Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jagr finds 'new motivation' in debut with Panthers


SUNRISE, Fla. -- Wearing a T-shirt and a smile, Jaromir Jagr talked about his Florida Panthers debut in an interview room at BB&T Center that hadn't been used since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Jagr didn't have a storybook first game with the Panthers (he was held off the scoresheet against the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-3 win), but all that mattered to him was the result.


"I wish I could score, but it doesn't matter. We won," Jagr said. "It's new motivation. When you come to a new team, you just want the first game to be a victory and I'm happy about that."


The Panthers acquired the likely Hall of Fame member Thursday in a trade with the New Jersey Devils hoping he not only could provide some offense but help guide the young players in a Stanley Cup Playoff race.


Jagr, whose role had diminished in New Jersey, got 17:09 of ice time, including 5:24 on the power play. It was his most action since Jan. 30 when he played 18:08 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.


His one good scoring chance came in the second period when his wrist shot from the right circle was turned away by a pad save from Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth.


Although Jagr's point drought reached a career-long nine games, he did contribute to Brandon Pirri's two power-play goals by getting in front of Neuvirth on each occasion.


"He's a special player and he gives [his teammates] more ice because people are covering him," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "They don't want to see Jaromir Jagr wide open. He makes good plays. He makes people around him better. Today was a great example of our team playing better because he was there."


Jagr's introduction drew loud applause and he opened the game playing on a line with players who weren't born when he made his NHL debut during the 1990-91 season: 19-year-old center Aleksander Barkov and 21-year-old left wing Jonathan Huberdeau.


"You know what, they're good players," Jagr said. "They make it a lot easier for me. We spent so much time in the offensive zone. I thought I was going to feel a lot worse because lately I didn’t play much, but because we spent so much time in the offensive zone and you’ve got the puck under control, so it was a little bit easier for me today. And they make it good for me. These kids, they're making plays. We had some chances. We just have to score goals. We had a lot of shots as a team. We just have to make sure we score more.


"I've got a lot of experience and there's a lot of young guys. It's even making me excited a little more. It's kind of a new life. At my age (43), I feel like I know a lot of things what to do, but I just cannot do it anymore. It's a lot easier to tell them what to do because they've still got the legs and hands to do it. I just know things, but I cannot do them anymore."


Jagr stepped onto the ice for the game after arriving in South Florida on Friday evening. He showed up at BB&T Center about 2 1/2 hours before the opening faceoff.


"I was a little intimidated to just go see him, but we didn't really have a chance to talk," Huberdeau said. “He told me a little thing on the bench, so I think he's going to be a good mentor for me to follow. He's an All-Star, has Stanley Cups. I remember seeing him with Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh. I think he's going to help me and [Barkov] if we play with him."


Jagr said the past few days were a whirlwind and playing his first game with the Panthers without benefit of a practice or even a morning skate made it a little strange.


"He's a big body, a great player and it's nice to have him here," said forward Scottie Upshall, who scored the game-winning goal with 5:58 left in the third period. "Good for our team, good for our young guys. We're expecting him to help us do good things."



Dubas explains value of hockey analytics at Sloan


BOSTON -- Kyle Dubas was putting the finishing touches on his list of prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft when he noticed a troubling trend.


The ones who played in the IIHF World Junior Championship were, relatively speaking, ranked higher than similar prospects who did not. Dubas found this to be a form of bias, something he was desperately trying to weed out of his rankings.


"Does playing in the world juniors at 17 make you a better prospect than someone that doesn't?" Dubas said during his presentation of "How Analytics has Limited the Impact of Cognitive Bias on Personnel Decisions" at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "I don't think so. I think we know that from years of going through and measuring at different points."


Dubas, whose hire as an assistant general manager by the Toronto Maple Leafs was the highlight of the NHL's "Summer of Analytics" in 2014, spoke for more than 20 minutes Saturday about his experiences as general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.


His ability to incorporate the use of analytics with the Soo made them one of the most successful teams in the Ontario Hockey League and helped convince the Maple Leafs to hire a 28-year-old with no professional playing experience to help overhaul the collective thought process for an organization once considered a leader in being anti-analytics.


The major points Dubas focused on in his presentation were a window into the future of hockey analytics. Collecting the data and knowing how to interpret it is one thing, but being able to communicate to others in your organization and have them buy in is quite another and extremely valuable. He also spoke on how different types of bias can negatively affect teams, and how the use of analytics can help prevent that.


Hockey fans (and team representatives, for that matter) have squabbled for years about the validity and use of certain advanced statistics, and whether there is a place for analytics in the sport. That larger battle is over, even if some choose to continue to engage in minor skirmishes.


One of the biggest themes of this two-day conference across several different sports is simple: OK, we have the data and we know it's good, but how do we get everyone else in our organization on board?


Dubas mentioned the transformation of his team during his second year with Sault Ste. Marie. The Greyhounds were controlling about 47 percent of the shot attempts in the first 30 games and improved to 57 percent for the rest of the season.


The difference? Dubas hired a new coach, Sheldon Keefe, who took over and was open to using the data Dubas' small team was able to deliver.


"Basically, there is a big difference between raw statistics and data gathering and using that data to incorporate into your process as a team," Dubas said.


Dubas also was part of the "Changing on the Fly: The State of Advanced Analytics in the NHL" panel, along with Edmonton Oilers analyst Tyler Dellow, former Oilers coach Dallas Eakins, former NHL executive Frank Provenzano of ESPN, and James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail.


Eakins, Dellow and Dubas spoke of their experiences trying to communicate better about the data that is available.


"Everybody in hockey is interested in more information, but not everyone speaks the same language," Dellow said, pointing out that he has been able to use video to bridge the gap in the Oilers organization.


The other focus of Dubas' presentation was filtering out bias and how thinking analytically can help. He listed five types of bias (conformation, recency, information, sample size, and simplicity) he has experienced during his time with the Soo and the Maple Leafs.


Beyond the draft rankings, Dubas brought up two critical times on the NHL calendar when bias becomes a big problem. The first is right now, the days leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline.


"We have the trade deadline coming up on Monday," Dubas said. "You're in a discussion with another team and they say, 'We want Player X from you,' and we say, 'OK, what are you going to give us?' And they say, 'We'll give you prospect A, B or C, and a fourth-round pick.'


"The initial reaction is to open the floodgates unleash our scouts and they rush to, pick an AHL city, Binghamton, they go to see the Binghamton Senators to watch prospects A, B and C, and they say, 'Prospect B was great, prospect C was terrible, and prospect A was just OK.'


"So immediately our discussion shifts to prospect B. We're eliminating hundreds of games that we've scouted of these players and many data points that we have and we're putting it on one game on Feb. 23, 2015 when we've watched this player for four or five years."


The other time bias can lead a team to make the wrong decision is during training camp. A large amount of players are together, and a small amount of time is used to try to decide which ones should be on the roster.


Dubas warned of letting any results during camp play too large a role in the decision.


"We have years of information and scouting reports on players," he said. "But if a player comes into camp and has a good training camp we put him on the team and take off a player who has proven for years to be better and put him in the minors, or you release him and someone claims him on waivers."


The theme of Dubas' presentation was the importance of being willing to learn. He incorporated analytics in his first year with the Soo, but they missed the playoffs. So he learned from the failure, and that helped him turn Sault Ste. Marie into the one of the top teams in the OHL.


It is a desire to learn more and test what has long been considered truth in hockey, even if it might not be, that spurs people who want to be part of the analytics movement in the sport.


"I don't understand why it has to be for and against [analytics]," Eakins said. "You should be for everything."


---



NHL pioneer O'Ree continues to command respect


PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has met Willie O'Ree before, but said he hasn't earned the right to address O'Ree on a first-name basis.


"It's Mr. O'Ree," Simmonds said before talking to O'Ree and posing for pictures with him in the Flyers' locker room Saturday. "He's my elder; treat him with respect. … My parents taught me who he was at an early age. I've looked up to him for so long. Going to be a great opportunity to talk to him again."


O'Ree became the first black man to play in the NHL when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958. O'Ree said he's proud to be called a pioneer and the Jackie Robinson of professional hockey.


"I never get tired," O'Ree said. "It's the thing that I experienced. When I broke the color barrier in 1958 it seemed to stick with me. The media called me the Jackie Robinson of hockey and I'm very happy to be in the same category of Mr. Robinson. I met Mr. Robinson on two occasions; I met him in 1949 in Brooklyn and I met him again in 1962 when he was the keynote speaker at a luncheon in Los Angeles. … He made a big impact with me. I'm just happy when they say there's Willie O'Ree, he's the Jackie Robinson of hockey."


Willie O'Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL, takes a photo with Philadelphia Flyers (left to right) Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Wayne Simmonds and Ray Emery. (Philadelphia Flyers)


New York Rangers forward Rick Nash went past the locker room to chat with O'Ree upon leaving the ice after the Rangers' morning skate Saturday.


"Icon of the game," Nash said. "Just wanted to pay my respects."


O'Ree is in Philadelphia as part of the 2015 Willie O'Ree Skills Weekend, hosted by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. The weekend-long celebration, part of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, began Friday and runs through Sunday. In addition to an on-ice clinic and skills event, the children will have trips to the National Liberty Museum, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and Independence National Park. They'll also attend the Flyers game Saturday against the New York Rangers (8 p.m. ET, NBC, City).


Now working as the director of cause marketing for the NHL, O'Ree said the Snider Hockey program is the model for the League-wide Hockey Is For Everyone campaign.


"I would say that it is," O'Ree said. "I just think it's the growth of the whole program. These kids are coming in and learning not only the educational part but learning how to play hockey. Just takes off. There's more rinks being built, more kids playing; more kids playing hockey than ever before. This is a great program. And Jim Britt [vice president and chief operating officer] has done a fantastic job of working with these kids and letting them know hockey is for everyone."


Snider Hockey president Scott Tharp said he's proud to hear that compliment from O'Ree, but said it means only that the foundation's programs have started to make an impact.


"It validates that we're on track to achieve our objective and achieve our mission," he said. "But we know we have such a long way to go. We don't want to rest on our laurels. As soon as we start believing we're the model then somebody else will pass us by and we can't let that happen. We're very proud to have that recognition."


The Snider Hockey program, which will turn 10 years old in May, now serves 3,000 children between the ages of 5 and 19 from around the city of Philadelphia. They own and operate five ice rinks in the city and combine the opportunity to play hockey with a chance to improve educationally.


"These programs weren't around when I was growing up," O'Ree, 79, said. "So I just tell these kids to set goals for yourselves and work toward those goals. Believe in yourself and feel good about yourself and like yourself. I'm extremely happy with this program here. [Flyers chairman] Ed Snider and Jim Britt, they've done a fantastic job. I was here a few years ago and I've seen the growth. These kids are not only playing hockey but the educational part is good, they're all doing well in school. That's the most important thing."


O'Ree will talk with the children and answer any questions they have but won't be going on the ice with them. He has a walking boot on his right foot, the result of recent fusion surgery on his right ankle to repair an injury from his playing days; he said March 12 he'll have another procedure done to implant rods to help stabilize his leg. Once that heals, though, he said he'll be lacing his skates up again.


"As soon as I get my ankle taken care of I'm going to get back out on the ice with the kids," O'Ree said. "I get out and still move around with them. Just teach them the fundamentals of the game, stickhandling, puck control, keeping your head up, two hands on the stick."


Whatever role O'Ree plays, Simmonds was happy just to have a few minutes to talk to him again.


"It means a great deal to me," Simmonds said. "I've had an opportunity to meet Willie before. He's an unbelievable guy. He means so much for the sport. For me on a personal level, he was the first black man in the NHL. … If it wasn't for him I definitely wouldn't be playing the game today, I know that."


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Deadline uncertainty looms as Maple Leafs start trip


MONTREAL -- The Toronto Maple Leafs left town Friday for a four-game road trip.


None of the players can feel absolutely certain they will be coming back to Toronto anytime soon.


The Maple Leafs play Saturday at the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports) and Sunday at the Washington Capitals before getting a day off in Florida on Monday, the day of the NHL Trade Deadline.


When the clock strikes 3 p.m. ET on Monday, a lot of the speculation and anxiousness will be gone. Until then, it hovers like a black cloud.


"I have a big bag," Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul quipped Saturday when asked if he packed for this trip any differently.


In the wake of the stunning trade of forward David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for injured forward Nathan Horton on Thursday, the notion that any player may be traded out of Toronto couldn't have been made any clearer.


General manager Dave Nonis has said as much many times, but the trade of Clarkson still caught the Maple Leafs players by surprise.


"I didn't expect him to be moved," center Nazem Kadri said, "for whatever reason."


A big part of the reason was Clarkson's contract, which has five years remaining at a salary-cap charge of $5.25 million. In return the Maple Leafs took on Horton's uninsured contract, which has five years remaining at a cap charge of $5.3 million, while his career remains in doubt because of chronic back issues.


"Obviously we knew there was a chance anyone could be traded," Lupul said, "but that one in particular certainly caught the guys off guard."


Lupul, forward Phil Kessel, defenseman and captain Dion Phaneuf and any of the impending unrestricted free agents on the team could conceivably be traded by Monday afternoon. It can make for an uncomfortable environment, one that's been helped somewhat by the Maple Leafs stringing together two wins in a row for the first time since Dec. 16 heading into their game against the Canadiens.


"I'll be happier on Monday, if I'm still here or wherever else," Lupul said. "But it's out of my control. I love Toronto, I love being a Maple Leaf, but if it's time to move on, it's time to move on."


Lupul has been outspoken about his belief that totally tearing down the Maple Leafs roster might not be the best course of action for the team, and he still believes that is not necessarily the plan for Nonis and team president Brendan Shanahan.


"The only place that's really been said is in the media," Lupul said. "All I've heard from Dave Nonis and Brendan Shanahan is that we're going to try to make some hockey trades, because obviously the product we put on the ice this year wasn't good enough. So they're trying to make trades, I'm sure they're listening to offers on everyone, but I don't think they're just going to trade players for the sake of trading them. They need to get value back.


"Everyone's making it sound like everyone can be gone, but then what do you have left? A bunch of draft picks that might be good one day?"


The Maple Leafs have five impending UFAs remaining on the roster that could potentially fetch those draft picks after already trading forwards Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson. Center Olli Jokinen, forward David Booth and defenseman Korbinian Holzer are the most attractive of those players, and could be among those who should have packed a bigger bag for this road trip.


Jokinen has only been with the Maple Leafs since arriving in the trade that sent Franson and Santorelli to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 15, but he already senses how difficult this period of sweeping change has been for some of his new teammates who might become ex-teammates very soon.


"It's a tough situation," Jokinen said. "It's always at this time of the year when a team's out of the playoffs, you would rather be in a position that you're wondering who we're going to add. So I think that way it's hard, especially for younger guys and guys that have years left in their deals. Most of these guys, they're going to play for a long time, and all those guys they want to stay here. So it's hard."


The Maple Leafs have two more days left of this; two more days of answering questions, two more days of feeling a bit jumpy every time their phones ring. Until then, they have two games to play.


"I don't know what the future holds, if they want to rebuild from scratch or what it is, but it's not my job," Lupul said. "My job is to play [Saturday], play Sunday then we'll see what happens Monday."



Ekman-Larsson is Coyotes' foundation moving ahead


It's not totally out of the realm of possibility, because nothing is when it comes to trades at this time of the season, but the Arizona Coyotes might have a better chance of storming back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Western Conference than there is of general manager Don Maloney trading all-star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.


The Coyotes are 24 points out of a playoff spot and in seller's mode heading into the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET. Their hope is to secure some assets and get a good position for the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery in order to enhance their rebuild.



Oliver Ekman-Larsson



Defense - ARI


GOALS: 17 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 31

SOG: 203 | +/-: -19



Ekman-Larsson, 23, is the foundation of Arizona's rebuild.

"If he was on any other team in the entire NHL everyone would be talking about how he is not just top-five [among defensemen in the NHL], he'd be talked about as the best," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "He's unbelievable."


That said, almost one month ago Arizona general manager Don Maloney surprisingly mentioned Ekman-Larsson's name in a conversation about trades on TSN 1200 Radio in Ottawa.


"Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a player that we would certainly be very, very reluctant to part with," Maloney said Jan. 30. "But as far as I'm concerned when you're sitting with our record, and we're [one of the] three or four worst records in the League, then everybody is up for grabs."


Maloney's comment went viral through the hockey community, but it was taken out of context. All he meant from Arizona's perspective was if, for example, the Pittsburgh Penguins offered Sidney Crosby in a trade for Ekman-Larsson, then yes, the defenseman would be up for grabs.


Maloney is refraining from commenting publicly until after the trade deadline, but a Coyotes spokesperson said the GM has no intention of trading Ekman-Larsson.


"I'm really happy in Arizona and I'm happy about playing a lot," Ekman-Larsson said. "I just love being in Arizona."


The Coyotes love having him. Why wouldn't they?


Ekman-Larsson is their best player. He leads NHL defensemen with 17 goals and is second behind Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson with 203 shots on goal. Ekman-Larsson is third on Arizona with 31 points.


"He's a combination of a dynamic player and the most sensible, reasonable, thoughtful player you can have," coach Dave Tippett said. "He has a dynamic shot but he plays hard minutes, plays against other teams' top players, and he makes hard plays look easy. He's just an all-around good player but he has a dynamic element to his game also. I think he's one of the top defensemen in the League. Obviously this year with our team it's not going the way anybody would like, and Oliver would certainly like to be better, but if he was a lot of other places there would be a lot more fanfare, that's for sure."


Location might be the biggest knock on Ekman-Larsson.


"If he was in the East you'd hear more about him with prime-time TV," Yandle said. "But we're happy we have him."


Like everyone with the Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson hates all the losing they have done this season and is struggling to come to grips with the idea that Arizona is heading into rebuilding mode. This is the first time since he arrived in Arizona in 2010 that the Coyotes have been in this position.


"It's hard," Ekman-Larsson said. "Obviously when you don't have the success you're looking for change is going to happen. That's where we're at now. It's hard to say what happened."


What happened doesn't matter anymore. For the Coyotes, it's what they're going to do about it. Trading assets, veteran players with expiring contracts, is the obvious solution. So is building around Ekman-Larsson, who loves that idea.


"That's what I want," he said. "I want them to build a team around me, an organization around me. Look at Shane Doan; they have been building around him for 20 years now. I want to be that guy who everybody likes and that they want to build around."


Doan, 38, isn't ready to cede the captaincy yet, but depending on what happens with Yandle, Ekman-Larsson could be the next captain in Arizona. Yandle is signed through next season but he might be traded either before the deadline or in the offseason.


"I wouldn't say no to that," Ekman-Larsson said of being captain one day. "It's up to the coaches and the staff so I don't focus on that. But I would love to wear a letter."


"I think he has all the potential to be and he has the personality to be," Doan said. "I think having Keith Yandle around is huge for him because [Yandle] is a natural leader and Oliver sees the way he is with everybody and that gives him so much more comfort."


Having Ekman-Larsson around gives the Coyotes comfort as they head into their rebuild. He's the cornerstone defenseman, their gem. He's not leaving the desert.


"Oliver is special," Doan said. "The way he sees the game is incredible. He is unbelievable defensively. He plays physical. He does everything that you want him to do. He's just an unbelievable teammate too. He's exactly what you want in a player."


---



Rangers' Boyle finally adjusting to new role


NEW YORK -- A broken hand opening night, multiple illnesses that he never before had to deal with, inconsistent play that hadn't existed previously, and a reduced role that hurt his confidence. Dan Boyle didn't expect his first season with the New York Rangers to be as frustrating on a personal level as it has been.


At 38 years old, Boyle knew his days as a No. 1 defenseman were done, particularly because he signed with a team that already featured Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. But Boyle didn't think he'd have to deal with as much change and adversity as he's had to this season.


"That's been the most frustrating thing about this year for me, just trying to stay steady with that confidence level," Boyle said. "It's hard when you're not used to this."


It looks like it's finally getting easier for Boyle; he at least feels it is. So does McDonagh. So does Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who said Boyle had one of his best games of the season Thursday in a 4-3 win against the Arizona Coyotes.


Though it might have taken until late February, it appears the Rangers finally are seeing the skilled, slick-skating, puck-rushing defenseman they thought they were getting when they signed Boyle to a two-year, $9 million contract July 1.


New York carries a 10-game point streak (8-0-2) into its game Saturday at the Philadelphia Flyers (8 p.m. ET; NBC, City). Boyle has been in the lineup and contributing in various ways every game.


"I'm just kind of figuring out my role, and that's been a tough adjustment on me mentally, just playing less than I've been accustomed to in the past," Boyle said. "It's definitely been an adjustment and mentally it's been tough, but if I look at the last 10 games or so I think I've done a better job than in the past. I don't know if niche is the word, but I'm finding ways to get involved offensively a little bit more."


Boyle's role is different with the Rangers, so those end-to-end rushes he became famous for with the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks, when he'd weave through the middle of the ice, are few and far between. The Rangers' defensemen rarely skate the puck through the neutral zone.


Boyle's ice time also is different because of the presence of McDonagh, Girardi and Staal, and the improvement of Kevin Klein. Though Boyle led his team in average ice time per game for the past 11 seasons, with a low mark of 21:16 last season, this season he is fourth on the Rangers at 20:05; that is elevated by his Rangers-leading 2:58 per game on the power play. He has played fewer than 20 minutes in 10 of the past 14 games.


Of late Boyle has been taking more risks with his pinches in the offensive zone and he's generating more scoring chances at even-strength and on the power play. He has played almost 22 minutes in two of the past three games.


"You can tell he's still got good jump," McDonagh said. "The best thing is he makes a little pass behind the net, then he's making three or four hard strides to beat his guy up the ice, takes a chance on a pinch, continues low, sniffing. Those are the examples that create opportunities for us offensively."


Boyle has 15 points in 43 games, so though his numbers might not reflect his improved play, he didn't come to the Rangers to put up numbers.


"I came here to win the Stanley Cup," Boyle said.


The Rangers signed him because they thought he could help them do that. New York is 30-9-4 with Boyle in the lineup this season; it is 8-7-2 without him.


Boyle's enhanced stats tell a bigger story of his value. He leads the Rangers in shot-attempts differential (SAT) at plus-125 and in SAT relative at plus-233, though it should be noted he's been playing on the third defense pair, so he's not facing the same level of competition as McDonagh, Girardi, Staal and Klein are.


"I see a lot of positives there and a lot of upside," Vigneault said. "Obviously his minutes here are different than what he's used to, but when he's been in our lineup our win record is excellent. He helps us to move the puck. He's just being used a little bit differently. I feel come the end of the season he'll be fresh and ready to help us with that final push."



Dan Boyle



Defense - NYR


GOALS: 8 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 15

SOG: 87 | +/-: 15



That's what Boyle is hoping for. That's what has kept him going through what easily has been his most trying season since 2001-02, before he became a No. 1 defenseman for the Lightning and the Sharks.

Boyle averaged at least 24 minutes per game in seven of his previous 11 seasons. He averaged more than 25 minutes five times, 26 minutes four times, and 27 minutes twice.


Now that his minutes are less, Boyle said it's harder to regain confidence after making a mistake because he has more time to think about what went wrong. And with the way he plays, having the puck as often as he does in precarious positions near the blue line, mistakes are going to happen.


"When you're playing 27 or 28 minutes a night like I have been for the last 12 years, you don't have time to think about mistakes and you get a really good feel for the game," Boyle said. "That's been the tough adjustment, sitting there and not feeling the puck as much and having to go out there and do what I'm used to doing."


Boyle's game also has changed with the score. The Rangers have been playing with the lead a lot (they've scored first in 37 of 60 games), so they haven't needed Boyle to try as many end-to-end rushes or pinch as deep into the offensive zone to chase a goal.


"He's trying to play within the team concept, the team boundaries, so he's playing the game that is in front of him and we've been ahead a lot," said forward Martin St. Louis, who won the Stanley Cup with Boyle in Tampa Bay in 2004. "We tend to play safer when we're ahead and our [defensemen] are not really leading the rush. We've been ahead in a lot of the games and you play sometimes to protect the lead. But if we need a goal you know [Boyle] is going to hold on to it a little more and he's going to sniff. The reality is we haven't trailed much."


Boyle's enhanced statistics prove St. Louis' point. He leads the Rangers with a plus-58 SAT behind and plus-55 SAT close, so when they are trailing or the score is close he is pushing the offense to generate shots and scoring chances.


"The score will dictate a little bit more about how I play, but I'm not going to complain," Boyle said. "This team has been winning, has been ahead. At the end of the day that eases the frustration."


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Friday, February 27, 2015

Clarkson looking forward to fresh start in Columbus


COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets think they see in forward David Clarkson many of the traits present in some of the their top players.


"He's gritty. He plays the 200 feet and he's scored a lot of goals in this League," left wing Nick Foligno said. "He's going to help us on the offensive side but also defensively and being a hard person to play against. That's what we pride ourselves on.


"He's going to be another person to solidify that identity."


Clarkson, acquired Thursday from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade for injured forward Nathan Horton, has struggled the past two seasons after signing a seven-year, $36.75 million contract following several productive seasons with the New Jersey Devils, including 30 goals in 2011-12.


"A fresh start and play the way I did back in Jersey and get back to myself, that's something I’m excited for," Clarkson said Friday. "I don't regret playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs or signing there. It was something I dreamed of as a boy and I was fortunate enough to do that."


Clarkson has 10 goals and 15 points in 58 games this season after he had five goals and 11 points in 60 games last season for Toronto.


"I wish things would have gone better but I'm excited to take in a new town and be a part of a new chapter in my life," he said. "The role I played in New Jersey is a lot different than I played in Toronto. I hope to get back to that and how I can play like I can."


While Clarkson didn't say what that role was, Columbus coach Todd Richards has an idea for how Clarkson can regain his scoring touch.


"I know the [30-goal] year he had in Jersey he was out in front of the net a lot and he was getting the stick on every puck that seemed to come his way," Richards said. "He was scoring his goals from three, four feet from the net."


Richards likened Clarkson's style to that of Foligno and Columbus forwards Scott Hartnell and Matt Calvert. He welcomes another player who likes to go to the dirty areas.


"We have some guys that would fit that [description] but we don't do it consistently enough," he said.


Hartnell remembers playing for the Philadelphia Flyers against Clarkson when he was with the Devils.


"You knew when him and his line were on the ice," Hartnell said. "They were physical. He's a guy kind of like myself. You're on the forecheck fast. You're hitting guys and finishing checks. He's an honest guy too; he'll stick up for his teammates."


Clarkson is expected to fly from Toronto to Columbus on Friday night and be in the lineup against the Devils in Nationwide Arena on Saturday; he'll wear No. 18.


"He's heart and soul-type player," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "That's why we're excited to have Dave. He'll fit our needs and our group perfectly."


If Clarkson plays Saturday he'll do so without practicing with his new teammates because no morning skate is scheduled.


"It's a young team and me being older and playing in the League for a while, I'm going there to feel things out for myself," he said. "The main thing is they play a fast-paced game. They play very hard, in-your-face. They're a hard-working team. It fits me well the way I play."


He will find a city and setting that is unlike the scrutiny he faced in Toronto, but that doesn't mean he won't be held accountable, said Foligno, who played five seasons for the Ottawa Senators.


"I'm sure he'll learn from his experiences in Toronto and it will make him a better person, a better player because of it but there's still pressure to win here," Foligno said. "I understand it's not the same as a Canadian team but there's pressure to bring a winning franchise and a winning organization here. We all feel that.



David Clarkson



Right Wing - CBJ


GOALS: 10 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 15

SOG: 93 | +/-: -11



"In Toronto it's so over the top the things they have to deal with. It's almost unbearable at times. I've been in Ottawa where they make controversies out of nothing sometimes so I think it's going to be refreshing for him."

Clarkson understood the pressure of trying to live up to the contract he signed with the Maple Leafs in July 2013.


"Playing in a city like Toronto, the fans are very passionate there," he said. "They're some of the best fans in the League just because how much they want to win.


"As a player the expectations I have on myself are there wherever you play. You want to do well. It didn't go the way I planned but that's what I’m hoping to do when I get to Columbus."


Hartnell, in his first season with the Blue Jackets, said Columbus will be an eye-opener for Clarkson.


"It's a low-key city," he said. "It's got a great fan base. The fans are awesome. Coming here as a visiting team you don't really know the buzz around hockey. We haven't had the best of seasons but still there's a lot of positivity around town."


Foligno said the Blue Jackets are happy to add a player to the lineup after Horton's injuries limited him to 35 games last season, the first of a seven-year $37.1 million contract.


Horton missed the first half of 2013-14 after undergoing shoulder surgery and has not played this season because of a degenerative back condition that could end his career.


"I know he was really committed here and it just didn't pan out with his health," Foligno said. "At the same time we’re getting a really good player for a guy who has doubts with a lot of things. Clarkson's here to help us right now. The main thing was we were waiting to see what would happen [to Horton]. This is a guy that can step in and help us right now."



Tlusty reunited with old friends upon trade to Jets


WINNIPEG -- Approximately 6,000 miles separate the Czech city of Kladno and MTS Centre, the home of the Winnipeg Jets.


However, three childhood friends find themselves in the same landing spot after the Jets acquired left wing Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.


The trade uprooted Tlusty, 26, from a team he played for since he was 21 years old and where he grew into a full-time NHL player.



Jiri Tlusty



Center - WPG


GOALS: 13 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 23

SOG: 99 | +/-: -17



Tlusty joins two fellow Czechs, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and right wing Michael Frolik, but the ties between the three players go far beyond that.

"[Tlusty] texted me right away when he knew," Frolik said. "It was a little bit of a shocker."


Jets coach Paul Maurice also coached Tlusty with Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defenseman Jay Harrison and Tlusty began the season as Hurricanes teammates before Harrison headed to Winnipeg in a trade Dec. 18.


"It make things easier to have two great buddies on the team," Tlusty said before his first game with the Jets on Thursday.


"I'm really excited. We are great friends from back home. We always hang out in the summertime, train together, spend the summer back home. It's going to be so much fun to be on the same team.


"I played with [Pavelec at the 2013 World Championship], and it was so much fun. Now I'm excited to have him and [Frolik] over here."


The three players spent time together with HC Kladno's junior teams and represented the Czech Republic at various levels of junior competition. Frolik and Tlusty played the 2005-06 season with HC Kladno.


"We had always joked about it [happening], and now it happened," Pavelec said. "When [Frolik] was traded here [in 2013 by the Chicago Blackhawks], we couldn't believe it. Now there are three of us here."


But Tlusty's connection to Frolik and Pavelec goes well beyond the NHL and international play. They played minor hockey together since they were 8 or 9, according to Tlusty.


"We grew up together," said Tlusty, who sits next to Frolik in the Winnipeg dressing room.


Beyond the childhood connections, Tlusty's arrival comes at a much-needed time for the Jets. Winnipeg is attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 when the franchise was known as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Jets hold the Western Conference's first wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Jets forwards Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler each are out with a lower-body injury. Maurice compared Tlusty's two-way game and versatility with that of Frolik, who has spent time on each of Winnipeg's top three lines this season.


The trade also enabled Maurice to return Dustin Byfuglien to the Winnipeg blue line, where he can play 25 minutes per game.



Ondrej Pavelec



Goalie - WPG


RECORD: 13-13-7

GAA: 2.60 | SVP: .909



"First of all, he is a really good player," Pavelec said of Tlusty, who has 13 goals and 10 assists in 53 games. "He is going to help the team."

Maurice slotted Tlusty on the second line with center Mark Scheifele and right wing Drew Stafford, another recent addition. The Jets brought in Stafford and defenseman Tyler Myers from the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane trade on Feb. 11.


Maurice tends to be a hands-off coach with regard to managing his dressing room, preferring to allow captain Andrew Ladd and his fellow team leaders to ease the transition for new players.


But Tlusty's transition figures to be particularly smooth with familiar faces around him.


"Nobody ever expected that three buddies could play on the same team in the NHL," Frolik said. "It's something very special."



Devils believe spot in playoffs remains possible


NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils remain a confident group despite the trade of Jaromir Jagr on Thursday and the precarious situation they find themselves in during their pursuit of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with six weeks remaining in the regular season.


Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded Jagr to the Florida Panthers, one of three teams that are between New Jersey and the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot held by the Boston Bruins.


The Devils received a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2016 for Jagr.


"You knew there was a possibility that it could happen," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said of the Jagr trade. "You just never know if it might happen now, Monday [at the NHL Trade Deadline] or if they would do it at all. I think the return they got is great. It's a move [Lamoriello] felt comfortable doing, and by no means does it mean he's giving up on us.


"It's a hockey move and he had to make a trade, make a decision."


The trade gives the Panthers a veteran forward coach Gerard Gallant will insert right into their top six. Only time will tell in regards to what the Devils do with the draft picks.


So where do the Devils go from here?


What we do know is that New Jersey is close to missing the playoffs for a third straight season after taking the Los Angeles Kings to Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.


It's a situation that doesn't sit well with Lamoriello.


Part of the issue for the Devils has been moving forward after the departure of Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in July 2012 and the sudden retirement from the NHL by Ilya Kovalchuk in July 2013. Since then Lamoriello has made a few minor trades and free-agent signings, but the Devils have struggled.


"Any time you lose two guys of that caliber … they were two of the best in the world at the time," Devils forward Adam Henrique said. "You don't replace guys like that. They were great in the locker room and leaders on and off the ice. You don't just lose those guys and call in two other guys to replace them. I got to play with them for a majority of my rookie year and it was awesome. It meant a lot to me as a young guy to learn from them and it was important for me my first year.


"So it was a big loss and we're trying to get back there. We know we can if we keep working at it one day at a time."


Greene believes Lamoriello has been doing the best job he can since the departures of Parise and Kovalchuk.


"When you lose two guys, top 10-to-15 in this League, and lose them in back-to-back years, you can't go and fix it right away," Greene said. "It's a process and there will be ups and downs. At the same time [Lamoriello] is working just as hard as ever to make sure we have the best team, a championship team. He's looking to do what's best for this organization and what will work to get us back to the Stanley Cup."


Lamoriello's biggest acquisitions to date probably are trading for goaltender Cory Schneider at the 2013 draft and signing free agent Mike Cammalleri to a five-year contract worth a reported $25 million in July 2014.


Cammalleri leads the Devils with 23 goals, eight power-play goals and eight game-winning goals, and is tied for the lead with 31 points. Schneider, who ranks fourth in the NHL with a .926 save percentage and seventh with a 2.22 goals-against average, has solidified his spot as a No. 1 goaltender.


Even with the recent playoff drought it should be noted Lamoriello has guided the Devils to 21 playoff appearances in the past 26 seasons and has won the Stanley Cup three times.


Devils forward Patrik Elias knows Lamoriello is the type who doesn't look back and has no regrets. He knows it's been tough the past three seasons.


"It's disappointing to all of us," Elias said. "Especially those of us who thought the playoffs were automatic here; having a chance to win and compete for the Cup. Signing guys, trading guys, not signing guys is all part of the business. It can affect the organization and a couple of those did, and maybe not just those.


"I'm sure Lou would be the first to tell you he doesn't look back. The present is here and he's trying to get better, trying to win every day. That's what he's trying to do."


A few of the Devils players reflected on what it meant to have Jagr as part of the group the past two seasons.


"He was pretty valuable to this team over the last couple of years with his leadership and work ethic and that part of his game rubbed off on a lot of guys," forward Travis Zajac said. "I personally learned a lot from him. He's a true professional and he's had an amazing career. I wish him the best of luck."


"It was a huge honor to be his teammate for almost two years; he's one of the best to ever play the game," Henrique said. "To have him here and learn from him and see how he sees the game, it was different than your average player. He's not your average player."



Patrik Elias



Center - NJD


GOALS: 10 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 25

SOG: 83 | +/-: -14



Elias, at 38 now the oldest active player on the active roster (injured defenseman Bryce Salvador is two months older), knew Jagr was unhappy with his diminished ice time in recent weeks.

"A guy that plays over 20 minutes to start the season and then is going between 12-13 minutes a game won't be happy," Elias said. "You still want to play. It doesn't matter the age, doesn't matter what he can do. Coaches made a decision to spread out the minutes over four lines and his minutes dropped dramatically; but everyone else's went down too. I think they balanced it out for whole team."


Still, Elias feels the Devils are in a good place with regard to making one final push to get in the playoffs. With 21 games remaining they trail the Bruins, the team they host Friday, by eight points for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot.


"I think we still have a group that feels they can still make a push," Elias said. "Jaromir was able to control the puck; he was probably one of the best at doing that. But we believe we have guys to keep this going and get us back on the right track. There's been no indication to me that we are down."


---



Devils believe spot in playoffs remains possible


NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils remain a confident group despite the trade of Jaromir Jagr on Thursday and the precarious situation they find themselves in during their pursuit of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with six weeks remaining in the regular season.


Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded Jagr to the Florida Panthers, one of three teams that are between New Jersey and the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot held by the Boston Bruins.


The Devils received a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2016 for Jagr.


"You knew there was a possibility that it could happen," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said of the Jagr trade. "You just never know if it might happen now, Monday [at the NHL Trade Deadline] or if they would do it at all. I think the return they got is great. It's a move [Lamoriello] felt comfortable doing, and by no means does it mean he's giving up on us.


"It's a hockey move and he had to make a trade, make a decision."


The trade gives the Panthers a veteran forward coach Gerard Gallant will insert right into their top six. Only time will tell in regards to what the Devils do with the draft picks.


So where do the Devils go from here?


What we do know is that New Jersey is close to missing the playoffs for a third straight season after taking the Los Angeles Kings to Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.


It's a situation that doesn't sit well with Lamoriello.


Part of the issue for the Devils has been moving forward after the departure of Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in July 2012 and the sudden retirement from the NHL by Ilya Kovalchuk in July 2013. Since then Lamoriello has made a few minor trades and free-agent signings, but the Devils have struggled.


"Any time you lose two guys of that caliber … they were two of the best in the world at the time," Devils forward Adam Henrique said. "You don't replace guys like that. They were great in the locker room and leaders on and off the ice. You don't just lose those guys and call in two other guys to replace them. I got to play with them for a majority of my rookie year and it was awesome. It meant a lot to me as a young guy to learn from them and it was important for me my first year.


"So it was a big loss and we're trying to get back there. We know we can if we keep working at it one day at a time."


Greene believes Lamoriello has been doing the best job he can since the departures of Parise and Kovalchuk.


"When you lose two guys, top 10-to-15 in this League, and lose them in back-to-back years, you can't go and fix it right away," Greene said. "It's a process and there will be ups and downs. At the same time [Lamoriello] is working just as hard as ever to make sure we have the best team, a championship team. He's looking to do what's best for this organization and what will work to get us back to the Stanley Cup."


Lamoriello's biggest acquisitions to date probably are trading for goaltender Cory Schneider at the 2013 draft and signing free agent Mike Cammalleri to a five-year contract worth a reported $25 million in July 2014.


Cammalleri leads the Devils with 23 goals, eight power-play goals and eight game-winning goals, and is tied for the lead with 31 points. Schneider, who ranks fourth in the NHL with a .926 save percentage and seventh with a 2.22 goals-against average, has solidified his spot as a No. 1 goaltender.


Even with the recent playoff drought it should be noted Lamoriello has guided the Devils to 21 playoff appearances in the past 26 seasons and has won the Stanley Cup three times.


Devils forward Patrik Elias knows Lamoriello is the type who doesn't look back and has no regrets. He knows it's been tough the past three seasons.


"It's disappointing to all of us," Elias said. "Especially those of us who thought the playoffs were automatic here; having a chance to win and compete for the Cup. Signing guys, trading guys, not signing guys is all part of the business. It can affect the organization and a couple of those did, and maybe not just those.


"I'm sure Lou would be the first to tell you he doesn't look back. The present is here and he's trying to get better, trying to win every day. That's what he's trying to do."


A few of the Devils players reflected on what it meant to have Jagr as part of the group the past two seasons.


"He was pretty valuable to this team over the last couple of years with his leadership and work ethic and that part of his game rubbed off on a lot of guys," forward Travis Zajac said. "I personally learned a lot from him. He's a true professional and he's had an amazing career. I wish him the best of luck."


"It was a huge honor to be his teammate for almost two years; he's one of the best to ever play the game," Henrique said. "To have him here and learn from him and see how he sees the game, it was different than your average player. He's not your average player."



Patrik Elias



Center - NJD


GOALS: 10 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 25

SOG: 83 | +/-: -14



Elias, at 38 now the oldest active player on the active roster (injured defenseman Bryce Salvador is two months older), knew Jagr was unhappy with his diminished ice time in recent weeks.

"A guy that plays over 20 minutes to start the season and then is going between 12-13 minutes a game won't be happy," Elias said. "You still want to play. It doesn't matter the age, doesn't matter what he can do. Coaches made a decision to spread out the minutes over four lines and his minutes dropped dramatically; but everyone else's went down too. I think they balanced it out for whole team."


Still, Elias feels the Devils are in a good place with regard to making one final push to get in the playoffs. With 21 games remaining they trail the Bruins, the team they host Friday, by eight points for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot.


"I think we still have a group that feels they can still make a push," Elias said. "Jaromir was able to control the puck; he was probably one of the best at doing that. But we believe we have guys to keep this going and get us back on the right track. There's been no indication to me that we are down."


---



Lightning's Johnson continues to prove critics wrong


TAMPA -- Tyler Johnson has heard it all before. He's not big enough, he's not tough enough, he needs to do more of this, he needs to do more of that.


The Tampa Bay Lightning forward has heard it and still he's managed to succeed. Johnson, a four-year pro out of Spokane, Wash., has proven his rookie season in the NHL was no fluke.


Although he's no longer on the top line with center Steven Stamkos, Johnson is on the Lightning's most productive line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. After being named to the NHL All-Rookie team and a Calder Trophy finalist in 2013-14, he was selected to play in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, although he did not participate due to injury.


"That was pretty unfortunate," Johnson said. "I was hoping I could play in the game but I didn't. It was still a good experience to be there and be acknowledged by the fans."



Tyler Johnson



Tyler Johnson


Center - TBL


GOALS: 23 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 59

SOG: 161 | +/-: 30



Johnson leads the Lightning in points (59) and assists (36). His 23 goals are tied for second. In a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, he became the fastest undrafted player in NHL history to score 50 goals, doing it in 156 games to beat out Dustin Penner's mark by one game.

However, don't expect Johnson to boast about that accomplishment or any other.


"I don't think you wear it as a badge or anything," Johnson said about not being drafted. "It's a nice accomplishment to score goals and be successful whether you were drafted or not. I try to go out there and do my job and help my team win."


Johnson said he's only looking ahead to the next opportunity to make a play that will keep the Lightning in contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.


"Maybe when the season is over you can look back and think about what you did or being selected to the All-Star Game," Johnson said. "But right now we're in a fight for seeding in the playoffs, and when every game counts there isn't time to focus on individual things."


Kucherov is a little more willing to brag about his linemate and said Johnson's production on the ice comes from his work ethic off it and in practice.


"He makes it look easy at times, but he works very hard to make it look that way," Kucherov said. "I love playing with him. He always seems to make the right pass or be in the right place."


Lightning coach Jon Cooper looks at other elements of Johnson's game that have improved, including his play away from the puck and his overall intensity on the ice.


"I think Tyler is just the type of guy that loves hockey so much he's willing to do anything you ask him to," Cooper said. "That's the beauty of his game, that's probably why his teammates respect him so much. He's not a big guy at all but he's not afraid of the physical play. He makes plays without the puck. He does a lot of little things that you don't see and they lead to the big opportunities."


In a fair world, the 24-year-old would have been selected in the NHL Draft. His credentials included leading the Spokane Chiefs to the Western Hockey League championship and being named Most Valuable Player of the WHL playoffs in 2008 as a 17-year-old rookie.


Johnson scored three goals to help the United States capture the gold medal in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship.


However, at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Johnson wasn't going to impress anyone with his physical stature. So he went undrafted and participated in three NHL developmental camps before signing a free-agent contract with the Lightning in 2011.


"It's always frustrating to know you can do something and be on the outside while other people have success," Johnson said. "People had questions about my size and I think I've proved most of them wrong and I hope it's no longer an issue. It's nothing I try to think about. I am what I am and I think I've been productive as a player."


It's definitely not an issue in the Lightning locker room, where Johnson's contributions and leadership qualities are invaluable on a young team looking to make a lengthy run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


"He's a big part of this team and I'm glad he's here," Stamkos said. "He's a great playmaker and when you see how hard he works on the ice and the way he skates and the way he trains and practices, it's good that he's being recognized for his play. He's a good teammate and a person that leads by example."


Like most of his teammates, Johnson is focused on the Lightning's postseason prospects and he believes that what he does in the playoffs will be a true test of his success as a player.


"The playoffs are why you play the game," Johnson said. "You work all these months to give yourself an opportunity to play for a championship and be the best team in the [NHL]. I want us to be in the mix to win a Stanley Cup."



Lindberg earns first call-up amid strong AHL season


On Feb. 24, at just around 7 p.m., Hartford Wolf Pack center Oscar Lindberg had a date at Madison Square Garden with a dream he'd been chasing since childhood.


In 8:18 of ice time spread over 16 shifts, the Skelleftea, Sweden, native was on the ice for his first career NHL game with the New York Rangers, one that will linger in his memory forever, regardless of how many more come after it.


"I was kind of nervous the first couple of shifts, but I think as the game went on, I felt more comfortable," Lindberg said. "I'll remember that day for the rest of my life, that's for sure."


Lindberg, selected in the second round (No. 57) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes and acquired by the Rangers in a 2011 trade, played for Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League and was MVP of the SHL playoffs in 2013 before making his debut in the American Hockey League last season.


For some, the shift to the North American style can be a difficult one. Finding ways to translate what worked isn't always easy playing on smaller ice, and with players whose skill-sets often differ from the European game.


"You have to make decisions quicker here, and I think that is one of the biggest things I've struggled with, but it has been better the more I've played here," Lindberg said. "[The AHL's] a good league, and there's a lot of skilled players and guys working hard. It's a tough league, for sure."


Lindberg's first season with Hartford saw him net 18 goals and 44 points in 75 games to finish second in scoring on the Wolf Pack. In his second year, Lindberg hasn't missed a step. He again is second in scoring with 16 goals and 36 points in 54 games, and his plus-5 rating ties him for second among Wolf Pack forwards. Last weekend, he scored game-winning overtime goals in back-to-back games against Springfield and Lehigh Valley.


"I try to be a good two-way center," Lindberg said. "My defensive game and my faceoffs have been something I've been taking pride in all my career, but I think offensively I can contribute with some goals and points here and there."


Lindberg had an ally in Jesper Fast last season, using the fellow Swede to help buffer the culture shock and uncertainty that often comes with the territory when moving across an ocean. But even though having Fast there was a comfort, his countryman's eventual recall and subsequent permanent stay with the Rangers didn't hinder Lindberg.


Instead, he jumped at the opportunity to speak with his teammates in English, and master the language he had begun to learn while in school back home.


"I think he was pretty well-adjusted," Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. "I think maybe sometimes he was a little more accustomed to having that extra 10, 15 feet with the wider rink, so things sometimes develop a little quicker. But structurally, tactically, everything was pretty status quo for him."


Lindberg was relied upon in a top-six role from the start last season, getting big minutes and shouldering a lot of the offensive and defensive responsibilities. Gernander notes that when able to, he and his staff tried to bump Lindberg to a lesser role in order to alleviate some of that pressure.


"I think he actually responded better. It freed him up a little bit," Gernander said. "Now he's obviously grown into a top-six center in the AHL, and can pretty much handle all tasks. He's just a more complete and more mature player; it's been a steady progression and development for him."


Though he was with the Rangers for one game before heading back to Hartford, the effect was both immediate and lasting. Allowed to get a glimpse of just what the NHL is about, Lindberg's new insight into the next step from the Wolf Pack gave him something to measure up against for the future.


"I saw right away that the guys were stronger, bigger, and more skilled too. But I just think if I keep playing good hockey, the chance will come again," he said. "But it's good to see how professional guys are up there, and that you need to be a really good player to play at that level consistently."


For Gernander, an AHL Hall of Famer and former Ranger himself, the steady uptick in Lindberg's development offensively and defensively has been noticeable in his season and a half of AHL time.


"He's very committed to becoming better on faceoffs. He's had good success here this season with his percentages and things like that," Gernander said. "Playing at the NHL level, I think his whole game will translate well. He has offensive upside, and what team wouldn't want that?"


For more news, scores, and stats from around the American Hockey League, follow @TheAHL on Twitter and visit theahl.com



Super 16: Kings' resurgence deeper than recent streak


No team in the analytics era has reminded people that process is a better indicator of future success than recent results like the Los Angeles Kings have.


In two of the past three seasons, the Kings appeared to be stumbling along near the middle of the NHL pack, before a late surge in the standings led into a championship run. Analysts pointed to the underlying numbers, and how Los Angeles was a great possession team dealing with some bad luck, especially last season.


In 2012, the Kings added Jeff Carter (and subtracted Jack Johnson) right about the time the shots started going in. Last season, Carter moved to center and the Kings added Marian Gaborik just as, after a season of carrying a near League-worst shooting percentage, the shots starting going in.


The Kings made a big trade Wednesday, landing defenseman Andrej Sekera, but their surge began long ago even if it wasn't reflected in the standings. Since early December, the Kings have dominated teams in puck possession better than they have in the past three seasons, and now some improved goaltending has helped them storm back into the top eight in the Western Conference.


From the start of the season through Dec. 3, the Kings did not look like the team from last season. Great goaltending masked some of the problems, but Los Angeles was 14th in score-adjusted shot attempts percentage (SAT%), according to war-on-ice.com, and even worse, the Kings were 18th in score-adjusted unblocked shot attempts percentage (USAT%).







































































































































































ON DEC 3
PlayerSAT%relSAT%PlayerSAT%relSAT%
Jake Muzzin8.157.2Robyn Regehr-8.045.8
Drew Doughty5.854.3Jarret Stoll-5.746.8
Anze Kopitar5.755.1Jordan Nolan-5.647.2
Marian Gaborik5.355.5Dustin Brown-4.447.9
Justin Williams4.354.1Alec Martinez-4.447.6
Jeff Carter4.254.1Dwight King-4.248.0
Trevor Lewis3.753.6Mike Richards-2.849.0
Tyler Toffoli2.853.2Matt Greene-1.550.0
SINCE DEC 3
PlayerSAT%relSAT%PlayerSAT%relSAT%
Anze Kopitar3.560.1Jordan Nolan-11.048.2
Marian Gaborik2.859.0Nick Shore-4.951.0
Brayden McNabb2.859.5Jarret Stoll-4.154.5
Trevor Lewis2.359.3Alec Martinez-3.055.4
Justin Williams1.858.9Robyn Regehr-1.656.1
Tyler Toffoli1.559.5Dustin Brown-0.657.1
Drew Doughty1.058.1Jeff Carter-0.657.2
Jake Muzzin0.958.1Matt Greene-0.457.3
Key: SAT%rel = shot attempts percentage relative to team average; SAT% shot attempts percentage

Since Dec. 3, which is a span of 34 games for Los Angeles, the Kings have been the best puck- possession team in the NHL by a significant margin. They are first in both of those metrics.


The gap between the Kings in non-adjusted SAT% and the second-place Detroit Red Wings since Dec. 3 is the same between the Red Wings and 11th place. During this run, the Kings are second in the NHL in shot attempts for per 60 minutes (SATF/60) and second in the League in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (SATA/60). They are generating shot attempts like the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks and they are suffocating them like the Red Wings.


The Kings' score-adjusted USAT% since Dec. 3 is 58.5 percent. Only two other teams have produced a full season better than that since blocked and missed shots started being counted in 2005: the 2007-08 Red Wings and the 2009-10 Blackhawks.


Check out the accompanying tables to see the Kings' top-eight and bottom-eight skaters ranked by their SAT% relative to the team average. Obviously everyone's SAT% has improved, but the relative numbers are bunched closer together because the bottom of the roster has performed better.


Goaltender Jonathan Quick has had a roller coaster-like season. He looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate early, then had a sub-.900 save percentage for a chunk in the middle, and now he's playing better again.


Dwight King has been an effective replacement for Tanner Pearson, and not just because his jersey number also starts with a 7. Robyn Regehr has improved some, and he's likely to benefit if Sekera ends up next to him.


The Kings are not as good at center as they were last season, but a full season of Marian Gaborik and an almost full season of Tyler Toffoli has made them better on the wings. Adding Sekera might just make them better on defense. There still might be a little salary cap space if general manager Dean Lombardi wanted to try and tinker with the bottom-two center spots.


Maybe the start of the season can be explained by the proverbial "Stanley Cup hangover," or trying to recalibrate without suspended defenseman Slava Voynov. Part of what makes the Kings' style of play so tough to deal with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is how much coach Darryl Sutter demands from his players, and demanding that much for six months is a lot harder than for two.


Regardless of the issues earlier in the season, the Kings have found their mojo.


Maybe it took this extended winning streak to remind everyone the Kings are still a contender for the Stanley Cup, but Los Angeles has been back to its old self for a lot longer than eight games.


DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.


1. Los Angeles Kings (29-18-12)


Sekera seems like an interesting fit for the Kings on their second defense pairing, likely next to Regehr (though it would be intriguing to see Sekera and Alec Martinez together after he returns from injury). Sekera has gone from being an underrated defenseman to one of those guys who is always identified as underrated so enough people know he's a good player.


How does he compare to Voynov, and to Martinez (the player who has played in Voynov's role the most this season)? Well, one interesting way is to use Domenic Galamini's HERO (that's Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic) charts. Below are the charts (see more of them at ownthepuck.blogspot.ca) for Sekera, Voynov and Martinez.


This is data from the past three seasons, and it is adjusted for usage so it takes quality of competition, quality of teammates and zone starts into consideration.


Andrej Sekera Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic

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Slava Voynov Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic

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Alec Martinez Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic

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Sekera has actually been better at helping to generate offense than Voynov, but not as strong at suppressing it. The Kings could use a little extra offensive spark, even if they are again the League's dominant possession team. Martinez has struggled a bit at times this season with more ice time, so sliding him into a less-demanding role could help him perform defensively like he has the previous two years.


Given Sekera's salary-cap figure (less than $3 million) he was arguably the most valuable rental player available, especially for teams near the cap ceiling. Lombardi may have struck again with another deal near the NHL Trade Deadline (Monday at 3 p.m. ET) that pays dividends deep into the spring.


2. Nashville Predators (41-13-7)


When James Neal is on the ice with Colin Wilson this season, the Predators' SAT% is 65.4 percent, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. When Neal is on the ice with Mike Fisher, Nashville's SAT% is 65.9 percent. That's a pretty good reason to keep Neal there instead of on the top line.


3. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-19-6)


The Lightning's power play is languishing near the bottom of the League, and Steven Stamkos has eight power-play goals in 61 games. He had 19 in 85 games between the two previous seasons combined and he had 53 extra-man goals in the previous three seasons combined.


Check out the heat maps from sportingcharts.com below. They show Stamkos hasn't been able to find as many looks on the power play this season from his favorite spot. Like Alex Ovechkin, Stamkos has enjoyed hammering home shots from the left circle, typically on a one-timer.


Are teams forcing him to move around more to find open ice? Are the Lightning moving him around more? Is this one area where Tampa Bay does miss Martin St. Louis? Teams have proven they can win in the postseason without a great power play, but it certainly can't hurt. And a team with this level of talent should be better anyway. It's not all on Stamkos, but finding him more chances almost certainly would help.


Steven Stamkos power play shots

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Steven Stamkos power play goals

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4. Detroit Red Wings (33-15-11)


Pavel Datsyuk probably isn't going to squeeze his way into a wide-open Hart Trophy discussion, but he should be among the top contenders for the Selke Trophy. It's an award he used to own, but a few others have moved ahead of him in the pecking order in the past few seasons. He has been healthy enough and dominant enough, posting a League-leading SAT% at even strength of 59.01 percent despite facing the toughest competition of any skater on the Red Wings, according to war-on-ice.com.


5. St. Louis Blues (38-18-4)


The Blues have always been considered a defense-first team with Ken Hitchcock in charge, but they're leaking goals this month. Five times they've allowed four or more goals in the past nine games, and not coincidentally, they are 4-5-0 in that span. Their chances of catching the Predators in the Central Division have pretty much vanished at this point.


6. Chicago Blackhawks (36-20-5)


Let's say there was a team with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Brad Richards and either Kris Versteeg or Teuvo Teravainen as its top-six forwards. Would that team have the best top-six crew in the NHL? Maybe not, but said team wouldn't be far from the top of that list. The Blackhawks are now that team without Patrick Kane. Add a defenseman (and get Johnny Oduya and Trevor van Riemsdyk healthy) and the Blackhawks can play long enough into the spring for Kane's season to not be over.


7. Pittsburgh Penguins (35-17-9)


Last week, it was documented how much lower Pittsburgh’s SPSv% had been than normal in a recent 24-game stretch. Since then, the Penguins have poured in a total of 13 goals against three quality teams. They also added one of the more valuable bottom-six forwards available in Daniel Winnik.


8. New York Islanders (40-20-2)


The Metropolitan Division is incredibly tight, not just in the standings but how the four teams currently in playoff position might match up against each other in a postseason series. The Islanders are the best possession team, but in 2014-15 at least, they have the worst goaltending and are probably fourth out of the four on the blue line as well.


The Penguins added Winnik but could still use another piece, and none of the other three teams has been active yet. It is possible the player who will swing that quadrant of the playoffs will arrive between now and Monday afternoon.


9. Montreal Canadiens (39-16-5)


It's never going to ease the pain of Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez, but the Canadiens have gained the upper hand in a July 2013 trade with the New York Rangers that brought Christian Thomas to Montreal for Danny Kristo. Each was a second-round pick and interesting prospect, Kristo because of his successful career at North Dakota and Thomas in part because of his father, Steve Thomas.


Thomas, two years younger, has found a role with the Canadiens, and though it is only 18 games, he does lead the Canadiens in SAT% relative to the team average. Montreal's roster is top-heavy, so any players like Thomas who can earn the coaching staff's trust and take minutes away from some of the poor possession guys on the roster is a good thing. Kristo has yet to play for the Rangers.


10. New York Rangers (37-16-6)


Yes, the Rangers would be a couple spots higher if Henrik Lundqvist was healthy. Yes, they have won a bunch of games without their regal leader. No, people should not expect them to continue shooting 11.3 percent as a team at even strength as they have in February.


11. Washington Capitals (33-19-10)


Let's assume Carey Price and Pekka Rinne remain healthy and excellent and are therefore locks to be finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The race for that third invite to the NHL Awards show is shaping up to be a fascinating one. Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider and Marc-Andre Fleury are all within three-one hundredths of a point in save percentage (Schneider is at .926, Fleury is at .924, Holtby is at .923). They are all within .05 of each other in goals-against average. Fleury hasn't played in as many games, but has eight shutouts.


Does Schneider get dinged for playing on a poor team? Does Fleury's reputation hurt him, or does this bounce-back season help him? It says here, if the season ended today, that Holtby should be the third finalist, but any of those three (and maybe even Devan Dubnyk) have a chance to be there.


12. Anaheim Ducks (38-17-7)


The Ducks won a couple of games this week, but their trend of suspect play did not subside. Spending time in the Orange County corner of Hockey Twitter the past few weeks has been a somber experience. Anaheim has found out what it is like to be a middling possession team and not have above-average goaltending to rely on without Frederik Andersen, and the results have not been great. There is still time to figure things out though.


13. Winnipeg Jets (31-20-11)


Jiri Tlusty would have traditional "second line on a contender" numbers if his SPSv% wasn't the lowest of his career since 2007-08. He is a better replacement for Evander Kane than Drew Stafford, and each fortifies the Jets' forward depth without Kane and (for now) Mathieu Perreault.


14. Minnesota Wild (31-22-7)


From 2010-13, Dubnyk played in 120 games for the Edmonton Oilers and had a .917 save percentage. Then 2013-14 was a disaster, and Dubnyk ended up with three teams and eventually in the American Hockey League.


Dubnyk has turned into one of the great stories of the 2014-15 season. He's now tied for fifth in save percentage among goalies with at least 35 games played at .924. Since joining the Wild, he's played 18 games with a .935, which equals Carey Price's League-leading mark.


As it turns out, Ben Scrivens played 72 games between 2011-14, and he had a .917 save percentage in that span before this disaster of a season with the Oilers. Just in case anyone is thinking about who might be the Dubnyk of 2015-16.


15. Vancouver Canucks (35-22-3)


Eddie Lack was outplaying Ryan Miller over the past month or so, and now he's got a chance to prove he can be a No. 1 goaltender for a team in the middle of a playoff push. He's got a .927 save percentage in 10 games in 2015, so that's certainly a nice start.


16. Florida Panthers (26-21-13)


The David Krejci injury in Boston may have squeezed the door open a little further for the Panthers, but they aren't helping themselves enough to take advantage. Florida is sixth-worst in goals per game despite being middle of the pack in SAT% (tied for 15th with the San Jose Sharks). They addressed their goal-scoring troubles by adding Jaromir Jagr in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.