Where has Kessel been during the slides of March?

Ken Campbell
Phil Kessel

In the last moments of his last news conference at the Sochi Olympics, Canadian coach Mike Babcock had the following observation: “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal? See ya.”

And with that he left for the closing ceremonies, having coached Canada to its second straight gold medal. It bears mentioning that most of us still remember who won the scoring championship in Sochi. Phil Kessel had five goals and eight points for Team USA, finding the back of the net more often than Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Marleau, Martin St-LouisPatrice Bergeron, John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Chris Kunitz combined. Read more

Sunday’s standings a game of thrones for NHL teams trying to make the playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury

The post-season is coming.

And on a night when many will be watching the Game of Thrones season premiere, it’s fitting that Sunday saw plenty of intrigue as teams set their sights on the playoffs.

Take the Pittsburgh Penguins. With top spot in the Metropolitan Division assured, Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik, Olli Maatta and Chris Kunitz joined the already injured Evgeni Malkin on the sidelines with various upper- and lower-body injuries.

Those are five names this team will lean on heavily come playoff time, so while Malkin’s broken foot is a well-documented, long-term issue, sitting the other four has me raising an eyebrow.

Are these players really dealing with injuries?

Probably, to a degree. The bumps and bruises sure build up over 82 games. Still, you can bet those four players would be in the lineup if this were the playoffs.

But we’re not there yet, and the Pens are basically playing out the string. Win or lose, they won’t be moving in the standings.

Are the Penguins obligated to play their best lineup?
Read more

Vezina Trophy Watch: Rask pulling away

Tuukka-Rask3

With only a week and change left in the regular season, it’s crunch time for those players with their eyes on individual trophies. In the goaltending department, Boston’s Tuukka Rask managed to usurp Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop over the past month, but can he hang on for the final stretch? Here’s our ranking of the contenders.

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

With seven shutouts, Rask is the NHL leader in blankings and when you couple that with 34 wins, a 2.04 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, it goes without saying that he owns the pole position when it comes to the Vezina.

Read more

Why the NHL should play added time like they do in soccer

Jason Kay
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs

In last night’s pivotal Toronto-Boston game, Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin was whistled for holding with 1:14 remaining in the third period. The score was tied 3-3 and, as the Bruins didn’t manage to get the winner before the end of regulation, Kulemin served the final 46 seconds in overtime.

If Toronto had been up 3-2, however, Kulemin’s two-minute penalty would have been commuted to a 1:14 sentence and the Bruins would have been short-changed on their chance to tie the game at its most crucial juncture. (Never mind the call on Kulemin – and the subsequent one in OT on Torey Krug – were suspect).

It’s a niggling flaw in the system that when a team takes a penalty with fewer than two minutes remaining, it’s no longer a two-minute minor. It’s a 1:45 minor. Or 0:37 minor. Or 0:03 minor.

Read more

Reimer will likely have to lead a run for the ages

Ken Campbell
Bernier and Reimer

There have been times lately when James Reimer contemplated the possibility that he had played his last game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But suddenly, if the Leafs are going to make a near impossible run to the playoffs, there’s a good chance Reimer will have to be the man to lead them there.

Nobody will know the full extent of Jonathan Bernier’s injury until the results of his MRI come back Friday afternoon, but it’s never a good sign when a goalie needs to be helped off the ice and can’t put any pressure on his leg. As Bernier exited the game at the 8:22 mark of the third period after Patrice Bergeron fell on his leg, it certainly didn’t look like a day-to-day injury.

Enter Reimer, who has had about as miserable a time as any goaltender in the league of late. Displeased fans had taken to abusing his wife on Twitter over his play and here he was, facing the team that probably cost him his job as the Leafs No. 1 goalie last spring. The Bruins were going on a power play and on the first shot he faced, Reimer had the backside of Zdeno Chara in his face. Read more

Leafs lose Bernier to injury; can they keep fading playoff hopes alive with Reimer?

Adam Proteau
Jonathan Bernier (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ worst nightmare came true Thursday when No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier was injured late in their crucial game against the Boston Bruins.

Bernier had to be helped off the ice and couldn’t put pressure on his left leg when Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger knocked Bruins center Patrice Bergeron on top of him with 11:42 remaining in the third. Read more

Buffalo Sabres locked in for 30th, but not first pick in draft

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7

Just because the Buffalo Sabres are virtually assured of finishing last overall doesn’t mean they are heavy favorites to win the draft lottery and select first overall in June.

The Sabres have just a 25 percent chance of winning the draft lottery and getting first pick. Their most likely outcome for Buffalo is to select second overall. That would happen if any of the other 13 non-playoff teams won the draft lottery and moved up to first pick.

The NHL altered the draft lottery odds last year allowing all 14 teams a chance at winning first pick. In previous seasons, only five teams had a chance at first pick, meaning the team finishing 30th had a 48.2 percent chance of gaining first pick, either by winning the lottery or having teams sixth worst to 14th worst win the lottery.

Buffalo’s magic number to finish 30th is two. Any combination of two Buffalo losses or Edmonton wins in the remaining eight games secures last overall for the Sabres.

The lottery will take place in the first couple of days after the regular season ends April 13. The 2014 draft is June 27-28 in Philadelphia. There’s a group of four prospects at the head of the class this year. They are Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay center Sam Reinhart, Kingston left winger Sam Bennett and Prince Albert center Leon Draisaitl.

Regardless of where New Jersey finishes, its first round pick will slip to the 30th spot as part of the penalty for the team trying to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a contract that circumvented the salary cap. The Ottawa pick belongs to Anaheim as part of the Bobby Ryan trade last year.

The following chart lists each team’s chances for winning first pick and most likely outcome in the lottery, as of today’s standings. We’ll update this again as the season comes to an end.

lottery odds

 

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN

Toronto Maple Leafs try to keep their minds off collapse

Ryan Kennedy
Quincey-Rielly

That the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a desperate struggle for wins right now is not news. The Buds take on the rebuilding Calgary Flames tonight in what is a season-defining match-up. In fact, it could end their season if their losing streak hits nine games.

Throughout the skid, the Maple Leafs have been deluged with outside noise from both press and fans alike, which means mental preparation is just as important as the physical portion of their jobs right now.

“It’s pretty much what everyone is talking about right now, but we’re used to it,” said defenseman Jake Gardiner. “We’ve had some ups and downs throughout the season and in the past, so we have to take it in stride.”

For Gardiner, he has tried to block out the outrage of Leafs Nation through TV and movies, recently going to see the biblical epic “Noah” starring Russell Crowe. And he’s not alone.

“I watched ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ last night and ‘Out of the Furnace’ the night before,” said veteran Cody Franson. “I’ve got some family in town, so I’ve been hanging out with them and the new dog (a miniature English bulldog) we’ve got, so I’ve been trying to enjoy that.”

Fellow blueliner Carl Gunnarsson hasn’t really had time for shows lately, but is happy to have his own outlet.

“I’ve had a bunch of stuff back home, personal stuff going on (nothing serious), so it’s been pretty good focusing on other stuff,” he said. “I haven’t had a problem disconnecting from hockey. Obviously it’s right in the back of my head but I’m doing stuff every day. Days off have been go, go, go.”

Obviously heading out on the town or even going to a favorite restaurant is a bit worse right now, since the 24-hour news cycle has plenty of time to chatter about the faults and fissures in the team, but even the youngest members of the squad learned long ago how to compartmentalize criticism in order to stay mentally sharp.

“I don’t check Twitter as often,” said rookie Morgan Rielly. “But you can’t really worry about it too much. In camp you learn about that stuff. There’s tweets saying you’re not on the team and other tweets saying you made the team. After that you just have to worry about what you can control.”

And for the Maple Leafs, that means getting two points from the lowly Flames before another make-or-break game against divisional rival Boston on Thursday.