Saturday, March 15, 2014

Maatta getting bigger role on Penguins blue line


PITTSBURGH -- If Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has his way, rookie defenseman Olli Maatta will get serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.


As injuries have decimated the Penguins' defense this season, the 19-year-old's role on the blue line has continued to grow. With top-four defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (broken hand) gone for the rest of the regular season, Maatta has played more than 20 minutes in eight of Pittsburgh's past nine games, with a high of 24:38 against the San Jose Sharks on March 6.


Maatta has scored four times during that stretch, including twice against San Jose, and entered the weekend with nine goals, 28 points and a plus-12 rating in 64 games while averaging 18:08 of ice time. Those numbers may not compare with some other Calder hopefuls, but Bylsma believes the 19-year-old's value goes well beyond statistics.



Olli Maatta



Defense - PIT


GOALS: 9 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 28

SOG: 104 | +/-: 12



"You don't expect a player that age, in his first year, to step into a top-minutes, top-pair role, a matchup pair," Bylsma said of Maatta, the 22nd player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft. "For him and his progression, his last 20 [games] have looked even stronger than what we saw earlier in the season. To be able to have him play there with injuries to two top-four guys in Martin and Letang, it's pretty amazing.

"It screams to me consideration for rookie of the year. There are certainly guys who have better numbers, [Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan] MacKinnon having better numbers, but what he's been able to do, how he's been able to do it, who he's been able to play against and be a positive player and get close to 10 goals now, it's been pretty amazing."


Maatta has been paired with Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh's most tenured player, for the past five games entering Saturday's road matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers during which they've been matched up against opposing teams' top forward lines. The Penguins used the Maatta-Orpik combo against Alex Ovechkin's line in both games of a home-and-home series against the Washington Capitals this past week; Pittsburgh won both and Ovechkin, the NHL leader in goals and shots, was held without a goal on six shots in the two games.


Maatta credits Orpik and Matt Niskanen, his partner for the majority of the season, for his seamless transition to the NHL.


"I'm new here and they know how it goes," Maatta said. "They've been here a long time and they're really calm out there. If I get a little nervous, they calm me down out there and they play a really simple game that fits me well."


Orpik normally forms half of Pittsburgh's shutdown defensive pairing, playing alongside Martin. The veteran defenseman sees certain similarities between the two.


"They're both left-handed shots and make a really good first pass when coming out of the zone. [Maatta] is probably a little more physical than Paul is," Orpik said. "In terms of hockey IQ or how smart they are reading the play and stuff like that, I think they are similar players. Olli's not a real loud guy or talkative guy. It took a little bit to get used to some tendencies and get a read off of him. Paul's similar, he's not a loud guy."


Maatta and Orpik are partners now, but they were opponents not long ago at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They met in the bronze-medal game that saw Maatta and Finland team beat Orpik's U.S. team 5-0. Orpik was disheartened by the loss but was glad to see Maatta enjoy the moment.


Forward Jussi Jokinen, who played with Maatta with Finland and Pittsburgh, thinks the young defenseman opened some eyes with his play in Sochi.


"I don't need to tell anyone how good he is. Everyone in Finland understands now how good a player he is," Jokinen said after returning from Sochi. "Before the tournament and during the season, a lot of people were asking me what kind of player he is and how good he is. But I think you saw there in that tournament how good of a player he is.


"I think we already know here in Pittsburgh how great a player he is."


Five months before the Olympics, Maatta's spot on the Penguins' opening-night roster was far from certain. But an elbow injury to Letang provided an opening, and he blocked three shots in 14:44 of ice time in Pittsburgh's season-opening 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 3.


Maatta's point total ranks second among first-year defensemen behind Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and is 11th among all rookies. But while Krug was expected to make an impact on Boston's blue line after his superb play during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, Maatta's performance has been something of a surprise.


Most impressive is that he's been able to take on more responsibility as the season has gone on.


"It's been quite a ride for him. Obviously, he had no expectations coming into camp," Niskanen said. "He just took an opportunity because of a training camp injury, like most of us. That's how you get your start in the League, that's how you get your chance. He just played so well that they didn't have a choice but to keep him."


His 69 games with Pittsburgh and Finland in 2013-14 are already 12 more than he played with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in 2012-13; he had eight goals and finished with 38 points in 57 games in his final junior season. But Maatta isn't worried about wearing down; he's too busy enjoying his time at hockey's highest level.


"It's felt pretty short. I remember training camp like it was yesterday," Maatta said. "It hasn't been a long season for me. I've been enjoying every day. Every day I'm living the professional hockey player life, playing in the NHL. It's always been my dream."



Video: Senators’ Lehner robs Habs’ Briere with right pad


Hard hits, fast pace, goals and some beautiful saves. That could best describe the opening minutes of the Montreal Canadiens-Ottawa Senators game.


Daniel Brière, who opened the scoring 38 seconds into the game, had a great chance to put the the Habs back in the lead, but didn’t raise his shot on a point-blank opportunity, with Senators goalie Robin Lehner making a spectacular right pad stop when it looked like Montreal’s forward had a wide open net.


The Senators, despite being down a goal early and under siege for lengths of time in the first period, answered back quickly with a goal from Jason Spezza. The goal came on Ottawa’s first shot of the game on Carey Price, who is making his first start for Montreal since the Olympics.



Could Markus Naslund be on his way back to Vancouver?


Markus Naslund, the former captain of the Vancouver Canucks, is no longer the general manager of the Swedish club MoDo and there are rumors circulating he could return to the NHL team where his No. 19 is retired.


However, Naslund, who played for the Canucks from 1996 to 2008 and was the team’s captain, denied speculation of a return to Vancouver.


“This has nothing to do with anything in North America,” said Naslund, as per CBC. “This is a decision made here a little over a month ago, that I was not going to sign another deal. I’m ready to do something different.

“I can see why there is speculation. But there is nothing to the rumours.”


His 346 goals in a Canucks uniform still leads the franchise, and his 756 points are third, behind Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.

Speaking on Team 1040 radio, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, Naslund’s former agent, talked about the possibility of his former client coming back to take a position with Vancouver’s NHL team.


“I haven’t discussed it with him yet. I could certainly see Markus being part of this organization. He’s been a huge part of it in the past,” said Gillis on Friday (click here for the audio).

“I think Markus would be a wonderful addition to any team staff, but he liked living in Vancouver. I was going to try and give him a call in the next couple of days and see what his immediate plans are and see what happens.”



Leafs being careful with Bernier injury, recall McIntyre


The Toronto Maple Leafs have a curious situation in goal following Jonathan Bernier‘s injury against Los Angeles on Thursday night.


With Bernier out, James Reimer assumes the starting job and the team recalled veteran Drew McIntyre from the AHL on an emergency basis to back him up.


Bernier’s injury isn’t expected to be serious, but as Chris Johnston of Sportsnet shares, they’re going to keep a close eye on his recovery.


Johnston reports the Leafs kept Bernier off the ice at practice on Saturday in favor of off-ice treatment and are debating whether or not to send him back to Toronto for an MRI or just have one done in Washington. The Leafs face the Capitals on Sunday afternoon.


In the meantime, Reimer is feeling fine after getting run by Anze Kopitar on Thursday and is ready to take the reins for however long Bernier is out for.


Before you get too worked up about the “backup” having to start, just remember Reimer took the Leafs to the playoffs last season and has a .915 save percentage this season.



Hitchcock ‘wants to try’ moving Backes to right wing


Things have been going well for the St. Louis Blues lately, but that won’t stop coach Ken Hitchcock from tinkering.


Hitchcock’s latest idea is to move center and captain David Backes to right wing. As Jeremy Rutherford of The Post-Dispatch shares, the coach wants to take advantage how his players can take faceoffs and how intelligent they are.


“I want to try it,” Hitchcock said. “What’s happened in the (past) is that Backes takes all the faceoffs on the right, but he stayed at center. So now when [Alex] Steen takes the faceoffs on the left, I want him to stay at center. I want to see these guys be able to read off each other more.”


Hitchcock went on to say that he wants to maximize what he can get out of the line of Backes, Alex Steen, and Jaden Schwartz. Meanwhile, the Blues have won six of the past seven games and are scoring just over three goals per game over that span.


Backes’ line with Steen is one that they expect to do damage in the postseason. Getting them more opportunities, and perhaps more a bit more chemistry, ahead of the playoffs is something Hitchcock wants to do.



Canucks ready to face Luongo on Sunday


Sunday afternoon, the Vancouver Canucks face the Florida Panthers and that means a reunion with Roberto Luongo.


Luongo, who was sent to Florida by Vancouver ahead of the trade deadline, has settled into a comfortable (albeit losing) situation in Sunrise. Meanwhile the Canucks have had a rough go of things lately.


Luongo’s former teammates are ready to do what they can to remind him what they’re missing out on.


Henrik Sedin said the game should be a great moment.


Alex Burrows said he knows the key to beating Luongo.


Finally, Eddie Lack, Luongo’s heir apparent in goal, has a fun idea for how to handle facing his former mentor.


Regardless of what happens, there likely hasn’t been a game looked forward to this much in Florida all season. Just think, all it took was for a wild, and probably long overdue, trade to go down to make it happen.



Blackhawks’ work ethic has ‘eroded a little bit,’ says Quenneville


The Chicago Blackhawks, defending Stanley Cup champions, continue to search for answers amid a frustrating period of struggle.


They’ve won only three times since the NHL schedule resumed from the Olympic break, and have lost two straight to Central Division opponents – Colorado and Nashville. The latest defeat came Friday against the Predators.


The Blackhawks twice trailed by two-goal deficits, and were unable to complete the comeback, despite carrying the run of play in the third period.


“We’re putting ourselves in tough situations by not starting well and just getting away from our team game, so not much of an explanation, but we know we need better right now,” said Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews, as per the Chicago Daily Herald.


“We need to get out of this kind of trend that we’re in right now.”


You’ll recall Toews was also not pleased after the club’s loss to the Avalanche earlier this week, saying, “It’s time to play hard,” with every team now charging ahead in the stretch drive.


This recent rough patch has seen the Blackhawks slip to third in the Central Division, one point back of the Colorado Avalanche and seven behind the St. Louis Blues.


“Our speed, pace, puck support and work ethic have eroded a little bit, particularly the last two games,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, as per Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago.



Friday, March 14, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

After 12-game absence, Sobotka returns for Blues


The red-hot St. Louis Blues will get a key piece back for tonight’s game against Edmonton as Vladimir Sobotka will play for the first time since Jan. 31.


Sobotka, who has been on IR with a leg injury that kept him from representing the Czech Republic in Sochi, was on pace for a career year prior to getting hurt. He had seven goals and 25 points in 46 games — his career best is 29 points — and was averaging 16:31 TOI while sitting third among all Blues forwards in hits (87).


The Blues head into tonight’s action sitting first in the NHL with 95 points and, with Sobotka’s return, will be as healthy as they’ve been all season.


At this morning’s skate, Sobotka centered the second line between Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie. David Backes was on the top unit between Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen, while Derek Roy manned the middle on the third line with Steve Ott and Patrik Berglund.


St. Louis’ fourth line was Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves. Brenden Morrow and Chris Porter were the extras.



Callahan: I wanted to stay in New York


To hear Ryan Callahan explain it, he knew the possibility of playing somewhere other than New York was out there — he just never thought it’d come to fruition.


“Yeah, I wanted to stay there. I thought I was going to. The whole time in my head I never thought about getting traded or leaving at free agency time,” Callahan told New York’s WFAN Radio on Wednesday. “My goal was to get something done with New York.


“Unfortunately, it’s the part of the business that’s not fun.”


Callahan was flipped to Tampa Bay at last Wednesday’s deadline in exchange for Martin St. Louis, a blockbuster that marked the first captain-for-captain deal in trade deadline history. Reports claimed a rift between Rangers GM Glen Sather and Callahan’s camp regarding money and term on a new contract led to the deal — Callahan is a UFA at season’s end — but recent remarks suggest he always figured he’d stick around.


Callahan had worn the “C” in New York since inheriting it from Chris Drury at the start of the 2011-12 campaign, and it’s worth noting that serving as Rangers captain is serious business. Callahan was one of just five players to serve over the last 23 years, joining the likes of Drury, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr and Brian Leetch.


Because of that, it’s easy to see why Callahan thought he’d be a Ranger for years to come. At 28, he’d already spent his first seven NHL seasons in the Big Apple and endeared himself to fans with his gritty, hard-working style of play.


“Just from playing at the Garden, the fans there are just unbelievable; you know, how they treated me and how they accepted me,” Callahan explained. “I think the biggest thing always if the friends I’ve made, lifelong friends within the organization, teammates that I’ve played with.


“There’s a lot of good memories in New York and something I’ll miss.”



Playoff bubble watch — Wild edition


The Wild would need to collapse in a fairly calamitous way to miss out on the postseason. Heading into tonight’s home game with the Rangers, Minnesota held down the first wild-card spot in the West, three points up on the other current wild-card team (Dallas), and four points clear of the first team on the outside looking in (Phoenix), and with a game in hand on the Coyotes.


According to Sports Club Stats, the Wild have an 83.2 percent chance of making the playoffs.


Comfortable, right?


But here’s what’s worrying — Minnesota’s remaining schedule is a beast, with road games in places like Boston, New Jersey, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And that’s not to mention home games versus the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston, and St. Louis. All of them with a likely goaltending tandem of rookie Darcy Kuemper, who’s looked a bit shaky lately, and wild-card veteran Ilya Bryzgalov.


On Tuesday, the Wild blew a 3-0 lead in Edmonton, losing 4-3 to the woeful Oilers in a shootout. After a five-game winning streak, it was the third straight contest Minnesota had failed to win.


“Those things happen from time to time,” said coach Mike Yeo, per the StarTribune. “We have to have the mentality this time of year that we can’t let it happen anymore.


“It doesn’t matter whether we won, we lost, shootout or overtime, whatever, we have to come to the rink every day trying to get better. When we’re doing that, when we’re on top of our game, that’s when we’ll start to see things start to come together and start to see consistency in our game.”


After hosting the Rangers tonight, the Wild have another home game Saturday versus Columbus, before heading out on the road to play the Bruins, Islanders, and Devils.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Luongo trade center stage on 'NHL Revealed' finale


One week prior, Roberto Luongo was discussing how happy he was to be the No. 1 goaltender with the Vancouver Canucks after having to share the net with Cory Schneider last season. But after arguably the biggest deal prior to the NHL Trade Deadline last Wednesday, Luongo is back for a second stint with the Florida Panthers.


"You've handled yourself with a lot of class, though, the last couple of years," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon says moments before Luongo meets reporters in South Florida. "That's really good. It happened so quick. We fought hard last year [to get you back] and it didn't work, so … but this time, it just happened. Maybe sitting out at the Heritage Classic was a bonus for us. It worked out great. We're excited."


"It's been a long road," Luongo says.


The Tallon-Luongo exchange is one of many memorable scenes from the season finale of "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other," on NBCSN in the United States and CBC in Canada.


This week's episode goes into great detail about the trade deadline and provides an in-depth look at several of the players who saw their lives and places of employment change. The Luongo trade certainly takes center stage.


"I'm not going to say that I'm happy to be out of there, because that's not true," Luongo says of Vancouver. "There was a lot of things going on. Obviously, you don't want to be surrounded by that kind of stuff, but that's not anybody's fault in particular. It's just things that happened over the course of a career. The main thing is the way you react, the way you respond.


"I thought I was having a great year in Vancouver this year. Things happened quickly over the last week or so and the trade happened. It's sad. It's a part of my career that's over."


Luongo spent his first few days back in Florida without his family, which stayed in Vancouver to tie up some loose ends. He kept his home in Florida while playing for Vancouver, so he's back in a familiar setting, though by himself.


"It's comfortable for me," Luongo says. "I don't have to get used to a new city and look for a place, find a new vehicle, that kind of stuff. Everything's all here for me already, so the transition part of it is going to be great. It's going to be smooth and it's just a matter of getting acclimated with my new teammates and my new team.


"It feels weird being here by myself, you know? It's the first time ever really that I've been here by myself without my wife and kids here. [But] my family will be able to make it back here by early sometime next week. Obviously I left everything there. I didn't know I was going to get traded when we were on the road trip so there was a few things to wrap up before they could all come home. You can hear a pin drop in here."


Other highlights of the season finale include:


* With Luongo out of the picture, Eddie Lack becomes the new No. 1 in Vancouver and makes his fifth consecutive start against the Dallas Stars. With little help from his teammates, Lack allows five goals on 17 shots in a 6-1 loss. Lack was pulled after the second period.


* One night after the Canucks lose in Dallas, Luongo makes his return with the Panthers by stopping all 25 shots he faces in a 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres at BB&T Center.


"Not bad for your first shutout of the year, eh?" forward Brad Boyes says to Luongo as he is congratulated by teammates after the buzzer.


Luongo is greeted by fans after the game and signs some autographs.


"Are you going to do that every game?" a boy asks him.


"What?" Luongo says.


"Get a shutout," the kid replies.


"I hope so," Luongo responds.


* Hoping to help Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw to regain his scoring touch, coach Joel Quenneville decides to put Shaw on the top line with center Jonathan Toews.


"I felt like it was time to do something different," Quenneville tells reporters. "Shawsie's got to play his game, be direct and get to the net and around the net. That's his strength."


Shaw ends an 11-game drought by scoring twice in a 6-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at United Center.


* As the Los Angeles Kings wrap up practice last Tuesday, forward Matt Frattin is informed by coach Darryl Sutter he's been traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.


"It's going to be tough leaving this group of guys," Frattin says. "But at the same time, I'll hopefully get a lot more ice time there and it's a fresh start and they're a good team for the playoff hunt."


Jarret Stoll says, "It's always awkward when a teammate gets traded, and disappointing. But, it's part of the game."


* With the deadline approaching, New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur appears in what could be his final game with the club, his 1,250th game with the only NHL team he's played for. Brodeur makes 20 saves to help the Devils beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 at Prudential Center.


"I'm not getting any younger, but I'm feeling good and enjoying the game," Brodeur says. "This is where I'm comfortable. I'm a Devil and I'm always going to be a Devil, regardless of what happens tomorrow."


* It's a few hours before the deadline, and New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is still with the team, participating in the morning skate in preparation for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After practice, Henrik Lundqvist tells reporters he hopes Callahan doesn't get moved, unaware that Callahan has already left Madison Square Garden after being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Within a matter of hours, Martin St. Louis, acquired for Callahan, arrives at MSG and makes his Rangers debut.


* Seeking to bolster the blue line for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks acquire defenseman Stephane Robidas from the Dallas Stars. Knowing that Robidas has a heated history with Ducks forward Corey Perry, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau is quick to make a joke while he introduces himself to his new defenseman.


"Corey Perry's glad you're here," Boudreau says, sparking a laugh from Robidas.


Robidas and Perry later shake hands during a very brief conversation.


"We've had many battles in the past," Perry says. "Him and I, we went toe-to-toe each and every night we played against each other. He's a guy that really pushes you right to the edge."


Decks captain Ryan Getzlaf says, "If you can [bleep] off our best goal-scorer, then obviously we want him on our team. When he comes in the room, they talk it out and bury the hatchet and away we go."


The series finale will be shown again on Sportsnet this Sunday at 9 p.m. local time and on the NHL Network in the U.S. on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.


---



Wild's Granlund thriving after tough rookie season


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund has been dealing with high expectations his entire life.


The 22-year-old center began his professional hockey career at age 16 in his native Finland and quickly became a household name. The Wild made him the ninth player selected at the 2010 NHL Draft. Granlund's hockey exploits are easy to follow; all you have to do is type his name into the search box on YouTube and any number of his highlights will pop up.



Mikael Granlund



Center - MIN


GOALS: 6 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 34

SOG: 84 | +/-: 0



Granlund is perhaps best known for his lacrosse-style goal against Russia in the semifinals of the 2011 World Hockey Championship, which made him an instant internet sensation. Back home, the goal turned Granlund from a successful hockey player into a national rock star. It wasn't uncommon for paparazzi to follow Granlund out to dinner or shopping.

That's a lot of pressure for anyone to face, especially for a shy 19-year-old kid from Oulu, Finland, who would rather go about his business in the shadows. The normal pressures of being a high first-round draft pick are nothing compared to those in hockey-mad Finland, where fans are always on the lookout for the successor to Teemu Selanne, the 43-year-old Anaheim Ducks star and pride of an entire nation.


Granlund spent two additional seasons with HIFK Helsinki in Finland after being drafted before announcing his intentions to come to North America. He did it with a video posted on the Wild's website that, until the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a few months later, was by far the most viewed item in team history.


Wild fans eager to see Granlund make YouTube highlights in Minnesota were forced to wait a little longer when the lockout delayed the start of the 2012-13 NHL season. Of more concern was that once the season finally did start, Granlund seemed overwhelmed by the NHL game.


Once viewed as a candidate for the Calder Trophy, Granlund spent his rookie season shuttling between St. Paul and the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate in Houston. He scored two goals and had six assists and was minus-4 in 27 games; some worried that Granlund was too small or too slow and that his game wouldn't translate to the smaller NHL-sized ice.


"It was a tough year last year. I learned a lot," Granlund said. "I realized how good you need to be to play in this League. I learned how to play the game."


Selanne, who waited four years to come to the NHL after being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1988, empathized with Granlund.


"It's never easy, especially if you're the guy who is supposed to play on the first two lines and you're struggling a little bit," Selanne said. "It's very easy to lose your confidence and that's what this game is all about. You just have to find it back some way or you're going to be in trouble."


At the end of last season, Wild coach Mike Yeo and team officials met with Granlund and provided him with some constructive criticism, along with a road map for Granlund in order for him to come back ready to go in year two.


Granlund committed himself to that plan last summer and returned to Minnesota in the fall a new player.


"Last summer, one month I was skating and practicing with him and you could see the body language and there was no way he would again go through a year like that," Selanne said. "He's a totally different guy and he really pushed himself. It's fun to see when something doesn't go exactly the way you wanted then you bounce back like that. It's fun."


Granlund will play in his 53rd game of the season Thursday when the Wild host the New York Rangers. His six goals are a product of his pass-first mentality, but his 28 assists are one behind the team lead.


"He approaches every game with the mindset that he's going to make a difference," Yeo said. "I think last year, coming in, I don't want to say he felt his way into it, but he didn't have the same confidence or the understanding of what he's capable of. Now, he expects it of himself."


But more than his play on the ice, Granlund exudes the confidence of a player who has spent virtually his entire adult life in the spotlight.


"He's a different player this year," Parise said. "He can see plays as they're developing, which, when you're a shooter, you love to have in a centerman."


"Confidence is such a big part of anyone's success," said forward Jason Pominville, who leads the Wild with 24 goals and has spent most of the season skating on Granlund's right side. "He came into camp, had a great camp, proved he was a center and proved he was reliable. He's playing with a bunch of confidence, and that's a big part of it to me."


Granlund was chosen to play for Finland in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but with a roster loaded with veteran centers, including Wild teammate Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Granlund's expectations for playing time were tempered.


However, injuries forced both players to miss the Olympics, moving Granlund into a major role.


"Obviously, when a few of our guys got hurt just before the tournament, some other guys needed to step up," Granlund said. "There were a lot of guys who stepped up. I didn't think about that, I knew I would have a chance to play power play and things like that."


Granlund finished tied for third in scoring in Sochi with seven points. He was named to the tournament's all-star team and helped lead the injury-riddled Finns to a bronze medal. But to Granlund, the best part of the Olympic experience was skating on a line with Selanne, his idol growing up.


"I can't even describe that," Granlund said. "He's been such a big idol for me and for a lot of Finnish players. He's done so much for Finnish hockey. Just to have a chance to play with him and on the same line that was great. To see how good of a player he still is, that he can play at that level at 43, that's something I can't even really understand."


Since returning from the Olympics, Granlund has picked up right where he left off. Koivu missed more than two months with a fractured ankle, forcing Granlund to play top-line minutes with the Wild. He's kept that spot, even though Koivu returned last week.


"He's bang-on with our systems in every aspect," Yeo said. "He's got a really good understanding, as a young player, of how important that is. He's going to get more ice-time, more role and responsibility because of it."


Granlund's biggest fan might be the player he grew up idolizing.


"I've known Mikael maybe three, four years. The last couple summers I've been skating with him. Even though it's just summer hockey and training together, you feel right away if you have special chemistry with somebody. He's a very special player," Selanne said. "He can see the game. He has unbelievable skills. When you play with a guy like him, you tend to be more active because you know if you find an opening, the puck is going to come. That's a great feeling for the player."


