Neuvirth to start against Wings, Boudreau waiting to decide playoff starter

Tonight’s Washington Capitals game will feature a change for the Southeast Division leaders—a change at goaltender. Scorching hot rookie Braden Holtby had been leading the Caps during their most recent stretch, but tonight will feature Michal Neuvirth between the pipes against Detroit. He’ll do his best to keep up with the unbelievable pace Holtby has set as of late.

Holtby started the 2nd period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 7th and didn’t allow a goal in the following two periods, overtime, nor the shootout and has never looked back. He’s played in every game since, earning wins in all 5 games he’s appeared in recently. Last week, Holtby rode a 4-0 and 1.05 goals against becoming the NHL’s #1 star of the week.

Checking out the depth chart in Washington, the Capitals are sitting on an embarrassment of riches in net. Here’s a brief rundown of each goalie and their amazing statistics:

Michal Neuvirth: 22-10-4 with a .914 save percentage and 2.47 goals against avg
Semyon Varlamov: 10-8-4 with a .923 save percentage and 2.27 goals against avg
Braden Holtby: 9-2-2 with a .930 save percentage and 1.95 goals against avg

Neuvirth and Varlamov have been highly thought of prospects since they were drafted 34th and 23rd overall respectively. On the other hand, Holtby was a 4th round pick in the 2008 Draft. When the season started, he was with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL before earning a promotion to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. More stellar play and an injury opened the door for Holtby to show what he could do—and he’s run with the opportunity. Even though there are good, young goaltenders in the Capitals’ system, Holtby just continued to produce.

“[Other young goaltenders in organization] probably plays into everyone’s mind when they’re in the minors, if they’re going to get their shot. At the same time, I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re good enough to play at a level of the NHL, you’ll get that shot. You don’t see many guys that go through their career with NHL skills that don’t get an opportunity. I was just trying to prove myself in Hershey and make sure that if I do get an opportunity, I’d be ready to give it my best shot.”

Coaches have a tendency to play it safe, lay low, and promote the status quo when their team has won 9 straight in the middle of a playoff race. They’ve ridden the surge to the top of the Southeast Division and are only a point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In this situation, Boudreau can either go with the guy who has playoff experience, the guy who has started most of the games this season, or the kid with the hot hand.

For his part, Boudreau isn’t ready to tip his hand quite yet.

“I don’t have to make that decision yet, so I’m really not doing it,” Boudreau said. “Every one of them we’ve put in has really excelled. Probably these next six or seven games will determine who’s going to be the starter in the playoffs for us, but right now we’ve got the three kids playing great and we give [Braden] Holtby a rest and see how somebody else can do the job.”

“I hate to be a historian on this, but in 1971 a kid got called up from the American League named Ken Dryden and played in the playoffs. I don’t think the pressure got to him and his career is history,” Boudreau said. “I see a lot of similarities in the Holtby, Dryden call ups, what their season’s been like and everything else.”

You have to love when a coach drops a reference from 40 years ago when thinking about the upside to a decision. But helping Boudreau out, both Cam Ward and Antti Niemi were rookie netminders who took over the starting jobs in the middle of the season—and both were able to help their teams lift the Stanley Cup when all was said and done.

The Capitals have drafted and groomed all three of these goaltenders to be successful in the NHL. Neuvirth has the best long-term record and Holtby has been unbelievable with his opportunity, but Semyon Varlamov had the best statistics before he was injured. Varlamov last played on February 20th, but he’s joined the team on their 6-game road trip signaling that he’s close to returning to the fold. It’ll be interesting to see what Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee decide to do with the thriving threesome down the stretch.

But the one thing we do know from Boudreau’s recent comments, is that this is, in fact, a three horse race.

Matt Murray to miss ‘indefinite period of time’ following passing of his father

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Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray has missed the past two games and was briefly away from the team due to what was described as a personal matter. The team would not go into any details and asked everyone to respect his privacy.

On Wednesday, the Penguins announced that Murray’s father, James Murray, passed away on Tuesday in Ontario.

Murray had briefly returned to the Penguins over the weekend and even accompanied the team on its current west coast road trip but his status remained listed as “day-to-day.”

The Penguins announced that Murray will be traveling back from the west coast to return to Ontario.

He will miss an indefinite period of time according to the team..

In his absence the Penguins will turn to rookies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in net. Jarry has played well in his opportunities this season posting a .923 save percentage and a 9-2-3 record. He has won each of his past four decisions.

The Penguins are in Anaheim on Wednesday before traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday to play the Kings and then going to San Jose on Saturday night.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Claude Julien only has ‘good things to say’ about his time in Boston

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Claude Julien spent a lot of time in Boston, but in this business all good things eventually come to an end.

Julien, who coached the Bruins from 2007 to 2017, was fired in February after a difficult stretch. He didn’t remain unemployed long, as he ended up being hired by the Canadiens just seven days after being let go by Boston.

Now, he’ll head to Boston for the first time since being fired by the Bruins. Don’t forget, you can watch tonight’s game on NBCSN or you can stream it live by clicking here.

Even though things didn’t end particularly well for him with the B’s, Julien has nothing negative to say about the organization and the city.

“When you spend that much time with an organization and a city, you have to cherish the opportunity to go back. I had great years there, I was treated well,” Julien said after practice on Tuesday.

“As much as there’s a rivalry on the ice (between Montreal and Boston), off the ice, I only have good things to say about Boston, the organization, the city and the fans, everything. I really enjoyed my time there, but in this business you need to move on so I’m going to move on tomorrow and go to Boston and work the best way I can to come away with two points.”

During his time with the Bruins, Julien led the team to a 419-246-94 record. In 2011, he helped lead their team to their first Stanley Cup title since 1972. They also made a second appearance in the Stanley Cup final under Julien in 2013, but they lost that series to the Chicago Blackhawks.

On top of the success they had as a team under his watch, the 57-year-old also helped certain guys develop into dominant players. It’s no secret that Julien is a defense-first kind of coach. That doesn’t always make for the most entertaining hockey, but it certainly worked out pretty well for Patrice Bergeron, who became of the great two-way players in the NHL while Julien was his head coach.

The Bruins will surely put up a video tribute on the scoreboard that will likely stir up some old emotions, just don’t expect those emotions to come from netminder Tuukka Rask.

“He was not playing a shift on the ice, so it doesn’t really matter. He was coaching, so it was nothing special,” said Rask, per NBC Sports Boston.

Julien admitted he hasn’t necessarily thought about the reaction he’ll get from Boston fans once he returns to TD Garden, but he hopes it’s a positive one. Even if he gets booed out of the building, he said that it won’t change the positive view he has of the city of its fans.

As much fun as it is to look back at his decade in Boston, Julien has to focus on his current job because he certainly seems to have his hands full with the Canadiens.

Things haven’t been easy for him since he took over behind the bench last year. Not only were the Habs bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year, it also looks like they won’t be anywhere near the postseason this spring. The Canadiens are currently nine points behind Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Unless there’s a drastic change in their play, they could become sellers at the trade deadline.

No matter what happens in Montreal this season, it’s hard to envision them parting ways with their head coach, who has four years remaining on a contract that reportedly pays him around $5 million per season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the Boston Bruins will host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Bruins and Canadiens didn’t play in October, November or December, but this will be the second time they’ll go head-to-head in four days. What makes the schedule even weirder, is that they’ll play each other again on Saturday night in Montreal. That’s three games in eight days. Very strange scheduling. Anyway, Brad Marchand scored the game-winning goal in the shootout during the first meeting between these two teams.

As entertaining as the first matchup was, it will be remember for the scary injury to Phillip Danault that occurred in the second period when he took a Zdeno Chara shot to the head.

Thankfully, Danault is back home after spending Saturday evening in the hospital, but he’s out of the lineup with concussion-like symptoms for now.

“I obviously spoke to Phillip a number of times. I talked to him right after the game and wanted to make sure he was okay, and he texted me back that he’s doing fine. He’s been released [from the hospital] and that’s very positive, good news,” said Chara, per NBC Sports Boston. “It’s obviously very unfortunate that it’s something that happens quite often, but it’s something you never want to see with somebody getting hit and hurt. I’m very happy he’s going to recover fully and hopefully he’s back on the ice and playing hockey [soon] like we all do.”

Putting that scary news aside, the B’s have been rolling for a while now. Even though they dropped an OT decision to the Stars on Monday afternoon, They haven’t dropped a game in regulation in their last 13 contests (9-0-4). They’re last defeat in regulation came against the Washington Capitals back on Dec. 14.

They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division. Boston is two points ahead of Toronto (Bruins have four games in hand) and nine points back of the Lightning (Bruins have two games in hand).

Meanwhile, in Montreal, things haven’t been going smoothly at all in 2017-18. A team that’s already thin down the middle is without Danault, and they’ve decided to move a struggling Jonathan Drouin back to the wing. All that means is that Jacob De La Rose, who’s known as more of a defense-first center, is on an offensive line with Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk.

Yea, the Canadiens are that desperate.

This will also mark the first time that Claude Julien returns to Boston since he was fired by the Bruins last February. You can read all about Julien’s return by clicking here.

They’re currently nine points behind Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. It sure looks like they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline.

Speaking of the Pens, they’ll head to Anaheim to take on the Ducks in the late game. Puck-drop in that one is set for 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

Don’t look now, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions seem to have woken up from their slumber. After being inconsistent throughout the first half of the season, they’ve now rattled off four consecutive wins over the Islanders, Bruins, Red Wings and Rangers.

“I think we’ve been more of a threat off the rush and I think our offensive zone play has been very strong,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “As I’ve said on a number of occasions since I’ve taken this team over, if we’re going to be the team that we want to become, we have to be able to generate offense different ways . . . whether it be on the power play, whether it be off the rush or whether it be off our own puck-pursuit game by playing behind teams’ defensemen. That’s what I see.”

Pittsburgh’s captain, Sidney Crosby, has been lighting it up during the winning streak. Crosby has registered at least two points in every game. He’s accumulated 11 points in his last four contests. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel both have eight points during that time frame.

The Ducks are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, but this next stretch will be key if they want to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture. Starting tonight, they’ll play their next five games at home. After their matchups with the Pens, they’ll take on the Kings, Sharks, Rangers and Jets at the Honda Center.

Anaheim had been playing better hockey of late, but they’ve now dropped three of their last four games coming into a tough clash against the Penguins.

These home games are huge because the Ducks are four points back of the Kings for the last Wild Card spot.

This will also be the second and final game of Andrew Cogliano‘s suspension that put an end to his 830-game iron man streak. He’ll be eligible to return to the lineup for Friday night’s game against Los Angeles.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Pass or Fail: Washington Capitals 2018 Stadium Series jersey

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The funny thing to think about when you see an NHL jersey reveal that is just real bad is that more than one person said, “Yes, that’s a winner.”

With that being said, on Wednesday, the Washington Capitals revealed the jersey they will wear for the March 3 Stadium Series game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. As you can see, it’s an interesting design from adidas.

Here’s a look at the back with the letter and number font:

 

That giant red stripe at the bottom? Why? Why do we need that? Is it a cummerbund? If you get rid of that and the red stripes on the arms, the jersey looks much cleaner. Even Alex Ovechkin isn’t impressed. The socks are sweet, as are the pants with the “W” and the three stars from the city flag.

This is a definite step back from the Capitals’ previous outdoor game jerseys from the 2011 and 2015 Winter Classic. Let’s hope the Maple Leafs have something good cooking when they finally show off their jersey.

What do you think?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.