James J. Cauley, Dundee, Scotland
James J. Cauley, Dundee, Scotland
Going into Thursday night, the previous couple of games had not been kind to Henrik Lundqvist. "It hasn’t been fun the last couple of days," he said. "I’m not going to lie."
It’s probably a toss-up as to what was more surprising – the way Henrik Lundqvist was playing going into Thursday night or how deeply it seemed to affect him. As far as the former was concerned, it was ugly. Really ugly. And the nadir for Lundqvist came Tuesday night when the New York Rangers faithful, who have had a decade-long love affair with Lundqvist, gave him the Bronx cheer in a terrible game against the Dallas Stars.
All of which pretty much led up to the latter. As accomplished and decorated as Lundqvist is, he’s a human being. And you post a .789 save percentage and a 6.94 goals-against average and you’re yanked in two games, it’s bound to do a number on your confidence, even if you’re almost certainly headed to the Hall of Fame one day.
So when Lundqvist pulled on the Broadway Hat – a fedora that Brad Richards bought from a Swedish model for $100 a few years back – to commemorate his status as player of the game, he did so with a little more gusto and a lot more relief than he has in a long time. Lundqvist’s 19th win of the season and the 393rd of his career will go down as a 23-save effort in a 5-2 New York Rangers win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in reality, it was so much more than that.
“Sometimes,” Lundqvist said after the game, “a win means a little bit more. You play 82 games and some wins, right away you put it in your bag, but I think today you enjoy it a little extra with what I’ve been through the last week or so. It’s not fun as a goalie to give up a lot of goals.”
Rangers television analyst Steve Valiquette, who played with Lundqvist and has been watching him for a decade, said there was little technically that Lundqvist was doing wrong in his recent slide, with the exception of perhaps not seeing the puck come off the stick as well as he usually does. “I think for the fans to turn there (in the Dallas game), I think that really hurt on a personal level,” Valiquette said. “You should have seen the building. It was a really tough building to be in. He came out of that game after the second period and I don’t think he picked his head up for the entire third. That’s as low as I’ve seen Henrik.”
Lundqvist reiterated a couple of times how difficult the last week has been for him. He seemed to be straddling that line between personal responsibility and acknowledging that like wins, losses are a team effort. He knows his teammates played poorly in front of him, but he’s also cognizant of the fact that he earns an average of $8.5 million a year to be the last line of defense. There are times when you have to bail your teammates out and Lundqvist, who has done it countless times, knows that as well as anyone.
“I’m not going to put everything on me,” Lundqvist said. “There have been a lot of breakdowns, but I know it’s my job to clean it up a little bit.”
The Leafs managed only 25 shots in the game, but there were a good number of high-quality attempts. The turning point of the game came in the middle of the second period when Lundqvist came out and aggressively challenged Mitch Marner on a partial breakaway and forced him to miss. On the next rush up the ice, the Rangers opened up a two-goal lead on a shot by J.T. Miller that Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen overplayed. And early in the third, with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 lead, Lundqvist stopped Leo Komarov on a terrific opportunity.
“He keeps saying, ‘I’ve got to get back to playing on my toes,’ ” Valiquette said. “And what he means by that is getting out there and getting on top of the puck instead of being back and trying to protect the net behind you.”
Those were the plays Lundqvist wasn’t making in the three games after the Rangers came off their one-week furlough. And once they started piling up, it became more and more difficult to stop that train.
“I think every athlete and hockey player, you go through stretches where it’s just a lot harder to get it done, especially at this level” Lundqvist said. “All it takes is you lose five, six percent and that’s the difference between being OK and being great. Again, when you’re confident, that’s what you do. You clean it up, you make that extra save.”
So now all is presumably well in Ranger-land, a theme park where the roller coasters have gotten quite the workout this season. “We have a lot of confidence in Hank, we knew it was just a matter of time,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, “and now he’s going to follow it up with another big game against Detroit.”
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)
1. Carey Price, 9
2. Frederik Andersen, 8
3. Craig Anderson, 8
4. Sergei Bobrovsky 8
5. Cam Talbot, 8
6. Corey Crawford, 7
T-7. Devan Dubnyk, 6
T-7. Marc-Andre Fleury, 6
T-7. John Gibson, 6
T-7. Robin Lehner, 6
T-7. Roberto Luongo, 6
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.”
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Gabriel Landeskog (right) and Matt Duchene
A look at the latest speculation surrounding Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, and which teams might be a fit.
The Colorado Avalanche may be struggling at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they continue to dominate the NHL rumor mill. As usual, center Matt Duchene and left winger Gabriel Landeskog are the focus of trade speculation. On Tuesday, TSN unveiled their trade board for the March 1 deadline, with the 26-year-old Duchene topping the list and Landeskog, 24, coming in at No. 5.
Appearing on Edmonton's 630 CHED last Thursday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the asking price for Duchene, a 30-goal scorer last season, is higher than for Landeskog. However, he can see a team that thinks it can win this season pursuing Duchene.
Friedman also said he hasn't heard many rumors involving Colorado's puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. As the Avs need to bolster their blueline, he feels it doesn't make sense to trade the 25-year-old.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reportedly seeks a good young defenseman as part of the return for Duchene or Landeskog. That type of deal won't be easy to find this season. NBC Sports' Jason Brough observes a high number of teams are also in the market for young blueliners. There aren't many available and teams carrying those assets will set high prices for them.
Recent trade chatter links Landeskog to the Boston Burins. It was thought the Bruins were unwilling to part with rookie rearguard Brandon Carlo, but Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater claims the 20-year-old could be available after all. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty thinks it would be a big mistake by the Bruins to swap Carlo for less than a genuine superstar.
Last weekend, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggested New York Islanders GM Garth Snow should offer up blueliner Nick Leddy as part of a deal for Duchene or Landeskog, Brooks felt that move could provide the Isles with a significant boost.
Leddy, 25, is under contract through 2021-22 with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.5 million. Sakic, however, could have his eye on younger options.
The Montreal Canadiens need depth at center. TSN's Frank Seravalli thinks Habs GM Marc Bergevin could be interested in Duchene, though a deal of that nature probably wouldn't happen until the off-season. However, the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey questions if Bergevin can afford the high asking price for either Avs star.
Are the Canadiens willing to sacrifice promising 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in a package deal for Duchene? With 38-year-old blueliner Andrei Markov's career winding down, moving his possible replacement is a risky notion.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is shopping around for a forward. Seravalli's colleague Bob McKenzie believes Dorion could have interest in Duchene or Landeskog. Given the Sens need for scoring depth at left wing, McKenzie speculates Landeskog could be Dorion's preference. However, he guesses the asking price for either player is too high.
Dorion could be asked to part with 23-year-old Cody Ceci as part of the return for Landeskog. That would be a deal breaker for the Sens GM.
The Carolina Hurricanes could be the best fit as a trade partner for the Avalanche. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson notes they have plenty of depth in good young defenseman, are in need of scoring punch and possess the salary-cap room to take on Duchene or Landeskog.
If Sakic is talking with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, they're keeping those discussions well below the radar. With the Hurricanes jockeying for playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, Francis could be unwilling to engage in a major roster shakeup.
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.).
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A bus carrying the 24 people, including the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths, rolled over Thursday afternoon. All were taken to hospital, but no one aboard the bus suffered life-threatening injuries.
The Columbus Cottonmouths were only minutes away from reaching their destination, the Carver Arena in Peoria, Ill., when the bus carrying the team rolled over, but all 24 people aboard the charter have escaped the accident without life-threatening injuries.
The crash occurred Thursday afternoon as the Cottonmouths’ bus was travelling into Peoria via Interstate 74, and, according to the Peoria Journal-Star, it appears speed was the cause of the crash. Illinois State Police trooper Ross Green told the Journal-Star that the driver of the bus, Allen W. Dawlford, was “cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.”
The northbound ramp to 74 from I-155 remains closed. pic.twitter.com/ayl5JCMvYc— Andy Kravetz (@andykravetz) January 19, 2017
As a result of the crash, the bus everyone aboard the bus was taken to hospital, including two people who were trapped following the crash. In order to remove the two people who were trapped, firefighters on the scene had to cut holes in the top of the bus. The Journal-Star reported that only Dawlford and Cottonmouths goaltender Brandon Jaeger sustained injuries that did not allow them to be treated and released shortly thereafter.
Jaeger, 26, is the starting goaltender for the Cottonmouths, and according to the Journal-Star’s Dave Eminian, the netminder has suffered a broken leg. Meanwhile, Dawlford reportedly required surgery for his injuries.
Initially after the crash, the league had not announced any postponement for the weekend set between the Cottonmouths and Rivermen, but it was later determined that the game set to take place Friday would be played at another date. Despite many of the players being released from hospital without serious injury, it appears many of the players are nursing ailments that will likely keep them out of action for a few days.
"There are players on crutches, players with broken hands, injured tendons, ligaments,” Rivermen co-owner Bart Rogers told Eminian. “It looked as if they might only have 8-10 players who would be OK to play.”
Despite the Friday postponement, the Cottonmouths could be planning to suit up on Saturday. Rogers told Eminian that Columbus coach Jerome Bechard was “confident” he could bring in players for Saturday’s game.
Speaking with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s Dana Barker, Bechard couldn’t say enough about the support the Cottonmouths received following the accident from everyone from first responders to the Rivermen.
“The Rivermen, (owner) Bart (Rogers) and (head coach) Jean-Guy (Trudel) asked what we needed, clothes, transportation,” Bechard told Barker. “They’re bringing us a meal at the hotel right now because we don’t have any of our belongings, no money, no phones, nothing. They’ve been really great. As far as the support from Peoria, I can’t say enough.”
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