TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Philadelphia at Boston (1 p.m. ET)

Yes, the Flyers have been shut out two games in a row. No, there isn’t any real reason to panic. Against Columbus on Thursday, they still managed 37 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky. And that’s quite a few.

Sure, you could argue they didn’t get enough “quality” shots, but these were a couple of decent chances I’d say:

Bobrovsky is a good goalie. Won the Vezina last season. Sometimes a goalie like that is going to beat you. It’s not like earlier in the season when the Flyers were finishing games with shot totals in the low 20s, or even lower in some cases.

“Even though we didn’t score, we did a lot of good things,” captain Claude Giroux said.

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

The rise of Gustav Nyquist really makes me wonder about all the players who were rushed into the NHL before they were ready. How many had their careers ruined by impatience? It’s impossible to say. Just as it’s impossible to say that Nyquist wouldn’t have developed into the player he appears to be today if the Red Wings had brought him along quicker.

All I know is this: Nyquist is 24 years old. He was drafted in 2008, the same year as players like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson. Think of all the stuff those four have already been through in the NHL, both good and bad.

Just over a year ago, Mike Babcock was saying this about Nyquist: “He’s got some skill, he’s obviously a real good player. He’s led everywhere he’s ever played in scoring. The problem with the NHL is you have to come up and grab hold of something.”

Saturday: Dallas at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Is Victor Hedman the most under-discussed player in the NHL? I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but the 23-year-old has 49 points this season. Only seven d-men in the entire NHL have more, and only three — Karlsson, Duncan Keith, and Alex Pietrangelo — have more even-strength points (31).

Suffice to say, Hedman’s no longer just that stay-at-home Swedish defenseman who got drafted after John Tavares went first overall in 2009.

“His confidence is through the roof, you can totally tell,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop told the Hockey News recently. “It’s just one of those things where defensemen take a bit longer. He’s playing tremendous and has been a big reason why we’ve done so well lately.”

Sunday: St. Louis at Chicago (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Interesting quote from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on back-up goalie Brian Elliott: “I’ve been around Brian for three years. This is the best I’ve ever seen him play. He’s playing terrific.” Elliott is 18-5-2 with a .922 save percentage, and as Hitch alluded to, the 28-year-0ld has been practically unbeatable since the Olympic break. Of course, everyone knows Ryan Miller is going to be the man for the Blues in the playoffs, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that Elliott, like Miller, is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Sunday: Pittsburgh at Colorado (8 p.m. ET)

Two teams I’m really curious to see in the playoffs, albeit for different reasons. The Avalanche, because teams whose records defy the statistics are always interesting. The Penguins, because they’ve got so much to prove. If Pittsburgh falls anywhere short of the Stanley Cup Final, you seriously have to wonder about the future of coach Dan Bylsma. For me, it all depends how the Pens lose, if they do. A hard-fought loss to the Bruins in the conference final, for example, wouldn’t be a huge deal. But go out like they did last year to Boston, or the year before to Philadelphia, and I think we could see some significant changes.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).

Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

“For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.

Auston Matthews puts on a show in preseason tilt vs. Habs

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Auston Matthews and William Nylander are showing no signs of any sophomore slump so far through the pre-season.

Matthews had a hat trick and an assist and Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in an NHL preseason game on Monday night.

Matthews scored his first goal of the game 47 seconds into the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya.

Matthews made it 2-0 at 4:56. Nylander’s initial shot went high, and Matthews batted down the rebound and into an open side of the net.

He scored his third goal in the third period. While on a breakaway, Matthews shot the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46.

Matthews has four goals and two assists in three preseason games.

Jeff Petry scored for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.

Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.

Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.

 

Video: Trouba receives match penalty for hit on Flames’ Hrivik

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Tempers flared during the third period of Monday’s preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba received a match penalty for a hit at the blue line on Flames forward Marek Hrivik, leading to a melee along the boards.

Garnet Hathaway took exception to the hit, immediately jumping in and dropping the gloves with Trouba. Hathaway was also assessed an instigator penalty.

The hit occurred just after Hrivik dumped the puck into the Jets zone. Trouba stepped up at the line and delivered the hit, sending Hrivik hard to the ice.

Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice commented on the hit after the game:

The league’s Department of Player Safety has been busy over the past few days, handing out preseason suspensions to Capitals forward Tom Wilson and, on Monday, Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins.