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Goalie nods: With East’s top spot on the line, Rangers start Raanta versus Pens

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Plenty of storylines at PPG Paints Arena tonight when the Penguins host the Rangers.

There’s the history: Pittsburgh ended New York’s season last year, and New York did the same to Pittsburgh two years ago.

There’s the stakes: The Rangers sit two points ahead of the Penguins for top spot in the Eastern Conference but, with a regulation win, the Pens can overtake the Blueshirts for No. 1.

As such, the goaltending decision by Alain Vigneault is an interesting one. Antti Raanta, who’s played very well lately, will get the nod ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, who has started the last three in a row.

To be accurate, Lundqvist didn’t just start three straight — he dominated them. A 2-0 shutout win over Dallas (in which he left momentarily after getting run by Cody Eakin), and back-to-back 2-1 shootout victories over Nashville and New Jersey.

That said, Lundqvist’s had recent problems with the Pens, especially in last year’s playoffs, which could be part of the reason why Vigneault’s turning to Raanta.

For Pittsburgh, Matt Murraay is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— The Islanders’ goalie carousel continues to spin. After J-F Berube made his first starts of the season on Friday and Sunday, Thomas Greiss draws in against the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

Cory Schneider will look to snap a personal four-game losing streak when the Devils host the Preds. Like the Bruins, Nashville has yet to announce a starter.

— Coming off a 29-save effort in a 1-0 loss to Boston, Peter Budaj is back in for the Kings in Columbus. The Jackets will give Sergei Bobrovsky the night off, and roll with Curtis McElhinney.

Robin Lehner starts again for Buffalo, after making 33 saves in a win over the Isles on Friday. He’ll be up against Roberto Luongo, who had a four-day break while James Reimer started Florida’s last game.

— In a rematch of last year’s playoffs, Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings take on Ben Bishop and the Bolts in Tampa.

Carey Price stopped 20 of 21 shots in a win over Washington on Saturday, and will be back in as the Habs host the Ducks. No word yet on an Anaheim starter, though it’s probably Jonathan Bernier as John Gibson got the win in Toronto on Monday.

Semyon Varlamov versus Devan Dubnyk as the Avs visit Minnesota.

Scott Darling will start his 10th game in a row when the ‘Hawks host Ottawa at the United Center. Andrew Hammond is injured and Craig Anderson is still away from the team, so the Sens are going with Mike Condon (Matt O’Connor will back up).

Even though he’s struggling, Jake Allen continues to start for the Blues. He’ll be up against Antti Niemi, who is starting his fourth straight.

Jacob Markstrom, who hasn’t played since coming on in relief of Ryan Miller in last week’s Carolina debacle, goes for the Canucks tonight. The visiting Jets will roll with Connor Hellebuyck.

Brian Elliott started against and beat the Coyotes last night, so Chad Johnson goes for Calgary. Martin Jones is in net for the Sharks.

Islanders’ D getting crowded with four-year deal for Adam Pelech

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If nothing else, quantity probably won’t be much of an issue for the New York Islanders’ defense in 2017-18.

GM Garth Snow locked down another blueliner on Monday, as he signed Adam Pelech to a four-year contract. The deal is worth $1.6 million per season ($6.4M overall), according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Pelech, 22, played 44 games at the NHL level in 2016-17, collecting 10 points and struggling from an analytics standpoint. He also appeared in nine games with the Islanders in 2015-16.

Staple notes that this could make for a logjam – or, to put a positive spin on it, make for a lot of competition – particularly if the Isles can strike a deal with Calvin de Haan soon. If that pans out, they’d have eight defensemen who would need to go through waivers.

On the bright side, the Islanders’ defense looks respectable on paper, and that’s assuming that Pelech doesn’t take a step forward. If he does, this could be another respectable, under-the-radar move by Snow.

At the moment, it mainly seems like adding depth and flexibility, which isn’t the worst thing, either.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.