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Around the NHL: Masked Coaches, a Lightning Barrage, and Trouble in La-La Land

By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Justice was sort-of served this week as Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson received a two-game suspension for his mauling of hotshot Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson. Matheson was already back in the lineup Saturday for his team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings (Mo-town’s first win of the season), however, while Pettersson reportedly “responded well to a light skate,” he continues to rehab from the concussion he received.

Young Swedish phenoms are the only ones getting banged up. Since the NHL decided to reign in the size of goalkeepers’ arm protection this offseason, a chorus of goalie voices has arisen to complain of painful saves and bad bruises. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets joined Dallas Stars netminder Ben Bishop and the Flyers’ own Brian Elliott in complaining about the shrunken equipment. Bobrovsky even went so far as to say that, “you start to be afraid of pucks, actually, especially in the practices.”

No word on if bruise-fear is contributing to this season’s goal totals, which remain high. But red lamps and soaring point totals aren’t the only areas of intrigue in this young season. Let’s zoom around the league again for this week’s Around the NHL.

Lavi Wears the Bull Mask: Following the Nashville Predators’ 3-0 win over the Oilers on Saturday night, the media scrum in Edmonton was greeted by a rather frightening figure: A large man in a giant bull mask, complete with moving mouth, claiming to be Preds head coach Peter Laviolette. Apparently, Lavi agreed to don the bizarre prop if his players could deliver a pair of wins in the team’s brief Alberta road trip, which they did.

“We had a challenge, come into Western Canada against two good hockey teams and take four points. And this is the back end of that challenge,” the coach deadpanned to reporters.

Laviolette isn’t quite Joe Maddon, but he does show a bit more personality than your average NHL coach, as evidenced by last year’s blinding Christmas suit and his many colorful outbursts behind the Flyers’ bench years ago.

Tampa Sets Single Period Shots Record: Corey Crawford returned to the Chicago Blackhawks this weekend after nearly a year of concussion complications, posting a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Veteran goaltender Cam Ward got the start in the second half of a back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, and he saw a game’s worth of shots in just one period.

The Bolts unloaded an NHL-record 33 shots in the second period alone, flipping what was an exciting end-to-end 1-1 game in the first period into a terrifying one-sided onslaught. Ward’s tough 20 minutes might’ve been a bit of a break for the cameraman, as the screen lingered on the Chicago defensive zone for almost the entirety of the frame. The Blackhawks re-emerged in the third period lucky to be only down 4-1, and actually brought the score back to a respectable 5-3 before allowing an empty netter.  

Despite allowing five goals in the contest, Ward actually finished up with a .907 save percentage thanks to the astronomical shot total--better than all but two performances turned in by Flyers goaltenders so far this season.

Closed Doors in Los Angeles: There might be more former-Flyers coach news this week, as members of the Los Angeles Kings held a closed-door players-only meeting this weekend while the goals against piled up and fan dissatisfaction reached a fever pitch. LA is 2-5-1, and has lost four straight while being outscored 21-5 in that stretch.

Since the team won its second Cup in three years back in 2014, it has only played 9 playoff games, alternating between missing the playoffs and making them only to quickly fold in the first round. Former Flyers head coach and longtime LA assistant John Stevens took over the team in April 2017, but fans are already calling for his head with a FireStevens.com website.

It isn’t the first time a group of players coached by Stevens has locked the door on management amidst a tailspin. The same happened in December 2009, when members of the Flyers met after floundering through the first third of a season that began with high expectations. Less than 48 hours later, Stevens had been replaced by Laviolette, and that season turned out alright.

It all comes full circle, see?

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