Flyers

NHL Notes: Jackets hire Kekalainen as new GM

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NHL Notes: Jackets hire Kekalainen as new GM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets hurried to make history.

Just more than 24 hours after firing Scott Howson, they announced the hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen of Finland as the first European to be a general manager in the National Hockey League.

Kekalainen, director of amateur scouting with the St. Louis Blues 2002-10, held a news conference Wednesday in his native Finland at the same time the Blue Jackets Blue Jackets held theirs in Ohio.

"One of my dreams since I hung up my skates has been to be a GM of an NHL team sometime. Now that dream has come true," Kekalainen said in Helsinki at the home arena of the Jokerit club, where he's been GM since 2010. "I'm really happy and pleased, even proud, that I've been give this chance."

The 46-year-old, who played sparingly in the NHL, worked closely with Columbus director of hockey operations John Davidson with the Blues. When the Blues hired Doug Armstrong as general manager in 2010 instead of Kekalainen, Kekalainen returned to Finland to take over as GM of Jokerit in Finland's top league (see full story).

Avs' Johnson out indefinitely
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without Erik Johnson indefinitely after the defenseman suffered a head injury in a game against Phoenix.

Johnson was hurt on a hit during an overtime loss to the Coyotes on Monday.

The Avs already are missing captain Gabriel Landeskog (head) and defenseman Ryan Wilson (ankle), along with forward Steve Downie, who's out for the season with a torn ACL.

But they're expecting to have forward John Mitchell (flu) and defenseman Matt Hunwick (torso) back when they play at Minnesota on Thursday. Although Matt Duchene skipped practice on Wednesday, coach Joe Sacco said he will be in the lineup.

Given the rash of injuries, Colorado could certainly use the offensive flair of Ryan O'Reilly, who is holding out due to a contract dispute (see full story).

Wild hire Brunette as adviser
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Former Minnesota Wild player Andrew Brunette rejoined the team Wednesday as hockey operations adviser.

Brunette will help general manager Chuck Fletcher with scouting, free-agent signings and evaluating and developing prospects.

In his 16-year career, Brunette had 268 goals and 465 assists in 1,110 regular-season games.

The 39-year-old Brunette played six seasons with Minnesota, finishing with 321 points in 489 games. He ranks second in franchise history in goals (119) and power-play goals (55).

Brunette was selected by Washington in the seventh round of the 1993 NHL draft. He also played for Nashville, Atlanta and Colorado before finishing his career last season with Chicago (see full story).

Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

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Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet praised center Nick Cousins after, not just for his game-winning goal against the New York Islanders but also for his improved overall play.

Cousins scored his second goal of the game 2:21 into overtime to lift the Coyotes to a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Monday night.

"I've got to give him a lot of credit," Tocchet said. "He's done really well. I've sat him out this year. He's worked on his game. He's always got a smile on his face coming to work to practice. He's worked on his game and he's starting to reap the benefits."

Cousins added an assist and the Coyotes ran their points streak to five games, a season high. Arizona has points from seven of eight games, with six of those going to overtime. Brendan Perlini scored for the third time in three games and Antti Raanta stopped 32 shots (see full recap).

Wings blank Devils before welcoming Flyers
NEWARK, N.J. -- Petr Mrazek wants more playing time and Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is probably going to give it to him.

Mrazek had 37 saves in posting his second straight shutout and third of the season as the Red Wings played one of their best games of the season in beating the slumping New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Monday night.

Mrazek has stopped 64 shots in shutting out the Blackhawks and Devils in his last two starts. He now has three shutouts in 14 games with a 5-5-1 record.

"I'm trying to get some confidence every game I play, every save I make," Mrazek said. "I haven't played a lot of minutes, so every game I am trying,” (see full recap).

Avalanche beat Leafs for 10th straight win
TORONTO -- Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier heard the Bronx cheers from the Air Canada Centre crowd on Monday night.

He remembers listening to Toronto fans giving him the same sort of hard time when he was a member of the Maple Leafs as they struggled through the 2015-16 season.

"It's not as bad when you are the away team," he said.

Bernier made 29 saves in his first start at the ACC since Toronto traded him in July 2016, Blake Comeau scored the go-ahead goal with 7:43 left and the Avalanche extended their winning streak to 10 games with a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs (see full recap).

Vasilevskiy leads Lightning past Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific, Chris Kunitz made a clutch play and Tampa Bay's penalty killers had a big night.

