Motown message: Howard sits again, Gustavsson to start second straight

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On Monday, the Detroit Free Press wondered if Mike Babcock was trying to send a message to starting netminder Jimmy Howard with his not-so-subtle “the bottom line is the puck can’t continue to go in our net” remark.

On Tuesday, that speculation might’ve been proven correct.

The Red Wings announced that backup Jonas Gustavsson would make his second straight start on Wednesday vs. Boston — a decision that will result in “The Monster” playing four of Detroit’s last six games.

It’ll be interesting to see how this move is perceived.

On one hand, Babcock is riding the hot hand for a team needing wins — Gustavsson is 5-0-1 this season with a .926 save percentage and 2.35 GAA, while Howard is 5-7-6 with a .908 save percentage and 2.72 GAA. So it’s easy to make the case for going with the in-form netminder, as Gustavsson is coming off a 21-save win over Buffalo on Sunday.

On the other hand…

Howard is coming off a banner 2013 campaign, one in which he tied for the league lead in shutouts (five) before backstopping Detroit to within a game of knocking off eventual Cup champs Chicago. He’s the club’s clear-cut No. 1 and is in the first year of a six-year, $31.75 million extension, making him the 12th highest-paid goalie in the league.

According to Babcock, Howard is having a hard time living up to those expectations.

“We expect Howie to be a star,” Babcock said. “We expect that each and every night. All you gotta do is look at our team record. It hasn’t gone as good for him, but I think we’re in that all together. When you’re real organized in your own zone, it’s way easier for your goaltender to play real well.

“But I also think when you start pressing as an athlete and worrying about things you shouldn’t worry about, things don’t go your way.”

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.