Selanne feels Granlund is up to the task of becoming part of the next generation of Finnish stars.


"Granlund is going to be one of those young guys to look up to," Selanne said. "It's a very important job. He's going to do good."


--NHL.com correspondent Aaron Vickers contributed to this report.



Oshie juggles celebrity and hockey after Olympics


HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There he was, face to face in the slot, staring into the eyes of another goalie with the puck on his stick.


But this time, T.J. Oshie wasn't going against Sergei Bobrovsky and he wasn't being thrust into the spotlight of an entire nation and a global television audience.



SMILE FOR THE CAMERA!



-- Invited to the White House Correspondents' Dinner


-- Appearances on NBC's "Today" Show, ESPN's "Mike & Mike In The Morning," Extra Entertainment and the Golf Channel, which dissected Oshie's golf swing


-- Oshie's family received an invite to ABC's "Good Morning America"


-- Invites to the "Jimmy Kimmel Show" and CNN's "Piers Morgan Show"


-- An invite to Valhalla for the Ryder Cup from PGA President Ted Bishop; he received a signed golf bag from the U.S. Ryder Cup team


-- Feature pieces in Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest


-- Several U.S. military organizations have reached out in support


-- Twitter followers went from 80,000 to 255,000; a congratulatory tweet was sent from the White House and President Barack Obama


-- Oshie's No. 74 Blues jersey jumped to second in sales behind Sidney Crosby's No. 87 Pittsburgh Penguins jersey since the conclusion of the Sochi Olympics




Oshie just needed rhythm. He needed style points more than anything. That's all Enterprise Rent-A-Car was asking of the St. Louis Blues forward who represented the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when they asked him to represent them and the NHL in the making of a commercial that will air during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


The commercial being shot Wednesday afternoon at the Blues' practice facility inside St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone had Oshie shooting pucks at an Enterprise employee in a suit and tie.


Will Oshie watch himself on TV?


"I was thinking about that," he told NHL.com. "I tend not to watch any of my interviews. I was on NBC and did a couple things on there. I haven't watched those yet.


"I get a little nervous, a little shy to watch myself. To see myself on there for the first time, it's going to be pretty cool."


This was a far cry from what Oshie faced when the game was in the balance for the U.S. against Russia. Oshie was called upon six times in the shootout and scored four times against Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets to give the United States a 3-2 victory.


"My main goal was just to win the game," Oshie said. "Every kid always wants to be in that position. The team's depending on you to decide the game, win the game for them. For me, it was special in that regard, but it was just a round robin game for me and we were just focused on the next game after."


Oshie, 27, who is tied for the team lead in points (50) with Alexander Steen, has become an instant celebrity whether he likes it or not.


"Once I got back, it's just really been focusing on playing with the Blues and getting two points every night," Oshie said. "It's been pretty easy for me to focus on playing here in St. Louis and not focus too much on attention."


It's been a hectic time for Oshie, who's trying to juggle guest appearances and invitations while playing a major role with the NHL's best team.


"I have a pretty easy time just kind of focusing on what I need to do and like to fly under the radar a little bit," Oshie said. "All the attention's great. I think it's good for the game, it's good for the St. Louis Blues here and USA Hockey. Other than that, it's easy for me to go about my normal business."


The Blues (44-14-7), who lead the NHL with 95 points, will need all of Oshie's attention as they pursue what would be the franchise's second Presidents' Trophy. But Oshie admitted doing the commercial was fun and represented a nice change of pace to a hectic hockey schedule.


"It is a different look for me. That's for sure," Oshie said. "But sitting here in my gear and shooting pucks, it doesn't come more natural than that.


"It's been great. Everyone here with Enterprise has been doing a good job. It's been an easy transition. I came in, put on my gear and started shooting."


However, a second career is not in the cards.


"I don't know. I better stick to my deal here in St. Louis and just playing hockey," Oshie joked. "I don't know if I've got the poise to stay on a set and memorize lines and things like that."


2014 has been a year Oshie won't soon forget. Besides the Olympic experience, he's engaged to his longtime girlfriend Lauren; they are expecting their first child in the next week. The Blues are also contenders for the franchise's first Stanley Cup.


"I definitely won't forget it. It's been a whirlwind," Oshie said. "The best is yet to come.


"I'm here with a baby on the way in about a week or so. But it is great. A lot of support has been shown to me and my [U.S.] teammates over there and my teammates here in St. Louis. It's been a fun ride."



Vancouver GM discusses Tortorella, team's struggles


BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis emerged from the three-day March meetings of the NHL's GMs at the Boca Beach Club with the understanding that his team faces a rocky road in the future, but also a fuller understanding of the hardships already endured.


While Gillis was here for the meetings, the Canucks allowed the New York Islanders to score seven third-period goals in a demoralizing 7-4 loss Monday at Rogers Arena.


It was, perhaps, the nadir of what has been a trying season for the usually competitive Canucks.


"It's been tough, but it's been a tough month and a half for us," Gillis said. "When you're not performing up to a standard that you think is acceptable, it's never easy."


The loss to the Islanders, Vancouver's eighth in its past 10 games (2-7-1), turned up the heat on embattled first-year coach John Tortorella. There was rampant speculation Tortorella could be fired before the team took the ice Tuesday for an afternoon practice.


On Wednesday, Gillis refrained from addressing those reports.


"There's a lot of rumor and speculation out there and for me to comment on it would lend some degree of credibility to it, which is not something that's good for anybody," he said when asked about changes to the team. "I think right now we have to get behind our team and behind our players, and behind our coaching staff and try and win some hockey games."


Gillis also did not offer any kind of vote of confidence for Tortorella when asked if the coach was safe for the remainder of the season.


"I'm not commenting on that because then it just lends credibility to what's out there with bloggers and all kinds of different people," he said. "So it's unfair to comment on any future plans other than what we've already said, which is we're trying to get younger, we're trying to retool and we're trying to do some things a little differently the next one, three, five years."


The Canucks, who play the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN) at MTS Centre, are 29-28-10 and have 68 points. They enter the game six points behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 15 games remaining.


It’s hard to imagine the depths to which the team has fallen since going 10-1-2 during a rampaging run through December.


"To go from December where you win every game in the month to what's occurred since then is remarkable," Gillis said. "But there are some reasons, and they're not excuses, but we've had massive injuries this year, we've had key guys out of our lineup for extended periods of time. We had an incident in January that was hard to describe. It is what it is."


The January incident Gillis referred to was when Tortorella tried to get into the Calgary Flames' dressing room during the first intermission of a game between the teams on Jan. 18, after a first-period line brawl resulted in eight game misconducts.


Tortorella was suspended 15 days without pay by the League for his role in the incident. He missed six games during his suspension.


The Canucks are 4-12-1 in the 17 games since the Calgary incident.


As the season enters its final few weeks, Gillis insists the club will attempt to put all of its struggles in the rear-view mirror and focus entirely on making a late-season run to find a way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


The Canucks last missed the postseason in 2008.


"We have a slight opportunity to try and right that ship, and we're going to try and do it by rallying behind them and rallying behind our coaching staff," Gillis said. "That's all we can do."



On the 'D'-fence: Timonen producing at typical pace


Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com Correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy defensemen in our weekly segment: "On the 'D'-fence." From updated defensemen rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Metzer will be your fantasy D-man insider all season long.




Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen has long been a staple on fantasy hockey blue lines, but that started to change a bit this season. While he led all Flyers defensemen in scoring last season with 29 points in 45 games, prompting fantasy owners to draft him on average in the 11th round of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues, he and the Flyers limped out of the gates to a 4-10-1 record in their first 15 games.


Timonen managed to put up just one assist and a minus-2 rating over that span, causing fantasy owners to cut and run. He found himself on the most-dropped lists in many different platforms and formats, but while owners weren't paying attention he and the Flyers were heating up.




TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN


These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

  • 1. Erik Karlsson, Senators (same)

  • 2. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (same)

  • 3. P.K. Subban, Canadiens (same)

  • 4. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (same)

  • 5. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets (+1)

  • 6. Keith Yandle, Coyotes (+1)

  • 7. Shea Weber, Predators (-2)

  • 8. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues (+2)

  • 9. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes (+2)

  • 10. Ryan Suter, Wild (-2)

  • 11. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (-2)

  • 12. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (+1)

  • 13. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (+1)

  • 14. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets (+1)

  • 15. Drew Doughty, Kings (-3)

  • 16. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (+5)

  • 17. Victor Hedman, Lightning (+6)

  • 18. Andrei Markov, Canadiens (-2)

  • 19. Matt Niskanen, Penguins (same)

  • 20. Andrej Sekera, Hurricanes (+7)

  • 21. Torey Krug, Rangers (+7)

  • 22. Jason Garrison, Canucks (-5)

  • 23. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues (-5)

  • 24. Mike Green, Capitals (-4)

  • 25. Brian Campbell, Panthers (-3)

  • 26. John Carlson, Capitals (-2)

  • 27. Mark Giordano, Flames (+7)

  • 28. Cam Fowler, Ducks (-3)

  • 29. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs (-3)

  • 30. Andrew MacDonald, Flyers (same)

  • 31. Marek Zidlicky, Devils (+6)

  • 32. Justin Schultz, Oilers (same)

  • 33. Dan Boyle, Sharks (-4)

  • 34. Slava Voynov, Kings (+2)

  • 35. Matt Carle, Lightning (-4)

  • 36. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres (-3)

  • 37. Mark Streit, Flyers (-2)

  • 38. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs (same)

  • 39. Jacob Trouba, Jets (same)

  • 40. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets (same)

  • 41. Olli Maatta, Penguins (+4)

  • 42. Alex Goligoski, Stars (+5)

  • 43. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks (-2)

  • 44. Alexander Edler, Canucks (-2)

