TAMPA, Fla. - The Pittsburgh Penguins are finding ways to win without Sidney Crosby.
Chris Kunitz had two rebound goals to lead the Penguins past the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Tuesday night.
"I stand in front and I go to the net," Kunitz said. "Right now we're doing a good job of shooting the puck on net and going for rebounds. I don't score many from outside the circles, it's usually right close to the crease."
Crosby, the high-scoring Pittsburgh captain, missed his fourth straight game - all Penguins victories - due to a groin injury. He did take part in Tuesday's morning skate, though.
Matt Cooke also scored for the Penguins, eighth in the Eastern Conference. Marc-Andre Fleury made his 14th consecutive start, posting a 9-4-1 record over that stretch.
"We're getting some confidence," Fleury said. "We're battling for the big points we're getting."
Tampa Bay got a goal from Vaclav Prospal. The Lightning have lost 12 of 16.
"Losing is miserable," Tampa Bay centre Ryan Craig said.
Kunitz put the Penguins ahead 1-0 on a rebound goal at 7:38 of the first period. The Lightning tied it when Prospal scored off a pass from Vincent Lecavalier during a 2-on-1 with 7:37 left in the period.
Pittsburgh went up 2-1 on Kunitz's second goal of the game during a power play late in the first period. Evgeni Malkin assisted on the goal for his NHL-leading 93rd point. Malkin has eight assists and 13 points during a nine-game point streak.
Cooke made it 3-1 midway in the second.
"You've got to create offence, and a lot of times one of the best plays is getting the puck to the net and then going to the net," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "It can start to become an identity of a team if you get pucks to the net and make defencemen turn and have to play defence when there are pucks around their goalie."
Fleury made several strong saves, including an in-close shot by Ryan Malone late in the second period. He finished with 32 saves.
"We need to keep getting better, and there are challenges ahead," Bylsma said. "We're taking steps in the right direction and we're definitely building."
Notes: Lightning RW Mark Recchi, the subject of trade speculation, was a healthy scratch. Recchi had seven assists and eight points over his last four games. ... Tampa Bay LW Gary Roberts was placed on waivers. Roberts plans to retire after the season, which means the move might signal the end of his career. "My heart, yeah, I have some optimism, but my head is saying I'm not too sure," Roberts said about another team picking him. Roberts gave rookie C Steven Stamkos an autographed stick after the game ... Pittsburgh is 6-1-1 under Bylsma. ... Tampa Bay recalled C Paul Szczechura and RW Brandon Segal from Norfolk of the AHL. ... Lightning D Marek Malik didn't play because of a lower body injury.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Blackhawks think they can help Jonathan Toews out of his scoring funk by getting him a proven left winger.
The Chicago Blackhawks are jockeying with the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Western Conference, but there is some worry over their scoring this season. After 47 games, the Blackhawks have only scored 12 more goals (132) than they have allowed (120).
Center Jonathan Toews' offensive struggles are an area of concern. With 22 points in 38 games, the Blackhawks captain is on pace for 42 points. That's well below last season's 58-point output and his 66-point effort of 2014-15.
A back injury that sidelined Toews for nine games earlier this season could still be nagging him. However, the lack of a proven scorer on his left side is also an issue. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Brian Hedger The Athletic.com believe addressing that issue should be a priority for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
In recent years, Bowman's displayed a willingness to swing deals near the trade deadline to bolster his roster for the playoffs. He'll have over $3.3 million in cap space to work with by the March 1 trade deadline. If he can bank a little more, he could have room to bolster Toews' left side.
Haugh, Lazerus and Ledger believe there's no shortage of possible options. They note James van Riemsyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado Avalanche have surfaced of late in the rumor mill. Both are young and under contract beyond this season. Potential rental players include Landeskog's teammate Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes and former Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who's now with the Dallas Stars.
Given Bowman's trade-deadline history, he'll likely be busy again this year. Taking on long-term options such as van Riemsdyk or Landeskog will be expensive, both in salary and return. With the Blackhawks hosting the 2017 draft, Lazerus doubts Bowman will part with his first-round pick. He also claims the GM is reluctant to move his current young roster players.
Bowman could go the more affordable rental-player route. Earlier this month, he was rumored to have interest in Iginla. He also has a trade history with the Coyotes, having acquired center Antoine Vermette prior to the 2015 deadline. And of course, there's the connection with Sharp.
WHY THE DEVILS SHOULD SHOP SCHNEIDER
Should the New Jersey Devils lose ground in this year's playoff chase, GM Ray Shero could consider getting an early start on his off-season roster plans.
Offense remains a persistent issue for the Devils. Despite the addition last summer of left winger Taylor Hall, their goals-for per game average is a paltry 2.22. Only the Arizona Coyotes (2.02) and Colorado Avalanche (2.05) are worse.
Defense and goaltending, once among the Devils' strengths, are also suffering this season. They've given up too many shots-against per game (31.2). Starting goalie Cory Schneider is having an off-year, with a 2.69 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
The New York Post's Larry Brooks suggests Shero consider shopping Schneider. Though the 30-year-old netminder has a no-trade clause, Brooks speculates he might waive it to join a team with a more immediate future. He wonders if the Devils could get a young puck-moving defenseman from the Dallas Stars, provided Shero agrees to take back one of the Stars' current goalies (Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi) in a package deal.
Unless Schneider demands a trade, Shero won't move him. Still, the Devils GM was willing to make a bold move last summer by acquiring Hall. He might not land a big fish at the trade deadline, but he'll likely be busy again this summer searching for a significant deal.
The Devils also carry considerable salary-cap room this season (over $17 million) and have depth in draft picks. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sunbelieves Shero has room to take on a bad contract or two from a cap-strapped club if some good prospects are included. Unless those prospects are top-notch, however, Shero's unlikely to waste his cap space.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Frederik Andersen has mastered the art of stealing games, but he can't do it forever. The Leafs must play better in front of him to make the playoffs.
He’d faced more shots than all but one NHL goaltender this season. He owned a .928 save percentage over his past 30 appearances. And yet, Frederik Andersen sat alone at his dressing stall Thursday morning at the Air Canada Centre, minding his own business as reporters gathered around fresh Toronto lineup insertion Frank Corrado. Andersen quietly tended to his gear, collecting his thoughts, preparing for a game several hours later against the New York Rangers. It was a perfect portrait of a man best described as unsung in his first season starting in goal for the Maple Leafs.
This is the Year of the Kids, after all. It’s Auston Matthews’ year. It’s Mitch Marner’s year. It’s William Nylander’s year. Heck, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman continue stealing headlines of their own. And Toronto boasts a few veteran success stories, too. Nazem Kadri has Selke Trophy voters circling him. James van Riemsdyk has been one of the NHL’s hotter scorers of late.
Andersen, we all know, struggled mightily in his first five games as a Leaf, posting an .851 save percentage and causing a mass panic in the headlines. But he worked out the problems with goaltending coach Steve Briere, who preached getting one’s mind off hockey when away from the rink, and Andersen realized he was forcing things, challenging shooters too much and not relying on his size.
“You want to have that belief that you know what kind of goalie you are,” Andersen said Thursday. “Luckily I had some experience in Anaheim before. I knew I could play at a high level and work through adversity like that. Me and Stevie had some things straightened out, some stuff in my game that needed to be corrected a little bit, and I got back to how I could play.”
He has indeed locked down his play since, and while pundits and social media members generally acknowledge that, it’s still unclear if Leaf Nation understands just how valuable Andersen has become to his team. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he’s more blocker than athlete, calm and efficient in his movements, meaning he’s less noticeable, not more noticeable, on his good nights. And maybe that’s why he’s overshadowed. He still doesn’t get recognized on the street all that often, even in hockey-mad Toronto.
“Sometimes, but nothing too much where you can’t go anywhere,” he said. “I can still go get a coffee, stuff like that. But you’re happy to take a second to say hi and make their day. So that’s really nothing that bothers me.”
Andersen, though, deserves as much credit as any Leaf for the team’s shocking 21-14-8 start, which puts them right in the thick of the Atlantic Division race with games in hand on almost everyone. Hockey-reference.com’s point share stat refers to how many points in the standings a player is responsible for based on his season performance. The only players owning more point shares than Andersen: Brent Burns, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky and Cam Talbot. The stat naturally carries a goalie bias, but Andersen still ranks above the likes of Braden Holtby. Maybe that’s because Andersen has become a game stealer.
While the Leafs generate the third-most shots on goal per game at 32.7, they allow the fourth most at 32.8. Andersen gets pelted with rubber most nights. I created a stat: “stolen games,” which consists of performances in which a goalie makes 30 or more saves and his team wins by two goals or fewer. Andersen has accomplished that feat eight times this season. My unofficial NHL stolen games leaderboard:
STOLEN GAMES (30+ saves, win by two goals or fewer)
So only Price has stolen more games than Andersen according to the stat. But how many more times can Toronto, exciting as heck but still extremely leaky defensively, put Andersen in that position over and over and expect to challenge for a playoff spot? The New York Rangers blitzed him with 40 shots Thursday, four of which beat him. He made plenty of strong saves but couldn't withstand the onslaught.
“He’s been awesome all year, and we hung him out to dry on a few of those tonight,” said Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner. “Definitely not going to blame him. He’s been great.”
Finding Andersen a proper backup has eluded the Leafs all season. Jhonas Enroth flopped. Curtis McElhinney is ticketed to play in back-to-backs. Coach Mike Babcock indicated before the season he intended for Andersen to start at least 60 games in 2016-17, but Andersen has already suited up for 36 of 43. That puts him on pace to flirt with 70. Felix Potvin holds the franchise’s single-season record for appearances with 74. Andersen’s career high is 54, with 53 starts. At what point might he wilt from all the work? Babcock isn’t concerned. He seemed irritated after Thursday's loss when asked about resting Andersen more in the second half of the season.
“No, not thinking of spelling him, not worried about his workload,” Babcock said.
If that’s the case, and the Leafs intend to keep trotting Andersen out there, they have to shore up their defense. They gifted the New York Rangers breakaways Thursday night, most notably on Michael Grabner’s shorthanded dagger that put the game out of reach in the third period. A playoff berth almost seems more likely than not at this point – but it will slip out of the Leafs’ hands if they keep letting Andersen’s crease become a shooting gallery.
“He’s been a stud for us,” said defenseman Roman Polak. “He’s been great all year, and because of him we’ve won lots of matches. When we play like that, it’s unacceptable. But we have to put it behind us, learn from that and keep going forward.”
The numbers released by the CHL would have you believe minimum wage for players would cripple some teams. But we need a lot more information.
In an effort to get out in front of the story and win the case in the court of public opinion, the Canadian Hockey League last night released some of the financial information it had previously been trying to keep from the prying eyes of everyone outside its inner circle. It’s a curious move to say the least. And when you look at the numbers, you get the sense that the CHL is cherry picking on the same level as an out-of-shape beer leaguer who constantly hangs out at the opponent’s blueline.
The CHL has crafted its message, complete with an expert opinion saying teams would have to consider ceasing operations if they had to pay players minimum wage, giving people just enough information to portray themselves as downtrodden philanthropists interested only in providing entertainment and helping young men realize their NHL dreams, without really telling us where the money trail actually leads. Well played.
For example, if we are to take the numbers of the CHL’s unaudited financial statements provided to an Alberta court for an upcoming lawsuit at face value, then we’re to believe that the Ontario and Western Leagues combined to generate revenues of $136.7 million in 2015, but cannot afford to pay roughly 850 of its employees minimum wage. The WHL claimed revenues of just over $80 million in 2015. The cost to pay the players minimum wage in that league would be about $300,000 per year per team for a total cost of about $6.6 million, which would amount to about 8.25 percent of total revenues.
What business in any part of the real world would be able to claim revenues of more than $136 million, then try to convince people that it couldn’t afford to pay 850 of its employees minimum wage? Welcome to the world of junior hockey where it seems no matter how much money a team makes, its expenses seem to rise at the same rate. How the heck are these people ever expected to make a go of it?
Let’s take the WHL as an example. According to the report done by the accounting firm KPMG, the league’s overall revenues in 2015 were higher in the five years between 2012 and 2016 than they were any other year, but somehow the league managed to lose more money that year than any other year. The numbers say overall league revenues were $80.2 million, with a pre-tax overall loss of just over $2 million. As far as expenses are concerned, $7.5 million went to advertising and promotion, $6.6 million to administration and a whopping $67.5 million to the ubiquitous “other operating expenses.” In fact, in 2015, other operating expenses increased almost $5 million from the previous year, then were cut by more than $6 million in 2016. Even though the WHL managed to trim $6 million in fat from other operating expenses in 2016, it posted a pre-tax profit of only $691,000.
So in order to get the entire picture, we’re really going to need to know what those “other operating expenses” are. And until we know them, we don’t know even close to the entire picture of whether the losses are real or a case of creative accounting. For example, has anyone stopped to ask how exactly the Erie Otters managed to lose $150,000 and be forced into bankruptcy while going to the OHL final and having one of the greatest players in junior hockey history in their lineup? Or how the people who purchased the team didn’t seem to mind forking over $10 million for a supposedly bankrupt, money losing team? It sure makes you wonder about the line in the CHL’s news release that said, “Goals around asset appreciation are lower/limited in the CHL versus other major sporting leagues.” It sure makes you wonder if that’s the case when the Sudbury Wolves can be purchased for $250,000 in the 1980s and sell for $11 million 30 years later, all the while appreciating by 4,400 percent. (And that’s for a team that generally underachieved, missing the playoffs nine of those seasons and one that plays in an antiquated building that needs to be replaced.) Franchise values and the fact that these teams are sold for many millions of dollars has to be part of the equation here.
The CHL earlier this year scoffed at a report the defense had done by a sports economist who had no access to its numbers because the league refused to provide them. That economist used economic modelling instead of creative accounting. Then the league releases a report from their sports economics expert that is based on financial records only it was allowed to see. Which one is more accurate? Well, it’s hoped we’ll find that out after the sides meet next week to determine whether the full financial picture can be made public, not just snippets of it.
Until then, a lot of this is white noise that should be taken with a mountain’s worth of salt.