Jonathan Toews

Toews’ injury changes Chicago’s ceiling, plan

For a significant chunk of this season, the Chicago Blackhawks’ path seemed to follow the dominant one blazed by the 2010 championship model rather than the desperately scrappy edition from last year. When the Hawks were really buzzing, it appeared that the Central Division crown was one big jump ball between three or maybe even four teams.

That’s simply not the case right now, though. As ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers details, the Blackhawks might as well cue MAD TV’s “Lowered Expectations.”

The Hawks aren’t making any declarations but let’s face it, the goals have changed. Winning divisions, and even gaining home ice advantage, has been replaced by getting healthy and maintaining a playoff position without exerting every ounce of energy between now and the end of the regular season on April 7.

For all practical purposes the Hawks are entrenched as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. If that holds they are on a collision course with the Pacific Division winner, which will be the easiest draw for them — by far. In fact, the Hawks currently have two more points (79 to 77) than division-leading Dallas. Chicago won’t have home-ice advantage — that goes to the division winner no matter the point totals — but no hockey observer would count them out in a playoff series against the Stars, Phoenix Coyotes or San Jose Sharks. In fact, the Hawks would probably be the favorite in at least a couple of those matchups.

In a way, it’s an interesting parallel to the East where the sixth seed is honestly probably a better draw than a fourth or fifth because of the weaker division representatives. (Of course, the gulf in talent and competence between the Pacific and Southeast is jarring, but still, it’s rather intriguing.)

Having a relatively favorable first round opponent is great and all, but as Rogers points out, the Blackhawks’ ceiling would be significantly limited without Toews.

With that in mind, you can’t blame Chicago fans for being more nervous about his health updates than day-to-day rumblings in the standings.

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    Duclair, mentioned in trade rumors, to be a healthy scratch tonight

    NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 25: Anthony Duclair #10 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 25, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    A situation worth monitoring in Arizona — Anthony Duclair will be in the press box for tonight’s game against the Blue Jackets, which head coach Dave Tippett classified as a “reset,” per the Republic.

    Tippett did say Duclair would draw back into the lineup tomorrow, when the Coyotes take on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

    This season has been a struggle for the 21-year-old, one of the key pieces acquired when Arizona traded Keith Yandle to the Rangers in March of 2015. Duclair started brightly for the Coyotes, scoring 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games last season, but his offensive production has fallen off a cliff in ’16-17 — he has just one goal and four points through 23 games, and his ice time has dropped to an average of 13:10 per night.

    In Saturday’s loss to Columbus, Duclair had the fourth-lowest TOI on the team, at 11:16.

    “A little frustrated right now with the way things are going,” Duclair told the Republic. “I just gotta battle through it.”

    As mentioned in the headline, Duclair’s name has recently surfaced in the rumor mill.

    A few weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said he was “hearing teams are saying that Duclair could be had at the right price,” adding the Coyotes were looking for a “pretty penny” in return.

    Kypreos’ comments were then followed by a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said the following on Insider Trading:

    “John Chayka, the general manager, is not shopping Anthony Duclair but they’d consider it if there was a significant deal that made sense to them and brought a center back to the Arizona Coyotes.

    “Duclair’s name actually surfaced in Buffalo at the draft in the summer, and more recently has re-surfaced. They’re not pushing him out the door, but like Bob [McKenzie] said with Dougie Hamilton in Calgary, the same thing applies with Duclair — they’re willing to listen.”

    Part of the reason Arizona could be willing to move Duclair is its wealth of young talent on the wings. Lawson Crouse, Brendan Perlini and Max Domi are already there, and Chayka may be willing to trade from a position of strength.

    Related: Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

    Five backup goalies that aren’t getting it done

    St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton reacts as Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) celebrates with teammates Patrik Laine, (29) of Finland, and Dustin Byfuglien (33) after scoring the winning goal of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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    We did this same list about a year ago, when the likes of Alex Stalock and Anders Lindback were called out.

    Stalock and Lindback are no longer in the league, and with today’s news that Jhonas Enroth has been waived by the Maple Leafs, here are five more backups that need to pull their games together:

    Carter Hutton — Hutton is the Blues’ backup to Jake Allen, and it hasn’t been going well with his new team. The 30-year-old is 2-4-1 with an .888 save percentage, putting all the more pressure on Allen to win games, now that Brian Elliott isn’t there anymore. The Blues’ goaltending rarely fails to be interesting, and that’s the case again this season. Allen hasn’t been great either (.907), but at least he’s been winning (12-3-3).

    James Reimer — He was supposed to be a reliable No. 2 behind Roberto Luongo, and perhaps even take over the No. 1 duties down the road. But Reimer has struggled since signing a five-year, $17 million contract with the Panthers on July 1. The 28-year-old is 3-4-1 with an .896 save percentage, which does not compare well to Luongo, the oldest goalie in the NHL, who’s 9-7-1 with a .929 save rate.

    Darcy Kuemper — Typically, a bubble team like the Minnesota Wild can’t afford to have below-average backup goaltending. But that’s exactly what Kuemper has provided, going 2-2-1 with an .897 save percentage. His last start, he gave up five goals to the offensively challenged Vancouver Canucks in a 5-4 loss. Kuemper has only had one solid start this season, a 35-save victory over the Senators. Fortunately for the Wild, Devan Dubnyk (10-6-3, .946) has been beyond good, and that’s why they’re in a playoff spot for now.

    Michael Hutchinson — Yes, goaltending remains a vulnerability in Winnipeg, even after Ondrej Pavelec was removed from the equation. Hutchinson is 3-4-2 with an .898 save percentage — not great numbers behind Connor Hellebuyck, who hasn’t been a whole lot better (10-9-0, .911). Hutchinson did play well Saturday in St. Louis, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 overtime win. He’ll need a few more of those efforts the rest of the way if the Jets are going to make the playoffs.

    Anton Khudobin — Right off the bat, we must mention that Khudobin’s last start for the Boston Bruins was a very encouraging one. But his overall numbers, 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, put him on the list. Khudobin recently spent time in the AHL on a conditioning stint. He’s been good since his return from Providence, and he’ll need to keep being good behind Tuukka Rask, because the Bruins don’t want to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

    Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

    Brendan Perlini
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    Brendan Perlini, the forward Arizona took 12th overall at the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when the Coyotes take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

    Perlini, 20, has been solid this year in AHL Tucson — his first full American League campaign — with 11 goals and 16 points through 16 games. He’s tied atop the league’s goalscoring leaderboard with three other players (including Toronto prospect Kasperi Kapanen), but Perlini has done it in the fewest amount of contests.

    A former OHL standout with Niagara, Perlini is the latest example of the youth movement that’s taken over Arizona this season.

    Some of the kids that have suited up include:

    Jakob Chychrun, the 18-year-old defenseman taken 16th overall in June.

    — 19-year-old Dylan Strome, who has since been returned to his junior club in OHL Erie.

    Lawson Crouse, the 19-year-old power forward acquired from Florida this offseason.

    — 20-year-old Christian Dvorak, the 58th overall pick in ’14.

    Anthony DeAngelo, the 21-year-old d-man acquired from Tampa Bay at this year’s draft.

    In addition to those guys, the club has also had “veterans” in the mix, like 21-year-old forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Laurent Dauphin.

    As you might expect from such a young team, the Coyotes have struggled this season. They’re 8-11-4 heading into tonight’s action, but have done a decent job of getting points recently — they’re 3-2-2 over the last seven games, though they needed a career-high 58 saves from Mike Smith on Saturday to steal a point against the Jackets.

    Flyers’ Mason named NHL’s first star of the week

    Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12), of Austria, congratulates goalie Steve Mason (35) following the team's win against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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    Steve Mason is the NHL’s first star of the week, and his save percentage is still just .904.

    That number tells you how poorly he started the season. Because the Flyers’ goalie has been brilliant of late, going 4-0-0 with a .945 save percentage in his last four outings.

    Mason’s strong run of play started not long after Michal Neuvirth went on the injured list.

    “This is the situation I want to be in,” Mason told philly.com. “It’s a workload that all summer long you prepare for.”

    The Flyers’ five straight wins (Anthony Stolarz was in goal for the first one) have propelled them into the first wild-card spot in the East, two points up on the Washington Capitals, who are suddenly feeling some urgency in the playoff race.

    Vladimir Tarasenko and Martin Jones were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.