Poll: Who are the leading Vezina candidates?

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The NHL announced its three star selections on Monday and, curiously, it was just the third time this season no goaltender was honored.

Why curious? Because the lack of goalies highlights one of the season’s biggest narratives — masked men are stealing the show.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Semyon Varlamov, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Robin Lehner, Frederik Andersen, Ben Scrivens, Josh Harding, Devan Dubnyk, Roberto Luongo, Martin Jones and Carter Hutton have all captured star of the week honors already, which means now seems like a good time to discuss the Vezina, the grandest goalie award of ’em all.

Who are the leading candidates? A few for your perusal…

Ben Bishop

Amazingly, Tampa’s No. 1 netminder hasn’t won any weekly/monthly star awards this season, despite being one of the league’s top netminders. Bishop currently ranks second in wins (19), fifth in save percentage (.934) and sixth in GAA (1.96). He’s also tied for the league lead with three shutouts and ranks top-10 in “workhorse” categories like games played and time on ice.

Josh Harding

The Minnesota netminder, third star for the month of November, leads the NHL in GAA (1.51) and sits second in save percentage (.939). The fact he’s done this while dealing with MS is incredible, but he’s currently on IR while making adjustments to his treatment protocol and won’t be eligible to return until Dec. 27. If Harding can maintain his early form and play enough games, he’ll be the in the Vezina conversation throughout the year.

Tuukka Rask

Rask’s body of work this season has been overlooked given all the other compelling storylines, but it shouldn’t be. His 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage are very impressive given his workload — Boston has only used backup Chad Johnson nine times this season, and Rask has the seventh-most starts (28) in the league.

Carey Price

Only three goalies have faced more than 900 shots heading into tonight’s action — Price, Mike Smith and Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec’s save percentage is .908, Smith’s is .913 and Price’s is.932…the sixth best mark in the league. He’s also started 30 games already, two back of NHL leader Luongo.

Others…

Semyon Varlamov has cooled after his red-hot start, but still boasts good overall numbers… Marc-Andre Fleury gets a lot of heat for his inconsistent play, but he’s been rock-solid (21-8-1, 2.04 GAA, .923 save percentage), especially after Tomas Vokoun was sidelined by blood clot issues…Luongo has been a workhorse and is tied for the shutout lead, with three…Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have both been excellent, but that works against their individual Vezina chances…Antti Niemi was the league’s third star for October and second in games played, third in wins.

Vote away (just like awards season, you get to nominate your three finalists)…

Sens win, but empty seats get the attention

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All the talk in Ottawa today should be about the Senators’ big win over the Rangers.

Instead, the city’s playoff excitement has been hijacked by a familiar topic — attendance woes.

A crowd of just 16,744 was announced at Canadian Tire Centre last night. Pictures of empty seats were all over social media. It had to be embarrassing for the home team, not to mention its combustible owner.

Read more: Plenty of tickets available for Game 1 in Ottawa

There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain the poor attendance. The suburban arena gets blamed a lot, and it’s true that the location is quite inconvenient. Some say the defensive style that coach Guy Boucher employs does not make for an entertaining enough product.

Here’s Sens reporter Ian Mendes with his take for TSN.ca:

The truth of the matter is that Ottawa simply doesn’t have a big enough season ticket base. Though the club never publicly discloses how many season tickets they have sold, it stands to reason that the number is well under 10,000. That means on a nightly basis, the Senators have to drum up enough walk-up sales to fill at least half their building – which is located well outside of the downtown core.

A better crowd is expected Saturday afternoon for Game 2. But there are still tickets available.

 

Related: Poor attendance an early story in Ottawa

Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

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They were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup.

And then the season started.

The Nashville Predators never really got rolling during their 82-game schedule. They’d have some good stretches, followed by some bad stretches. They ended up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Most predicted they’d lose to Chicago in the first round.

Of course, most were wrong. The Preds swept the Blackhawks, and now they’re up 1-0 on the Blues in the second round.

“We come in, we’re supposed to be this awesome, amazing team and we didn’t start so hot,” d-man Ryan Ellis said, per NHL.com. “We started to get better, and then some injuries crept into our locker room. We battled the whole year, losing guys at various times in the year and some younger guys stepped up. But overall, it’s adversity that makes you stronger. This was one of those years we faced a lot of adversity.”

A quick glance at Nashville’s roster and it’s not hard to understand the preseason hype. The Predators have a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen, a tremendous goal-scorer in Filip Forsberg, and one of the more underrated wingers in the league in Viktor Arvidsson.

But the real jewel is their blue line. Roman Josi is the No. 1 defenseman, paired with puck-mover Ryan Ellis, a former 11th overall draft pick. On the second pair is a former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, who skates with the dependable Mattias Ekholm.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better top four than that. And to think, the Preds also had Seth Jones, until they traded him to Columbus for Johansen.

The wild card heading into the playoffs was Pekka Rinne, the 34-year-old goalie who was spectacularly inconsistent during the regular season. He had a .949 save percentage in November, followed by an .875 in December. It was .933 in January, down to .888 in February, then back up to .923 in March.

So far this postseason, it’s .962.

Tonight in St. Louis, the Preds can make it six straight wins in the playoffs. More importantly, they can take a 2-0 lead over the Blues back to Nashville.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” winger Colin Wilson told reporters. “But when we played our game, we were always unstoppable. We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth.”

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Rangers won’t let Drury interview for Sabres GM gig

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As a former player and well-regarded young executive, there was a fit for Chris Drury in Buffalo’s front office.

Of course, there’s the exact same fit with the Rangers.

That’s why today’s news can’t come as a huge surprise. Per Sportsnet and TSN, New York has turned down Buffalo’s request to interview Drury for its vacant general manager gig.

Drury, 40, has spent the last two years climbing the Rangers’ executive depth chart. He was brought aboard in 2015 as the club’s director of player development and, a year later, was promoted to assistant GM under Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers aren’t the only ones enamored by Drury’s front office skills. Recently, USA Hockey tabbed him — along with Bill Guerin — as the braintrust responsible for building Team USA’s entry in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

As mentioned above, it was easy to see why the Sabres were interested. Drury played three seasons in Buffalo, served as team captain, and the club appears primed to make a splash with its next hire after dismissing Tim Murray.

Drury, of course, spent four seasons with the Rangers and also wore the “C.”

Should Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal have counted?

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We’re only one game into the Sens-Rangers series, and we already have a little bit of controversy.

Ottawa won Game 1, 2-1, thanks to Erik Karlsson‘s game-winning goal from a seemingly impossible angle (seriously, he scored from the corner).

But should it have counted?

There’s no issue with the Karlsson shot going off Henrik Lundqvist‘s mask and in, but the Rangers felt that the referees missed an icing call moments before the goal happened.

Karlsson is standing near his own blue line when he sends a pass in Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s direction. Did Pageau get a piece of it? It’s hard to tell from the angles we have at our disposal, but Alain Vigneault seemed to have had a good look at the play.

“We felt on their game-winning goal it should have been icing,” Vigneault said, per Sportsnet. “When we look at it, and look at the angles we get, I think it should have been icing. But at the end of the game you gotta play and you gotta do more than we did tonight to win.”

Challenging icing calls isn’t permitted, so when the officials decided that Pageau touched the puck, there’s nothing more the Rangers could do to reverse the call (except get the puck out of the zone when they had the chance).