Ninety minutes after scoring the game-winning goal for the Carolina Hurricanes in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Manny Malhotra sorted through text messages at a late-night dinner ("fish and veggies") with Radek Dvorak, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy and Jiri Tlusty.
"I have 46," he said with a laugh.
Malhotra had every reason to smile. Tuesday night's breakaway winner was his first since March 26, 2012. There was a real belief it would be his last. Malhotra looked skyward in celebration, but that wasn't directed at anyone in particular.
"I didn't know how to react ... just glad it went in," he said. "I knew pressure was coming from the backside.
"I wanted to keep the puck away from them, so I didn't get my pocket picked. I think I surprised [Flyers goaltender Steve Mason] with the backhand. I want to show I can do more than just taking draws and killing penalties."
It's interesting to hear that because Malhotra's ability to do those two things so well were his route back to the NHL. It's a window into what got him back, his competitive nature forcing him to aim higher.
There were some teams with interest last summer, but they just weren't sure about the eye - even with medical clearance to play. Malhotra had no interest in using the goal against them or the Vancouver Canucks, who decided it was unsafe for him to play.
"All I want to do is prove Carolina right for taking the chance," he said.
Malhotra's wife Joann and his children are still in Vancouver. He'd like to bring them east as he gets settled, but the great thing about the time-zone difference is it allowed the family to watch the game live.
"They were super-pumped because they knew what it meant for me to have us start winning again," he said. "They know how important it is.
"It's been a long process for my whole family ... everyone who believed I could get back to where I want to be. [Joann's] been a great inspiration ... and she gives me a kick in the pants when I need it."
It was a night of great stories. In addition to Malhotra's moment, Taylor Fedun of the Edmonton Oilers scored his first NHL goal in two years after a leg injury threatened to end his career before it really began. Like Malhotra, Fedun told reporters that he didn't know how to celebrate.
The NHL needs more of this. It's been a wild month of suspensions, bad hits and fighting arguments. One dark moment after another. There must be more to celebrate.
"We're very privileged to play this game," Malhotra said. "It seems like every story is what people want out and what's wrong with the sport.
"There are positives all around. We should highlight what is great as opposed to what is negative."
On Tuesday night, Malhotra (and Fedun) gave everyone an opportunity to do just that.
1. About that missed overtime "goal" for the San Jose Sharks in Tuesday's 5-4 OT loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Tyler Myers sweeps the puck of the net and under goaltender Ryan Miller after the shot hits the post. Referee Mike Leggo waves it off. The Sharks broadcast does catch it later, but Buffalo's never shows the play. What does this mean? Even more reviews because it can't happen again. Teams would rather the video officials make the final call anyway. [Update: NHL senior VP of hockey ops Mike Murphy explained the call to me.]
2. Malhotra on Tuesday's win, which broke a five-game losing streak: "We needed it because our guys were playing the system, making high-percentage plays and trusting the process. I've been around long enough to know that's what you have to do. We stuck with it and were rewarded." As he was saying that, I thought about the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton.
3. Here's a snippet of why the Avalanche are playing so well. With 14:37 to go in the second period of Saturday's 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, Avalanche defenceman Ryan Wilson leads the rush. Watch how Ryan O'Reilly covers for him at the blue-line when Wilson is cut off. PA Parenteau sees O'Reilly chase the play, so he waits to make sure he's above the puck in case of a turnover. O'Reilly forces a quick pass, which Wilson intercepts. If he'd missed it, Parenteau was in position to cover. It all results in a Canadiens penalty. That is "playing the system," as Malhotra said.
4. Contrast that with, say, bad pinches or four guys getting caught at the opposing goal-line; bad giveaways; or guys getting beaten and giving up. This is Dallas Eakins' biggest challenge as head coach of the Oilers. You can't just say, "We're done this year." Maybe you can't save your season, but you've got to do something about your future.
5. The attention is on Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, who would like to perform some surgery on his roster, but other GMs say Florida's Dale Tallon is trying just as hard. Speaking to The Miami Herald's George Richards, Tallon promised changes after Tuesday's 4-3 OT loss to Edmonton. Apparently, there was a GM-wide email about Ryan Whitney's availability last week, but it's been widely reported many of his veterans are similarly out there.
6. When discussing trades, remember, there are 20 teams within $2 million of the salary cap. There's not a lot of room yet, so unless you're really unencumbered (and within budget), you're saying, "For every dollar you give us, you are going to have to take."
7. For that reason, I'm curious to see if anyone takes a chance on Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland, whose cap hit is $566,667. The 31-year-old defenceman is caught in a numbers crunch behind younger players. The Penguins have worked to expand his game, using him at forward and taking a regular penalty-kill shift. It depends on what they're asking, but could he be a useful pickup?
8. Most of the reaction to last week's Steve Downie/Max Talbot trade was, "That's a weird deal." Downie's upcoming status as an unrestricted free agent played a role, as did a training camp skirmish with Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Landeskog tripped him during a skate, which angered Downie, who suffered a bad knee injury last season. He took a run at Landeskog, who has a concussion history, and the two nearly fought. That didn't go over well. The Flyers really like Downie, so there was a willingness to barter.
9. Why Talbot? Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has a buddy in Benoit Groulx, who coaches Gatineau in the QMJHL. Les Olympiques lost the Memorial Cup final in 2003 and 2004, with Talbot as their leading scorer. Groulx loves Talbot and undoubtedly gave him a great recommendation.
10. Speaking of Colorado, does anyone else see Matt Duchene on Sidney Crosby's wing at the Sochi Olympics?
11. Stupidly, I forgot to include a note from a previous conversation with Nashville Predators GM David Poile. Q: "After the trade embargo was lifted on Shea Weber, did you ever get an offer that made you think about doing it?" A: "No."
12. One NHL exec on Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson: "If he played for a Canadian team, he'd have won the Norris already."
13. There's a lot of heat on Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel. In preparing for our Hockey Night in Canada broadcast last weekend, I asked Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff if Noel was in any trouble. His reply was different: "That's an unfair question." He's probably right in the sense that he can't say, "Yes, he's in trouble," for obvious reasons. If he says, "No, I'm not making a change," then he gets ripped if it happens.
14. I like what Noel is doing with Mark Scheifele. The Jets need Scheifele to score - he had two assists in Monday's big 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings - but while he is struggling to do so, they're putting him on a line with Michael Frolik and Matt Halischuk, where he'll have to learn to check. Can't survive without that skill, either.
15. Everyone in Montreal needs to take a deep breath. Does anyone really believe that Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien's lack of public praise for PK Subban will cost him a spot on Canada's Olympic team? If Therrien wakes up tomorrow and says, "You know what, I'm going to call Subban the best defenceman in the NHL," suddenly Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Mike Babcock are going to say, "Oh my God, we better put him on the roster!" Somehow, I'm betting Yzerman and Babcock will make that decision independently of Therrien's quotes.
16. As for Subban, has anyone faced more criticism in the last three seasons - and not all of it of his own creation - than him? Yet he strikes me as almost unbothered. Therrien used the velvet glove with David Desharnais, keeping the centre in the lineup longer than many other coaches would have. Maybe he realizes that some guys need to be stroked and some guys need to be pushed.
17. Washington Capitals GM George McPhee refused all interviews the morning after the Ray Emery/Braden Holtby fight, instead letting it be known he would speak at the GM meetings. There are going to be a few ideas on the table, but the one with the most traction might be an automatic suspension, pending review, for any player who instigates a fight with a goalie.
18. This will also lead to more debate about team fines, as is now being discussed. More: if a player gets an instigator in the last five minutes, there is a one-game suspension and the coach is fined $10,000; one suggestion is that rule be extended for the entire third period.
19. You've likely heard reports about the possibility of an automatic suspension for any goalie who crosses the blue-line to fight. Remember, any rule change has to go through the players, who have a vote in this process. I can see them having a problem with this because it could lead to outnumbered situations if a goalie at one end of the ice becomes involved.
20. I do think the NHL looked at rule 27.6, "Leaving the Goal Crease." It gives the option for punishment, reading, "This incident shall be reported to the Commissioner for such further disciplinary action as may be required." So why didn't it happen? It's hard to pin down, but the league really hasn't gone down this route before. The appeal process in the new collective bargaining agreement certainly has had an affect on things.
21. Referee Francois St. Laurent took a lot of heat for the way he handled the Emery/Holtby brawl. It was a wild scene and he didn't have any help, particularly since Flyers centre Vincent Lecavalier was injured in another fight at the same time. Initially, St. Laurent tried to stop Emery and Holtby, but backed out when punches got thrown. That's actually what officials are taught to do, so they don't get hurt. Where St. Laurent made his mistake was not getting back in there when Holtby was in trouble. It's a fine line, but the league wants its officials, especially linesmen, to be more proactive about stopping fights than ever.
22. The contract extensions for Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver are more proof of why it is so important to draft and develop homegrown talent. It is true, as Canucks GM Mike Gillis said, that they're irreplaceable in free agency, but the Canucks knew that their families, especially the children, love it there. If an organization can grow with a young player to the point where he puts down local roots, it increases your chances of keeping your best exponentially.
23. At the end of the day, it sounds like all the twins wanted from the Canucks was recognition the cap is going up and to be fairly compensated for that. Their previous deal was signed when the ceiling was under $60 million. Now it's at $64.3 million and expected to go higher (under the new CBA, it can never drop below this year's number). The organization understood that, but at $7 million, these guys are still a bargain by NHL standards.
24. There are a couple of scouts who think Canucks head coach John Tortorella will keep Ryan Kesler on Henrik Sedin's wing long-term, spreading Daniel Sedin around to create offence. I've no idea if that's what he will do, but it would be interesting to watch.
25. So why is it working early between Tortorella and his new team? A couple of theories. First, Vancouver's veterans have been willing to accept change. It's not only the shot-blocking, but things like new roles and breaking up the Sedins. Some veteran-laden clubs won't adapt to a new coach's ideas. That hasn't happened here. Another interesting idea put forward by one of the players is that they're a quiet group and Tortorella's strong personality fits with that.
26. At a time when goalies like Steve Mason are improving their careers by playing deeper in goal, we're seeing some new arrivals showing success by being aggressive. The first is Detroit's Petr Mrazek, who shut out Edmonton 5-0 last Saturday. Mrazek, the scouting report says, "has to play out of the paint to be effective." It also says he has no panic or anxiety.
27. Another is Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames. Jordan Sigalet, who is the goalie coach at Calgary's AHL affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., said that after coming over for the team's development camp, Berra did move deeper into his net because he wasn't used to the speed around him. The traffic tends to be more intense, too, but as he got more comfortable, he started to move forward again. That's not unusual as Sergei Bobrovsky went through a similar adjustment in Philadelphia.
28. Sigalet added Berra's Heat teammates nicknamed him "Yogi," even though he's not sure if the goalie knows why they call him that or if he knows who Yogi Berra is.
29. Equal time: Last week, I referred to the fact Carolina did not sign Frederik Andersen to a contract after drafting him, much to the benefit of the Anaheim Ducks. Raleigh News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock addressed it here.
30. Here are the eight NHL teams to watch for my Nov. 1 stat, ie. if you're four points out of the playoffs after games on that date, you are in a brutal spot to make it. The teams: Dallas Stars, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia and Winnipeg (five points back), Calgary (7), Florida (8), Buffalo and Edmonton (11). Some of you think the new format will change things. We'll all find out together.
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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