TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Pittsburgh at Montreal (7 p.m. ET)

Question: Has Marc-Andre Fleury played himself back into contention for a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic squad? After 19 games, he’s 13-6-0 with a .924 save percentage. On Wednesday, he shut out Washington, 4-0. At this point, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo are considered the top two contenders for the starting job. As for the third spot? That’s up for debate. Corey Crawford won the Stanley Cup, but he isn’t playing that great these days. Mike Smith is playing OK, but his big-game experience is lacking. Martin Brodeur is playing well, but his time in the international spotlight is likely over. Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer, Josh Harding, and Braden Holtby all have excellent numbers; however, like Smith, what they lack is experience. Fleury has struggled badly in recent postseasons and, as result, wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s summer camp (Crawford, Holtby, Luongo, Price, Smith got the call). At the very least, he deserves credit for putting himself back in the conversation.

Saturday: New York Islanders at Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET)

The Flyers get a great chance to build on their current 5-0-1 streak when they host the disappointing Isles, who’ve lost six of their last eight in regulation and sit tied with Columbus for last place in the Metropolitan. On Tuesday, New York out-shot the Leafs, 37-24, and lost, 5-2. Goalie Kevin Poulin did have a handful of decent games earlier this month, but he’s struggled in recent outings. We know, we harp on the Isles’ goaltending all the time. But this team isn’t good enough to get away with poor, or even average, play from its netminders. We only harp because we care.

Saturday: Dallas at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

If not for Henrik Lundqvist, the Stars would’ve won their fourth straight Thursday versus the Rangers. Instead, they lost, 3-2, while outshooting New York, 43-37. Though Dallas has been doing a lot of good things lately, the power play continues to be a concern. It currently ranks 27th in the NHL, at 12.0 percent. In a very related story, Sergei Gonchar has just four PP assists in 21 games. Did Stars GM Jim Nill overestimate how much Gonchar had left in the tank when the Stars signed the 39-year-old to a two-year, $10 million deal?

Saturday: Chicago at Vancouver (10 p.m. ET)

The last time the Blackhawks visited Rogers Arena, on April 22, the Canucks came away with a 3-1 victory and optimism abounded. One of the local newspapers called it Vancouver’s “best game in ages.” Daniel Sedin said: “If we play like we did today, I think we’re good.” The Canucks then lost the last two games of the regular season and got swept by San Jose in the playoffs.

Saturday: Colorado at Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET)

At least one handsome hockey blog wondered if the Avs were headed for a reality check after they lost three in a row by a combined score of 13-5. Instead, they beat the defending champions, 5-1, and got a 4-3 overtime win at Jobing.com Arena, where the Coyotes had been 9-0-1. Goalie Semyon Varlamov was named first star in both victories, as the Avs were out-shot by a combined margin of 81-53. Chances are good they’ll get out-shot again by the Kings, who have the second-best shot differential in the NHL, behind only Chicago.

PHT Morning Skate: Golden Knights prospects try to guess popular ’90s songs

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–The Vegas Golden Knights added a number of quality prospects this offseason, but their knowledge of (questionable) ’90s songs is underwhelming. They had a hard time differentiating between Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. Nick Suzuki is the prospect pictured at the top of the page. (Sportsnet)

–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” preview. This time, they analyze what the Columbus Blue Jackets will look like in three years from now. That top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is gonna be pretty tough to play against, but goaltending is clearly a question mark. (The Hockey News)

–If you’re not following Canucks defenseman Michael Del Zotto on Instagram, you’re missing out. His page is pretty interesting. There’s a picture of him filming a movie, another photo of him holding a baby lion and he has an action shot of him DJing an event. (NHL.com/Canucks)

–The Score is revisiting a number of key moments from the 1992-93 season, including Teemu Selanne’s incredible rookie numbers. James Bisson writes: “The electrifying winger known as the Finnish Flash put together the most incredible rookie season in NHL history, racking up 76 goals and 132 points to establish a pair of records that haven’t been challenged since. In fact, no first-year player has even come within 20 goals of Selanne’s mark – making it one of the most incontestable records in league annals.” (The Score)

Johnny Gaudreau is giving back to the community that helped him develop into the hockey player he has become today. Later today, he’ll be hosting a golf tournament to raise money for the Gloucester Catholic School in Jersey. “We made it possible for Johnny and his family to come to Gloucester Catholic and they wanted to give something back so we decided to have this golf tournament and all proceeds go to Gloucester Catholic financial aid/scholarship fund. Last year was the first year and it was very successful. Last year we cleared $55,000 and we hope to do better this year through sponsors and participants.” (Courier-Post)

Patrick Marleau may have spent many years in San Jose, but now that he signed with the Maple Leafs, it’s time for him and his family to move on. Here they are in Maple Leafs jerseys (his wife admitted she shed a tear when they got dressed up in Toronto blue):

Fisher also contacted by Canada for Olympics along with Doan, Iginla

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Add Mike Fisher to the list of veteran free agents who’ve at least been contacted to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hockey Canada VP of hockey operations Scott Salmond revealed as much to TSN 1040 on Thursday while also noting their interest in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

“As Hockey Canada we have tremendous respect for all of those players,” Salmond said. “There’s no question that their leadership and their experience could be invaluable to our team.”

(Read more about Canada contacting Doan and Iginla specifically in this post.)

Fisher, 37, shares certain similarities with Doan and Iginla. All three players have captained NHL teams, each brings a mixture of scoring ability and grit to the table, and they all obviously have plenty of experience.

Pending talks with Nashville

On the other hand, there are a few potential differences that make Fisher’s case interesting.

For one thing, Fisher hasn’t decided – or hasn’t shared his decision – regarding a return to the Nashville Predators just yet. That choice is expected to come sometime next week.

The thing is, Fisher at least has some say in that matter, as he might make the choice not to come back. In the cases of Doan and Iginla, they might struggle to find suitors in free agency (or at least find suitors willing to give them the specific deals they seek).

A first for Fisher?

While that might hurt Canada’s chances, there’s another wrinkle: Fisher hasn’t really gotten “the call” quite like Doan or Iginla have. Fisher hasn’t ever suited up for Canada in the Olympics and, according to Hockey Reference, hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2009 World Championships.

Perhaps that rare opportunity might trump playing another season in the NHL? A few weeks of international hockey wouldn’t represent the same wear-and-tear as playing through an 82-game season.

(There’s also at least the concept of playing in the Olympics and then trying to find a deal with the Predators, however unlikely that might be.)

While Doan and especially Iginla stand as bigger names, you could make a very reasonable argument that Fisher actually has more left in the tank. He’s also a center, which Canada might deem a lacking position heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For all we know, none of these three forwards will bite at the opportunity. This seems like one of those creative ideas that might not work out.

It’s easy to see why Canada’s reps would at least get the conversation going, and Fisher might just be the best target to aim for.

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.