Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven

Ranking the five best 2014-2015 home openers

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The NHL released the list of home openers in 2014-2015 for all 30 teams on Saturday afternoon and while everyone will be excited to see the league back in action in October, there are a few games that stand out above all.

After taking a look at who each team will get to host, we’ve picked out five games that are appointment viewing in the opening week of the season. Let’s rank them out, shall we? And before you ask, no, there was no debate over which game would be No. 1. Sorry Sabres-Blue Jackets and Islanders-Hurricanes, you didn’t make the cut.

1. Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks — October 8

Not only will the Kings be raising their 2014 Stanley Cup championship banner that night, the NHL was kind/cruel enough to have the Sharks be the guests of honor. You don’t need to be reminded that the Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and went on to win it all.

Will Joe Thornton be there to soak in the agony of having the knife twisted one last time? Will Drew Doughty remark about the fear in the eyes of Sharks players again? If the Sharks can’t get up for this game…

source: AP2. Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins — October 16

The Habs will have to start the season on the road but when they do get back to Bell Centre, the Boston Bruins will be there to greet them. After the Canadiens took out the Bruins in the postseason and their Stanley Cup hopes with them, this ancient rivalry will get to reboot once again.

Seeing P.K. Subban on the ice should be enough motivation for Zdeno Chara and the Bruins to get up for the game. The Habs hope the respect they earned by beating Boston won’t be forgotten.

Let’s just hope Milan Lucic will be on his best behavior.

3. Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche — October 9 & 11

A bit of a funky situation with these two 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs combatants and division rivals as they start the year with a home-and-home series against each other. After going to seven games in the first-round of the playoffs ultimately won by the Wild, Patrick Roy’s Avs will get to start the season trying to wrangle Zach Parise and Ryan Suter all over again.

Big question for the Avs will be whether they’ll have Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly there to try and get the season off to a good start. Equally good question for the Wild? Who will they have in goal? Ilya Bryzgalov was key for them in the playoffs but so was Darcy Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom is still around and Josh Harding may still be in the discussion.

source: AP4. Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins — October 9

It’s a playoff rematch between a Red Wings team that was game and beat up and a Bruins team that was too good and too much for the Wings. Now that they’re division rivals and they have a playoff battle under their belts, perhaps we’ve got the start of a good rivalry.

The Red Wings should have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at full strength while the Bruins will still have Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron excelling. These two teams bring the best out of each other but the Bruins will be coming off an opening night game at home against Philadelphia. Nothing like back-to-backs to start the season.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens — October 8

It’s one of the most storied rivalries in the NHL and having the Leafs and Habs open up against each other in Toronto makes opening night all the more special. With the pomp and circumstance the Maple Leafs provide on opening night, it provides all the hockey feelings fans get tingly about.

It’ll also feature a Leafs team that hits the ice for the first time since an incredible season-ending collapse that saw them fall from third in the Eastern Conference to 12th in just over a month’s time. Meanwhile, the Canadiens are coming off an Eastern Conference Final appearance and were perhaps a Carey Price injury away from making the Stanley Cup Final.

Phil Kessel and Jonathan Bernier are about the only two Leafs players we know for sure will be on the ice for Toronto as they’ve got a summer filled with rumors and intrigue ahead of them.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net after a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: It’s Chad Johnson’s net in Calgary

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Chad Johnson #31 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Chad Johnson, the Flames’ goalie of record in eight of their last 10 games, will once again be in goal when Calgary hosts Minnesota on Friday night.

Johnson, as we’ve written about on numerous occasions, was terrific for the Flames in November, going 7-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA and .939 save percentage. He essentially wrestled the No. 1 gig away from Brian Elliott, and closed out the month in style by posting a 39-save shutout against Toronto on Wednesday.

As a result, Calgary has clawed back from a disappointing start to draw within one point of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference (granted, the Flames have played four more games than the Preds).

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other game this evening, as Montreal takes on the Sharks in San Jose. It promises to be a quality matchup as both teams are rolling with their No. 1s: Carey Price for the Habs, Martin Jones for the Sharks.