King Henrik rules in New York with 300th career win

Josh Elliott
Henrik Lundqvist waves to MSG

Sunday’s game between the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings had special meaning for No. 30 in net for the Blueshirts.

It was Henrik Lundqvist’s 300th career win, a 30-save shutout at home against an Original Six opponent.

Some goaltenders don’t care about such milestones – a win’s a win, after all – but Lundqvist expressed his gratitude to the Rangers faithful via Twitter.

One week after his 32nd birthday, ‘King Henrik’ is already on the verge of two more big Rangers milestones. He’s just one win away from tying Rangers great Mike Richter for first on the franchise’s all-time victories list – a record he’s pretty much guaranteed to eclipse this season.

And, if Lundqvist can register one more shutout, he’ll be in sole possession of first place for that Rangers record. Blanking Detroit tied him for tops with Eddie Giacomin at 49 a piece.

Sunday was a feel-good moment in what’s been an up and down season for Lundqvist. He battled injuries and struggled out of the gate to start the 2013-14 campaign, but his game started to round into form by December.

That’s when he signed a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension to stay on Broadway until 2021.

Lundqvist then starred for Sweden at the Olympics, posting five wins and two shutouts before losing to Canada 3-0 in the gold medal game.

The silver medal may not have been the one he hoped for, but Rangers fans are hoping Lundqvist can turn that clutch Olympic performance into playoff success – something that’s eluded him in his last eight seasons in New York.

Mike Richter has one Stanley Cup ring. If Lundqvist wants to beat that number, he’d better get going.

Predators’ Roman Josi pays reverence to trailblazing countryman & all-world ‘D’ partner

RomanJosi

As he hones his skills alongside one of the planet’s best defensemen, Roman Josi is thankful for a pioneer, countryman and current Philadelphia Flyers blueliner who helped pave the way for Swiss players like him in the NHL.

“At first there were only goalies coming over, but the first (skater) to really make it was Mark Streit,” Josi said. “He really opened the doors for all the young players in Switzerland. He had a tough first season, but fought through it.”

Josi’s path to North American hockey was different than Streit’s, who was 27 when he played his first NHL game. Josi, 23, was drafted by Nashville in the second round (38th overall) in 2008, played a season in the American League in 2010-11 to acclimate to the smaller ice surface, then made the jump to the NHL the following season.

He’s now fully settled in Nashville and is second on the Predators in ice time behind his defense partner, captain Shea Weber.

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Team USA Olympic snub adds fuel to Kyle Okposo’s fire

Adam Proteau
kyle okposo (Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s no soft-pedalling it: Kyle Okposo was hugely disappointed to be left off the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. And he has a good case.

In a year when little has gone right for his New York Islanders squad, Okposo, 25, is well on his way toward demolishing personal bests in goals, assists and points. The seventh overall pick in 2006 must have looked to Team Canada, saw Jamie Benn go from non-summer-orientation-camp-invitee to Olympic team member in a few short months and wondered why he was passed over for the likes of Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie.

When it settled in that he wouldn’t be in Sochi, Okposo did the best thing possible – he took his frustrations out on the ice. In the Islanders’ first game after the Olympic announcement, Okposo scored the overtime winner against Chicago. Team captain John Tavares recognized loud and clear the message Okposo sent.

“I don’t know if he thought (Team USA GM) David Poile’s head was in the net and he was aiming for it,” Tavares told the media.

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Ask Adam: bigger ice, Isles trade assets, and the NHL’s Olympic future

Adam Proteau
Thomas Vanek

The NHL is back in full swing after the Olympic break, but THN’s online mailbag never stops swinging. Thanks for all the submissions.

Adam,

After watching another round of Olympic hockey, once again I really enjoyed watching the game being played on a larger ice surface. Any chance of the NHL going to a larger surface anytime soon? I’m guessing it’s a million-to-one shot, but I can’t be alone here.
Ed Beckmann, Livermore, Col.

Ed,

In this case, I’d say that’s a generous set of odds. I’d also say it was even less likely than that. For one thing, there are many NHL people who will tell you the style of game that’s played on the bigger ice isn’t their idea of entertaining hockey. And to be fair to them, there were certainly some excitement-challenged games in Sochi.

But beyond the change to the on-ice product, the financial costs associated with removing rows of seats would be another obstacle in the way of making the ice dimensions larger. Now, just because teams remove x number of rows, that doesn’t mean they can’t transfer the higher ticket prices to fans in what would be their new front row seats. But there would be fewer people in the arena, which means fewer people at the concession stands.

Former NHLer Bobby Holik has said a number of times that bigger ice would also give players more room to avoid collisions (and by extension, concussions), but I don’t think anybody, Holik included, is expecting the league to make that change. So don’t hold your breath. Read more

Big ice a big failure when it comes to creating offense

Ken Campbell
Kane wraparound attempt

One of the prevailing opinions of the Olympic tournament in Sochi was that, in terms of the quality of hockey and the level of competition, it was not as intense, entertaining or at as high a caliber as it was in Vancouver four years earlier. In reality, it wasn’t even close.

There were a number of reasons for that. One of them, that the atmosphere in Sochi simply couldn’t live up to Vancouver, was indeed valid. (As much as the PA announcer at the Bolshoy Ice Palace tried. One of his classics was, “Who will win? We will know in the nearest of futures.”) The abject failure of the Russians to get beyond their team dissension and play with any sort of consistency was indeed a factor. And, let’s face it, a Canada-Sweden gold medal game doesn’t exactly engender the same kind of intensity that any permutation of Canada, USA and Russia would.

But, by far, the biggest culprit in dragging the tournament down was the international-sized ice surface. After watching Sochi 2014, it would be impossible for anyone to continue to perpetuate the myth that a larger ice surface would create more offense. The Canadian team, which allowed three goals in the tournament and outchanced its opponents badly, proved beyond any doubt that the extra 3,000 square feet afforded by the big ice is largely wasted space.

“People make a big deal of the big ice,” said Canadian defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. “They think it’s going to be a more offensive game and it’s kind of the opposite because all the extra room is on the outside of the rink.”

Duncan Keith remarked after Canada won the gold medal that much of the reason for its defensive success was that any time they were in trouble, they were able to put the puck into an area of the ice where it was a safe distance from the net. And only when Canada learned to adapt by basically playing within the faceoff dots did it really begin to excel in the tournament. In fact, at one point in the tournament, Corey Perry talked about “shrinking the ice…more like an NHL-size rink.”

This is a concept that time and again has failed to register with those who think there is not enough room out on the ice surface. But has it ever occurred to those who advocate for big ice that perhaps offense comes because of the smaller area in which to work? Hockey is indeed a game of skating and skill and panache, but at its core, it is a game that is played in confined spaces. That’s why puck battles in the NHL are so important. Teams that can use their size to win them are often the ones that are most successful. Watch any successful team in the Western Conference – the three California teams, three of the biggest teams in the league, come to mind – and you’ll see that having less space in which to work doesn’t prevent them from being successful.

Individual players such as Daniel Briere have made very lucrative careers with their ability to accomplish great things in confined spaces. And even in Sochi, if you look at most plays around the net, they looked like rush hour in Tokyo, meaning all that extra ice doesn’t help if everyone simply collapses around the net.

And really, if more space equated to more offense, why does soccer have the biggest playing surface and the biggest scoring areas in sports and sometimes struggles to produce one or two goals a game at the highest level?

And for those of you who think this observation is based on the anecdotal evidence of one Olympic tournament, think again. Because if the history of participation of the best players in the world is any indication, the numbers irrefutably back the theory up.

Sochi represented the fifth Olympic Games in which NHLers have participated. Four of those tournaments have been played on international ice and only one of them – Vancouver in 2010 – was played on the 200-by-85-foot surface. If you take the goals per game in games that involved traditional hockey powers only, you’ll notice an interesting trend. (For the sake of this study, only games involving Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were used and goals awarded for winning a shootout were not included.)

In 1988 in Nagano, there were 12 games involving the world’s hockey powers that produced 56 goals for an average of 4.67 per game. In 2002 in Salt Lake, there were 10 games that yielded 46 goals for an average of 4.6 per game. In 2006 in Turin, the 16 games among the seven countries produced 79 goals for a per-game average of 4.94. And the Sochi Games had 12 games and just 52 goals, for just 4.33 goals per game, the lowest the best-on-best format has ever produced.

But in Vancouver, there were 12 games involving those teams that produced 67 goals, or an average of 5.58 per game, meaning Vancouver produced more than 1 ½ goals per game among the hockey powers than Sochi did and roughly between a half and one goal per game more than any of the others.

Would making the ice surface bigger make more room, thus resulting in fewer injuries such as concussions? Undoubtedly it would. But in terms of creating scoring chances, excitement and the opportunity to display skill, it would fail on all counts.

Jamie Benn keeps it rolling with fantastic coast-to-coast shorthanded goal

Jason Kay
Carolina Hurricanes v Dallas Stars

I was at a function last night when a casual hockey fan asked me which NHL team Jamie Benn plays for. Like the rest of the country, the fan was mightily impressed with what Benn accomplished in Sochi and was surprised he didn’t know more about him.

“Is it St. Louis?” he asked. “I don’t see the Blues on TV much.”

If Benn keeps rolling the way he is, all fans, even the most nonchalant, will know exactly where he plays.

Already a household name among serious hockey followers, his stature will soar. The Dallas Stars’ captain went from being a snub at last summer’s Team Canada orientation camp, to a key cog in the gold medal triumph. Both his goals were game-winners and coach Mike Babcock trusted him in critical situations, including on the penalty-kill.

Last night, he again proved what a dangerous weapon he is. On the PK against Carolina, he scored one of the prettier goals of the season, going end-to-end, splitting the defense and beating Anton Khudobin with a deft deke.

He now has 23 goals and 54 points on the season. That doesn’t make him a threat for the Art Ross or Rocket Richard, or even tops in either category on his team (that honor belongs to Tyler Seguin), but with a sustained push, he could finish top 10. To boot, he’s taking care of business in his own end, posting a plus-12.

Losing Tavares hurts Isles, but NHL’s Olympic participation pays off in other ways

Adam Proteau
John Tavares

The post-Olympics portion of the New York Islanders’ 2013-14 schedule begins tonight when they host the Maple Leafs – and conspicuous by his absence will be Isles superstar John Tavares, injured at the Sochi Games en route to winning a gold medal with Team Canada. Via GM Garth Snow, the team has made clear its dissatisfaction with the NHL sending its best players to the Olympics.

“Are the (International Ice Hockey Federation) or (International Olympic Committee) going to reimburse our season ticket holders now?” Snow told New York’s Newsday. “It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt.”

While Snow’s sentiment certainly is understandable – any NHL GM who lost his franchise player would be irate – the notion the IIHF and IOC aren’t paying any of the freight for NHLers at the Olympics simply isn’t true. That much was apparent this week when the league reiterated the two international organizations paid for insurance that will cover Tavares’ contract for as long as he’s injured, which in this case is for the rest of this season. Read more

NHL Revealed provides unique behind scenes look at Olympic hockey players and teams

The Canadian Press
canada-474436041

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Now that the NHL season has resumed following the long Olympic break, hockey fans are about to get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at what went on in Sochi.

The television series “NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other” resumes Thursday night in the United States and Canada with a two-hour episode compiled during the two-week Olympic hockey tournament in Russia.

Taking advantage of the NHL’s television partners NBC (United States) and CBC (Canada)—both Olympic rights holders—executive producer Ross Greenburg and his team were granted unique access to the teams and players, enabling them to tell a story well beyond the on-ice action that ended with Canada’s second consecutive men’s gold medal. Read more