  • 45. Erik Johnson, Avalanche (+6)

  • 46. Dennis Wideman, Flames (-3)

  • 47. Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders (-3)

  • 48. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (+6)

  • 49. Tobias Enstrom, Jets (-1)

  • 50. Roman Josi, Predators (-4)

  • 51. Jake Muzzin, Kings (-2)

  • 52. Francois Beauchemin, Ducks (-2)

  • 53. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche (+2)

  • 54. Tyler Myers, Sabres (+2)

  • 55. Andy Greene, Devils (NR)

  • 56. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (-4)

  • 57. Jason Demers, Sharks (same)

  • 58. Hampus Lindholm, Ducks (same)

  • 59. Tom Gilbert, Panthers (-6)

  • 60. Eric Gelinas, Devils (-1)



Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Seth Jones

Injured:


Kris Letang, Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen, Sheldon Souray, Fedor Tyutin



The Flyers have gone 29-15-6 over their next 50 games, effectively turning their season around. Timonen appeared in 47 of those games, collecting 25 points in the process. His .53 points per game over that span might not compare to the .64 he put up last season, but it is on par with some of his best career numbers to date.


The 38-year-old native of Kuopio, Finland has only broken .60 points per game in a season on three occasions. He achieved the feat in both of his final two seasons with the Nashville Predators back in 2005-06 and '06-07, and then again last year.


You might have noticed that just one of those .60-plus points per game seasons came with the Flyers, though he was universally looked at as a viable fantasy option in each of his five prior seasons on Broad Street. Over those years he put up 206 points in 397 games, or .52 points per game, which is on par with the aforementioned production over his past 47 games this season.


This isn't to say we think Timonen is the same player he was over the past six years, but after his rough start he is producing on par with what he has done over his career in Philadelphia. It is also worth noting that he, like Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks, got a chance to mentor some younger players at the Sochi Olympics, helping Finland to a bronze medal.


That medal was a nice way to cap an international career and according to reports out of Philadelphia he is thinking of following Selanne into retirement. The thing that has him wavering on making that decision is the same thing that differentiates him from his countryman -- he has yet to win a Stanley Cup.


"I want to see how we do in the last 18 games," Timonen said to Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I want to feel the playoff atmosphere. That's a goal where I want to be, and hopefully we get there with this team. Because once you get in the playoffs, you don't know what's going to happen. You have as good as chance as anybody once you get in."


That is the kind of thing that can motivate a player coming down the stretch and precisely the kind of thing fantasy owners love to hear when figuring out who will give them the best chance to win their leagues.


Timonen is owned in just 57 percent of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues and there is a good chance he is available in yours.


TRENDING UPWARD


Erik Johnson , Colorado Avalanche -- Johnson has had his ups and downs since being selected with the first pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, but he is finally starting to live up to that billing with the Avalanche. He is averaging .49 points per game, something he hasn't done since his first two seasons in the League. While he has had some dry spells during the season, he is currently riding a hot streak that has seen him pick up one goal and six assists over his past five games. He is also providing a boost in leagues that give credit for blocked shots and hits, picking up 107 and 110 respectively. Johnson is still owned in just 38 percent of Yahoo leagues.


Marek Zidlicky , New Jersey Devils -- Zidlicky has followed the lead of teammate Jaromir Jagr and sipped from the fountain of youth, and it has him on the verge of his best season since 2009-10. The 37-year-old has been red hot as of late, picking up seven points (two goals) over his last six games. That surge has pushed his season totals to 10 goals and 25 assists. He has collected 16 points on the power play and has fired 98 shots on goal. Zidlicky is still available in 43 percent of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues and could be sitting on your waiver wire waiting to help you to the fantasy promised land.


TRENDING DOWNWARD


Jason Garrison , Vancouver Canucks -- Garrison is still a very effective fantasy player in the right situations; sadly, the situation is far from right in Vancouver at the moment. He is still chipping in points sporadically, picking up a goal and two assists over his past nine games, but he is not producing the way he was earlier in the season when things were seemingly going in the right direction under coach John Tortorella. Garrison, as well as many of his teammates, should probably be reserved until they show that they can consistently be relied upon again.


Tom Gilbert , Florida Panthers -- While Gilbert has had a nice season in Florida, he has cooled significantly as of late, picking up just three points in his past 13 games. He is still a nice depth option for owners coming down the stretch as he plays over 22 minutes per night, gets some power play time and has collected 27 points on the season. We just wouldn't advise relying on Gilbert as a No. 1 or even a No. 2 defenseman at this stage of the season.


KEEP AN EYE ON ...


Alec Martinez , Los Angeles Kings -- Martinez has dealt with a handful of injuries this season, including an elbow injury that held him out for most of February, but he is back in the lineup and red hot through the early stages of March. He has picked up three goals and two assists in five March games, and is producing on the power play. He has six hits and nine blocked shots over that span as well. We aren't sure if he can keep up this pace, but the Kings have been playing well and he could be a nice depth option. Martinez is owned in just one percent of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues.