Which goalie will win the battle to back up Pekka Rinne in Nashville?

pekkarinneeyeballsopponent.jpgFor the last few days, we’ve rattled off the NHL’s most interesting training battles, including the Nashville Predators’ Central Division. One interesting matchup going into Nashville’s camp is for the job of the club’s backup goalie.

It almost seems like a tradition for the Predators’ No. 2 guy to usurp the top guy for one reason or another. Before Tomas Vokoun became the next great diamond in the rough goalie for the Florida Panthers, he would often play some great hockey for the Predators only to get injured. Current Atlanta Thrashers netminder Chris Mason would then step in and eventually became the top guy … for a little bit.

While Dan Ellis (not with the Tampa Bay Lightning) seemed primed to take the starting role, Pekka Rinne finally seems like the workhorse the Predators have been hoping for. Still, with the consistent history of upheaval at the position, it’s hard not to wonder who could clean things up if he needs a breather or suffers an injury.

Josh Cooper of the Tennessean captured some of the emotions experienced by the Predators most probable in-house options for a No. 2, Chet Pickard and Mark Dekanich.

“We watch practice when it’s not down in our end, but at the same time I can’t control what he is doing,” Dekanich said. “He is a really good goalie, and he is going to make those saves, and I know that, and if I can just worry about my own game, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Dekanich, 24, comes to camp as a slight favorite to win the backup spot behind starter Pekka Rinne – if Nashville elects to stay in-house. General Manager David Poile has indicated that he might bring in a proven backup.

Cooper provided a quick write-up on Dekanich, to give you a little background on the guy who might have the inside track on the backup job.

Dekanich, 24, started for Milwaukee last season and has played two years with the Admirals. In 2009-10, he posted a 2.33 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 49 games. In 2008-09, Dekanich notched a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 30 games.

On the other hand, here is a talent analysis of Pickard (the team’s first round pick in 2008, in which he went 18th overall) from Hockey’s Future.

Pickard’s greatest asset is his mental game, staying very at ease in the net. He plays a butterfly style and uses his size effectively. Pickard covers the net with efficiency and has become proficient in corralling the many pucks that inevitably come into contact with his upper body. He plays his angles well, likes to play the puck.

Here are a few other “tale of the tape” type numbers on Pickard and Dekanich:

With experienced (if flawed) goalies such as Jose Theodore, Ray Emery, Vesa Toskala and Manny Legace still on the imaginary free agency unemployment line, you never know if Nashville GM David Poile might opt to go with a steadier hand behind Rinne. Either way, it should be one of many interesting training camp battles to watch before the season begins.

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    Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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    In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

    Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

    Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.

    Video: Orpik penalized after catching Maatta with late, high hit

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.

    The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.

    Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.

    Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

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    It’s been 31 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs had the No. 1 overall pick at the draft.

    And, to hear team president Brendan Shanahan explain it, getting back to that top spot wasn’t easy — on anybody.

    “We earned this the hard way,” Shanahan told Sportsnet on Saturday, moments after winning the draft lottery. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year, but our guys and our coaching staff and our management staff did a lot of really good things here in Toronto.

    “This [the No. 1 overall pick] will certainly help.”

    It’s easy to see why optimism is high within the organization.

    The last time Toronto had the No. 1 pick it selected Wendel Clark, who went on to become a revered player. He played for the Leafs on three separate occasions, served as team captain and now works for the organization in a public relations and community ambassador role.

    This year, the opportunity to make a similar impact is there.

    Auston Matthews, viewed as the odds-on favorite to go first overall, possesses the elite-level talent that could turn a franchise around. And there are few teams in more need of a turn than Toronto — as Shanahan alluded to, this was a very difficult year, as the Leafs finished dead last in the standings and were the only NHL club not to crack the 30-win plateau.

    Part of that was by design. The Leafs dealt away Phil Kessel prior to the season, Dion Phaneuf during it and jettisoned a host of other productive players: James Reimer, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik and Shawn Matthias, to name a few.

    By the end of the year, the Leafs were a mishmash of AHLers, spare parts and a few future pieces.

    Speaking of the future…

    Assuming the Leafs go the Matthews route, it’s expected he’ll make an immediate impact on the lineup. TSN already has him penciled in as the No. 2 center — playing the middle on a line with the club’s other top prospect, William Nylander — and Matthews’ head coach in Switzerland this season, Marc Crawford, used L.A. Kings star Anze Kopitar as a potential comparison.

    Of course, there is a chance Matthews isn’t the pick.

    Finnish sensation Patrick Laine has been making waves recently, thanks in large part to capturing SM-liiga playoff MVP honors this week. Laine has the kind of goalscoring ability and booming shot that would translate well — and, immediately — to the NHL level, though he is a winger.

    Not a center, like Matthews.

    Regardless of who the Leafs pick, this much is clear — they bottomed out this season with the intention of getting a high draft pick and, while the process was very painful at times, everything worked out in the end.

    “When you have an opportunity to pick first overall, it’s an important moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s an important moment for our fans,” Shanahan explained. “Our ownership group has given us the support to do this build the right way.”

    Tank you very much: Leafs win NHL Draft Lottery, retain No. 1 overall pick

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.

    The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.

    Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.

    The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.

    The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.

    Here is the 2016 draft order:

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs
    2. Winnipeg Jets
    3. Columbus Blue Jackets
    4. Edmonton Oilers
    5. Vancouver Canucks
    6. Calgary Flames
    7. Arizona Coyotes
    8. Buffalo Sabres
    9. Montreal Canadiens
    10. Colorado Avalanche
    11. New Jersey Devils
    12. Ottawa Senators
    13. Carolina Hurricanes
    14. Boston Bruins

    Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?

    Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

    Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.