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Preds GM Poile on Radulov: “I think he’s a better version of what he was”

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There are those who figure Alexander Radulov will be a nice addition — complimentary piece even — to the Nashville Predators this postseason.

Then then are those within the organization — David Poile and Barry Trotz specifically — who figure Radulov will be much, much more.

That’s what John Manasso uncovered in his latest piece for Fox Sports Tennessee, as Poile and Trotz  seem convinced Radulov isn’t just a potential wildcard, but rather a piece to put the Predators over the top.

“I think he’s a better version of what he was both as a player and as a person,” Poile said of Radulov. “We talk all the time about your younger players, as they get older and have more experiences, I think they know how to play more effectively, more successfully and I think they understand the team concept a lot better.”

Nashville’s head coach agreed.

“He’s got great vision, he’s got great hands,” Trotz said. “Some of the things he did created a lot of chances and that’s what Rad does, but he’s still really good defensively, too.

“He manages the game way better than he did four years ago and that’s the maturity of just time and understanding the game and I’m excited. I know the guys are excited as we go on here.”

What’s interesting is how Nashville’s worked Radulov back into the mix. In Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to St. Louis, Radulov received 22 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time in his third game with the club. That was three full minutes more than the next second-leading forward (David Legwand, 19:19). The only guys that played more were Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

Now’s a good time to mention that only one Preds forward — Mike Fisher — averages over 19 minutes a game. Last year, no forward did.

The explanation for this is simple: Radulov’s window for acclimatization is small, so he needs as much ice as possible. And hey, that’s fine. But it also suggests Poile and Trotz have seen enough through three games to determine Radulov is as good, if not better, than any of their existing offensive weapons. (Otherwise, why bother giving him the ice time at someone else’s expense, or the expense of team chemistry?)

If that’s the case, there’s not a lot of time for the team to gel.

“For a team that was playing well, we’ve made more changes than anybody in the league,” Poile said. “From that standpoint, we have a lot of adjustments to make. Lines have been changed, roles have been changed, ice time has been changed…

“We really need these last five games to prepare for the playoffs.”

Flyers enter bye week with major goaltending questions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 08: Goalie Steve Mason #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at Wells Fargo Center on December 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers went into their bye week with just three wins in their last 14 games.

When they come out of it, they might also be out of a playoff spot.

The Flyers don’t play again until Saturday against New Jersey. They’re only one point clear of Carolina for the second wild-card spot, and the Hurricanes are surging.

“It’s definitely a tough stretch right now,” Flyers goalie Steve Mason said, per CSN Philly. “Not proud of the way things are going. Kind of have to step back here and get away for a few days, which will be good I think at this point in time. Just come back and reset.”

Mason allowed five goals on just 17 shots in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Washington. It was the second straight game he didn’t finish; he also got pulled Thursday against Vancouver.

Looking ahead, if the Flyers don’t get better goaltending from one of Mason or Michal Neuvirth, they may have to consider recalling Anthony Stolarz from the AHL. Mason’s save percentage has fallen all the way to .897, and Neuvirth’s is even lower at .877.

Stolarz, 22, only made two starts when he was up with the big club, but both were wins and one was a shutout. When he was reassigned to Lehigh Valley of the AHL, he left with a .938 save percentage.

One even wonders if GM Ron Hextall might spend part of the bye week making calls to his counterparts around the league. Could the Blues or Stars be interested in Mason or Neuvirth?

At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt for Hextall to find out, if he hasn’t already. Because at this point, it seems very unlikely that both Mason and Neuvirth will be back with the Flyers next year. Each is a pending unrestricted free agent, and Stolarz has made a pretty strong case to be up in the show.

Related: Jake Allen knows he needs to be better

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line doing the business in Carolina

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Brock McGinn #23 of the Carolina Hurricanes awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Bill Peters has found something in the Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn trio.

The line, formed just a short while ago, erupted for 10 points in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Isles. McGinn went on to capture third star of the week honors and, together, the unit has been a major reason Carolina’s knocking on the door of a playoff spot.

“They’re doing it playing against everybody’s best at home,” Peters said of the Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line, per the New York Daily News. “They’re taking on tough matchups each and every shift and more often than not, they win it.”

Given that Staal, the club’s top defensive center, anchors the line, Peters often uses it against the opposition’s top group. So full credit has to go to Lindholm and McGinn, especially given their relative inexperience — both are just 22 years old and, coming into this season, McGinn had all of 21 games of NHL experience.

He’s a pretty good story, to say the least. The youngest of the McGinn brothers — Jamie currently plays for Arizona, Tye is with the Lightning organization — Brock was the 47th overall pick in 2012, and has steadily progressed from a good scorer in junior, to a good scorer at the AHL level, to a good scorer at the NHL level.

McGinn now has 12 points in 27 games with the ‘Canes this season.

“Our scouts stepped up and took [McGinn] in the second round. He’s a little under-sized and he’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s got a lot of hockey player in him,” Peters explained, per the ‘Canes website. “He’s a very courageous kid, a very intelligent player, a lot of old school in him. He’s starting to play with way more pace now, which is a huge credit to him.”

As mentioned above, the ‘Canes are in a great spot right now. They head into today’s action just one point back of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East, but with three games in hand.

Carolina could vault the Flyers with a result against Columbus on Tuesday. It would be another big step in trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

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Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.