Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five reasons Predators clinched playoff berth


The Nashville Predators became the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday.


The Predators (47-21-8), who have 102 points and lead the Central Division, have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this season. Nashville missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons after making the postseason in seven of eight seasons.


Here are five reasons the Predators clinched:


1. Rinne's return


Goaltender Pekka Rinne missed 51 games with a hip infection in the 2013-14 season, and the Predators missed the playoffs by three points. Rinne's return to the lineup has given Nashville a game-changing player who is a contender for the Vezina Trophy.


Rinne is 41-15-4 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 60 games. His height (6-foot-5) and athleticism make him one of the most difficult goalies to face in the NHL. He's on pace to surpass his career high of 43 wins, set in the 2011-12 season.


The Predators made several additions during the offseason, but the most important difference from last season to this season has been Rinne's health.


2. Force of Forsberg


Rookie forward Filip Forsberg has been Nashville's most dynamic player this season and is one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy.



Filip Forsberg



Center - NSH


GOALS: 23 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 59

SOG: 222 | +/-: 17



Forsberg is tied for the Predators lead with 23 goals and tied for the lead with 59 points. After a recent slump when he had three points in 15 games, Forsberg has six points in his past six games and regained the NHL rookie lead in points.

Forsberg spent 13 games with the Predators in 2013-14 but struggled to produce consistently because of injury. He spent the majority of last season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, which he credited to helping his development. Forsberg has responded in Nashville and arguably has been their most consistent forward.


"It's never easy when you're in your first year and playing against guys that might be 10 or 15 years older than you, playing against men," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "You're just learning everything, especially for the amount that we count on him and we rely on him. It's a challenge for young players, and I think he's done a really good job of handling that."


3. Dynamite defense


Shea Weber has been among the NHL's elite defensemen for years, but defense partner Roman Josi has joined him this season. Josi leads the Predators in average time on ice with 26:26 per game and his 53 points are the most by a defenseman.



Shea Weber



Defense - NSH


GOALS: 15 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 45

SOG: 222 | +/-: 15



Nashville's young, mobile defense has been a strength all season; the Predators allow 2.34 goals per game, fourth in the NHL. Four of the six defensemen who are regularly in the lineup are 24 years old or younger (Josi, 24; Ryan Ellis, 24; Mattias Ekholm, 24; Seth Jones, 20).

The Predators added depth when they traded for Cody Franson from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 15. That gives them eight defensemen on the roster for the playoffs.


The defense also played a big role in Nashville's offense. Josi and Ekholm (17 points) have had career years offensively, and Weber is one of the most dangerous weapons in the League from the point with his slap shot. Nashville's defensemen have been given the green light to join the rush when they see an opportunity, which adds to the attacking style of play.


4. Laviolette's leadership


Laviolette was hired by the Predators after they parted with longtime coach Barry Trotz after last season. Laviolette implemented an aggressive, attacking style of play that has made the Predators more dynamic offensively.


Perhaps the most impressive part of Laviolette's approach is that he's been able to add an offensive style without taking away from the strong defense that's been a staple in Nashville.


Laviolette has a knack for knowing the right buttons to push. He hasn't been afraid to change up the lines, even during a game, when things aren't going well. Laviolette's passion for the game has resonated with his players, and they, like forward Colin Wilson (career-high 20 goals and 21 assists), have thrived.


Laviolette is a contender for the Jack Adams Award given to the NHL coach of the year.


5. Ribeiro's resurgence


Predators general manager David Poile took a chance when he signed veteran center Mike Ribeiro last summer and that risk has paid off. Ribeiro is tied for the Predators lead with 59 points and has played in all 76 games.



Mike Ribeiro



Center - NSH


GOALS: 15 | ASST: 44 | PTS: 59

SOG: 90 | +/-: 14



Ribeiro was bought out of the remaining three years of his contract by the Arizona Coyotes after last season and reached out to Poile during the offseason.

Ribeiro's 44 assists are in the top 15 in the League, and his playmaking ability has given Nashville a No. 1 center that has been missing from the lineup in the past few seasons.


Some of Forsberg's success can be attributed to Ribeiro. They have spent the majority of the season on the same line, and Ribeiro's ability to give Forsberg good looks with the puck has been valuable.



Five reasons Ducks clinched playoff berth


The Anaheim Ducks continue to be one of the NHL's elite teams. For the eighth time in the past 10 seasons, they have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


With a high-profile coach, a quality goaltending tandem, and three of the top forwards in the League, the Ducks have the assets required to play deep into the playoffs.


Here are five reasons the Ducks clinched a playoff berth:


1. Kesler living up to expectations


After spending the first 11 seasons of his professional career in the Vancouver Canucks organization, center Ryan Kesler was traded to Anaheim at the 2014 NHL Draft. He has been everything the Ducks envisioned, providing them a 1-2 punch up the middle with Ryan Getzlaf.


One of the best two-way centers in the NHL, Kesler provides the Ducks with the type of grit that is always necessary this time of year. He's also closing in on scoring 20 goals for the seventh time in the NHL (he has 19).



2. The Getzlaf/Perry combo


Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry continue to form arguably the most lethal combination in the NHL. With 120 points, the Ducks' top two scorers have combined for more than 115 for the seventh straight 82-game season.


Perry was held without a point four times in the Ducks' seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Second Round last season; Getzlaf had one goal. They'll need to be more productive to make a run at the Stanley Cup, but there's no denying how good they've been again this season.


3. Goaltending


Frederik Andersen is battling for the No. 1 job with John Gibson down the stretch, but he was having a solid season before sustaining an upper-body injury on Feb. 8, when defenseman Hampus Lindholm accidentally tipped the net onto Andersen, striking him in the head.


Andersen has 33 wins, but how he performs over the final few games will determine if he beats out Gibson and starts Game 1 of the first round.


4. Vatanen makes impact on blue line


A fourth-round pick (No. 106) at the 2009 NHL Draft, Sami Vatanen has emerged as a dynamic offensive defenseman. Two months shy of his 23rd birthday, Vatanen has reached double-digits in goals in his first full NHL season (12) and is the Ducks' leading scorer among defensemen (37 points).


5. Another 100-point season for Boudreau


The fastest coach to reach 300 NHL wins, Bruce Boudreau has no intentions of slowing down. After 116 points in 2013-14 (a Ducks record), Anaheim is on the verge of clinching the Pacific Division for a third straight season (they led the Vancouver Canucks by 13 points at their clinching).


Boudreau has yet to reach a conference final since arriving in the NHL with the Washington Capitals in 2007, something he and the Ducks will attempt to change.


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Top prospects for 2015 draft provide self-evaluations


TORONTO -- Prior to every season, NHL Central Scouting has already evaluated hundreds of the top prospects eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft.


In addition to putting together meticulous reports and sharing those details with their colleagues, it's also required that each prospect submit some necessary paperwork.


So even before Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid and Boston University freshman Jack Eichel begin to impress, they've already completed the NHL Central Scouting questionnaire.


When asked for his ambition outside of hockey in September 2014, Eichel wrote: "Be a good father someday."


McDavid, who submitted his questionnaire in September 2013, wrote: "I would like to be a lawyer if my hockey career does not work out."


In an interview with NHL.com in January, McDavid was asked to expound on his answer.


"I guess I can argue an opinion and I have my opinions about things and I like to get into arguments and make sure I'm defending my opinion," McDavid said. "I just thought that would be an area I would be interested in."


One of the more intriguing parts of the questionnaire happens to be the section that requires each prospect to admit his strong and weak points on the ice and the NHL player he feels he most resembles. The self-assessments tend to be pretty interesting.


Here's a summary of what each of the top five North American prospects, top North American goalie and top European skater provided on their questionnaire, followed by an evaluation of that response by a scout from NHL Central Scouting.


Players are listed in the order they were ranked on Central Scouting's midterm release in January.


1. Connor McDavid , C, Erie Otters (OHL)


2014-15: 47 games, 44-76-120, 48 PIM, plus-60 rating, 9 power-play goals


Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Tyler Bozak because he is a good skater and is more of a pass-first type of guy."


Best asset: "I think that I am a good skater as well as passer."


Where do you need improvement: "My defensive game needs to get better along with my shot and faceoffs, being a full 200-foot player is very important."


NHL Central Scouting: "Exceptional NHL prospect; skating, skills and hockey sense are naturally ultra-quick. He makes plays that are truly amazing placing him in a class of his own. Effective on every shift in whatever role he is given. A great shot with outstanding release and a gifted playmaker and scorer."


2. Jack Eichel , C, Boston University (Hockey East)


2014-15: 36 games, 24-42-66, 22 PIM, plus-46 rating, 6 power-play goals


Height/weight: 6-2, 196


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Jeff Carter."


Best asset: "Skating, hockey IQ, size and shot."


Where do you need improvement: "Keeping my compete level going every shift. I always want to make a difference."


NHL Central Scouting: "He's a power player. His speed is very good and he has that second gear where you think you have him measured, and then he'll fly by you. He snaps the puck and gets it off in traffic really well and just elevates his game against the better players. This is the kind of player who wants the puck and wants to make a difference with his play. His speed, power, strength and shot are high end."


Noah Hanifin of Boston College. (Photo: Jon Quackenbos/Boston College)

3. Noah Hanifin , D, Boston College (Hockey East)


2014-15: 36 games, 5-18-23, 16 PIM, plus-15 rating, 1 power-play goal


Height/weight: 6-3, 203


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Drew Doughty."


Best asset: "My skating and hockey IQ."


Where do you need improvement: "I need to work on my shot and one-timer from the blue line."


NHL Central Scouting: "He's one of those guys who, when he gets the puck, knows how to transition out with a pass or by skating it out. He'll get it up to the blue line, dish it out and gets up in support of the rush really well. He can run the power play and is a good point-producing defender from the back end. His defense is a little underrated. The offensive part of his game is so high that sometimes his defense gets overlooked a bit."


4. Lawson Crouse , LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)


2014-15: 56 games, 29-22-51, 70 PIM, plus-10 rating, 7 power-play goals


Height/weight: 6-4, 211


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Milan Lucic."


Best asset: "My size, skating, shot and compete level."


Where do you need improvement: "More offensive instincts."


NHL Central Scouting: "A physical presence who is extremely tough for opponents to handle in battles. He goes to the net hard and crashes around in front. He has very good hands and passing ability. He plays a complete two-way game and is very effective on the penalty kill. He is used in all situations in Kingston and is effective in every role he is given."


5. Dylan Strome , C, Erie Otters (OHL)


2014-15: 68 games, 45-84-129, 32 PIM, plus-47 rating, 14 power-play goals


Height/weight: 6-3, 187


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Joe Thornton."


Best asset: "Ability to create in the open ice for linemates and myself."


Where do you need improvement: "My speed and agility."


NHL Central Scouting: "What we learned about Dylan [when McDavid was out with injury] was that he has a more complete game than maybe some originally thought. He's more of a passer and his hockey sense is elite where he can create opportunities himself, so it makes sense that the coaching staff put him on the second line because he's going to create that secondary scoring. He's very reliable to come back and play and responsible in his own zone. He's one of the better faceoff centers in this year's draft class."


Oliver Kylington of Sweden's AIK. (Photo: Färjestads BK)

Top European: Oliver Kylington , D, AIK (SWE-2)


2014-15: 17 games, 4-3-7, 6 PIM, minus-2 rating


Height/weight: 6-0, 180


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "No one."


Best asset: "My skating, and ability to understand the play."


Where do you need improvement: "My shot and defense in front of my goalie."


NHL Central Scouting: "Mobile, good fast two-way defenseman with excellent skating ability. Loves to join the offensive rush. Plays a solid positional game in the defensive zone and makes a good first pass. Solid, reliable, competes hard on every shift. A finesse type of D-man with all the tools needed to become a star. Even if he is not overly aggressive, he doesn't shy away from the rough stuff."


Top North American goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood , Barrie Colts (OHL)


2013-14: 51 games, 33-14-2, 3.09 GAA, .906 save percentage, 2 shutouts, 1,612 shots, 1,460 save


Height/weight: 6-4, 215


Who is the NHL player your play would most likely be compared to: "Mike Smith or Pekka Rinne."


Best asset: "My quickness, size and speed."


Where do you need improvement: "Playing the puck; I can improve several areas of my game."


NHL Central Scouting: "Mackenzie's overall net coverage is excellent. He's able to get across laterally with ease and very quickly, always being in control. Another advantage is when he drops in the butterfly he covers the lower corners post-to-post with his excellent leg extension while sealing the ice. While he's in the butterfly he also keeps his upper body in an upright position with his glove in the proper position as well to cover the upper half of the net. There are not many holes for the shooters to shoot at."


