Justin Williams

What to do about Justin Williams

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After seeing Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams seemingly always be in the right place at the right time during the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup, his “clutch” abilities earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy.

It also has put the team in a bit of an awkward position headed into this season.

Once the Kings roll through the 2014-15 season, Williams, 32, could become an unrestricted free agent. There’s no doubt he’s been great for the Kings since arriving in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009. Since then, he’s been a fairly steady 15-20 goal per season player who just manages to become superhuman in the playoffs.

Williams will be coming off a contract with a $3.65 million cap hit. Players his age don’t tend to continue getting better as they get older and the Kings have a pair of young players pushing to graduate to his spot on a wing with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.

Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson stepped up big in the playoffs themselves and Toffoli in particular has the offensive touch that has many thinking he’ll be a goal-scoring stud for them for years to come.

The question for Kings GM Dean Lombardi wrests on a couple of matters: The salary cap and when it’s the right time to part ways.

According to CapGeek.com, the Kings have over $59 million committed to next season. While the cap is surely to jump, they’ll have key RFAs to re-sign in Toffoli, Pearson, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, defenseman Jake Muzzin, and goalie Martin Jones.

It’s unlikely that all those players would put the Kings in cap peril, but retaining Williams could potentially stunt one of the forwards’ growth. That situation makes it tricky for Lombardi to decide if it’s time to hand the keys over to the kids at forward or re-commit to Williams and potentially give him a raise.

If Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter feel it’s Toffoli’s time to slide up the lineup, that’d make for an apt time to wish Williams well on his future endeavors and thank him for the Stanley Cups.

Then again, making rosters work with a lot of depth hasn’t been an issue for the Kings and rolling four lines that can beat you has been one of their trademarks. The Kings will find a way to make it work with or without Williams if it comes to that, but another monster postseason with a Stanley Cup could make him an icon impossible to let go in L.A.

Red Wings take advantage of Penguins’ mistakes in 5-2 win

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Even though the odds are stacked against them at this point, if the Detroit Red Wings are going to extend their playoff streak they are going to need to pile up a lot of wins the rest of the way to dig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in.

They took a big step toward doing that this weekend with two huge wins over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

They completed the weekend on Sunday with a rather convincing 5-2 win in Pittsburgh, taking advantage of a sloppy Penguins team that struggled in all phases of the game.

This win came just one day after the Red Wings beat the Washington Capitals in a shootout.

The big story for Detroit on Sunday early on was the play of starting goaltender Petr Mrazek — starting both ends of the back-to-back this week — as he made a couple of highlight reel saves to rob Ian Cole and Nick Bonino of what looked like sure goals.

In the two games this weekend he stopped 58 of the 62 shots he faced.

It has been a disappointing season for Mrazek individually, but he has taken some big steps toward salvaging it over the past four games by only allowing only nine goals on 160 shots (.943 save percentage).

As for the players in front of him, the Red Wings’ penalty killers were sensational on Sunday, frustrating the Penguins’ power play and limiting them to just three total shots on goal on their four power play attempts.

Three of the Penguins’ power plays failed to register a single shot on goal.

While Mrazek and the Red Wings were shutting down the Penguins’ high powered offensive attack, the Red Wings feasted on some brutal turnovers by the Penguins and an off day from Matt Murray in net to put five goals on the board. It was only the third time in the past month they scored more than three goals in a game.

They opened the scoring in the first period on a slick Nick Jensen goal following an Evgeni Malkin turnover in the offensive zone (seen above).

With the Red Wings holding a 2-1 lead entering the third period, a Jake Guentzel turnover resulted in Tomas Tatar‘s 14th goal of the season for the Red Wings to give them a two-goal lead.

Just two minutes later Thomas Vanek put the game away with his 15th goal of the season.

Sunday’s win is still just Detroit’s fourth in its past 14 games, while the Red Wings remain six points back of a playoff spot in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.

For the Penguins, it is their first loss in regulation since the All-Star break snapping what had been a nine-game point streak that saw them go 6-0-3.

Sens’ Hoffman leaves game vs. Jets with lower-body injury

OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 13: Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Minnesota Wild at Canadian Tire Centre on November 13, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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The Ottawa Senators will need a comeback effort today in order to take over top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Making matters more difficult: The Senators, in action today against the Winnipeg Jets and having gone down two goals after the first period, will strive for that without forward Mike Hoffman, one of their best scorers.

Hoffman left the game in the first period and will not return, the Senators said, because of a lower-body injury.

With a win today, the Senators would move into a tie with the Montreal Canadiens at 70 points, but they would take over first place in the division because they have fewer games played.

Hoffman is tied with Kyle Turris for second on the Senators in goal scoring with 19 goals.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Sabres

Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly
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A three-game winning streak has the Buffalo Sabres right back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

They’ll go for four wins in a row when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who sit second in the Central Division, on Sunday (6 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blackhawks’ winning streak goes bye thanks to Talbot, Oilers

‘Hawks are happy with rookies’ progress

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

Sabres win third in a row to stay in playoff race

Goalie Nods: Lehner looks to lead Sabres to fourth win in a row

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres defends the net against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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With three consecutive wins — and six wins in their past nine — the Buffalo Sabres are trying to keep things interesting in the Eastern Conference playoff race, entering play on Saturday just two points out of a wild card spot.

One of the biggest reasons for their success in recent weeks has been the fantastic play of starting goaltender Robin Lehner.

Not only has he won four of his past five starts (including all three during the Sabres’ current winning streak), but he has probably been the driving force behind that surge with a .949 save percentage, allowing more than two goals just once during that stretch.

In three of those games he has made at least 37 saves.

Lehner has been a pretty big positive for the Sabres this season overall with a .926 save percentage.

Since joining Buffalo at the start of the 2015-16 he is at .925 putting him with the best goaltenders in the league.

They are going to need him to be great on Sunday evening again with a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are starting Scott Darling.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— In the afternoon games it was Phillip Grubauer vs. Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers-Capitals game and Matt Murray vs. Petr Mrazek in the Penguins-Red Wings game in Pittsburgh.

Mike Condon draws back in for the Ottawa Senators when they look to move into a first place tie in the Atlantic Division. Connor Hellebuyck goes for the Jets.

Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host the Nashville Predators. No official word from Nashville yet but with Pekka Rinne taking the loss on Saturday it would make sense to see Juuse Saros get the start.

Thomas Greiss gets the night off for the New York Islanders after he played on Saturday, which means Jean-Francois Berube goes when they take on the New Jersey Devils in the second half of their back-to-back. Keith Kinkaid gets the start for the Devils to give Cory Schneider a night off.

— Nothing official from Toronto yet but look for the Maple Leafs to give Curtis McElhinney the start in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have not announced their starter.

Calvin Pickard is expected to start for Colorado when the Avalanche host the Tampa Bay Lightning. No word yet from the Lightning on their starter.

— The Boston Bruins go for their fourth win in a row when they take on the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. It will be Tuukka Rask in net for the Bruins with Martin Jones going for the Sharks.

— The Kings and Ducks have not announced their starters yet.

— After leading the Canucks to a win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night Ryan Miller is going right back in the net for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers.