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AP/CP survey: Players pan delay of game, goalie interference

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The pace and excitement of 3-on-3 overtime isn’t just a thrill for hockey fans – NHL players love it, too.

An Associated Press/Canadian Press survey of NHLPA representatives from all 31 teams found that 97% of those polled enjoy the league’s current overtime format during the regular season. The survey also found there are other rules the players are less thrilled with, ranging from delay-of-game penalties to confusion about goalie interference.

For Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton, the worst rule in hockey is resolving a game with a shootout when overtime fails to produce a winner.

”I don’t really like the shootout,” he said. ”I think you just play 3-on-3 and eventually someone will score.”

The survey found that 30 players like the 3-on-3 setup. Only Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas said he did not, preferring the previous 4-on-4 setup better. He and said having fewer players on the ice is too much like ”summertime hockey.”

”You work your bag off 60 minutes 5-on-5 and then all of a sudden it’s 3-on-3, a speedier, faster guy pretty much wins,” he said. ”I think 4-on-4 would be more hockey-like situations than 3-on-3.”

Still, his peers said they love it. Playing a five-minute 3-on-3 period provides a fair way to end the game while allowing fans to see some pure skill, Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares said.

”(It’s) exciting and you see the best players in the world with that type of time and space,” he said. ”It goes to show it’s a good way to end games. There’s no perfect science to this. We want a winner, but we can’t play forever. It’s a great way to showcase the talent, the skill of the game.”

The pace can be tough for the guys on the ice, New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider said.

”I hate it as a goalie, but I like it as a hockey fan,” he said. ”I think it’s better than the shootout, for sure. And I know it’s not perfect, but it gets you a decision, it gets people excited, you see some amazing skill and the way the league is now, it’s a great showcase for what these guys can do.”

The NHL moved away from 4-on-4 overtime in the 2015-16 regular season in a bid to create more space on the ice, allow for more goals and reduce the number of games going to shootouts. In the postseason, overtime is in 20-minute, sudden-death periods at 5-on-5. There are no shootouts.

Dylan DeMelo of the Ottawa Senators loves 3-on-3, but said there is one tweak he’d like to make. The defenseman said he wants to see a rule that would stop players from taking the puck over center ice and then back again to regroup. He thinks that would make OT even more entertaining.

There are a number of other rules players would love to see changed, including 63.2 that stipulates a delay of game penalty when a puck is shot or batted over the glass.

”I don’t think it should be a penalty. I think it should be the same as an icing. Whistle, faceoff in your end, no ability to change,” said Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole, one of five players (16%) who said the rule is the worst in hockey. ”A penalty for a play that has a high chance to happen in a course of a game or a (penalty kill) or whatever, it seems a little drastic.”

For other players, the uncertainty around what constitutes goalie interference is particularly irritating. Three players, or 10% of those in the survey, said the inconsistency was their least-favorite part of the NHL rule book.

”What is goaltender interference and what’s not?” said Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse. ”Maybe having more of a clear line, but any time you talk about something within the game, things happen so fast out there that judgment calls and whatnot, they’re hard to make.”

According to the league, there are only two situations where goaltender interference should result in a disallowed goal: if an attacking player stops the goalie from being able to move freely within his crease or defend his goal, or an attacking player intentionally or deliberately makes contact with the goalie.

Some players say what counts as interference in one game might not be the same in the next.

On Friday, Flyers goalie Cam Talbot tweeted his dissatisfaction with how the rule was applied in the Maple Leafs’ 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins.

”Once again the NHL goalie interference review is flawed,” wrote Talbot, who was not part of the AP/CP survey. ”Someone that’s played the game in the blue paint should be in the situation room. Games are being lost in the playoffs and it’s not right. (hash)inconsistent.”

Three players said what they most dislike are offside reviews. Nine others named other rules, including tripping being called alongside diving, and the ban on time outs being used when the puck is iced. Eleven players did not provide a specific answer.

”Rules are the rules. I just follow them,” said winger Anders Lee of the New York Islanders.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Former Coyotes forward Craig Cunningham returns to the ice

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The sight of Craig Cunningham back on the ice skating after everything he’s been through would have brought a smile to even the most hardened faces.

It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Cunningham collapsed to the ice prior to a game between his Tucson Roadrunners, a team he captained, and the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. He had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital, leaving him in critical condition after his heart stopped beating for nearly 90 minutes.

Hooked up to a ventilator and bleeding from his lungs, Cunningham’s mother Heather Cunningham was certain of he son’s fate.

“I watched my son die right in front of my eyes,” she told to the Arizona Daily Star in an incredible piece a month after the incident. “There was no doubt in my mind. I thought he was gone. From the minute he hit the ice I could tell there was something not right. The waiting was awful. It was the worst. The doctors coming, going, not coming back. Every time they enter the room, you’re like, ‘Is he still here or he didn’t make it?’ It was horrifying.”

(The Arizona Daily Star story goes in-depth, including not-often-used techniques to save Cunningham’s life)

Craig defied the odds. He’d end up losing his left leg in the process, a result of the heart attack that nearly killed him.

And it’s his story that makes the following video that much more incredible:

That’s the former Boston Bruins and Arizona Coyotes player working on his crossover step as he skates in a figure-eight pattern with his prosthetic leg. If you scroll over in the Instagram post you can see the skate attachment that he wore.

Cunningham’s caption to the video thanked the AHL’s San Diego Gulls for the ice time.

“Only 365 days until next season,” he wrote.

Cunningham’s stride looks fantastic, and he even made a nice cut in the video.

Skating backward, however?

“I still can’t skate backwards,” he said.

In due time.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Coyotes’ Kuemper leaves game after taking stick blade through mask

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Allowing a go-ahead goal in a must-win game and losing your goalie to a freak injury is the definition of a double whammy and a nightmare realized for the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Trevor Lewis broke a 1-1 tie with a backhand goal past Darcy Kuemper early in the third period, and while he was getting ready to lift his stick to the heavens in celebration, the blade of it caught one of the eye holes in Kuemper’s mask.

The result sent Kuemper, a godsend for the Coyotes after losing Antti Raanta to injury, sprawling to the ice. The 28-year-old netminder laid face down on the ice for a while as a trainer tended to him. He managed to get to his feet, holding a towel over his right eye area as he skated off to a standing ovation from Coyotes fans.

Calvin Pickard, who has played since March 11, took Kuemper’s place.

The Coyotes ruled out Kuemper for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.

UPDATE: Well, sort of. There wasn’t really one after the game.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Coyotes sign Schmaltz to seven-year contract extension

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Coyotes have signed Nick Schmaltz to a seven-year contract extension.

Financial terms of the deal announced Saturday were not disclosed.

The 23-year-old Schmaltz arrived in the desert in a November trade that sent forward Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago.

Schmaltz got off to a strong start with the Coyotes, scoring five goals with nine assists in 17 games, but went down with a season-ending knee injury in December. He recently started skating as part of his rehabilitation.

Schmaltz had career highs of 21 goals and 31 assists in 78 games with the Blackhawks this season. He had seven goals and 18 assists in 40 combined games this season.

Schmaltz has 34 goals and 71 assists in 179 career games.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Grubauer extraordinary as Avalanche extend wildcard lead

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‘Gruuuuu’ will be the soundtrack to the Arizona Coyotes’ nightmares tonight when they lay their heads down to sleep tonight.

Enter Sandman? Nah. Enter Philipp Grubauer.

An incredible 42-save effort, one that included Grubauer shaking off two third-period goals that brought the Coyotes level with the Colorado Avalanche in the final eight minutes game, gave the Avalanche a crucial 2-1 shootout win in a pivotal game that may have just settled the wildcard race in the Western Conference.

Colorado’s big offseason acquisition pulled through in the clutch. He survived a 20-shot barrage in the third, stopped three shots in overtime and then turned aside Nick Cousins, Alex Galchenyuk and then Vinnie Hinostroza with a sprawling right-pad save in the shootout to put the Avs three points ahead of the Coyotes with four games to go.

Is it over for the Coyotes? It’s probably a bit too early to say that, but the Avalanche hold the keys to their own playoff destiny now, and no one but themselves and prevent them from unlocking that final spot in the Western Conference.

Arizona certainly showed some poise facing a 2-0 deficit in the second half of the third frame.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

With exactly 8:01 remaining in the third period, the Coyotes and their season appeared to be evaporating quickly.

With exactly 8:00 left in the frame, their Oliver Ekman-Larsson threw them a lifeline.

A captain’s goals if there ever was one, OEL pulled the Coyotes to 2-1. But the Coyotes were still in need of another here. Or the same one. That’d work.

And with exactly 49 seconds left and the net empty 200 feet the other way, OEL did it again to at least secure a point.

Darcy Kuemper turned in a big performance of his own, making 25 saves, including a couple biggies on Nathan MacKinnon, who was flying.

The return of Gabriel Landeskog after a nine-game absence with an upper-body injury was a big boon to the Avs, who are also without Mikko Rantanen. Landeskog provided the assist on MacKinnon’s 1-0 goal.

Derick Brassard even scored, with the trade deadline acquisition finding a big goal.

Both of Colorado’s goals came on the power play, significant because the Coyotes came into the game with the NHL’s best penalty kill. Arizona didn’t give the Avs much five-on-five, so the extra room to breathe on the power play played a critical role.

Colorado has St. Louis, Edmonton, Winnipeg and San Jose left on their schedule. The way Friday’s game shook out was the worst-case scenario for the Minnesota Wild, who are also in the fight four points back after a big win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday. Minnesota meets Arizona on Sunday.

The race isn’t over, but some clarity was gained.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck