News and notes from around the crease…
Bob gets a break
Having already clinched the second playoff berth in franchise history, Columbus will give No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky a rest tonight and start backup Curtis McElhinney against Tampa Bay.
McElhinney hasn’t played much lately — his last start was on Mar. 29, when stopped 25 of 27 shots in a win over the Hurricanes — but there is some pressure tonight, as the Jackets could move ahead of Philadelphia for third place in the Metropolitan Division by earning at least one point. The Bolts also have something to play for, as they can overtake first-round opponent Montreal for second in the Atlantic Division, and get a leg up in the battle for home ice advantage.
Tampa Bay will start Anders Lindback in goal.
Lehtonen looks to clinch
Dallas can get into the playoffs for the first time in five years with any sort of victory — regulation, overtime or shootout — against the Blues, and the Stars will try to get there with Kari Lehtonen in goal. The Finnish netminder last played in a win over Nashville on Tuesday (stopping 27 of 29 shots) and was given Wednesday night off as a result (Tim Thomas was in for a loss to Columbus).
Tonight, Lehtonen is back and looking to fare better against the Blues than he has in the past — he’s 1-1-1 vs. St. Louis this season, with a 3.52 GAA and .867 save percentage.
For the Blues, Ryan Miller will be in net.
‘Hawks at Caps: Corey Crawford for Chicago, no word yet on a Washington starter.
Isles at Devils: No word from either team.
Jets at Flames: Karri Ramo likely for Calgary, no word on Winnipeg’s starter.
Avalanche at Sharks: Reto Berra vs. Alex Stalock
Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.
Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.
In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.
“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.
“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”
He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:
Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.
The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.
—Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated
—Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash
Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.
Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.
“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.
“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”
The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.
With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.
Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.
The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.
They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.
But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.
Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.
It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.
Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.
“Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”
Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!
One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.
No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.
Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.
“We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.
“We’re not playing good hockey right now.”
The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.
With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.
On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.
Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.
In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.
His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.
The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.
Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.
The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.
Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.