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TAMPA, Fla — If Jaromir Jagr has indeed played the final game of his illustrious National Hockey League career, then Johnny Gaudreau has himself one pretty cool claim to fame.

“I can say I assisted on his last NHL goal if he doesn’t play in the NHL ever again,” the Calgary Flames winger explained following the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday night.

That goal came on Nov. 9 in Calgary against the Detroit Red Wings, the 766th of Jagr’s incredibly prolific career. It was also the only one he scored in 22 games for the Flames after Calgary inked the 45-year-old to a free agent contract in early October.
Reportedly Jagr and the team agreed to unconditional waivers this weekend, and should he clear, the sides would mutually terminate his NHL contract making him free to play in Europe, with Frolunda in the SHL his likely destination.

“What he has been able to do is pretty incredible,” said Sidney Crosby, who recently passed Jagr for second place on the Pittsburgh Penguins all-time scoring list.

“All the different styles of game he had to play through all these years — clutch and grab of the ’90’s, speed game today — and he still excelled at every one. I think it’s pretty amazing, the numbers and what he was able to accomplish.”
Jagr stands as the NHL’s second leading all-time scorer with 1,921 points — just seven this season with the Flames. He is third in goals and fifth with 1,155 assists.

Not only did Jagr leave his mark on the ice and in the record books, but his big personality, leadership and caring for teammates is to be remembered, as well.

“He was great to me,” offered Gaudreau, the 24-year-old All-Star who has 56 points this year. “I talked to him a lot throughout the season in the short amount of time we spent together. He’s been around the game so long, seen a lot of things, so I just picked his brain, on the ice, off the ice. He has so much knowledge, and shared it.”

MORE: NHL All-Star Game 2018: Brock Boeser overcomes nerves, proves to be “chill kid” in MVP weekend

Asked for his greatest memory of Jagr, Crosby had to think a while before responding on Sunday.

“I want to say when he walked through four, five guys, that one highlight goal you always see, but I just remember him being a guy you just could not knock off the puck,” shared Crosby. “Even before I was in the league, I was watching him, how he handled the puck, just how strong he was. He dominated games because you couldn’t take the puck off of him. Seeing him and Mario (Lemieux) play together was pretty cool, and, obviously, I’ve played against him over the years now.”

As for what happens next for Jagr?

“Hopefully he gets to play somewhere else in the league. If not, he’s had a great, great career and I was very fortunate to spend 25, 30 games with him,” said Gaudreau.

“I wish him the best.”

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The NHL may not be sending players to 2018 Olympics, but fans still have reason to enjoy watching their teams future on the biggest stage.

If most fans of the New York Islanders were asked if they had watched goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin play the answer would very likely be no.

But that is about to change as Sorokin was named to Russian National team at this years Winter Olympics only a few weeks before the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

With NHL deciding to not send players to the Olympics this year, it has opened up a unique opportunity for many players like Sorokin to showcase their talents on the worlds biggest stage.

The Islanders selected the Russian net-minder in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, but it wasn’t until the 2015-16 season that people started to take notice of Sorokin.

His ridiculous stat line of a 1.06 GAA coupled with a .953 save percentage were tops in the KHL and earned him the league’s award for top goalie.

Since then everyone has taken notice of the 22 year old. He hasn’t missed a beat recording a 25-6-7 record and a “modest” .929 save percentage and a 1.61 GAA in the 2016-17 season. Those numbers have jumped back up so far in 2017-18, with a 24-8-4 record and .930 save percentage and 1.59 GAA.

Sorokin has yet to sign an entry level deal with the Islanders, and they have until later this summer to lock him up or otherwise he could find himself in another jersey.

Fans can look forward to watching some of their teams top prospects duke it out on an international stage.

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LOS ANGELES — The Rangers are a defensive team now, and there’s no need to look further than Rick Nash to find the explanation why.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when it would have been a little surprising to hear just how much Nash cares about the penalty kill, and how much he personally identifies with its success and failure. But there he was Sunday night at Staples Center, feeling individually downtrodden after the Kings scored three straight power-play goals in the second period en route to a 4-2 victory.

It was the Blueshirts’ second straight loss to start this four-game western road trip, which took a brief pause Monday for an off day before returning to action Tuesday in Anaheim and concluding Thursday up in San Jose.

Just before they were preparing to leave home, the Rangers’ penalty kill was ranked second in the league. They then gave up two to the Sabres on Thursday night at the Garden, and after stopping the one chance the Avalanche had in Denver on Saturday afternoon, they just fell apart against the Kings.

“It’s something that I’m really proud of,” Nash had said Sunday night, “our rank before these last three games here.”
They had fallen back to 12th in the league (82.1 percent) before league play Monday night, which was quite the precipitous fall in such a short period of time. But that’s how the NHL is working this year, with such overwhelming parity that the smallest drop in performance can send a team spiraling down the standings.

The Rangers know that, and they understand that their hold on the second wild-card spot Monday afternoon was tenuous at best. They also understand it’s going to be an uphill climb while dealing with long-term injuries to Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Kreider, which make the smaller injuries more impactful — like those that recently resulted in absences from Michael Grabner and Marc Staal. Both returned Sunday, while Kevin Hayes has remained out for five straight with his leg contusion.

So that has led coach Alain Vigneault toward a small change in focus. He is getting less offensive production than in years past, with the team averaging 2.94 goals per game this season, ranking 13th in the league, compared to being in the top seven in each of the previous three seasons. But goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been terrific, even as he has faced the second-most shots in the league behind just Toronto’s Frederik Andersen.
That has made Vigneault look for the Rangers to focus defensively first, which might have been a floating idea at times in the past but was never so crucial to their success as it is now.

“What I’ve said 1,000 times, we need to play the right way,” Vigneault said before Sunday’s game. “For me and our group, the focus is going to be on defensive first. We need to play a strong defensive game. Thought [Saturday in Denver] we were pretty good in that area. From playing a strong defensive game, we should get some offensive opportunities.”

That is also the way Nash thinks — that playing a sound 200-foot game is going to lead to his offensive opportunities, which will eventually start going in. It’s true that the 33-year-old has always been a streaky scorer as he plays in the 15th season of his exemplary career. He also knows that the Rangers need him to score, and there was no coincidence that his back-to-back two-goal games at the Garden last week were also two wins against the Flyers and Sabres. Nash’s 13 goals in 48 games is tied for third-most on the team.

But these are now the defensive Rangers, playing that tight-checking five-on-five style. And when a penalty kill comes up, they need to keep the opposition off the board.

Because the margin for error is very little. Nash knows it, Vigneault knows it, and this is the reality they live in as they try to keep pace in a speeding postseason race.

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Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators

 

 

It is a well-known fact that most people fail their New Year’s resolutions early on in the year. On January 1st, people try to reinvent themselves, to change their habits and bring positive change into their lives, and within weeks, they figure out that it won’t work.

The Ottawa Senators aren’t even bothering with New Year’s resolutions this year. No “new year, new me” for this team. In their first game of 2018, they showed us all that we need not worry about them suddenly tightening up defensively or improving their special teams or playing line combinations that make sense or – god forbid – winning hockey games.

Or successfully tanking. No, we definitely don’t need to worry about that.

This game perfectly encapsulated everything that the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators are, and will apparently continue to be. They are a bad defensive team with a few stars the coach insists on saddling with bad players. They are a team that isn’t good enough to win but refuses to lose, and also plays in front of a lot of empty seats. It sent a clear message to everyone watching that although the year has changed, this team has not. It’s still the same team we all know and (sometimes, occasionally) love.

I, for one, am thrilled.

The Red Wings took control of the play right off the opening faceoff, and very nearly scored a goal before a full minute had elapsed. I’ll let you guess which defense pairing started the game. The next few minutes were excruciatingly familiar to Sens fans, as the team collapsed defensively and couldn’t seem to gain control of the puck for more than a few minutes. It was like that Dave Cameron-coached team that couldn’t break out of their zone or maintain pressure in the offensive zone, except the players were too afraid to make mistakes to be creative so it was just bad all around.

The undisputed highlight of the period was when Cody Ceci got the puck in the offensive zone, then sent a slap pass right into the corner, also known as the only area of the ice where none of his teammates were stationed at that time. Get that man a contract extension.

Still, play continued and the score remained even, as Anderson made a few key saves and, to their credit, the Sens did manage to get a few shots on goal. They also gave up a dangerous 2-on-1 with their man back being rookie defenseman Thomas Chabot, but those are just details. No need to dwell on them.

Detroit got on the board soon after the failed 2-on-1, capitalizing on a defensive breakdown that can probably be blamed on every Senators player on the ice. Johnny Oduya failed to get the puck along the boards, Nate Thompson sent a pass right into Erik Karlsson’s feet, and the captain didn’t quite manage to pick up the puck in time. The Detroit forwards made Ottawa’s defense look silly, and took an early lead.

Bobby Ryan almost evened the score shortly afterward, in a positively Condra-esque play. His shot ended up going behind the Detroit goaltender but just in front of the goal line, so that it looked like the puck had gone in but it hadn’t. Like I said, this whole game was pretty reflective of the season the Sens have been having.

Now, I did not watch the intermission on Sportsnet because Sportsnet is unwatchable, but from what I heard, the commentators predictably spent a lot of time bashing Erik Karlsson for his play on the first goal. While I don’t think Karlsson should be completely absolved of blame, it’s worth pointing out that 1) he’s probably not completely healed, and 2) as I pointed out on Twitter, he’s being saddled with bad players and that’s probably a big part of what’s making him look bad.

The second period, just like the first, began with an excellent scoring chance for the Red Wings, this one from Andreas Athanasiou, the guy who scored the first goal and basically walked all over the Sens throughout this game. To be fair, though, I’m pretty sure just about anyone could walk over the Sens at this point in the season. I coached the Sens Blogger Classic this year and I’m not entirely convinced the Sens could beat either of those teams.

After a good scoring chance for Mike Hoffman, Dion Phaneuf got into a tussle with Danny Dekeyser, and both players went to the box. Detroit predictably held the bulk of the play during the 4 on 4, but did not extend the lead. Dzingel and Duchene got a good scoring chance together, and Detroit regained control almost immediately afterward. Craig Anderson was in #BeastMode as he kept the Sens in it even though they clearly deserved to be losing.

Then the Sens got a penalty for too many men on the ice.

Remember what I said about this game perfectly encapsulating the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators?

The penalty kill actually went over much better than any of us could have imagined, though. Only about 30 seconds in, the Wings were assessed a delayed penalty, and the Sens actually managed to play keepaway for the rest of the penalty. It was perhaps the most exciting 90 seconds they’ve played all season. Ottawa even upped the drama by pulling Craig Anderson, leaving us all in suspense as we wondered if they’d manage to score on themselves. Incredibly, they did not, and their brand new powerplay went to work.

It did not result in a goal.

Some things never change.

Detroit finished the second period by almost scoring twice, but Anderson kept the score 1-0.

In a shocking turn of events, Ottawa was the team to start the third frame with a scoring chance. In an even more shocking turn of events, that scoring chance resulted in an actual goal. Ryan Dzingel made a beautiful play, and Mark Stone celebrated with enough enthusiasm for the entire team.

The goal was challenged for goaltender interference. While it was pretty clear that the Detroit netminder had not been interfered with, it would not have been that surprising if it had been overturned, because honestly, what else can go wrong this season? Mercifully, it was eventually deemed a good goal. Mark Stone thought it was a great goal, even. The best goal. Mark Stone is too good for this world. We should all strive to be more like Mark Stone. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job so far.

The Sens picked up their play a little bit after that, with a few good chances coming from Karlsson and Pageau. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when Dion Phaneuf was too slow for Andreas Athanasiou and went crashing into the net. The Detroit player got a shot away, but was awarded a penalty shot anyways. Thankfully, Anderson came through for the Sens and the score remained tied.

Almost immediately after the penalty shot, Karlsson was robbed by Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings finished the game with a very scary sequence resulting in quite a few chances, but did not take back the lead, and the game went into overtime.

Overtime lasted all of six seconds.

Life comes at you fast.

Athanasiou scored right off the opening faceoff, and the Sens went home with a point that would hurt their chances of finishing in the league’s basement and getting a good draft pick, but would not bring their fans joy and satisfaction in the way a win would.

The team didn’t really deserve to win this game, but Anderson did. It would have been nice if they could have at least won for him.