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A linesman orders Sean Couturier out of the faceoff circle
and Claude Giroux shrugs before stepping in and winning the draw.Two centers on
the ice at once is a nice luxury for the Philadelphia Flyers to have.”He’s one
of the best in the league at faceoffs Dalton
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,” Couturier said of Giroux, who ranks third in
the NHL. ”When you start with the puck, it’s a huge part of the game.”Beyond
just controlling faceoffs, having depth at center is a growing factor for
success in the NHL. Contenders like the Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville
Predators, Winnipeg Jets and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh
Penguins all boast depth down the middle and are spreading centers all over the
lineup.The flexibility gives teams potentially game-altering matchups with the
playoffs coming up in a month.”You can never have enough center-ice men on your
team for lots of reasons,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.Crucial faceoffs,
injuries and defensive-zone coverage are many of the reasons to load up on
centers who can almost always shift to wing and not miss a beat. Philadelphia
has long followed the model of drafting and acquiring centers and moving them
around, and now has nine natural centers on its roster.The Penguins won the 2009
Stanley Cup going with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Max Talbot
down the middle and captured it the past two years with Crosby, Malkin, Nick
Bonino and Matt Cullen. The free agent departures of Bonino and Cullen left a
void that Pittsburgh filled by trading for Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to
again look like a championship contender.”To have the depth that we have at this
point at the center-ice position is I think an important aspect of our overall
game,” Sullivan said. ”We didn’t have that coming into training camp. I think
our general manager, Jim (Rutherford), has worked extremely hard at making sure
that he gave us what has become now I think a strength of our team.”It’s also a
strength of the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning, who are overflowing with
center options beyond Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and trade-deadline pickup
J.T. Miller. The Toronto Maple Leafs also roll deep with forwards who play
center or have in the past, including Patrick Marleau and recent acquisition
Tomas Plekanec.”I can get a can’t-miss matchup,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock
said. ”You’re not scared of any matchup as time goes on.”It’s all about the
matchups in the arms race that is the absurd Central Division. It wasn’t good
enough that the Central-leading Predators had Ryan Johansen, signed Bonino last
summer and traded for Kyle Turris in November; they welcomed center Mike Fisher
back from retirement and still have Colton Sissons and Craig Smith.The Jets
acquired center Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues to add to an already
forward-heavy roster. It paid immediate dividends with Patrik Laine extending
his point streak to 13 games and Winnipeg cruising along after Mark Scheifele
went down with an injury.”We’ll be putting two centers out there for D-zone
draws and whatnot,” said Andrew Copp, who thinks Winnipeg’s center depth stacks
up with the best in the league. ”That’s really important, and then just depth
with injuries. … Now we’ve got six, seven, eight guys that we can really lean
on.”It’s an increasingly popular strategy. The Flyers are vying for the league
lead in faceoffs, handling the early-season crackdown on faceoff violations and
compensating for a young Elias
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, mostly unproven defense with versatile
forwards.”Being strong up the middle is important,” coach Dave Hakstol said.
”That’s the backbone of every line, so to have guys that are comfortable in that
spot I think is important. Playing down low in your zone – there’s so much
switching and interchanging that goes on from the wing to that down-low position
in coverage, having somebody that’s comfortable being down there I think is a
benefit, as well.”Two centers are better than one not just for faceoffs but
because the extra responsibilities of the position allow for better awareness in
the defensive zone, where wingers typically are only tasked with defending their
respective opposing winger in man-to-man schemes. Giroux shifted to wing on the
top line with Couturier after spending the past eight-plus years at center and
is approaching his career high in points and playing some of the best hockey of
his career.”We get a read off each other,” said Couturier, a leading candidate
for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. ”It’s about chemistry
and trying to trust each other out there. Guys can fill in different roles and
it’s nice and it helps the team. That’s what you kind of want from having so
many centermen is you want to fill in each other’s roles.”Having extra centers
is a substantial benefit – if they can handle the position change. Winnipeg
captain Blake Wheeler made a rapid adjustment from wing to center amid injuries,
but just about everyone agrees it’s much easier to go the other way.”There’s a
real quick adjustment to going from center to the wing: figure out how to work
the walls and find your point men,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. ”That’s a very
difficult change.”— LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jeff Skinner scored three goals for his
fifth career hat trick and the Buffalo Sabres‘ reconfigured top line keyed a 5-1
win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.Jason Pominville had a goal and two
assists for his 700th career point, and Jack Eichel added three assists after
Sabres coach Phil Housley shuffled his lines in an effort to revive an offense
that was held to one goal in three of the past four games.Zach Bogosian also
scored and Linus Ullmark made 19 saves for Buffalo.Drew Doughty had a goal and
Jonathan Quick made 21 saves for the Kings, who lost their fourth straight game.
Quick has allowed 10 goals on 54 shots in two starts since returning from a
lower-body injury.AVALANCHE 3, HURRICANES 1RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gabriel
Landeskog scored twice to give him six goals in three games, Nathan MacKinnon
added a goal and two assists and Colorado beat Carolina.Landeskog, fresh off a
hat trick against New Jersey, opened the scoring late in the first period and
added another goal midway through the second. His seven goals through eight
games this season are tied for third most in the NHL.MacKinnon scored late in
the third and assisted on both of Landeskog’s goals for the Avalanche. Philipp
Grubauer stopped 42 shots.Micheal Ferland scored and Curtis McElhinney made 19
saves for the Hurricanes, who have lost three straight after a 4-0-1
start.Carolina outshot Colorado 43-22. The Hurricanes have outshot their
opponents in all three games during their losing streak.FLYERS 5, DEVILS
2PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jake Voracek had a goal and had two assists, and
Philadelphia played some solid defense to beat New Jersey.Voracek, who was
demoted from the Flyers‘ top line, took a loose puck at center ice and kept it
himself on a 2-on-1 breakaway, beating Keith Kinkaid for his third goal of the
season to put the Flyers ahead 3-2 with 3:10 remaining.Travis Konecny and Nolan
Patrick also scored, and Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds added empty-net goals
for the Flyers, who limited the Devils to just 21 shots. Philadelphia had
allowed four goals or more in five of its first seven games.Brian Elliott, who
was pulled after giving up four goals to the Florida Panthers last Tuesday,
bounced back to make 19 saves and earn his second win of the season.Damon
Severson and Brian Boyle scored for the Devils, who have lost two straight games
after winning their first four. Kinkaid made 16 saves.COYOTES 5 Alan
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, JETS 3WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Three Jets
scored their first goals of the season, defenseman Jacob Trouba had three
assists and Winnipeg beat Arizona.Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey and Mathieu
Perreault each found the net for the first time. Adam Lowry scored his fourth of
the season and Blake Wheeler added an empty-netter.Backup goalie Laurent
Brossoit stopped 42 shots for his second victory in two starts as the Jets
improved to 3-0-1 on their six-game homestand.Clayton Keller scored twice and
Christian Fischer had a goal for Arizona.Antti Raanta made 27 saves for the
Coyotes, who haven’t won in Winnipeg since the Jets moved from Atlanta to
Manitoba in 2011.BLACKHAWKS 4, BLUE JACKETS 1COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Patrick Kane
had two goals and an assist, Corey Crawford stopped 37 shots to get his first
win in nearly 10 months, and Chicago beat Columbus.Alex DeBrincat and Marcus
Kruger also scored for the Blackhawks, who earned a point for the sixth time in
seven games (4-1-2).Crawford was playing his second game since a concussion
suffered in a win at New Jersey last Dec. 23.Zach Werenski scored for Columbus
and Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 22 saves.Kruger put the Blackhawks ahead for
good when he tipped a wrister from Alexander Fortin past Bobrovsky at 7:43 of
the third. Kane then scored twice 2:37 apart.BLUES 4, MAPLE LEAFS 1TORONTO (AP)
— Ryan O’Reilly scored his first goal with St. Louis, and Jake Allen made 22
saves to lead the Blues.Robert Bortuzzo, Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev also
scored, and David Perron added two assists as St. Louis picked up its second
victory in seven games this season.Morgan Rielly scored for Toronto. Frederik
Andersen stopped 21 of 24 shots as the Leafs dropped consecutive games after
five straight wins.Toronto had scored an NHL-high 33 goals in seven games to
open the season. But the Maple Leafs were shut out by the Pittsburgh Penguins on
Thursday and were scoreless in two periods against the Blues, going 116 minutes
37 seconds without a goal until Rielly cut the deficit to 3-1 early in the
third.RED WINGS 4, PANTHERS 3SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Gustav Nyquist scored 3:44
into overtime to lift Detroit to its first win of the season.Dennis Cholowski
had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Vanek and Dylan Larkin also scored for the
Red Wings, who were 0-5-2 in their first seven games. Jimmy Howard stopped 34
shots.On the winner, Nyquist grabbed a loose puck and his shot from the slot
beat goalie Michael Hutchinson on the left side.Trailing 3-2, Florida’s Mike
Hoffman tied the score with 1:16 left in the third as his shot from the left
circle went between Howard’s pads.Nick Bjugstad had a goal and an assist, and
Keith Yandle also scored for the Panthers, who played into overtime for the
fourth time in their six games. Hutchinson finished with 27 saves.SENATORS 4,
CANADIENS 3, OTOTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Mark Stone scored his second goal of the
game 2:30 into overtime and Ottawa rallied from a two-goal deficit.Stone’s
one-timer from the face-off circle beat Carey Price for the winner.Stone had a
goal and an assist in regulation, while Mikkel Boedker and Matt Duchene also
scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson made 24 saves in the win.The Canadiens
got first-period goals from Paul Byron, Max Domi and Phillip Danault. Price made
30 saves.WILD 5 Petr
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, LIGHTNING 4, OTST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Mikael
Granlund scored 3:43 into overtime to lead Minnesota.Charlie Coyle, Marcus
Foligno, Zach Parise and Jason Zucker all scored in regulation as the Wild
rallied again in the third period. Alex Stalock made 27 saves for Minnesota,
which has allowed the first goal in six straight games but is 4-1-1 in those
contests.Yanni Gourde and J.T. Miller each had a goal and assist for Tampa Bay,
which lost in its first road game of the season. Ryan Callahan scored his first
of the season for the Lightning and Anton Stralman pushed the game into overtime
with his first goal of the season with 4:58 left in the third after the Wild
took their first lead of the game.Andrei Vasilekskiy made 29 saves for Tampa
Bay, which had it’s three-game winning streak snapped as it played on the road
after a season-opening, five-game homestand.CANUCKS 2, BRUINS 1, OTVANCOUVER,
British Columbia (AP) — Bo Horvat scored at 3:12 of overtime and Vancouver edged
Boston.Brandon Sutter scored for the Canucks in regulation, and Joakim Nordstrom
scored for the Bruins.Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 30 shots. Jaroslav
Halak turned away 20 of 22 shots for the Bruins.PREDATORS 3, OILERS 0EDMONTON,
Alberta (AP) — Juuse Saros made 31 saves in the shutout and Nashville ran its
winning streak to five games.P.K. Subban, Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi scored
for the Predators, who are a perfect 4-0-0 on the road and have won seven of
eight games this season. Mattias Ekholm had a pair of assists.The Oilers had a
three-game winning streak halted.GOLDEN KNIGHTS 3, DUCKS 1LAS VEGAS (AP) —
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 shots to lead the Golden Knights to their third
straight win.Fleury got his 408th career win to move into sole possession of
10th place on the NHL’s all-time wins list. The 15-year-veteran has allowed just
two goals in his last three starts.William Karlsson, Ryan Reaves and Jonathan
Marchessault scored for the Golden Knights, who outshot the Ducks 45-18.Ben
Street had the lone goal for the Ducks, and John Gibson finished with 42
saves.SHARKS 4, ISLANDERS 1SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Brent Burns scored San Jose’s
first goal from a defenseman this season and Logan Couture scored his fourth
goal in two games to lead the Sharks.Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi also scored
to help the Sharks wrap up a brief two-game homestand with a second straight win
and avenge a 4-0 loss at the Islanders earlier this month in a game that got
testy down the stretch.Martin Jones made 24 saves to earn his second straight
win after opening the season with three regulation losses in his first four
starts.Brock Nelson scored the lone goal for the Islanders, who finished a road
trip 1-3. Robin Lehner made 37 saves after shutting out San Jose on Oct.
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