Goalie nods: Corey Crawford returns in time for Olympic consideration?


News and notes from around the blue paint …

Corey Crawford comes back

After being sidelined since Dec. 8, the Chicago Blackhawks will welcome Corey Crawford back into the fold. Will it give the underrated netminder a chance to prove to Team Canada’s brass that he’s fit to be one of the Olympic three?

Chicago’s hedging its bets by keeping Antti Raanta and Jason LaBarbera around, too. On the other end of the ice, the New York Islanders press Evgeni Nabokov back into workhorse mode.

Elliott building Blues build-up?

Jaroslav Halak is sick, so that opens the door for Brian Elliott to continue to threaten his position as the St. Louis Blues go-to guy. If he keeps winning, it’s hard to imagine it morphing into anything less than a platoon-ish situation. Meanwhile, it sounds like Martin Jones will tend the net for Los Angeles. The Kings have been struggling lately.

(Jake Allen was also called up by the Blues in case Elliott falters.)

Could Khudobin push Cam in Carolina?

With Cam Ward injured, Anton Khudobin returns to action for the first time since Oct. 13. Meanwhile, Philipp Grubauer continues to pile up starts for the Washington Capitals.

Elsewhere …

Nashville at Boston: Marek Mazenec faces Niklas Svedberg (more on the latter here)

Winnipeg at Ottawa: two goalies hope to continue building momentum as Al Montoya faces Craig Anderson.

Buffalo at Minnesota: Ryan Miller faces Niklas Backstrom thanks to Josh Harding’s sickness.

Montreal at Dallas: Carey Price will probably face Kari Lehtonen, provided the Stars goalie hasn’t been bitten by the flu bug.

Philadelphia at Colorado: Steve Mason faces Semyon Varlamov.

Columbus at Phoenix: Curtis McElhinney squares off against Mike Smith.

Edmonton at San Jose: Devan Dubnyk faces Antti Niemi. (Hopefully Ilya Brzygalov will exhibit positive body language on the bench.)

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado