Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider

Canucks coach says Luongo is his No. 1 goalie

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Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault will start goalie Cory Schneider against the Columbus Blue Jackets this evening. It’ll be the sixth consecutive time Vigneault’s started Schneider, a decision that’s led some to suggest Schneider — not the incumbent starter, Roberto Luongo — is the new No. 1 goalie in Vancouver.

Not so, says Vigneault.

“Roberto wants to play, he is a competitor, he is a very proud guy,” Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. “He knows he is the No. 1 goaltender on this team and he wants to play. But at the end of the day Cory right now is playing real well and those are the decisions a coach has to make.”

Not that this decision was especially tough. Schneider’s riding a four-game winning streak and has allowed just two goals on his last 91 shots faced — if anything, the decision not to play him would’ve been contentious.

Would Vancouver ever officially make Luongo its backup?

Those in the “Hell No” camp point to Luongo’s albatross of a contract (only 11 years and $54 million to go!) as the primary reason why.

Successful teams have employed spendy backups in the past — Tim Thomas was once a $5 million backup in Boston, Chicago won a Stanley Cup with Cristobal Huet making $5.6 million on the bench — but the Vancouver situation is a lot different.

The Canucks couldn’t conceivably buy out Luongo, because they’d be paying it out until the year 2063 (approximately).  It’s also unlikely he’d accept being a Swiss league loaner to free Vancouver of his cap hit (not to accuse Chicago or anything). There are also legitimate concerns that, given the amount of hockey he’s played, Luongo’s best days are behind him — casting doubt on a potential Thomas-like revival to reclaim the starting gig.

(Remember, the 37-year-old Thomas is still at only 335 games played for his career. Luongo hit that total by the time he was 26.)

So, when does Luongo play again? The Canucks begin a four-game homestand starting tonight, so you’d expect he’ll get one of the games against Nashville (Dec. 1), Calgary (Dec. 4) or Colorado (Dec. 6).

But if you’re looking for dramatic narratives, keep an eye on who Vancouver starts on Thurs, Dec. 8 — when the Canucks head into Luongo’s hometown of Montreal to take on the Habs.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 22: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his first period goal against Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.

Another defenseman down: Niskanen won’t return for Caps tonight (Video)

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Uh oh.

There are only three games on the docket for Wednesday, but injuries are a factor in all of them. The Washington Capitals must now worry about underrated defenseman Matt Niskanen after he left tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.

Niskanen took a shift to end the second period, only not to return, much like Andrej Sekera did in tonight’s Edmonton Oilers game.

The Capitals blueliner got hurt after falling awkwardly following a collision with Radko Gudas, as you can see from the video above.