NHL failing to fill seats

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is notoriously against Jim Balsillie buying the Coyotes franchise....

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is notoriously against Jim Balsillie buying the Coyotes franchise. (Dave Abel/Sun Media)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

Whatever smugness the NHL may feel about pounding Jim Balsillie into submission this summer is sure to be short-lived.

The troubles in Phoenix are anything but done, of course, and it’s almost a given fires will be springing up in other fringe markets the deeper we get into this season.

As half-full arenas become the norm on too many nights, hurting teams are getting aggressive in novel (and cheap) ways to get peole in the seats. The bargains are enough to make ticket buyers in Toronto sick.

A tour around some of the more challenged teams revealed the following offers:

- In Tampa, try the Holiday Pack where $96 US gets you a pair of tickets for three games of your choice, an autographed Victor Hedman hat and a $10 food and beverage voucher.

- In Columbus, the Guys Night Out promotion gives you two tickets, two beers and two cheese coney dogs for a mere $60.

- In Anaheim, for select games fans can get two tickets, a pair of hot dogs and wash them down with two beers all for $41.

- Even in Detroit, the self-professed Hockey Town of the U.S., the Wings are all but giving away tickets again this season. Granted the economy is woeful in Motor City these days, but the Wings announced yesterday they will sell $9 tickets for selected games.

- The Coyotes have yet to get into the deep discounting yet, but for every win fans can turn in the ticket stub for a voucher for a future home game.

Geno to the rescue?

The Penguins are expecting Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup tonight against the Bruins and not a moment too soon. The injury-riddled champs have lost four in a row, the roughest stretch since Dan Bylsma took over as coach on Feb. 8.

No one will be happier for Malkin’s return than captain Sidney Crosby, who managed an assist on Thursday to snap a four-game pointless streak, the longest in his career.

“We can’t rely on the fact that Geno’s coming back we’re automatically going to score,” Crosby said yesterday. “But he’s going to give us a big offensive punch for sure.”

Bylsma has mixed and matched Crosby will all sorts of linemates but with Malkin and puck-moving defenceman Sergei Gonchar out, it’s been a struggle. Pittsburgh is 3-for-41 on the power play without Gonchar including 0-for-26 in their past seven games.

And in the seven games Malkin has been sidelined, Crosby has just two assists.

Ray of Hope?

Over the decades, Flyers fans have been fooled often with promises of the next great goaltender and to be truthful, big things weren’t necessarily expected of Ray Emery.

So far, so good for the former Sens’ bad-boy, however.

Emery has started 14 of 15 Flyers games and is 10-3-1 with an impressive 2.18 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

The best stat, however, may be the fact that he’s allowed just four first-period goals. allowing the Flyers to open the scoring in 13 of their 15 games.

“I really sense the team believes in Ray,” Flyers coach John Stevens said after Emery was strong in a 5-1 win against his former team on Thursday. “I think there’s a fondness for him and they believe in this guy.”

Ice Chips

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is quietly building his case for the Canadian Olympic team surrendering a stingy six goals in his past four games ... Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t exactly capture the moment of coach Ken Hitchcock’s 1,000th career game. The Jackets were thrashed 9-1 by Detroit, equalling the worst loss of Hitch’s career ... Latest Steven Stamkos moment, this from Thursday’s win over the Wild: A short-handed goal (his first), an assist on Ryan Malone’s tying goal with 14.7 seconds left and the shootout winner ... Seven of Montreal’s nine wins have been in extra time — four in overtime, three in shootout ... Colorado may be second overall in the NHL standings but have been outshot in 16 of their first 19 games ... The Predators have been shut out four times in their first 17 games.


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