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Scouts see value in enhanced stats if applied properly


TORONTO -- Will the age of enhanced statistics one day change the way NHL Central Scouting goes about its business in evaluating the top players eligible for the NHL Draft?


There's no denying the fact enhanced stats have taken the NHL and its fans by storm. In February, the League announced a partnership with enterprise software company SAP to provide many new statistics via NHL.com. If this stats revolution changes the way people now analyze the game, what could it do for NHL scouts?


"If you add ingredients to help you evaluate someone, you have to use those ingredients," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "But you can't go overboard; we've been baking a cake our whole life and now, if you put icing on the cake, it's better. But if it's all icing it's not a good cake, so I think if you take it too far it might not work.


"The eyeball test still has to be there, you still have to apply what analytics do. It could help you decide between one guy or the other, and I believe it is good for the game."


Chris Edwards, who does a majority of his scouting in the Ontario Hockey League, isn't completely sold on the enhanced stats revolution.


"The good players are the guys with the puck all the time," he said. "Many of the junior leagues don't have access to full advanced statistics, so you're not getting all that. I think people get wrapped up in these stats. The fact is the good players always have the puck, all the time.


"EJ McGuire (former Central Scouting director) told me long ago that stats should be used the same way that a drunk uses a lamppost; for support and not illumination."


Troy Dumville, who did much of his scouting in the offensively-charged Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, believes enhanced stats could be an aide for those top evaluators. CHLStats.com is one site that has several tabs for enhanced statistics from within the Canadian Hockey League.


"For the most part you're evaluating the skills and that doesn't change much with the statistics," Dumville said. "Look at some of players we're evaluating. Some are getting limited ice time as a sixth or seventh defenseman and other guys are playing first defense pair on their teams. It depends where they're at in the rebuilding process and what the opportunities are. For us, we have to look through that stuff anyway and make sure we're looking at the skill levels and the potential."


Gregory feels advanced statistics that provide puck possession time may prove to be very complementary in providing detailed reports to NHL teams.


"I think what analytics do is allow us to understand why our gut feeling is what it is," Gregory said. "The whole thing about a puck-possessing defenseman, for instance. How does that translate into one stat when you have one guy that you like and is turning the puck over more than a guy that you might not like as much? Well, the reason might be because the guy you like has the puck five times as much.


"So when put into proper perspective, analytics can explain that for you a little bit. The bottom line is that more data and more information will help make good decisions, especially if you interpret the data right."


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Lightning prospect Koekkoek handling rigors of AHL


Slater Koekkoek might have one of the best names in hockey, and it's one Tampa Bay Lightning fans should be hearing for a long time.


About to finish up his first professional season as a rookie with the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, Koekkoek is settling in nicely after four junior seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.


"I expected [the AHL] to be a rough and tough league, and that's what it is. The guys are bigger, stronger, faster," he said. "There was a bit of a learning process, but everything has been going well. I'm happy so far."


Tampa Bay made him the 10th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, showing good faith with the young defenseman after an injury saw him limited to 26 games the previous season. That patience was rewarded when Koekkoek posted 82 points in 104 games over his final two seasons in the OHL.


The Lightning's development model has proven beneficial for Syracuse and has set up a bright future for Tampa Bay. While Crunch graduates like forwards Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy are among those helping former AHL coach of the year Jon Cooper's club to one of the best records in the NHL this season, Koekkoek is part of a core group of up-and-comers honing their craft in Syracuse while waiting for the opportunity up top.


"I'm trying to make my defending better and bring it up to the level it needs to be at," Koekkoek said. "Hopefully I've made strides here, and hopefully everyone thinks that. I'll continue to work on my offensive side and see what happens."


Koekkoek doesn't have to look far for the stamp of approval.


In his first full season in the AHL, Slater Koekkoek is a plus-12, tied for third among rookie defensemen. He paces Crunch defensemen in goals (five, tied), assists (19), points (24) and shots on goal (104).

(Photo: Scott Thomas)


"We're pretty happy with [his development] as an organization," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler, who played 569 NHL games as a defenseman. "He really needed to improve on his down-low defending game and he's made a lot of strides in that area. He's got a great plus/minus; he's a guy that we count on the penalty kill and in late-game situations. His speed allows him to do a lot of things defensively, not just offensively."


The Winchester, Ontario native is plus-12 on the season, tied for third among AHL rookie defensemen. In addition, Koekkoek paces Crunch defensemen in goals (five, tied), assists (19), points (24) and shots on goal (104).


Zettler cites the leadership of forwards Mike Angelidis and Eric Neilson and defenseman J.P. Cote as lending crucial guidance to the Crunch's rookie group this season. Koekkoek in particular has taken to the trio's on- and off-ice examples, hitting the ground running in terms of fully dedicating himself to improvement.


"They're showing these guys how to be pros and how to approach your everyday routine. Slater has really fed off those guys," he said. "He gets to the rink early, [and] he's one of the last guys off the ice. He's always working on things on the ice, on how to get better."


The work he's put in has paid off. As Syracuse sits on the brink of clinching a Calder Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while pursuing a division title, Koekkoek has earned more trust among Zettler and his staff to be reliable in late-game situations and protect a lead in those waning moments of regulation.


Recently, the defenseman is not only protecting leads, he's creating them too. His overtime winner against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on March 20 not only gave the Crunch their fourth win in a row at the time, it was Koekkoek's first career overtime goal, one he jokingly predicted to fellow rookie defenseman Dylan Blujus.


"At the beginning of the season, we weren't really seeing overtime, so we'd always kind of joke on the bench, saying, 'If I get called, I'll get the winner.' This time, coach called me," Koekkoek said. "It was 3-on-3, so I looked over at [Blujus] like I did before, and I said, 'Don't worry, Blu,' and we kind of chuckled at each other. It ended up working out."


Having turned 21 in February, Koekkoek's youth has proven to be a beacon for others to rally around, brightening up any room with a grin and a consistently easy-going demeanor. With how rigorous pro hockey can be, mentally and physically, that lightness has helped to shake off a bad game or a grueling stretch of travel.


"Slater is a really fun kid to be around. When he walks in, he's got a little bit of a presence about him," Zettler said. "He's got a smile, he's a happy guy. He brings good energy and good vibes."


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



Hartley: Flames 'all in' as critical five-game trip starts


CALGARY -- With eight games remaining in the regular season, Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley isn't concerned about his poker face.


A critical five-game road trip facing the Flames, one that could have serious implications on their bid to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, instead has Hartley insisting Calgary's crew is all in.


"It seems that we always find a way to elevate our games in situations that we need to and right now we're all in," Hartley said. "The chips are all on the table right now. There's no bluffs. We have to come up with our best performances and it's fun. I'm enjoying the games. The players are on the job. This city is right behind us."


The Flames, who completed a five-game homestand with a 2-1-2 record following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, begin their final extended road trip of the season Friday against the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-WI, FS-N+). It continues against the Nashville Predators, Stars, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.


Calgary will start the trip on the outside looking in.


In ninth place in the Western Conference, the Flames are one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division and three behind the Vancouver Canucks for second.


The Winnipeg Jets, who hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the West, are three points up on Calgary. The Flames have one game at hand on Winnipeg.


"You can have brain damage worrying about all the different gyrations of who beats who and looking out of town," Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "(I) broke my TV a couple nights ago, so there's no more scoreboard watching. At the end of the day, you have to win your games. You have to get your points.


"You've got to be careful. You can come to work the next day with a frown on because Team X, Y, Z lost and you didn't play."


With eight skates left on the Flames' docket, Calgary's five game, 10-day stint away from home is critical.


But it's not necessarily uncharted territory for the rebuilding group.


The Flames went 4-2-1 on a season-high seven-game road trip through late February and early March, enabling them to keep pace with some of the West's surging teams. That trip, which saw captain Mark Giordano go down with a season-ending injury, fell in the must-win category too.


"We've been sort of in this mode for a while," Treliving said. "There was a road trip a few weeks ago that was make or break, and I remember a road trip in October being make or break. We've got one game -- (Friday) night -- and that's the focus. Let's dive into that one and we'll worry about the next ones as they come.


"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. This isn't a five-game road trip, it's one game five times, and that's the way we have to look at it right now."


Coaches and management have bought into that philosophy, hoping it will lead the Flames to their first playoff appearance since a first-round exit in six games at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009.


So too have the players.


"It kind of feels like since we did that nine-game losing streak (in December), it's been make or break," alternate captain Kris Russell said. "We've been playing playoff hockey for a while. It doesn't change. Obviously it gets tougher on the road, but we've played well on the road too. It's a big challenge for us and I think we're excited for it.


"This is a fun time of year. Obviously we've got to keep winning and we've got to keep putting points on the board. Our main goal is to make the playoffs, but we're a long ways away with eight games left. It's just trying to keep improving, keep getting better and just having fun with it as well."


To Hartley, though, it's about one goal.


One he's been preaching from the onset of the season, when few gave his group a chance to be in the position to have a five-game road trip that starts in late March matter.


"I was very open at the start of the year," Hartley said. "I said that our goal was to be in the playoffs, and obviously it's easy for me as basically the spokesman of this organization on a day-to-day basis to say because what else could I say? If I come in and tell you guys and then I go in the locker room and say, 'it's OK to be mediocre' and 'we're in rebuilding' and 'we're going to do our best,' I don't think that’s what hockey fans in Calgary want to listen (to), plus this is not the culture we want to establish here.


"Mediocrity is not part of our dictionary. We want to keep going and to make sure that we hold everyone in this organization to the highest standards possible."



Thomas Vanek finally found his way with Wild


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Since entering the NHL as a 21-year-old with the Buffalo Sabres, Thomas Vanek has earned the reputation as one of the League's premier goal-scorers. Over that span, Vanek ranks third in power-play goals, eighth in goals and 13th in game-winning goals.


It's the reason the Minnesota Wild committed three years and $19.5 million to Vanek in July. But the season wasn't going according to plan for the Wild or for Vanek, who got off to one of the slowest starts of his career.



Thomas Vanek



Left Wing - MIN


GOALS: 19 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 49

SOG: 159 | +/-: -4



Minnesota's 16-11-1 start made it easy to forgive Vanek, who was traded twice last season after playing the first eight of his NHL career with the Sabres.

"I went from left to right, to left to right, and finding linemates hasn't been as steady as you'd want it to be," Vanek said last week. "That's what happens when you come to a new place, you try and find chemistry."


Vanek began the season on the second line and went nine games without scoring a goal. He requested to play next to Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund on the first line, but that didn't work either. With few other options, Vanek spent time on the fourth line, trying to get his game going.


Brought in to provide offense, Vanek had one goal in the first 20 games of the season.


In mid-December, the Wild lost five in a row before losing six straight in early January. After 41 games, Minnesota was 18-18-5 and in last place in the Central Division.


Following a 7-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 13, players had a lengthy meeting in the locker room. The following day, the Wild traded a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for goaltender Devan Dubnyk.


A 24-7-2 stretch since the trade has the Wild as the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Minnesota enters this weekend, when they play back-to-back against the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, five points ahead of the Kings.


Though Dubnyk has been a big part of the Wild run, Vanek has played a big role too.


He had seven goals and 18 assists in his first 42 games, was a minus-10 and was shooting 8.3 percent, about 7 points lower than the 15.1 percent he had in Buffalo. In 31 games since, Vanek has 12 goals, 12 assists and is a plus-6, shooting with 16 percent effectiveness.


After weeks of bouncing around from line to line and from left to right, Vanek said finding a home on the third line has been a reason for his success.


"That's the biggest thing, if you can find a couple guys and have some chemistry with them," Vanek said. "For me, being back on the left side helps a little bit. It's just the comfort of knowing who your center and right wing are going to be."


Playing with center Charlie Coyle and right wing Justin Fontaine, Vanek recently had an eight-game scoring streak, the longest active one in the League at the time. It ended Tuesday in a 2-1 shootout win against the New York Islanders, but it wasn't without a couple of quality chances that were shut down by goaltender Jaroslav Halak.


"He's bounced around this year, that's for sure," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "But he has the ability to be effective with any group of guys. He has the ability to be a guy who can break people down and make plays on his own. He's done that lately."


It took some time for Yeo to figure out how to use Vanek. A right-handed shot, Vanek said he feels more comfortable at left wing. But when the Wild couldn't find consistency on the right side early in the season, they needed Vanek to fill a top-six role there.


"I think he's more effective on the left side," Yeo said. "He creates a lot more from there. I think we've seen that lately."


An injury to left wing Jason Zucker combined with the addition of right wing Chris Stewart prior to the NHL Trade Deadline allowed Yeo to slide Vanek back to the left and on to the third line with Coyle and Fontaine.


"[Coyle] is a big man down the middle and I think he creates room for us on the sides, especially when I have the puck on the left, I think he's good at opening up space in the middle," Vanek said. "Fontaine is a good playmaker, good in the corners. He can shoot the puck but he can also find [Coyle] and myself."


Vanek needs one goal for his 10th consecutive 20-goal season. But barring a binge in the final eight games, he likely will finish with the fewest number of goals over a full season in his career (25).


Part of that can be attributed to the slow start. But Vanek also is on pace for the fewest shots on goal in his career. On track for 177, that's five fewer than he had in 2009-10, when he missed 11 games.


During his time in Buffalo, Vanek averaged 231 shots on goal per season.


"I think it depends on who you play with. In the past, I've played with centers with John Tavares when I was [in New York] for a while and [Tyler] Ennis and the guys in Buffalo," Vanek said. "They had the puck more than I did and I was the guy who would find the goals and be in more of a shooting position.


"It just seems like now, I'm carrying the puck more into the zone than I have been in the past, and when you do that, you draw more people and you have to try and get your teammates more chances to score. I don't think it's by design, I just think it's the way the game is going for me."


Vanek's goal-scorer reputation has overshadowed the fact he's not a bad passer.


"Obviously, I knew about him [before this season], and heard about him and knew he's put up a number of goals, but I didn't know he was a playmaker [like he has been]," Coyle said. "I knew he was skilled but he can do it all offensively. He can make plays that most guys can't or don't even think of doing."


Vanek has a lethal shot, especially close to the net. Down the stretch, Yeo said he hopes to see it a little more often.


"I would like to see him get more shots, I know that would lead to some more offense," Yeo said. "But there also has been some times where I wish he'd shoot the puck and he goes down and makes a play to somebody who scores a goal, so a creative player like that, you also have to give him the freedom to make their plays."


Minnesota was eliminated in the Western Conference Second Round last season, one year after a first-round exit. Vanek's presence on the third line gives the Wild depth it didn't have.


"It's huge this time of year. The matchups that your first two lines are going to face are difficult both from a forward and defensive standpoint," Yeo said. "The games that we've won lately, it's not hard to figure out. We've generated offense from our third and fourth lines and they've taken advantage of, I don't want to say easier matchups, but some different matchups than our top two lines are facing. It's going to be important going forward."



BU's Eichel talks Hobey Baker, NHL Draft build-up


Boston University freshman Jack Eichel was determined from day one to not only be a success story, but one of the best college hockey players to ever play the game.


He's certainly on that path.


Eichel, the fourth-youngest player in college hockey and No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skates eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, is expected to hear his name announced in short order on the opening day of the draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26.


He was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Hockey East Player of the Year, and was Hockey East Tournament MVP. He is only the second player in league history to win all three awards in the same season; Brian Leetch pulled off the trifecta in 1987. Eichel is also one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player, an honor Leetch didn't win.


He's looking to become only the second freshman in history to win the Hobey Baker. Paul Kariya did it after scoring 100 points in 39 games for the University of Maine in 1992-93.


Eichel leads the nation with 42 assists, 66 points, a plus-46 rating, 22 power-play points, a 1.17 assists-per game average and a 1.83 points-per game average. He is also on a season-high 12-game point streak (nine goals, 26 points).


Eichel and Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American skaters, are expected to be hot topics on the agenda this weekend when NHL Central Scouting meets one last time to determine the final ranking of skaters and goaltenders in North America and in Europe.


Eichel, 18, recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer five intriguing questions prior to the start of the 16-team NCAA ice hockey tournament that begins Friday. Boston University will play Yale University in the first round. The Frozen Four will be hosted by Hockey East at TD Garden in Boston, April 9-11.


Your thoughts on being one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award?


"I feel so honored to be nominated with all the great players in college hockey. I definitely wouldn't be in this position without the help of my coaches and teammates. Every season I usually create goals with my dad. I always strive to be the best player no matter what league I'm playing in, so I just tried to compete my hardest this year in hopes that I had a chance to be nominated. It's such a prestigious award and it would very nice to share with my family and friends that have gotten me to this point."


Do you get tired of the comparisons made between you and McDavid?


"I try to block it out, limit my use in social media and reading what other people have to say, because at the end of the day it doesn't really matter what other people have to say about me as long as I'm happy. I care about the opinions from the people around me and my opinion of myself. Everyone will have their own opinion on what I'm doing or how I'm playing, but at the end of the day I'm not really concerned with what everyone else is saying. It's about my team and myself."


How do view the role as captain for any team?


"Whether you have a letter on your chest or not, I don't think your role with the team should change. You should try and be the person you are every day you go to the dressing room. Personally, I try to go in there and keep things loose and lead by example and try to work hard. Whatever it is, you just need to help make a difference. If it's scoring a big goal, blocking a shot, finishing a check or winning a faceoff. I think a leader just does whatever it takes to help his team win and he puts the team before himself. That's kind of what I try and do. At Boston University, we have a lot of great leaders and that's what has made our team so special."


Is there an NHL player you have spoken to this year for advice on the NHL Draft?


"I spoke with (Nashville Predators forward) Colin Wilson a little bit last summer. He's an old BU guy and I've worked out with him at times over the summer. He's given me a little bit of advice on the college experience. I also talked to (Vancouver Canucks forward and former Boston University player) Nick Bonino. He was in town for a short time in February. Those are guys who have been through similar experiences and they gave me their advice.


"They told me to just enjoy the experience and don't be in a rush to do anything or go anywhere. Time will tell what the future holds. Just enjoy it, try to get better every day and don't take for granted anything, because time goes so fast."


How has Boston University coach David Quinn improved your game?


"The coaching staff is trying to get me ready for the next level. I think there are things that needed to be better against older players. I've improved in a lot of areas. Moving the puck, getting off passes, driving the middle, being effective in the faceoff circle, being hard to play against, finishing my chances, one-timers. There are a lot of things you can get better at, and Coach Quinn and the entire coaching staff has done a good job in helping me in those areas."


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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Five reasons Rangers clinched playoff berth


The New York Rangers became the first team to clinch a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with their 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. The Rangers have 101 points and 43 regulation/overtime wins to lead the Presidents' Trophy race.


It's also possible the best is yet to come for the Rangers because starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist is expected to return to the lineup this coming weekend, either Saturday at the Boston Bruins or Sunday at home against the Washington Capitals.


Lundqvist hasn't played since Feb. 2, but the Rangers are 18-4-4 without him, which is why they are in the hunt for their first Presidents' Trophy since the 1993-94 season, when they last won the Stanley Cup.


Here are five reasons why the Rangers clinched their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs:


1. Speed and fast starts


Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said the Rangers were the fastest team he saw this season. He'd know, considering the Ducks could not catch up to the Rangers in their two games and wound up losing both by a combined 11-3.


New York has a mobile defense made even faster with the addition of Keith Yandle on March 1. The Rangers have two of the fastest skaters in the NHL in forwards Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller and Derick Brassard are no slouches in the speed department either.


The Rangers' speed, particularly when they are breaking out of their zone, is their greatest asset. They're at their best they play fast, which means utilizing quick passes to get out of the defensive zone and winning races into the offensive zone to be first on pucks. They counter quickly and attack aggressively.


The Rangers' speed allows them to jump on teams early in games. They have scored the first goal in 45 games this season; only the New York Islanders, another fast team, have more first goals (46). The Rangers are 36-6-3 when scoring first.


New York is tied with the Dallas Stars for most goals in the first period with 71.


2. Red-hot Rick


Until his recent scoring slump, Nash was neck and neck with Alex Ovechkin in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. He was as close to a sure thing as the Rangers had.



Rick Nash



Left Wing - NYR


GOALS: 39 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 64

SOG: 276 | +/-: 27



Nash has 39 goals, a number he's been stuck on for the past eight games. That means he scored 39 goals in his first 64 games. The Rangers rode his production earlier this season, particularly with St. Louis and Zuccarello going through separate scoring slumps.

The best part about Nash's game this season is that he is scoring in so many ways, mainly because he is getting inside the defense and getting to the net. Nash hasn't been this aggressive in getting to the scoring areas since he arrived in New York in time for the 2012-13 season.


Nash hasn't relied on an overpowering shot or the power play to score his goals this season because he doesn't have an overpowering shot and he has only five goals on the power play. Instead, he's finding ways to score through his anticipation.


"When you play against him it makes you nervous because his anticipation allows him to get those odd-man rushes and scoring opportunities," St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If you're careless or cavalier with the puck he makes you pay. He's the poster child for checking for chances. That's what he does. His checking is really dialed up and he's getting a ton of scoring chances because of it."


3. Talbot takeover


The Rangers' season could have gone sideways in early February, when it was announced that Lundqvist would be out of the lineup an indefinite period of time with a vascular injury, the result of getting hit in the throat by a shot in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31.



Cam Talbot



Goalie - NYR


RECORD: 20-8-4

GAA: 2.16 | SVP: .928



Cam Talbot, never before a No. 1 goalie, had to assume that role with Lundqvist out. He handled the job well, going 16-4-3 with a .929 save percentage and two shutouts.

Talbot had his struggles early, but they were masked by the Rangers' high-powered offense. Talbot had a .909 save percentage in his first 13 starts as the No. 1, but the Rangers went 9-2-2 because they averaged 3.61 goals in those games.


Talbot has improved dramatically since. He has a .953 save percentage in his past 10 starts; the Rangers are 7-2-1. New York has scored 25 goals in those 10 games, including a combined 12 in wins against the Ducks and Senators.


Lundqvist is expected back this weekend, but Talbot has played a big role in the Rangers' bid for the Presidents' Trophy.


4. Hello Hayes


Buying out Brad Richards and not re-signing Brian Boyle left the Rangers thin at center besides Brassard, Derek Stepan and Dominic Moore. But those decisions also opened the door for Hayes to make a name for himself as a rookie in New York.



Kevin Hayes



Right Wing - NYR


GOALS: 14 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 38

SOG: 95 | +/-: 16



He has done that in a position that he didn't even play last season at Boston College, and in the process Hayes has helped turn what looked like one of the weaker aspects of the Rangers' roster into a strength by holding strong as the No. 3 center for the balance of the season.

Hayes signed with the Rangers in the offseason after choosing not to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks, who selected him in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft. He had 65 points in 40 games as a right wing at Boston College last season, but the Rangers needed him at center at the start of the season, especially with Stepan sidelined with a leg injury.


He started slowly with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) through his first 43 games, but Hayes said it was because he focusing on the defensive principles of his game. As he got comfortable, he started to push the pace and look to make more plays. His production followed.


Hayes has 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in his past 27 games, giving him 38 points in 70 games this season.


5. AV is A-OK


The Rangers take their cues well from coach Alain Vigneault, who rarely shows his emotions and has maintained a level of consistency with the forward lines this season that has fostered chemistry and trust.


Vigneault found three scoring lines (Nash-Brassard-Zuccarello, Kreider- Derek Stepan-St. Louis, Hagelin-Hayes-Miller) and a fourth line, led by Dominic Moore, that could check the opponents best forwards while still being a threat offensively.


But perhaps the best way to judge Vigneault this season is how he has managed the Rangers' younger players and the production and improved play he has gotten from them.


Hayes is an example of that. Vigneault trusted him early, never wavered, and Hayes is rewarding him with consistent play on a game-to-game basis.


Miller is also an example of a player who has benefitted from Vigneault's patience and trust. He has gone from Vigneault's doghouse to being the player who earned the promotion into a top-six forward role when St. Louis was forced out of the lineup with an injury.


Miller has blossomed under Vigneault into a 200-foot player who is looking to make plays on the offensive end and using his big body to play a physical game.


Jesper Fast is playing a stronger overall game and is more of a threat to score now than he was earlier in the season. Fast is even a threat when he's playing on the fourth line.


Vigneault also never wavered in his faith in Talbot. It didn't even look like Lundqvist's injury bothered Vigneault because of his faith in Talbot. Vigneault kept praising Talbot, kept his confidence in the goalie, and obviously that has been rewarded too.


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Eichel, Hanifin among those to watch in NCAA tourney


There hasn't been an NCAA player selected in the top five of the NHL Draft since 2006, but this June there could be two and both are in action this weekend in the 2015 NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament.


Jonathan Toews from North Dakota and Phil Kessel from the University of Minnesota were top-five picks in 2006. Nine years later, Boston University forward Jack Eichel and Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin could be among the first five names called at the 2015 draft in Sunrise, Fla.


Eichel and Hanifin are two of the key players to watch in the NCAA tournament, which starts with four games Friday. There are also 107 NHL draft picks on the 16 rosters, according to College Hockey, Inc., along with some undrafted players who should receive attention as free agents once their seasons are over.


Here's a look at the first-round matchups, and some of the players NHL fans will want to give close attention:


NORTHEAST REGIONAL


Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, N.H.


