Henrik Lundqvist injury questions; Byfuglien stands up for Jets
The week's most notable positives and negatives from around the NHL:
• Maybe the whole chain of events that led to the current imbroglio in Winnipeg will leak out one day. Maybe it won't. But based on what we know so far, I want Dustin Byfuglien on my team.
That's not a universally held opinion. In fact, he's being taken to task by some in the media for dumping Evander Kane's track suit in the shower after the young winger violated the team's dress code earlier this week.
That's not the first time that's ever happened to a hockey player. Usually, though, it's done as a prank, something to generate a few grins and loosen up the room. In this case it's pretty clear that this soaking was a slapdown. A message to Kane that some on the team had had enough of his act.
You can argue with how the message was delivered, but you have to appreciate what Byfuglien was standing up for. When hockey people talk about culture and responsibility it all comes down to the room. Who buys in, and who ensures that buy-in.
Byfuglien, an easy-going guy by nature, seems like an unlikely enforcer. So if things with Kane got to the point where he felt the need to step in, the problems were rooted deeper than a bad choice of attire. But by stepping up and demanding accountability, Big Buff sent a message that you can bet the majority of his teammates respected. Good for him.
• Hard to tell if Keith Yandle is trying to convince the Coyotes that he's too valuable to move, or pump up the market for his services just ahead of the March 2 NHL trade deadline. The 28-year-old defenseman has been hearing his name in trade rumors for two years now, but with just one remaining on his current contract and with the 'Yotes embracing the concept of a rebuild, he seems more likely than ever to be dealt. Yandle's not a perfect player—he's a lock to make a couple of curious puck decisions each game—but he's got a knack for generating offense. He's found his way onto the scoresheet in nine of his past 10 games, racking up 11 points in the process. That's the sort of consistent production that could convince a potential partner to take on his contract (at a cap hit of $5.25 million) and part with significant assets—preferably a first-round pick and a mid-level prospect with a couple years of post-draft development under his belt.
• Brandon Pirri is responding to his occasional benchings the way coaches wish every player would. The Blackhawks castoff has recently been carrying Florida's offense, scoring in four straight and six of his past seven games. He notched his first game-winner of the season on Thursday night, burying a rebound late in the third period to power Florida to a 3-2 win over the Kings. There are some clear flaws in his game, particularly his play away from the puck, but coach Gerard Gallant's decision to pair him with the defensively sound Tomas Fleischmann has given Pirri the freedom to rely on his offensive creativity. With a couple of wins in a row, the Panthers are creeping back into the Eastern Conference playoff mix. If Pirri keeps scoring, they could make it interesting down the stretch.
• Speaking of the Panthers, there's admiration growing for the play of defenseman Erik Gudbranson. "He looks like he's turned the corner," a scout told SI.com. "Better decisions with and without the puck, still has that heavy shot and he's smarter with his physical game. He's looking good."
• That 3-0 loss the Avalanche suffered at the hands of the Red Wings on Thursday night wasn't nearly as lopsided as the score suggests. In fact, the Avs were down by just one with around three minutes to play, when coach Patrick Roy pulled Semyon Varlamov looking for the equalizer. Going to the extra attacker with that much time remaining flies in the face of common practice. And on that particular night the aggressive decision backfired hard as Detroit buried a pair into the empty net to seal the victory. But you can't blame Roy for trying. After all, it's a move that's kept his team in the playoff hunt.
Over their past seven games, the Avs have found themselves in a late hole six times. They forced overtime in four of those games thanks to the extra attacker. The Avs came away from those tilts with two wins—including a game on Tuesday night in Dallas that they slept through for the first 55 minutes—and settled for the loser point in the other two. That's six points manufactured by Roy's go-for-it coaching.
No, it's probably not a sustainable model for success, but thanks to a two-minute offense that proving to be the league's most effective, Colorado is still in the mix down the stretch.
• There should be tough questions asked about the New York Rangers medical staff, and doctors around the league, after we learned on Friday that star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will miss three weeks of action or more as the result of a serious vascular injury in his neck.
Those Rangers staffers were, after all, the ones who allowed Lundqvist to remain in Saturday's game against Carolina after he was dropped by a Brad Malone shot that directly hit his throat. And it was that same team of medical experts who cleared Lundqvist to play two days later against Florida. Given the length of the recovery timeline it's fair to question the priorities of the men who are charged with protecting the health and welfare of these players.
No doubt Lundqvist is complicit in this. A fierce, fearless competitor, he almost certainly told the staffers that he was shaken up but good to go on Saturday.
But even if he convinced them to let him finish out that contest, it beggars belief that the doctors wouldn't hold him out of the Panthers game for precautionary reasons until they had a better sense of what damage had been done.
Look, players want to play and coaches want players to play. But that doesn't always mean they should. The medical staffers have to be the grown-ups sometimes, the rational voice that says “Maybe that's what you want but this is what you need.” If they can't be that voice they put the player, the team and the game at risk.
There has been talk for many years of making independent medical advice easier to seek, but the stigma of going outside the team continues to hold players back. Maybe an injury like this to one of the league's marquee players will get the conversation moving in the right direction.
• Tyler Seguin sure picked a lousy time to go cold. With just three tallies in his past 19 games, the NHL's former leading goal scorer has fallen off the pace blazed by Alex Ovechkin and Rick Nash. More important, he's become a non-factor when the Stars need him the most. It's not for lack of chances—he's landed nine shots twice in his past six games—but the easy confidence that was there early in the season is gone. Thursday night against Tampa Bay he fired wide of the net seven times, with five of those chances coming from prime scoring areas. He's trying to find the magic in volume, but his goalless drought is at six games and counting.
• Seguin's not the only one who is struggling on the Stars. Kari Lehtonen hasn't been able to find the form that carried Dallas into the playoffs last season, and that's all but put this season's hopes on ice. His 2.96 GAA and .904 save percentage are the worst of his tenure with the Stars and rank him ahead of only Buffalo's Jhonas Enroth, Arizona's Mike Smith and Edmonton's Ben Scrivens among starters. No doubt that's frustrated the Stars, but they've kept it to themselves...at least until the Lightning beat him with a couple of softies on their first two shots on Thursday night. "It seems like every night the other goalie is oudueling us," coach Lindy Ruff said in the wake of that 5-3 loss.
What happens next? The young core of this Dallas team buys GM Jim Nill some time. He doesn't need to win it all this year or the next or the one after that. But he does need to identify who will be between the pipes when his group is ready to contend. And after this rocky season, it sure doesn't look like it will be Lehtonen.
• Plus-minus isn't the most popular measure of a player's contributions these days, but taken over a stretch of play it can be instructive. Take Anze Kopitar, whose struggles on the road not so coincidentally mirror those of the Kings. In his last 10 games away from Staples Center, he's a sorry -12. Los Angeles is 1-7-2 in that stretch.