of his fellow goalies: Paint on his helmet changes color when the temperature dips below 70 degrees.

”So that was a really nice addition,” Leggio said.

Japanese goalie Nana Fujimoto designed her own helmet using a basic white base to show off Mount Fuji and plum blossoms. Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados’ helmet features the traditional maple leaf, and teammate Ann-Marie Desbiens says she tried to fit as many items from their country onto her helmet as possible.

”As a goalie, we get an amazing opportunity to showcase everything in Canada, so I try to do my best for that,” Desbiens said.

Schelling designed her helmet with fans voting on social media , while Swedish goalie Sara Grahn wanted a yellow handlebar moustache on the right jaw for a little style.

Hensley said U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter had the Statue of Liberty as the centerpiece of her mask at Sochi in 2014 and that they had sent in the design for her helmet.

”As far as I knew, it had been approved, so we put it on there,” Hensley said.

Tossing in the five Olympic rings is another no-no for the IOC that stymied U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski. So he brainstormed for about a week or so with the artist who painted his mask, mixing in some stars and stripes.

”It’s pretty simple, but I think it goes well with our uniforms and everything, so I just wanted to kind of be simple and not stick out too much,” Zapolski said. ”It’s about this team. It’s not really about me, so I’m happy to have just our team logo on it and the stars and stripes. It’s patriotic, I think, to have that, and hopefully we can do some pretty cool things here.”

AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

 

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

The Buzzer: Streaks good and bad around NHL; Leafs turn the page

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Turning over new Maple Leafs

One streak did end, although Sheldon Keefe has to hope that his NHL head coaching career will begin with a streak that goes beyond a debut win. The Maple Leafs ended their losing streak at six games by beating the Coyotes 3-1 in their first game after Mike Babcock fired. Read up on that win here.

From hot streaks to cold

The Islanders maintained their now-franchise-record breaking point streak of 16 games by beating the Penguins in overtime. In doing so, the Isles are also on a five-game winning streak. The Dallas Stars matched that winning streak with their fifth victory in a row, and are pretty hot in their own right, going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re also 12-1-1 in their last 14 contests.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Flames put forth a painful, pitiful effort in dropping their sixth straight loss. The Predators were more competitive in many ways on Thursday, but Nashville has also lost six in a row. Tense times for two teams that expected to be Western Conference contenders.

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Heading into Thursday’s game, Giroux was on a three-game pointless streak, and only had a single point (one goal) over his past six games. The veteran forward exploded with a two-goal, two-assist performance to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes.

Giroux’s two assists were primary assists, and his second goal ended up being the game-winner. He even threw in a 17-10 mark on faceoffs for good measure.

2. Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

Despite a modest 13:19 in ice time on Thursday, Sanford helped lead the charge as the Blues humiliated a flustered Flames team. Sanford scored the game’s first goal (thus getting a GWG) and added three assists during a four-point performance that was almost as impressive as Giroux’s output.

If you’d prefer handing this star to Jordan Binnington for his 40-save shutout, that’s totally understandable.

3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

Florida found itself down 4-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, yet managed to enter the third period down a more palatable 4-2. From there, Ekblad took over, scoring a goal and an assist during the third period, then adding the overtime game-winner to lock up a comeback win for Florida. Like Giroux, Ekblad came into the night’s action on a cold streak, having only managed a goal over seven games.

For me, Ekblad’s little trot after the OT-GWG breaks the tie with other players who scored three points on Thursday:

Highlight of the Night

No doubt about it, that goes Tuukka Rask, whose save rivals Marc-Andre Fleury for the save of the week/month/year. This post has more.

Benn the Bulldozer

On a less busy night, Jamie Benn trucking Mark Scheifele than scoring a pretty game-winning goal would be the top dog. It’s at least worth watching:

Factoids

  • The Panthers have now overcome four-goal deficits to win games twice in 2019-20, joining the 1983-84 Oilers as the only teams to manage such wins twice in the same season, according to NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet notes that the Flames are on a streak of 362:46 without taking a lead, the longest stretch in franchise history. Um, at least they haven’t squandered any leads, then? The Maple Leafs’ run without a lead ended at 446:47 when Tyson Barrie scored the opening goal on Thursday, also according to Sportsnet.
  • Via NHL PR: Cale Makar is the first Avs/Nordiques rookie defenseman to generate at least 15 points in a single month, and sixth overall among the franchise’s defensemen.

Scores

BOS 3 – BUF 2
FLA 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
PHI 5 – CAR 3
CBJ 5 – DET 4
STL 5 – CGY 0
VAN 6 – NSH 3
MIN 3 – COL 2
TBL 4 – CHI 2
DAL 5 – WPG 3
TOR 3 – ARI 1
SJS 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
LAK 5 – EDM 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.