The Lightning followed a familiar formula back to the top of the NHL.

Vasilevskiy made 40 saves in his league-best seventh shutout and Kunitz scored a short-handed goal in the second period, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-0 victory over the sliding Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.

Yanni Gourde also scored as Tampa Bay stopped a season-high three-game skid and leapfrogged idle Vegas for the best record in the NHL. The Lightning, who lost to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, improved to 11-0-2 against the Blackhawks in their last 13 regular-season meetings (see full recap).

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

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AP Images

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

Defenseman and prized prospect Travis Sanheim will start playing some big minutes again.

It just won’t be with the Flyers right now.

On Monday, Sanheim was reassigned to AHL Lehigh Valley as the front office also recalled Mark Alt to take Sanheim’s spot on the active roster.

Why?

Trust and development.

With the Flyers playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in eight of their last nine games and the increased importance of gaining necessary points in an air-tight division (as of Monday morning, the Flyers held the East's first wild-card spot with 54 points, one behind Columbus for third in the Metro, two behind New Jersey for second and just seven behind first-place Washington), Sanheim had been relegated as the seventh defenseman and had served as a healthy scratch in eight of those nine games.

“He comes out of the lineup and the team plays well,” general manager Ron Hextall said recently of the 21-year-old blueliner. “Like most teams when things are going well, you really don’t want to change too much. If you look at the whole year with Travis, I think he’s played well with us. He’s had his moments, but he’s a young player and that’s going to happen. I don’t like him sitting and coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting.”

Prior to the Devils/Capitals weekend series the Flyers swept, head coach Dave Hakstol was asked about the possibility of utilizing an 11 forward-seven defensemen combination as Tyrell Goulbourne has been used sparingly since his call-up. But Hakstol made it clear he wasn’t going to make concessions to accommodate one player.

“We’re not going to do anything to get anybody in the lineup at this point in time,” Hakstol said. “It can’t solely be about that. If that’s a scenario that’s best for our team, then we’ll consider it. What’s the right combination for our team to win a game that day?”

Coming out of the Christmas break, Hakstol started shortening the length of Sanheim’s leash. The rookie played 14:42 of the Panthers game (a 3-2 loss) on Dec. 28. Brandon Manning was fully healed and ready to return from a hand injury the next night in Tampa, a 5-3 decision the Flyers took from the league-best Lightning.

After missing the next five games, Sanheim received another chance with the Flyers playing their first game against the Devils out of the bye week on Jan. 13. All it took was one play in which Sanheim stepped up to check his man along the boards. He subsequently lost his stick, and by the time he grabbed it, the Devils converted an easy goal to take a 1-0 lead.

That came during Sanheim’s second shift as he finished the game playing a season-low 6:02, including just one 18-second shift in the third period.

“They’ve got to earn the trust of their teammates and the coaches, and sometimes that’s a process,” Hextall said. “Some of what Travis is going through is good for Travis. There’s a lot you learn out there. Part of it is the life lesson of you have to earn things. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. Just because you’re a first-round pick or a highly paid guy, you have to learn things. You don’t come out of college and become a CEO. You have to pay your dues, and you have to earn what you’re going to get.”

Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere learned those life lessons the hard way last season as both young players were pulled out of the lineup after their performance lagged. Hextall believes Sanheim will eventually bounce back and reflect at his rookie season as a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes the only way they learn is by missing a shift or having their ice cut back a bit or getting sat out at some point,” Hextall said. “Most players have gotten sat out in their career. If you ask most guys, not at the time, they say it was a good lesson. There are a lot of things our young guys are learning right now, not only at this level, but at Lehigh.”

Gostisbehere and Konecny are playing arguably some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

Even if Sanheim has more upside and potential than Manning, the veteran has proven to be more reliable defensively and has even been more opportunistic in the offensive end. In a twist of fate, Sanheim's offensive upside is a big reason why Hextall selected him with a first-round pick in 2014. Sanheim has one goal and four assists in 35 games played this season.

“You've got to get stronger. You make a mistake and if you can’t rebound from it, you're probably not going to be at this level for very long,” Hextall said. “There’s learning curves all along the way. You can’t look at everything in a vacuum. There’s a small picture and there’s a big picture.”

Hextall is right. At this critical point of the NHL season, the bigger picture of winning outweighs the smaller picture of player development.