All times Eastern
Pittsburgh @ Detroit
Had both teams been at full strength, this would be a remarkable star-studded affair in the Motor City. Instead, you already know Pittsburgh is going to be without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but the Red Wings are going to be without Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler with separate ailments. That’s a lot of scoring punch missing from both teams and while we’ll potentially get a goalie showdown between Marc-Andre Fleury and Jimmy Howard, having a game between these two teams with that much firepower missing is a huge bummer. On the bright side, we’ll still have Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg for Detroit along with Kris Letang and Jordan Staal for the Penguins so we’re not totally devoid of excitement here.
Still, the fire between these two teams still burns deep so what the game might lack in star power it will be made up with aggression, especially with the Peguins coming off a demoralizing defeat at the hands of the Rangers yesterday. One guy you likely won’t be seeing is Matt Cooke as he’s likely facing a suspension after his dirty hit against Ryan McDonagh.
Calgary @ Los Angeles
Speaking of demoralizing defeats, the Flames and Kings are both coming off of tough overtime losses to the Ducks as both teams saw Corey Perry beat them in the extra period. Luckily for them there’s no sign of Corey Perry coming after them in this game but for Calgary they’re in real need of a win. The Flames have looked gassed of late and this swing through California could be the road trip that ends up keeping them from making the postseason. The Kings will need to pick up a win to help fend off the Blackhawks and help themselves catch up to the Coyotes in the Western Conference playoff race. A win would move the Kings to within a point of Phoenix for the fourth seed while another loss allows the rest of the pack chasing in the west to catch up.
The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.
Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.
This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.
This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.
This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.
Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.
“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”
The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.
The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.
A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.
That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?
“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”
Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.
But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.
Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.
Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.
Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts
Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.
On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.
He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.
The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.