No. 1 Boston University (25-7-5) vs. No. 4 Yale (18-9-5)


Friday, 2 p.m., ESPNU


Jack Eichel was ranked No. 2 in Central Scouting's midterm draft rankings. (Photo: Getty Images)


Eichel, who leads the NCAA in scoring and has the most points by a freshman since Paul Kariya in 1992-93, will have to face Yale's Alex Layton, an undrafted sophomore who is the top goaltender in goals-against average (1.58) and save percentage (.939) in the country.


Eichel has six teammates who have been drafted, led by Boston Bruins prospect Matt Grzelyck. Junior goaltender Matt O'Connor is expected to draw plenty of interest as an undrafted free agent once the Terriers season is over.


The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have seven players each participating in the tournament, and one of Chicago's picks is Yale's John Hayden, a third-round selection in 2013 who is tied for fourth on the Bulldogs with 18 points.


No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (20-15-3) vs. No. 3 Minnesota (23-12-3)


Friday, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU


The Golden Gophers have 16 drafted prospects on the roster, which is the most of any team in the field. Junior defenseman Mike Reilly, a fourth-round choice in 2011 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, has blossomed into one of the best NHL prospects in all of college hockey and leads the Gophers with 42 points.


New York Rangers first-round pick (No. 28 in 2012) Brady Skjei is another member of the Gophers defense, and Hudson Fasching, a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings whose rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres, is a sophomore forward with 12 goals and 26 points.


Minnesota-Duluth's top two scorers were both fifth-round picks by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tony Cameranesi leads the Bulldogs with 28 points, while Dominic Toninato leads with 16 goals.


WEST REGIONAL


Scheels Arena, Fargo, N.D.


No. 2 Michigan Tech (29-9-2) vs. No. 3 St. Cloud State (19-18-1)


Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN3


This is the only opening-round game that doesn't feature a player taken in the top three rounds of the NHL draft, but Michigan Tech does have senior Tanner Kero, who leads them with 19 goals and 45 points and could be a sought-after free agent when the season is complete. Huskies goaltender Jamie Phillips was a seventh-round pick in 2012 by the Winnipeg Jets and is a finalist for the Mike Richter award, given to the top goaltender in the country.


No. 1 North Dakota (27-9-3) vs. No. 4 Quinnipiac (23-11-4)


Friday, 8 p.m., ESPNU


North Dakota has 14 NHL draft picks on the roster, which is second to Minnesota in the field. It is one of two teams, along with Boston College, to have multiple first-round picks. Jordan Schmaltz is a junior defenseman who was the No. 25 pick in the 2012 draft by the St. Louis Blues. He's third on the team in scoring, and his younger brother Nick Schmaltz is fourth. Nick was the No. 20 pick in 2014 by the Blackhawks.


Quinnipiac will be without top scorer Sam Anas because of a leg injury, so there will be added burden on Matthew Peca, son of former NHL player Michael Peca. The senior center was a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft and is second on the Bobcats with 36 points in 38 games.


MIDWEST REGIONAL


Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, IN


No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato (29-7-3) vs. No. 4 Rochester Institute of Technology (19-14-5)


Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU


Light on NHL prospects, the Stompers have four players selected in previous drafts, led by Winnipeg Jets prospect C.J. Franklin, a freshman forward.


For RIT, undrafted senior forward Matt Garbowsky could draw attention once his season ends. After missing most of last season because of a wrist injury. Garbowsky bounced back with 26 goals and 27 assists in 38 games and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in all of college hockey.


No. 2 Omaha (18-12-6) vs. No. 3 Harvard (21-12-3)


Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN3


Jimmy Vesey might not get the most attention playing for an Ivy League school, but he is having one of the best seasons of any player in the country. The Nashville Predators prospect has 31 goals and 57 points in 36 games. Sophomore Alexander Kerfoot (New Jersey Devils) has picked up his production in his second season, and has benefited from Vesey's play.


Omaha has seven players who have been selected by NHL teams, including sophomore forward Jake Guentzel, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect who leads the Durangos with 23 assists and 35 points.


EAST REGIONAL


Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence, RI


No. 1 Miami (Ohio) vs. No. 4 Providence


Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU


Jon Gillies is one of the best goaltenders in college hockey. (Photo: Providence College)


The Friars have one of the best goaltenders in college hockey in Jon Gillies. The Calgary Flames prospect (No. 75 in 2012) led Providence to the tournament last year, and will go up against a potent Red Hawks offense.


The Flames' other prospect on Providence, junior forward Mark Jankowski, was the 21st pick in 2012 and is a strong player with good hands.


Leading Miami is undrafted senior Austin Czarnik, who will become one of the top collegiate free agents as soon as his season ends. The 5-foot-9 forward is on the smaller side, but a dynamic playmaker who has 34 assists (fifth in the country) and 43 points in 39 games.


In all, the Red Hawks have six players who have already been drafted, including forwards Anthony Louis (Chicago Blackhawks) and Riley Barber (Washington Capitals). Louis played on the 2015 U.S. World Junior Championship team, and like Czarnik is incredibly quick and a talented offensive player despite his smaller size at 5-7.


No. 2 Denver (23-13-2) vs. No. 3 Boston College (21-13-3)


Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2


Danton Heinen has been one of the top freshmen in all of college hockey, having a very productive first season after being selected by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round (No. 116 in 2014). Heinen leads the Pioneers with 29 assists and 45 points. Denver also has one of the highest-scoring defenseman in the country in Edmonton Oilers prospect Joey LaLeggia (No. 123 in 2011). The senior has 25 assists and 38 points.


The Eagles are loaded with NHL talent, with a roster that features nine drafted players and a defenseman likely to be taken in the top five of the 2015 draft.


No prospect may be more exciting than Hanifin, who is expected to hear his name called very quickly in Sunrise. The 6-3 freshman is an excellent skater who is great at skating the puck out of his own end and creating offense off the rush.


The Eagles four players who have already been drafted are sophomore goaltender Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks), junior defenseman Mike Matheson, sophomore defenseman Ian McCoshen (Florida Panthers) and sophomore defenseman Steve Santini (New Jersey Devils). Up front, freshman forward Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild) led them in scoring in his first season with 14 goals and 14 assists.



Fantasy top 30 goalies: No place like home for Mason


Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com's Evan Sporer will provide you with in-depth analysis of goaltenders. From updated weekly top-30 rankings to trending players and more, Sporer will be your go-to guy for advice on fantasy goalies all season long.


UPDATED TOP 30 GOALIE RANKINGS

There's no place like home, especially if you're Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason.


Mason is quietly putting together one of the better seasons out of any goalie in the NHL. Perhaps he doesn't get more recognition because the Flyers are all but mathematically eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs chase, but there's something else working against Mason.


He's in sixth in the NHL in save percentage at an above-average .926. He sits just outside the top 10 among League leaders in goals-against average, with a very strong 2.25.


Mason has played 24 home games, winning 14 of them. In his 22 road starts, however, Mason has won once, a puzzling number that requires further examination to truly make sense of, and, if you're a Mason owner in fantasy hockey, an answer may not satisfy you.


His save percentage in home starts (.938) is much better than his save percentage in road starts (.912), but even the latter number doesn't portend his current road record of 1-12-6. As a team, the Flyers have won nine times on the road this season, with only the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, and Edmonton Oilers having fewer road victories with eight. On the flipside, the Flyers' 21 home wins are as many as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, and Calgary Flames, and more than Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets have each accumulated.


Without Mason, the Flyers would be in significantly worse shape this season. He's been their best player for large stretches, but it hasn't helped him or his team when they're not playing at Wells Fargo Center.


There are some basic numbers that make this gap even more puzzling. In his 23 home starts, Mason has faced an average of 30.88 shots against per 60 minutes, according to war-on-ice.com. On the road that number actually decreases to 30.06.


Other numbers paint a somewhat similar home/road picture, or at least nothing stark enough to crater his record the way it does. Mason has allowed six low-danger and nine medium-danger goals at home as opposed to nine and 13 respectively on the road.


The possession numbers don't help shed much light into what's plaguing Philadelphia on the road, either. The Flyers' shot attempts percentage at home (50.1) is only fractionally better than it is on the road (49.2). And as far as where that stands overall in the League, the Flyers are 16th in shot attempts percentage on the road compared to 21st at home.


The list goes on. The Flyers average fewer scoring chances against on the road versus at home, and shoot nearly the identical percentage (7.5 at home; 7.1 on the road), meaning their offense isn't drying up.



Steve Mason



STATS PRIOR TO MAR. 26 GAMES


RECORD: 15-17-10

GAA: 2.25 | SVP: .926



What one could say though is, in terms of hockey's luck metric, Mason and the Flyers have been pretty unlucky this season.

By calculating a team's shooting plus save percentage (SPSv%), we're able to somewhat quantify puck luck. The two numbers should add up to about 1,000 to express an average number, but for the Flyers their road number falls a bit short of that threshold (987). What's affecting it is their save percentage in road games, but if there are no underlying factors adversely affecting it, saying the Flyers and Mason are going through a bit of an unlucky spell isn't outside the realm of possibility.


Teams historically have sustained higher SPSv% with above-average goaltending. The Boston Bruins are one example: a team that shot right around where one would expect them to, but because of Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask had a SPSv% above 1,000 for multiple seasons.


Yet because Mason has played so well overall, and because the Flyers haven't played that much worse on the road versus at home, it's safe to predict that, if the season was 164 games long instead of 82, Mason's road numbers would begin to get better.


Not much of a consolation if you're a Mason owner, but know Mason isn't exorcising any demons or entering any house of horrors when he leaves Wells Fargo Center. He's had a very good season with some bizarre luck when he's protecting the visitor's crease.




TRENDING UP


Jonathan Quick , Los Angeles Kings


Like all hockey players, Quick is streaky. With the Kings again trying to sneak their way into the playoffs, Quick is in a peak rather than a valley. He's made 91 saves on the past 96 shots he's faced, and going back a bit further has two shutouts in his past six starts. Quick is one of those goalies who occasionally goes through world-beating stretches, one of which he might be entering currently.



Cam Talbot



STATS PRIOR TO MAR. 26 GAMES


RECORD: 19-8-4

GAA: 2.19 | SVP: .927



TRENDING DOWN

Cam Talbot , New York Rangers


This is no slight on Talbot, who exceeded expectations by stratospheres while Henrik Lundqvist was recovering from injury. But the reality is, no matter how many arcane trade proposals anyone can come up with, Lundqvist is the Rangers' franchise goalie, and his impending return signals the end of Talbot's days as the starter. Talbot won't be completely shunned, especially with the Rangers facing a back-to-back this weekend, but the clip of 22 out of 24 starts he's made is nearing an end.


KEEP AN EYE ON


The Winnipeg Jets


One of the reasons it's difficult to devote serious fantasy attention to either Ondrej Pavelec or Michael Hutchinson is because of how coach Paul Maurice deploys them. There were times this season when it seemed Hutchinson was running away with the job, but Pavelec hung around and in his past seven starts hasn't had his save percentage dip below .938. It seems like for the time being Pavelec has earned more starts, but with eight games remaining on Winnipeg's schedule, it's not like Maurice is going to have that many more opportunities to start either goalie.




TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES


These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie's fantasy output for the entire season. Our ranks are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team's strong defense and offense.































































































1Carey Price, MTL (SAME)16John Gibson, ANA (-1)
2Cory Schneider, NJD (+2) 17Jimmy Howard, DET (SAME)
3Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT (SAME)18Steve Mason, PHI (SAME)
4Pekka Rinne, NSH (-2) 19Eddie Lack, VAN (+1)
5Braden Holtby, WSH (SAME)20Semyon Varlamov, COL (-1)
6Corey Crawford, CHI (+1) 21Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (SAME)
7Tuukka Rask, BOS (-1) 22Ondrej Pavelec, WPG (+4)
8Devan Dubnyk, MIN (+1) 23Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (SAME)
9Roberto Luongo, FLA (-1) 24Cam Talbot, NYR (-10)
10Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (DTD; NR - IR)25Frederik Andersen, ANA (-1)
11Jonathan Quick, LAK (SAME)26Michael Hutchinson, WPG (-4)
12Brian Elliott, STL (-2) 27Antti Niemi, SJS (-2)
13Jaroslav Halak, NYI (-1) 28Kari Lehtonen, DAL (-1)
14Andrew Hammond, OTT (+2) 29Jake Allen, STL (-1)
15Ben Bishop, TBL (-2) 30Anton Khudobin, CAR (NEW)

Dropped out: Dan Ellis, Petr Mrazek


Key injuries: Ryan Miller, Cam Ward, Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner


DTD : Day-to-day; NR - IR : Not ranked last week because of injury


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