PHILADELPHIA — There were massive piles of snow outside the Flyers’ arena last night, but things were bright and sunny inside before the game.
Despite the half-foot of snow dumped on Philadelphia, and more in the suburbs, Flyers fans showed up for the game. After all, it was against the Penguins. Quite a few Pittsburgh fans were in attendance, too. It was a great atmosphere for a March hockey game.
The Flyers were in last place in the Metropolitan Division at the start of the calendar year, a point behind the Penguins. But the Flyers and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs have both been on a roll: The winner of last night’s game would move into first place in the division, and if the Flyers won in overtime, the two teams would be tied with Washington atop the division.
The Pens led after the first period, but goals from Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny put the Flyers ahead 2-1 early in the second. The video board showed the Eagles’ Mychal Kendricks and Jason Kelce. The Flyers gave Kelce a fancy hat and he led cheers for the Flyers and Eagles. The arena was rocking.
Then the Penguins scored three goals in 10 minutes and the game was over. Jamie Oleksiak, the longtime Dallas Stars defenseman, tied it. A pair of goals five minutes apart from Conor Sheary put the Penguins in front. They added an empty-netter for the final 5-2 margin. And Philadelphia groaned again.
The Flyers and Penguins have played 284 times, and the Flyers are 153-92-39. They have a big advantage over their chief rivals in all-time record. But, in recent years, the Penguins have pulled ahead of the Flyers in one key statistic: Number of Stanley Cups won. They now have five.
In one 364-day stretch between 2016 and 2017, the Penguins won as many Stanley Cups as the Flyers have in their entire history. A Penguins fan gloated before the game, holding up a “1975” sign up against the glass as the Flyers warmed up. The last Flyers’ Stanley Cup is now ancient history, a taunt other teams can use against Philly fans. Well, other teams besides Toronto.
But maybe things were changing. The Flyers roster has holes, but they’d been lights-out in 2018. They lost just six games in January and February. They’ve struggled in March, true, but a home game against the Penguins was just the place to right it. Maybe this could even be the start of a shift of the balance of power away from the Crosby-Malkins teams that have been so successful.
Instead, it ended in a loss. The Flyers aren’t there yet. The Penguins aren’t done. Now in first place, they might just win another Cup this year. And the specter of 1975 grows larger every day.
SAN JOSE — The Sharks came to life a tad too late Sunday night as they suffered their first loss since they acquired Evander Kane at the NHL’s trade deadline.
Kane and Joonas Donskoi both scored at even strength, but the Sharks got nothing from their power play for the 12th straight game and could not make up for a lackluster opening 20 minutes in a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at SAP Center.
The Sharks trailed 3-0 by the 5:32 mark of the second period on three even strength goals by Columbus, and never fully recovered despite some improved play as the game progressed.
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Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 33 saves, including 14 in the third period.
“There was never a moment where we felt out of the game,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “It never felt like it was out of reach. The guys in our group showed it and came back and gave ourselves a chance. Definitely, down 3-0, and at the end of the night, that was what cost us.”
Sharks goalie Martin Jones was pulled after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, although he had almost no chance on at least two of them.
Still, after Artemi Panarin’s goal gave the Blue Jackets a three-goal cushion, Jones was removed in favor of Aaron Dell as Sharks coach Pete DeBoer searched for anything to light a fire under his team.
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“That’s one way to grab their attention or settle ourselves down,” DeBoer said. “Unfortunately for (Jones), he was the victim of that tonight. It wasn’t anything that he did in the net.”
The Sharks didn’t create much until the final two minutes of the second, when Dylan DeMelo’s shot from just inside the blue line was redirected by Donskoi past Bobrovsky at the 18:22 mark to cut Columbus’ lead to 3-1.
“I don’t think we had the same level of urgency as they did,” Kane said. “The last five minutes of the second was when we really started to get into the game, (Donskoi) getting a big one there and I thought it carried over well into the third period. But anytime you get down three goals, it’s tough.”
Kane scored his first goal with the Sharks and his 21st of the season at the 10:04 mark of the third, taking a pass from Pavelski and beating Bobrovsky with a wrist shot that squeezed through his pads. The Sharks pressed for the equalizer, but Panarin sealed the win with an empty net goal in the final minute of regulation time.
Kane also assisted on Donskoi’s goal, as that line with Donskoi and Pavelski now has a combined 16 points in three games since Kane was brought over from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 26.
“There’s been a lot of space, there’s been a lot entries where we’re coming in together,” Pavelski said of his line. “We’ve just been in synch. It’s not been one guy leading it. It’s been (Donskoi) driving it in with (Kane). We’ve been taking the puck to the net, haven’t been messing around with it too much.”
The Sharks didn’t have a problem getting past Edmonton and Chicago to start their homestand. While the power play continued to struggle, even strength goals were coming by the bushel.
With less room to skate against a defensive-minded Blue Jackets team, the 5-on-5 scoring could only do so much Sunday, and the Sharks’ power play futility continues to set team records.
The power play looked dangerous at times, and Bobrovsky made eight saves when the Blue Jackets were down a man.
Still, the Sharks’ four misfires against Columbus extended their goalless streak with the man-advantage to a franchise-record 12 games, going 0-for-28 in that time. San Jose’s last power play goal came Feb. 8 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“You’ve got to give the goalie on the other team some credit,” DeBoer said. “I’ll be the first guy to stand here if we can’t get into the zone or we can’t get set up. You’ve got to look at it realistically. We generated some real quality looks. We missed the net on some and he made some saves on some.”
“We understand that we have to keep going and find ways to get it back,” Pavelski said of the power play.
The worst part for the Sharks was that Columbus scored quickly after two first period power plays fizzled out.
Nick Foligno scored at the 9:12 mark of the first, 10 seconds after his hooking penalty expired. Then Panarin scored 54 seconds after Zach Werenski left the box on another hooking call.
The Sharks entered Sunday’s game 10 points back of Vegas for first place in the Pacific Division, and are now one point ahead of Anaheim for second place. The Sharks’ homestand continues Thursday against St. Louis.
ST. PAUL, MINN. • Sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline, it certainly looks like Blues management is throwing in the towel on the 2017-18 campaign.
As for the actual team?
“I think that a lot of people are ready to sort of determine how our story ends here,” coach Mike Yeo said Tuesday morning. “But the beauty of the game is that we’re the ones that get to decide that. We still believe we have the group to do it.”
A nice sentiment to be sure, but the Blues couldn’t flip the script Tuesday, getting smoked 8-3 in their first game without departed center Paul Stastny. Their longest losing streak in eight years now stands at seven games (0-6-1) after a defensive meltdown of near-epic proportion against the Minnesota Wild at Bridgestone Arena.
“You know what? It’s a matter of pride as far as I’m concerned,” Yeo said. “You give up eight goals, c’mon. We’ve given up 16 in the last three games. We’ve always been one of the top defensive teams. The turnovers that we have and the lack of respect that we have for our goaltenders and for the game of hockey _ that’s ridiculous.”
A fuming Yeo mentioned Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall and Dmitrij Jaskin as players who he had no problem with on Tuesday.
Everybody else, he said he was not happy with.
“I like what those guys brought,” he said, referring to the names he mentioned. “But we have too many guys that didn’t match that. . . .The level of play of some players needs to come up, it’s that’s simple. Too many guys right now that aren’t giving us a chance to win hockey games.”
But how do you bench, oh, six players?
“We’ve obviously got a couple extra bodies,” Yeo said. “Quality of play, caliber of play, what they can bring offensively, that’s one thing _ but it’s a matter of showing that you care.”
After absorbing back-to-back shutouts against Winnipeg and Nashville, the Blues finally ended their scoreless streak at 150 minutes 23 seconds. They got two goals by Tarasenko, and just the third goal by Pietrangelo in his last 43 games. Not that he got much help, but goalie Jake Allen looked jittery before being pulled after one period for Carter Hutton.
The Blues’ play in the back end was looser than the slots at your favorite casino. On Monday, after trading Stastny to Winnipeg, general manager Doug Armstrong bemoaned the team’s deteriorating defensive play.
“The quality chances we give up are staggering _ two-on-ones, and breakaways,” Armstrong said.
That was the case once again against Minnesota as it is becoming painfully clear that the Blues miss injured defensemen Joel Edmundson (broken forearm) and Robert Bortuzzo (knee).
Even so, as Bouwmeester put it, “When you let in this many goals, you can’t point at one or two guys. It’s usually a group effort. Different games it’s been different things. I mean, some games we’ve been playing too much in our end. Other games it’s been turnovers. . . .For us that’s very uncharacteristic because we’ve always prided ourselves on being a good defensive team. And that goes right through our lineup.”
After allowing a season-high eight goals Tuesday, the Blues have been outscored 25-6 since taking that now-infamous 3-0 lead into the third period Feb. 13 in Nashville _ a game they lost 4-3 in overtime.
“It’s unacceptable,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s the reality.”
About the only thing that went wrong for the Wild en route to tying a franchise record for goals in one game was a hat trick misfire, or miscalculation. After Eric Staal scored on a breakaway at the 7:46 mark of the third period, the crowd threw the obligatory hats to the ice, unaware that a scoring change had taken away a first period goal from Staal, awarding it to Mikael Granlund instead.
Didn’t matter. Just 3 minutes 8 seconds later, Staal scored again for a hat trick that counted. (The crowd of 19,261 at Bridgestone still had some hats left, which found their way to the ice for this one.)
It is now 18 days and counting since the Blues’ last won a hockey game _ a 5-2 victory in Winnipeg on Feb. 9. Their seven-game losing streak (0-6-1) matches their longest skid since the 2009-10 season.
On Tuesday, they completed a telling 10-game stretch against playoff contenders at 2-7-1, a skid that has pushed them down to 10th place in the Western Conference.
Bouwmeester has seen a lot of things in the game of hockey, but he looked about as close to shellshocked as one can be who’s played in 1,100-plus NHL games and participated in two Olympics.
“Right now, we’re so disconnected,” he said. “But we’ve got one tomorrow, so (bleep) it.”
That would be the Detroit Wings, Wednesday’s foe at Scottrade Center. Now 34-26-4 and still at 72 points, the Blues then play their next four on the road.
Tarasenko, who scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season, was similarly at a loss to make sense of things.
“Trust me, everyone is frustrated,” Tarasenko said. “I don’t know, it’s way more than frustrated now. I don’t know what to say. It’s embarrassing, and like I always say it’s all about our goalies. We can’t put those two guys in this spot.”
Making his third consecutive start in goal, and his sixth in the last eight games, Allen struggled again. But again, had next to no help. For starters, Vladimir Sobotka took a foolish holding penalty in his own end after losing the puck less than three minutes into the game.
Just six seconds into the power play _ that’s right, six seconds _ Minnesota was on the board when Jason Zucker tipped in a shot from Ryan Suter with the puck trickling into the net behind Allen.
Less than 4 1/2 minutes later, Granlund scored on the goal originally credited to Staal. St. Louis briefly got some life on Tarasenko’s first goal at 9:59 of the period. That ended the Blues’ scoreless streak, which dated back to a Tarasenko goal late in the second period against San Jose one week ago.
The Blues did have some energy offensively, but whenever they scored, the Wild always countered with a goal or two. . .or eight.
“Everybody knows we gotta be better,” Bouwmeester said. “For whatever reason, we can’t get over that hump right now.”
Statsny, by the way, had a goal and an assist Tuesday in his debut for Winnipeg.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, but they just upped their chances by agreeing to acquire defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers.
The Rangers will receive a 2018 first-round draft pick, a conditional second-rounder in 2019, forward Vladislav Namestnikov — who will be a restricted free agent after the season — and prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden. If the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this season or next, it is believed the 2019 pick becomes a first-rounder, according to TSN.
The trade was reportedly agreed to just before the 3 p.m. deadline and the league had to be informed for it to go through.
“[Lightning general manager Steve] Yzerman said he feels that I’m a good character guy and that I can add a lot to the back end,” McDonagh said, according to NHL.com. “I want to do whatever I can to help win. There’s some big expectations there that I’d love to help be a part of.”
Neither McDonagh nor Miller are rentals. McDonagh, 28, is under contract next season with a $4.7 million cap hit, while Miller, 24, has a cap hit of $2.75 million and will be a restricted free agent after this season.
As the Rangers reshape their roster, they have traded their team captain, a title McDonagh has held the past four seasons.
McDonagh has two goals and 24 assists on the season while he continues to be a reliable presence on the ice, averaging more than 22 minutes per game for the seventh consecutive season.
Miller has 13 goals and 27 assists in 63 games this season after breaking the 20-goal mark in each of the past two.
McDonagh was an All-Star in 2016 and 2017. He was a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2007 but has played his entire NHL career with the Rangers after signing an entry-level contract with the club in 2010.
Namestnikov, 25, has 20 goals and 24 assists this season — sometimes playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
It marks the second time in four years the Rangers have traded their captain to Tampa Bay at the deadline. In 2014, New York dealt captain Ryan Callahan (along with two draft picks) to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis. McDonagh took on the role of captain the following season.
Former Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi signed with Tampa last July.
It’s not exactly breaking any new ground to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs have a gem of a prospect in Timothy Liljegren.
And yet, for some unbeknownst reason, his name has come up with more frequency as the trade deadline slowly approaches.
Specifically, Liljegren has seemingly been anointed with the honour of centrepiece for which any hypothetical package used to pry Chris Tanev out of Vancouver is built around.
For a number of reasons, this makes little sense.
The Leafs have needed a top pairing, right-handed defenceman for what seems like millennia. And, through sheer luck, a top prospect with that exact potential fell into their lap at last year’s draft.
Now, halfway through his highly successful first season with the organization, fans want to ship him out of town for an older, more injury prone model with a lower ceiling.
I just don’t get it.
2017-18 marks Tanev’s eighth season in the NHL. Not once, in any of his prior seven seasons, has he played more than 70 games.
To say that Tanev is injury prone would be an understatement. In fact, as I’m writing this, news just broke of him being sidelined for the next three to four weeks with a fractured leg. And that’s not even the first injury he’s suffered this year.
Tanev is a phenomenal player, there’s no doubting that. He’s a legitimate top-four defenseman with a cap hit of just $4.5 million. Paying someone of Tanev’s calibre anything under $6 million is a win, no matter how you look at it.
The sticking point, however, is that included in any package for Tanev’s service is also the extensive mileage his body has endured.
Since 2014, he’s been placed on the injured reserve a whopping nine(!) times, not including any additional games he’s missed for other various ailments.
While some of this can undoubtedly be chalked up to bum luck, eight calendar years is quite the sample size.
Frankly, I’d be extremely hesitant to give up significant assets, especially the best defensive prospect this organization has seen since Morgan Rielly, for a player who could be lost for the season at any given moment.
Tanev is 28-years-old, right in the middle of what’s commonly regarded as a players prime. Whatever level he’s currently playing at is likely the highest it’ll ever be.
Now, that level is certainly a lofty one, but there isn’t much room for improvement with a player rapidly approaching 30.
With Liljegren, the opposite is true.
As the only 18-year-old defenceman in the AHL, Liljegren has not only acclimated himself well enough to simply get by, he’s actually standing out.
Once criticized for his defensive lapses, he routinely functions as the defensively responsible member of his pairing. Not to mention, his offensive skills so advanced, he’d be capable of quarterbacking an NHL powerplay tomorrow.
Which begs the question; why give up on that?
We know exactly how good Tanev is. But, for Liljegren, the sky’s the limit. Over the next half-decade, Tanev’s play will inevitably slip with age, while Liljegren’s will only continue to develop.
Essentially, this all boils down to a matter of patience. Would the value Tanev brings the Leafs in the short term be worth losing out on potentially more with Liljegren down the road?
Personally, I don’t think so.
The Leafs have enough defensive might to get by for now. I mean, the Penguins won a cup with Ron Hainsey on their top pairing, so why can’t Toronto?
The Leafs had a bonafide top-five pick who fit the exact criteria of their biggest positional need somehow fall into their laps at 17th overall. The last thing they should be doing is trading him for someone whose number of IR stints are approaching double digits.
TAMPA, Fla — Paraphrasing Erik Gudbranson, one player can’t make a team tough.
But it wouldn’t hurt to try.
The Vancouver Canucks finally bellied up and signed Darren Archibald to an NHL contract after spending months rolling out a team that was a little too pliable, a little too delicate and a little too soft.
The Canucks have been making two-hand touch football look violent this season.
Archibald probably can’t change all that. Not in any significantly dramatic way. Heck, as head coach Travis Green pointed out, we don’t even know if Archibald is an NHL. player.
We’re about to find out.
After losing Sam Gagner to an ankle injury and Brendan Gaunce to a foot fracture, the Canucks recalled Reid Boucher to help their offence and signed Archibald to a contract to help their spine.
Archibald is sent to join the team in Raleigh, N.C., and is expected to play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.
There may have been a couple of hallelujahs in the Canucks’ locker room when that news filtered in.
Since Derek Dorsett’s forced retirement, the Canucks have obviously lacked edge, pushback and a man who hits like a one-ton truck.
You know it. The players know it.
Bo Horvat was asked whether the team needs this element, and midway through the question he jumped to the answer.
“I think that’s exactly what we need,” he said. “I think we have to get more hits. Even on the forecheck.
“We need to get more fear into our opponents. They need to know someone is going to come down hard on them.
“I do think (Archibald) is going to bring that to our team.”
The Canucks don’t seem so sure. If they were, they would have kept Archibald with this group at the start of the season.
He was one of Green’s favourite players in Utica, and was the Comets’ MVP last season. There wasn’t a role he didn’t excel in. He killed penalties. He was on the power play. And at midseason, Green put him on his top line and that line took off.
Archibald put up 23 goals and 24 assists in in 76 games, all while he was pancaking opponents and standing up for teammates.
Green made a point at training camp by making Archibald one of his last cuts. But even that didn’t get him an NHL contract when he was sent back to Utica.
Before signing Archibald, the Canucks were at 45 NHL contracts. The limit is 50 and many believed Vancouver wanted to keep those slots open for potential college free agents.
Green said the team didn’t consider signing and recalling him earlier in the year because when it had injuries up front and needed a player Archibald was out six weeks with a broken jaw.
“Every team wants a guy who is physical and can play in different situations,” Green said. “I’m not sitting here saying Darren Archibald’s ready, or is a full-time NHL hockey player yet.
“He still has a lot to prove. He knows that as well.”
Archibald is not some prospect. He’s 27 years old, and has spent the past six years shuttling between the AHL and the ECHL. He also played 16 games with the Canucks in the John Tortorella season of 2013-14.
But last season was somewhat of a watershed moment for his pro career. Something changed. For the Comets, Archibald became a complete player.
“He matured,” Green said. “He become comfortable in his own skin.
“When I talk about players and when they fully grasp it, he’s a good example.
“When he was younger, he was torn between playing a big, heavy game while trying to score goals.
“He almost got caught in the middle a little bit.”
Since recovering from his broken jaw, Archibald has played 16 games for the Comets. He’s had five goals, six assists and even scored a shootout goal. He’s also crushed opponents regularly without taking penalties.
In these 16 games, he’s had just seven minutes in penalties. They all came in one game, when he was standing up for a teammate.
If there are any glimpses into the future, of what may result from the years-long process to push Dmitry Orlov to the peak of his potential, they were evident in an otherwise discouraging three-goal loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
There was the Washington Capitals defenseman matching up with star center Sidney Crosby and the Penguins’ top line for most of the game. There was Orlov asserting himself into the offense by trailing the rush as a quasi fourth forward, knocking the puck around the zone and seeking out opportunities to fire shots at the net. There was his slap shot that found the net, launched by his swinging stick and past Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray before the goaltender even began to react.
That is the Orlov the Capitals are molding, and they don’t think he is far away from achieving a place among the league’s top defensemen. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound blue-liner is following a meticulous plan that Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden believes will ultimately establish Orlov in that upper echelon of defenders, as a player that shuts down top lines, consistently produces on offense and contributes to the Capitals’ power play.
After missing all of the 2014-15 season with a broken wrist, Orlov has gradually worked through Reirden’s blueprint and continued his upward trajectory. He has seven goals, one short of a career high, and 12 assists in 52 games this season. He leads the team in even-strength ice time at 19:46 per game. He and Matt Niskanen spend a lot of that time matched against the opposition’s top skaters, and Orlov is also a fixture on the Capitals’ second power-play unit.
Now the 26-year-old defenseman is looking to layer more offense back into his game, a proven ability that has been dampened since he took on a tougher defensive workload.
“It’s just mind-set really,” Orlov said. “Everyone wants to be in the offensive zone, joining the rush, all that. But when you take on top lines you have to also put defense ahead of that always, and it can be tough to get your offense going. But I will get there, just sticking to the plan.”
The plan comes up a lot.
Reirden, who works with the Capitals’ defensemen, has one for each of his players tailored to their age, ability and fit in the Capitals’ system. Orlov’s plan started in what, from the outside, may be seen as a lost 2014-15 season. Orlov and Reirden spent hours alone on the ice together that year, working through Orlov’s frustration and a rehab process that lasted longer than expected. There was doubt, at times, that Orlov would fully recover, moments that it seemed like his wrist could keep him from ever shooting or stickhandling as he did in the past or becoming the player he wanted to become.
“I think it helps you reconnect with how important the game of hockey is and how much you miss being around your teammates and being the player you once were,” Reirden said of what that season meant for Orlov. “It’s a situation we’ve used as growth, and we’ve referenced it in the last couple years. When things got bad or if games didn’t go well, when things weren’t moving in the right direction, occasionally you’d be like, ‘Remember two years ago, we weren’t sure you’d be able to play at this level again.’ ”
That isn’t referenced anymore. Orlov doesn’t need to hear it to find another gear. He is driven by his own ambition to succeed and Reirden’s vision for him, which has added another element to his game in each season since the injury.
Step 1: Build Orlov’s confidence by giving him favorable matchups and a lot of offensive-zone starts. Check.
Step 2: Build his role and move him into a place among the team’s top-four defensemen, which heightens his competition, but measure the ice time at first. Check.
Step 3: Add ice time and challenge him to bump up his offense within that role. He finished with a career-high 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) last season. Check.
Step 4: Raise his level of competition to matchups with top lines and lessen his offensive responsibilities. Check.
Step 5: Keep skating him against top lines and add that high-level offense back in. Pending.
“That’s at the top,” Reirden said, his right hand raised well above his shoulder. “That’s where he becomes a top guy. He’s had growth every year. He’s on track for that goal, absolutely.”
Adding that offense back in is not a matter of conditioning. Orlov’s preparation and work ethic is what stands out most to his fellow defensemen — from 22-year-old rookie Madison Bowey to the veterans of the bunch — and he sometimes skates so hard in practice that his laces split open. His average ice time, 23:07, is the highest of his career by almost four minutes, and it hasn’t slowed him down.
Finding the right balance between jumping into the offense and carrying out the team’s most important defensive assignments is what Orlov has to figure out. He feels like he is close to doing so. Reirden feels it, too. And when he does, when this plan is complete, another will be put in place to see just how much Orlov’s game can grow.
“He is a great guy to follow, a great guy to look up to and model my game after, I feel like,” said Bowey, who is just 44 games into his own plan. “Dmitry just does everything and does it so well. I want to be like that.”
WINNIPEG – As a member of the Winnipeg Jets‘ security staff, Glen Lafrenais spends a lot of time around the team but he never imagined one day he would be part of it.
“There were a couple chuckles when I came through the door,” the Venue and Event Security Manager at True North Sports + Entertainment said. “They were giving me the gears a bit.”
On Monday, Lafrenais replaced Connor Hellebuyck in net during practice after the Jets decided to give the all-star goalie a day off.
“They needed a quick guy to be a human shooter tutor,” Lafrenais said. “They asked me if I wanted to and I said ‘yeah’.”
A goalie his entire life, Lafrenais once suited up in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League. He now plays on a beer-league team, facing shots that barely rise off the ice.
“I like to say I held my own a bit,” Lafrenais said. “I stopped a Patrik Laine one-timer when they were working on the power play. I think there’s some people in the NHL that may have not done that so I can hang my hat on that.”
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For his troubles, Lafrenais skated away with a few new sticks, some autographs and the right to call himself a NHLer.
“(My teammates) are joking now, saying don’t forget about us,” Lafrenais said. “Now I have a little bit more clout around the room hopefully.”
The U.S. Army is taking a golden opportunity and driving it straight off a cliff.
In disputing the Las Vegas NHL team’s use of the name Golden Knights, the Army is wasting a chance to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with a team that is about as successful and feel-good as they come.
Let’s look at the options here.
One, the Army could decide to co-exist with the Golden Knights, who share the name of the Army’s precision parachute team. Hello, appearances by the Knights’ star players to sign autographs at the parachute team’s performances, thereby helping the Army’s recruiting efforts. Hello, congratulatory messages from the Army to the Golden Knights for hitting milestones like becoming the winningest expansion team in the history of pro sports, thereby strengthening the hockey team’s appeal to patriotic Americans.
Now for the other option, which the Army has foolishly decided to take. That’s to pick a fight with the most inspirational and heartwarming team in major sports, and do it for a weak reason.
In an appeal to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Army claimed that the hockey team’s use of the name would dilute its brand recognition and would create confusion among people who follow sports.
The best response to that argument came from the team, in a deliciously understated statement that read, in part, “we are not aware of a single complaint from anyone attending our games that they were expecting to see the parachute team and not a professional hockey game.”
Brilliant. No word yet from the Army about how many folks have showed up to watch parachutists and asked, “Where’s the ice?”
Another kink in the Army’s argument is that there are other sports teams that use the name and a similar mascot. The Golden Knights of Clarkson (Potsdam, N.Y.) University and the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., have been around for years and don’t seem to have caused any problems for the parachuting team or its fans.
Granted, the Vegas Golden Knights play on a much, much bigger fan base than those tiny schools, sell more merchandise and have made an enormous splash in the media while racing to the lead of their division and becoming a virtual lock for the playoffs.
For whatever reason, the Army sees all of that as a threat, or at least as unfriendly competition.
Too bad, because the Knights would be a great partner for anyone looking to make a good impression on the public.
This is a team that was pieced together with players that were considered disposable or expendable by other teams. But those players have refused to play the traditional punching-bag role of an expansion club.
It’s a team that played its first regular-season game shortly after the Oct. 1 mass shooting, and whose captain, Deryk Engelland, told the crowd that night: “To the families and friends of the victims, know that we’ll do everything we can to help you and our city heal.”
And it’s a team that has done just that, by doing things like making personal visits to thank first responders, staying around after practices and games to sign autographs and introducing Oct. 1 heroes and survivors at games.
It’s also not as if the team is operating in some way that would embarrass the Army. Team owner Bill Foley is a West Point graduate, and his operation reflects his background. The game atmosphere is family-friendly — Las Vegas naughtiness stays outside — which is one reason that fans have been packing T-Mobile Arena when the Knights are at home.
Why would anybody want to be the black hat against these guys? Why wouldn’t the Army instead see the name for what it is: a tribute to the armed services.
You’d think the Army might have enough challenges on its hands without starting this meaningless spat.