Tom Renney, Kelly Buchberger

Tom Renney has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins penciled in on his line sheet… For now

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We’re not really expecting the Edmonton Oilers to be a threat in the Western Conference this year but we are expecting them to be a team worth keeping an eye on. After all with young and dynamic scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner there’s a lot to be excited about.

Of course, with Nikolai Khabibulin being another year older and Devan Dubnyk being a potentially solid goalie along with a defensive unit that doesn’t stand out as a pack of stoppers, things will again be rough in keeping opponents off the board.

The one guy who might find a way onto the team this year is the top pick from the 2011 NHL Draft in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A lot of number one picks find their way into the NHL right away and Oilers coach Tom Renney has to be prepared for anything when it comes to his latest top pick. That means he’s even got some ideas for line combinations featuring Nugent-Hopkins worked out in his mind already as David Staples of the Edmonton Journal shares.

The other day on CHED, both Dan Tencer and Bob Stauffer asked questions of Oilers coach Tom Renney about RNH.

Renney said that he has many post-it notes with line combinations in his office and RNH’s name is in the mix.

Asked if he was able to put his own opinions on hold and simply evaluate the kid at training camp, Renney said, “I’m trying to do the latter. Those post-it notes, though, certainly a lot of them have his name on them with different combinations of people. I want to give him a fair opportunity to do what he wants to do badly, and that’s to make our hockey team. More important than anything else though, I have to put the stongest team on the ice as I possibly can.”

For Renney, putting the strongest team on the ice might mean having to include Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is a guy who could slot in on the first or second line at center and while he’s just 18 years-old, the Oilers other options at center may not live up to the amount offensive potential that Nugent-Hopkins has. Sam Gagner figures to be one guy to get in the mix there but with older depth guys like Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, their experience is good but their offensive production isn’t quite up to par.

Of course, the question is pertinent as to whether or not Nugent-Hopkins should even play in the NHL right away. Some, like Staples says in his piece, believe he should go back for one more year of junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels. The same questions came up last year for Taylor Hall and he was able to eventually find his way winding up with a 22-goal season in an injury-shortened 65 game season. Whether a guy grows better in the NHL or through another year in junior hockey is up for debate.

For guys at the talent level of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, having them head back to junior hockey would show how dominant they can be there against guys their own age while they grow up a bit more themselves. For teams like the Oilers, getting all the help they can from within can override that wont to have guys develop at an easier pace.

That said, the question for Renney is simple: If Nugent-Hopkins is ready and can handle the NHL load right away, then go for it. If there’s any questions, give him a look for up to nine games and then decide whether or not to send him back to Red Deer or keep him in Edmonton. Having that option to send him back to junior hockey is there for that purpose and if the Oilers are unsure, they’ll put it to use.

Video: The Ducks and Kings brawl — again

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Oh, look at that: Another heated melee involving the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings.

You’ll recall a first-period fight fest in a pivotal Pacific Division game between these teams almost one full year ago. On Saturday, in another meeting between these California rivals, the Ducks and Kings were once again at odds.

This latest conflict? Well, Corey Perry was involved. Again. (Last year, order had been restored during a brief scrum before Perry gave an extra shot to a Kings player, resulting in mayhem.)

Perry was called this time around for interference on Anze Kopitar. Kings players, as you might expect, suddenly rushed over before Nate Thompson and Brayden McNabb squared off in the main event.

 

Kings activate Jonathan Quick from IR and he is starting against the Ducks

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 08:  Goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings tends net during a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on October 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Colorado won 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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For the first time since the season opener the Los Angeles Kings are going to have starting goaltender Jonathan Quick in their lineup on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Anaheim Ducks.

Quick, who has played just 20 minutes of hockey this season, has been out of the lineup since Oct. 12 due to a groin injury. The team activated him from injured reserve on Saturday before the game.

In his absence the Kings had to rely on Peter Budaj to carry the load, and he did a pretty admirable job with a .917 save percentage (the best performance of his career) in 53 appearances. Keep in mind that Quick’s save percentage the past four seasons has been .914.

While Quick’s absence seemed like it could have been a big deal at the start of the year, the biggest factor in the Kings’ disappointing season has been on the offensive side, especially in recent weeks as the team’s goal scoring woes have seemingly hit rock bottom. In their past nine games the Kings have managed just 15 goals, and that includes one game where they scored six. Simple math says they scored only nine goals in the other eight games. Not great. They were also shutout three times during that stretch.

Even if Quick is the Kings’ best goalie, and even if he returns to the lineup and plays extremely well down the stretch, it is not going to make much of a difference if the offense continues to score at that sort of abysmal level.

The Kings enter Saturday’s game five points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.

For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.

He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.

The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.

Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.

He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— It will be Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Ducks and Kings face off.

— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.

— Joonas Korpisalo will be giving Sergei Bobrovsky the night off for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.

— The Rangers will go with Antti Raanta for their rivalry showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils.

— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.

Ryan Miller, suddenly the subject of trade speculation, will start for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday when they face the San Jose Sharks. Look for Martin Jones to go for the Sharks.

Robin Lehner and Calvin Pickard go for the Sabres and Avalanche respectively on Saturday night in Denver.

Antoine Vermette’s 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.

Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.

Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.

Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.

After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.