Phoenix Coyotes\' Mike Smith, left, makes a save on a shot by Chicago Blackhawks\' Jonathan Toews (19) as Coyotes\' Rostislav Klesla (16), of the Czech Republic, defends in the third period in an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 3-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Author: The Hockey News
Mike Smith makes 38 saves, Coyotes beat Blackhawks 3-0 for 5th straight victory
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Not a bad time for Mike Smith to play his best hockey.
Smith made 38 saves for his third shutout of the season to help the Phoenix Coyotes win their fifth straight game, 3-0 over the fading Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
In his last four games, Smith has allowed three goals, and his play has been the catalyst for the Coyotes' surge.
"In the last two, three weeks, the guys in front of me have found ways to tie up sticks and let me see the puck," Smith said. "(Against Chicago), they continued to do a great job in front of me."
It was the 14th shutout of Smith's career.
Radim Vrbata, Boyd Gordon and Kyle Chipchura scored for the Coyotes, who are three points behind Chicago in the Western Conference standings. Phoenix is in eighth place in the West, two points ahead of Colorado, which lost to St. Louis 3-2 in overtime earlier Saturday.
The Blackhawks lost their eighth straight overall—their longest skid since the 2007-08 season—and 10th in a row on the road. Chicago's last win was Jan. 20 against Florida.
"They came out harder than we did and we can't let that happen," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. "Right now, we need to do something that will make us feel good about ourselves."
After allowing 10 goals in their previous two games, the Blackhawks gave up two in the first 5:58.
Vrbata scored his 26th goal of the season just over three minutes into the game. Coming from behind the net, Vrbata's wraparound deflected off Chicago's Sami Lepisto and behind goalie Ray Emery.
Less than three minutes later, Gordon, standing just to the right of Emery, slammed in his seventh of the season.
The Blackhawks tested Smith midway through the second period. After taking a shot in the mask from Patrick Sharp, Smith shook off the impact and stopped Toews twice in close within seconds.
Chipchura scored midway through the second period for the final margin.
With a 2-on-1 against Chicago rookie defenceman Dylan Olsen, Chipchura converted a perfect pass from Gilbert Brule into his second goal of the season.
From that point, Smith stopped 16 shots in the final period, and the Coyotes finished the game by playing air-tight hockey.
"The forwards did a great job of helping us out," said Phoenix defenceman Keith Yandle. "Overall, this was a great team effort, but we know we have to keep playing at a high level to stay in the playoff picture."
Things do not get easier from here for the Blackhawks. Their current nine-game trip continues with stops in Nashville, New York against the Rangers and in Columbus. They do not return to the United Center until Feb. 19 to face St. Louis.
NOTES In a pre-game ceremony, the Coyotes retired Jeremy Roenick's No. 97. ... The standing-room only crowd of 17,353 was the Coyotes' third sellout of the season. ... With two assists, Brule had his second multi-point game since joining Phoenix on Jan. 12. ... The Blackhawks were shut out for the sixth time this season.
The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday, though there's already been lots of activity. Here's a look at the latest rumors surrounding some of the notable players still believed available in the trade market.
Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche reportedly seek a good, young NHL-ready defenseman or goaltender, a first-round pick and a top prospect as part of the return for either forward. TSN's Darren Dreger notes Duchene's been linked to the New York Islanders. He wonders if defenseman Travis Hamonic as part of the return might tempt the Avs.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Avs told interested clubs they have no intention of lowering that asking price at the deadline. That could ensure the pair remain in Colorado for the remainder of this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins. Jonathan Bombulie reports Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said last Friday he hadn't received a trade offer for Fleury, who lost the role of starting goaltender to Matt Murray. Still, Rutherford didn't rule out the possibility of moving the veteran netminder.
The combinations of Fleury's $5.75-million cap hit through 2018-19, his modified no-trade clause, and a soft market for goalies could make him difficult to move. Rutherford has also said he'd be content with keeping his tandem intact for the remainder of the season.
Tomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports there hasn't been much interest in the 33-year-old. However, he expects that will pick up as the deadline draws near. With 38 points in 47 games, Vanek could be attractive to the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks. He also carries an affordable $2.6-million cap hit on an expiring contract.
Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes. Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports the 40-year-old Coyotes captain was unhappy about seeing long-time teammate Martin Hanzal dealt to the Minnesota Wild. That's increased speculation Doan could waive his no-movement clause, but GM John Chayka said the veteran winger hasn't requested a trade. Should Doan become available, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch believes the San Jose Sharks could come calling.
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes. The Edmonton Sun's Jim Matheson cites scouts claiming the Hurricanes defenseman is in play. He believes their depth in young rearguards no longer makes Faulk their blueline mainstay. The Hurricanes need scoring depth, especially at center, and Faulk could land them a quality return.
Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings. Friedman reports the Kings are looking into moving Gaborik. The 34-year-old winger's best years are behind him. His contract (four years remaining at $4.8-million annually) makes him almost impossible to move at the deadline.
Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars. Having already shipped out one pending UFA winger in Patrick Eaves last week, the Stars could attempt to do the same with the 35-year-old Sharp. The Matheson speculates the Oilers could be watching the veteran winger
Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks. Hansen recently submitted his list of preferred trade destinations as requested by Canucks management. LeBrun believes the winger is garnering lots of interest. The asking price could be a young player or top prospect.
Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames. The recent additions of Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski made Wideman the odd man out on the Flames' blueline. Wideman told the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson he was open to waiving his no-movement clause. So far, he hasn't been asked to do so.
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.).
As we count down to the March 1 trade deadline, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.
Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.
But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.
As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.
And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.
The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.
Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.
The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.
Where they'll end up: Their next two games are against the Capitals and Penguins, if they lose those, Hextall likely folds his hand.
The case for buying: We've been talking about the Jets as the NHL's team of the future for years now, but that future never seems to arrive. The West is wide open this year, and the path out of the Central doesn't seem as daunting as it has been in recent years. Their biggest need is goaltending, and there could be some good ones available, even as short-term rentals. With the team on the edge of the playoff bubble, this could be the year to make a push.
The case for selling: This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but are they really a threat to do much damage once they're there? The franchise has been patiently building up a young talent base since returning to Winnipeg, and abandoning that approach now just to get swept in the first round could seem like a panic move.
Where they'll end up: History tells us that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets won't do much at all, no team has been as reluctant to trade in recent years. This could be the year that changes, especially if a goaltender shakes free as a decent value buy. Then again, it feels like we've said that before.
The case for buying: They've been bad for five straight years. Some of those were strategic, granted, but that phase of the rebuild was supposed to end in 2015 and give way to progress. There's been some, but not as much as fans probably hoped, and they're on the verge of missing the playoffs yet again.
But they've been better since a rash of injuries torpedoed their start, and they've got assets to work with to plug some holes. And in an off-year for the Atlantic, a push into the playoffs isn't far-fetched.
Again, most teams don't want to load up at the deadline just to make the playoffs and go out early. But this isn't the same situation as a team like the Jets, who didn't have to endure hitting rock bottom like the Sabres did. In Buffalo's case you wonder if even a first-round exit wouldn't represent a worthwhile investment, if only to offer long-suffering fans some hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The case for selling: They're not winning it all this year, and the roster is still young. Sure, missing the playoffs again will be frustrating, but there's no need to rush. Trust the process, trust Jack Eichel and the young core, and most of all, trust Tim Murray. At least for one more year.
Where they'll end up: Murray might tinker here or there, but any big moves to improve now would also have to extend to next season and beyond.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The case for buying: They're the Lightning. They went to the Cup final in 2015, and to the conference final in 2016. Plenty of us picked them to win it all this year. They'll be facing a cap crunch soon and their window may be closing, but on paper this team is still good enough to win it all, especially if Steven Stamkos comes back by the playoffs.
So of course you're buying. This team can win the Stanley Cup. They're the Lightning.
The case for selling: They're also terrible.
I don't know why. You don't know why. I'm not sure Steve Yzerman knows why. But they just haven't clicked all year, and they remain outside the playoffs with multiple teams to pass. Better to accept that, recoup some assets for guys like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, and maybe even figure out a way to dump some deals with term. For whatever reason, this just isn't their year, so start setting the table for the next ones.
Where they'll end up: Yzerman's earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, so you figure he'll make the right call one way or another. The betting is with two more home games before the deadline, he waits as long as he can before throwing in the towel. But I have them in the "sell" column.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
In the middle of a close playoff race, the Maple Leafs managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate of building for the future.
The day Mike Babcock was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, team president Brendan Shanahan was asked whether he’d abandon the franchise rebuild if Babcock came to him saying they needed a veteran to help them make the playoffs, but it would cost a prospect and a second-round pick.
“I can tell you that was one of Mike’s questions for us and it was the opposite,” Shanahan said at the time. “It was, ‘If we’re four points out, are we still willing to stick to the plan?’ That was an important answer for him to get, especially from our board.”
Things were a little different Tuesday when the Leafs made a deal that netted them veteran center Brian Boyle. First of all, the Leafs aren’t four points out of the playoffs. They’re clinging to the last spot, one point behind the Boston Bruins with a game in hand for third place in the Atlantic Division. It’s a race that will likely go to the dying days of the season. And even though they did give up a second-rounder, it’s pretty safe to say Byron Froese isn’t really considered a prospect. (Although Babcock did seem to have a strange fascination with him last season when the Leafs were tanking the season.)
This is a deal that looks as though it has Babcock’s fingerprints all over it, but the best part of it is that they managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate. And they can thank their work at last year’s trade deadline for that, when they dealt Roman Polak and Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in 2017 and picked up another from the Ottawa Senators in the Dion Phaneuf trade. One of those picks is now going to Tampa Bay and another is going to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Fredrik Andersen trade, which still leaves the Leafs with one second-rounder.
And in return, the Leafs get a player who can play down the middle for them, complementing a center ice corps that now looks formidable with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Boyle. The 6-foot-6 center has played exactly 100 playoff games, 95 of them over the past five seasons. In fact, no NHL player has seen more post-season action than Boyle has since 2012.
The Leafs are flush with prospects and young players and had a plethora of second-rounders, which seems to be the going rate for big-name rentals these days. In addition to the three they had in 2017, they also have two in 2018. With the success rate for second-round picks varying wildly, it was a small price to pay for a team that needed an upgrade on the Frederik Gauthier/Ben Smith tandem on the fourth line.
More importantly, it gives the Leafs an experienced player who knows what it’s like to play in meaningful games. Whether the Leafs ultimately make the playoffs or not, their young players will be exposed to crucial, tension-filled and important games down the stretch. And when was the last time anyone could say that? And if they make the post-season and expose their young stars to that level of competition, all the better. And not only will Boyle be instrumental in leading the way, he’ll also be able to offer some sage counsel to those players if the Leafs do find themselves in the chaos known as the playoffs.
The Atlantic Division is really weak. Spectacularly weak, actually. And if the Leafs can somehow find themselves in the No. 3 spot, they might be able to position themselves for a bit of a run. If not, they’ll find themselves playing the Washington Capitals in the first round and will almost certainly get trounced, but be all the better for having experienced the post-season.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the Leafs have been known to be woeful in two areas of the game – defensive zone coverage and holding onto leads late in games. Boyle will help immeasurably in both of those areas. To be sure, you just know Babcock will feel a lot better being able to put Boyle out for a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of the game in which his team is clinging to a one-goal lead.
And don’t be surprised if the Leafs and Boyle make this a more long-term affair. Boyle is 32, but he actually doesn’t have a ton of NHL miles on him because he didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was almost 25 years old. And it’s not as though the Leafs are going to be asking him to do more than an over-30 player is capable of doing. If he can provide them with two or three more years of quality defensive play and leadership, they’ll be happy to take that.
Largely because of Auston Matthews and Babcock, the Leafs have become a destination. Don’t be surprised if Boyle sees it that way, too.