Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

TGIF: Philly’s flying high, led by Giroux

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Saturday: St. Louis at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

Since finishing January with a 26-23-6 record, the Flyers are 11-2-1 and have scored at least four goals seven times in a single game. The same team that started the season with just 11 goals in its first eight games now ranks ninth in NHL offense. Leading the charge? Claude Giroux. Philly’s captain has 22 points in his last 14 games, and the 26-year-old who didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 9 now has 24 tallies on the season. In case you were wondering, this is the team that Paul Holmgren intended to build. A high-scoring, aggressive club that needs good, but not spectacular, goaltending to win. Now, how the Flyers fare in the playoffs is anyone’s guess. And while that may be true of a lot of teams, doesn’t it feel especially true with this one? Just a total wild card.

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

Assuming James Reimer is traded this summer — and I think that’s a pretty good assumption at this point — where will he end up? The Islanders are one option, but given how hesitant Garth Snow has been to address his team’s most pressing concern, it’s hard to say how good an option. Other teams that may want to address their goaltending by adding a likeable 26-year-old with a .914 career save percentage include Calgary, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. May be worth noting that Flames general manager Brian Burke was a big believer in Reimer back in their Toronto days together.

Saturday: Washington at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

Adam Oates said the Capitals needed to sweep their three-game trip to California. Karl Alzner said they could afford to lose one. Well, if they beat the Sharks, they’ll split the difference, with two wins and a shootout defeat. Granted, that won’t be easy, given San Jose’s 26-5-4 record at the Shark Tank. But the Caps have definitely shown some backbone lately, and that hasn’t always been something you associate with this team. The Kings racked up 50 hits against Washington Thursday, after which Oates said, “I’m proud of our guys and the way they stood up to it.” The playoffs are still somewhat of a long shot for Washington (18.2 percent, per Sports Club Stats), but there’s more hope today than there was a week ago.

Sunday: St. Louis at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

A “good wake-up call” is what Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks. “They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason. They know when to turn the temperature up. No matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, to even give (Chicago) a go, you’re going to have to dial it up. They’re getting ready and it’s up to us to get ready. That’s the task. They dialed it up and we didn’t play well.” You almost wonder if the ‘Hawks went into that game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. With all the talk about the Blues, and how this might finally be the year for St. Louis, the champs appeared pretty motivated to hold on to their crowns.

Sunday: Minnesota at Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The second of a weekend back-to-back between these two teams. We all know about Detroit’s desperation to make the playoffs and extend its postseason-appearance streak to 23. But Minnesota isn’t exactly sitting safe and clear. The Wild are just 2-2-4 in their last eight, and neither Darcy Kuemper nor Ilya Bryzgalov are going to make fans feel totally secure in the goaltending down the stretch. Oh, and get a load of Minny’s remaining schedule:

source:

Gulp.

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.

For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.

He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.

The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.

Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.

He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— It will be Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Ducks and Kings face off.

— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.

— Joonas Korpisalo will be giving Sergei Bobrovsky the night off for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.

— The Rangers will go with Antti Raanta for their rivalry showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils.

— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.

Ryan Miller, suddenly the subject of trade speculation, will start for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday when they face the San Jose Sharks. Look for Martin Jones to go for the Sharks.

Robin Lehner and Calvin Pickard go for the Sabres and Avalanche respectively on Saturday night in Denver.

Antoine Vermette’s 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.

Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.

Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.

Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.

After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 11:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks fires a shot against the Washington Capitals at the United Center on November 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Capitals defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.

Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.

In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.

They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks before a faceoff during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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An already shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins defense is going to be without another key player on Saturday when Kris Letang misses their Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an upper body.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced the news following the team’s morning skate and would only add that Letang remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman, played more than 28 minutes in their most recent game, a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

In 41 games this season he has five goals and 29 assists. Ron Hainsey, recently acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes, is going to have to immediately take on a pretty substantial role with his new team.

Anytime the Penguins are without Letang it’s a big deal because of how impactful he is on the blue line, but it is an even bigger issue now given the injury situation they are dealing with. Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are both sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the regular season.

Justin Schultz, a game-time decision on Saturday night according to Sullivan, has missed the past three games due to a concussion.