TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (3 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Neither side yet knows its opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers could finish third in the Metropolitan and take on the Rangers, or they could end up with a wild-card spot and meet Boston or — *rubs hands together* — Pittsburgh. For the Penguins, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets are the two other potential match-ups. While I don’t typically like to read too much into what happened during the regular season, if it’s Pittsburgh and Columbus, expect to hear that the Penguins beat the Jackets in regulation all five times they met, and by a combined score of 16-7.

Saturday: Chicago at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Obviously, it hasn’t been a great season for the Predators, who will miss the playoffs for a second straight time. Will Barry Trotz be back as head coach? No shortage of speculation his long run is over. But consider what he said here: “I would say this is — and I’ve been here a long time — one of the best [coaching jobs we’ve done]. This staff did a really good job. I’m talking as a staff — we put a lot of work into stuff. We were on the ball. … This staff pulled together. I’m really proud of this staff, actually.” When you don’t have a goalie like Pekka Rinne for most of the season, it’s going to be tough sledding. Especially for a team that has trouble scoring. In fact, Trotz said the Preds had to completely “reinvent” themselves after Rinne went out of the lineup. “We changed everything from the forecheck to the neutral zone system … we had to change everything, almost … and [we were] doing it under fire.” It’s also worth noting that the Preds actually have 34 regulation/overtime victories, the 16th most in the NHL, and more than Detroit (33).

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

On NBC. Streaming live, too. It was in this space, all the way back at the beginning of November, that I first started touting a Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis trade. Today, I still think the trade was a good idea, but I’ll admit I’m starting to feel some doubt creep in. I wonder if Doug Armstrong is, too. “I’ve got to find a way to make a save. It’s been two weeks of this,” Miller said yesterday after his third straight shaky performance. Moreover, in seven of his last nine outings, he’s finished with a save percentage below .900. All but one of those seven sub-.900 performances were Blues losses.

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

Yes, I’ve written a lot about the Avalanche’s reliance (over-reliance?) on goalie Semyon Varlamov. No, I don’t necessarily think (like some do) that Colorado is bound to flame out in the playoffs. And Varlamov is exactly the reason why. A goalie can absolutely steal a postseason series. Just ask the 2010 Washington Capitals. Or the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins. Both those teams ran into a red-hot Jaroslav Halak, before he came back to earth against the Flyers. There’s no question, though, that the stats community is watching the Avs even closer now. At the same time, a lot of Colorado fans are getting pretty defensive about their team’s success, and how that success is being perceived. But hey, at the very least, people are talking about the Avs again.

Sunday: Dallas at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. And possibly for the final wild-card spot in the West. Dallas could clinch beforehand with a win tonight versus St. Louis. And failing that, the Coyotes could be eliminated tomorrow if they don’t get the right result against San Jose. Safe to say missing the playoffs wouldn’t help the Coyotes’ attendance issues, not to mention the lost postseason revenue. Phoenix currently ranks last in the NHL in crowd size, averaging just 13,697 per game at Jobing.com Arena. We hesitate to bring up that “out clause,” but it’s hard to ignore when the best way to build positive buzz in any market is winning.

Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Ryan Spooner

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Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.

Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

 McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.

PHT Morning Skate: Terrell Owens owns Kris Letang during training session

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–Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is now the owner of a junior hockey team. “This may sound corny, but I feel I was put on this Earth to promote hockey. So the idea of being involved in a junior team that is the middle void between high school hockey and college was very exciting to me.” (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–The Chicago Blackhawks traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason. The ‘Hawks were the only team Hjalmarsson has ever played for, and changing teams has been emotional for him. He showed exactly how difficult it is for him to play in a different city in a heartfelt Instagram post. (CSN Chicago)

Phil Kessel conducted a “I Will & I Won’t” interview. Will he bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto for the second offseason in a row? Uhhhh not exactly. Also, he’ll be rooting for one of Mayweather or McGregor, but he just doesn’t know who yet. (BarDown)

–Despite the fact that the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad agreed to a long-term contract on Tuesday, The Score believes the Senators still won the trade that saw them ship Zibanejad to New York for Derick Brassard. (The Score)

–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series on each NHL team. Their most recent piece focuses on the Chicago Blackhawks and what the team will look like in three years. Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will likely still be around, but youngsters like Nick Schmaltz and Alex Debrincat will take on bigger roles. (The Hockey News)

–Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was working out with former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens in Montreal. For a guy in his 40s, Owens can still move pretty well:

EA Sports rolls out NHL 18 closed beta, with a lot of 3-on-3 focus

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EA Sports released a closed beta for “NHL 18” today, which gives players on Xbox One and Playstation 4 the chance to test three modes out from July 25 – Aug. 1.*

It sure seems like the beta – if not the full game – will focus on 3-on-3 overtime, and extending that experience beyond the confines of normal NHL action.

For one thing, the established EA Sports Hockey League mode will apparently include 3-on-3 overtime in the beta, and maybe more interestingly, also through full games. EA Sports explains as much:

Bringing authentic NHL 3-on-3 overtime to EA SPORTS Hockey League, you can now choose to play 3-on-3 full matches, opening up more ice for you and your teammates to get creative, pull off big plays, and showcase brand new skill moves. With more space to attack – and to make mistakes – 3-on-3 EASHL is higher stakes with more competition and skills.

Fans of the ailing sub-genre of arcade-style sports video games should take note that “NHL 18” introduces “NHL Threes.” The format hearkens back to the 16-bit days by turning off offside and icing calls, while a penalty will give a player a chance at penalty shot. Interesting. EA provided a little more information about the mode here, and it sure sounds like it could be fully featured upon release. The beta at least provides a taste of that.

(It wouldn’t be surprising if “NHL Threes” apes the previous generations “3 on 3 NHL Arcade,” which became something of a cult classic for some hockey game fans.)

Along with EA Sports Hockey League (note: a mode where you control a single player rather than a full team) and “NHL Threes,” the beta also includes the more vanilla Online Versus Play mode.

While the beta appears to be closed, EA’s NHL account is tweeting out ways to get codes on Tuesday, so it might not be too late if you’re lucky.

Without taking the beta for a test run personally just yet, this sounds like a nice opportunity for people to give the near-complete “NHL 18” a trial before the full game comes out on Sept. 15.

* – Or, as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier recently noted, maybe for a longer period of time.