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Semyon Varlamov will start in Winter Classic; does that mean Varly holds the upper hand in Caps’ net?

While watching HBO’s fantastic coverage of the December 23rd Capitals-Penguins game, I couldn’t help but notice Pittsburgh’s subtle disregard for the skills of Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth.

After the first period, Maxime Talbot pleaded with his teammates to get more shots on net, saying that Neuvirth was “shaky.” Sidney Crosby pointed out the fact the he was flinching during the two teams’ shootout. Head coach Dan Bylsma went as far as to say “this goalie isn’t that good” during the second intermission of that game.

Even if such comments were made to encourage the team to shoot more often, you have to wonder if the general opinion is that Semyon Varlamov might be the better of the two young Caps goalies. I cannot help but wonder if Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is leaning in that direction at the moment, considering the fact that he announced his decision to start Varlamov during the team’s biggest game of the 2010-11 season so far tonight.

Chances are solid that appearing in the Winter Classic means more to both goalies than any normal regular season game – and while it’s dangerous to read too much into it – you have to wonder if Varly has the upper hand considering right now.

Boudreau thinks the team will have a better idea of which of the two is their No. 1 guy by the final chunk of regular season games, though. At least when he’s on the record.

Q.  Are you looking at this stage of the season for someone to emerge and say I want this job, and they both played well and they both maybe had some bumps?

COACH BOUDREAU:
Well, I think they both want this job.  And I mean, if Neuvy hadn’t have got hurt the day after Christmas, he would still be playing.  But he got hurt and then all of a sudden Varly gets a chance, and he plays a great chance against Carolina and he shuts out Montreal, how can you not give him the start.

Q.  I think early in the season you said ideally they’d play four games, one game each and something would happen in the Playoffs.  Do you want one of them to have identified himself to the rest —

COACH BOUDREAU: By the season’s end I would.  I think it’s a little bit like when we made a trade for Huet a couple of years ago, there was Kolzig and Huet and I played them the first 10 games, just alternated, and then eventually Cristobal won the job and he played the last seven games.

And I just assume or I’m hoping that something like that is going to take over here, and it doesn’t have to happen anytime soon.  I think they’re both really competitive guys having a friendly competition of who wants to be number one.  But it will happen in the last quarter of the season, I would think.

For better (recent times) or worse (the beginning of the 10-11 season), Marc-Andre Fleury is solidified as the Penguins’ goalie of the present and future. The Capitals don’t have that luxury/occasional problem, though. So when it comes to Washington’s goalie situation, it’s all about how these guys respond to big game pressure, making the Winter Classic a nice dress rehearsal for the playoffs.

If tonight’s announced starter is any indication, Varlamov might be the lead actor while Neuvirth seems like the understudy.

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.