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EJ Express: Holmgren, Zajac, Bergeron deserve praise

Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 10:28 AM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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EJ Express: Holmgren, Zajac, Bergeron deserve praise
EJ Hradek has plenty of praise for Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren, along with Devils' forward Travis Zajac and Bruins' forward Patrice Bergeron.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was not nominated as one of the three finalists for the General Manager of the Year Award, voted on by the League's general managers and a panel of five league executives and five media members.

He should have, though.

Holmgren had the guts to re-make the heart of his roster last June, moving Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the same day, just prior to the 2011 NHL Draft. Let me tell you; that isn't something you do without a lot of nerve.

In those separate deals, Holmgren picked up Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn and Jakub Voracek as well as using the first-round pick acquired from the Blue Jackets (in the Carter deal) to select Sean Couturier.

Matt Read
Matt Read
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 4 | +/-: 1
Holmgren also added veteran free agents Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot. Plus, he signed former Bemidji State star Matt Read into the mix.

Those seven players all have made an impact on the Flyers' strong season and their first-round series victory

During the season, after losing captain Chris Pronger unexpectedly to injury, Holmgren swung a sharp deal to get strong shut-down defender Nicklas Grossmann from Dallas. He later signed the under-appreciated Grossmann to a contract extension that will keep him in Philly. Holmgren also traded for experienced D Pavel Kubina.

Holmgren's detractors will point to the expensive signing of free-agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who has struggled during his first season in Philadelphia. I'd agree that the Flyers overpaid for Bryzgalov, who was coming off a dreadful first-round performance against the Wings for the Coyotes. Still, I don't think you can say that Bryzgalov wasn't an upgrade at the position. And, in a pretty unconventional way, “Universe” has helped the Flyers to the second round.

In the end, Holmgren impacted his roster this season more than any other GM. He should not only have been nominated for the honor, he should have won it.

Here's a quick playoff spin on the Express.

RED-HOT STOPPERS

How good are the four goaltenders that'll start for their respective teams in the Western Conference Semifinals series? Well, Pekka Rinne's .944 first-round playoff save percentage was the lowestof the group.

Kings G Jonathan Quick's .953 save percentage was the best of the bunch, followed by the Coyotes' Mike Smith (.950) and the Blues' Brian Elliott (.949).

Travis Zajac
Travis Zajac
Center - NJD
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 14 | +/-: 0
I don't think anybody's predicting a lot of high-scoring games in either of these two series. Then again, you never know.

COMEBACK KID

Devils C Travis Zajac kept his club's season alive with an overtime game-winner in Tuesday night's 3-2 victory. It was the second playoff OT goal of his career.

The 26-year-old Winnipeg native was limited to just 15 games during the regular season due to an Achilles injury suffered during off-season training last August.

Zajac first returned to action in December and skated in eight games before returning to the injured list. After missing nearly three more months, Zajac returned in late March. Obviously, the Devils are glad to have their top center back on the ice.

IN THE CIRCLE

It will be interesting to see if Bruins center Patrice Bergeron will be able to take face-offs against the Caps in Wednesday night's Game 7.

After getting dinged-up in Saturday's Game 5, he couldn't spend much time at the dot in Sunday's

Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron
Center - BOS
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 16 | +/-: 0
Game 6, taking just one defensive-zone draw in the final minutes of regulation time. After winning that face-off, Bergeron skated gingerly to the bench.

Prior to suffering the injury, Bergeron had won 71 of 121 faceoffs. That's a shade below 59 percent. During the season, Bergeron was the League's second best faceoff man (behind Chicago's Jonathan Toews), winning 59.3 of his faceoffs.

Boston coach Claude Julien certainly leans on Bergeron in the circle, sending him there for 1,641 draws during the season.

The Caps have been countering with little-known Jay Beagle, who likes to get low to the ice on the draw, sometimes annoying his opponent.

In this series, Beagle has won 53 of 86 face-offs. His 61.6 percent success rate ranks him fourth on the Stanley Cup Playoff list. That's not bad for a guy who played just 41 regular-season games and hasn't been used in that role too often in his young career. We'll see if he can keep his hot hand in the pressure of a Game 7.

Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic