Washington Capitals v Boston Bruins

Braden Holtby makes case for top job while Caps’ goalies are injured

For much of this season, Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth has been the de facto starter in net because Semyon Varlamov has been dealing with a variety of chronic injuries. Despite Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s assertion that he is a “shaky” goalie, Neuvirth responded to the opportunity with some nice work (making him a steal in fantasy hockey leagues to boot).

Yet the Capitals emphasized the need for a deep reserve of quality netminders this season, as injuries to both Neuvirth and Varlamov forced the team to turn to the third goalie on their depth chart: Braden Holtby.

Instead of stumbling with another inexperienced starter, Holtby is carrying the torch from Neuvirth, as he earned three consecutive wins to stretch the Capitals’ winning streak to a 2010-11 season-high of seven games. In fact, Holtby has been doing so well lately – only one goal allowed in his last three appearances, one of which came in relief of an injured Neuvirth – that Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington wonders if the 21-year-old goalie might be pushing for more than just an interim hold on the No.1 job in DC.

In 11 NHL games so far this season, Holtby has allowed a scant 1.84 goals per game (best among any goalie in the league with at least as many appearances) while stopping 93.4 percent of shots fired his way (second only to Boston’s Tim Thomas).

But are 11 games enough to convince the Capitals’ decision-makers Holtby deserves the starting job through the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs?
For now, Holtby gets the nod over Neuvirth (who appears to healthy enough to return) and Varlamov (who has been out since February 20 with a knee injury).

“It’s a chance for him,” winger Mike Knuble said. “That’s the way he looks at it. It’s a chance. He gets a chance to play while the other two guys are down. As a young goalie, you’ve got to relish those moments. You want to take those opportunities when you can.”

Some people might get anxious regarding the idea of a team lacking a clean-cut answer for a starting goalie, but simply looking at last year’s injury-plagued Philadelphia Flyers net situation shows that quality depth can keep playoff runs alive. Besides, internal competition is a great way to spur productive results on the ice.

It’s too early to say that Holtby has a legitimate chance to steal one of the top jobs, but he gives the Capitals a valuable option in case Neuvirth (apparently healthy now) and/or Varlamov get banged up again. Having a third option as steady as Holtby could prove crucial as the Capitals hope to bring a more defensive-minded approach into another postseason.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE