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Goalie nods: Andersen goes against Canadiens, looks to continue terrific season

The NHL season is just about at its halfway point and the Toronto Maple Leafs, thanks to a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, are hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night in a game where both teams are holding playoff positions. It’s not something that has happened much over the past few years and it should create quite an atmosphere in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs were able to win on Friday thanks in part to another strong outing from goaltender Frederik Andersen as he stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced to continue his recent stretch of great play and make his slow start to the season a distant memory.

He will be back in net on Saturday. The Canadiens will counter with Carey Price.

Hey may not get the headlines that the Maple Leafs’ rookie class is currently getting, but Andersen has been a bit part of the team’s story this season as it fights for a playoff spot. Acquired in an offseason trade with the Anaheim Ducks, Andersen had a miserable start to the season that saw him give up 22 goals in his first five starts, including an ugly seven-goal effort the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then, however, he has not only been a completely different goalie but one of the very best in the NHL with a .931 save percentage since that mid-October game against Tampa Bay. Overall his .920 save percentage is among the top-10 in the entire league.

With Saturday’s start he will have now started 33 of the Maple Leafs’ 39 games this season. That puts him on track to start 69 games this season which would shatter his previous career high (54 during the 2014-15 season).

The Maple Leafs have earned at least a point in 15 of his previous 19 starts.

Elsewhere…

— In the afternoon games Michal Neuvirth made his return for the Flyers against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Robin Lehner and Connor Hellebuyck faced off for the Sabres and Jets.

Darcy Kuemper will be giving Devan Dubnyk a day off for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Los Angeles Kings. No word yet form the Kings but look for Peter Budaj.

— The Devils and Oilers face off for the first time since the big Taylor HallAdam Larsson trade from over the summer. Cam Talbot, as he has done for all but four games this season, goes for the Oilers. Cory Schneider started for New Jersey on Friday but was pulled after giving up two goals on five shots in the first 14 minutes.

— In Ottawa it will be Mike Condon going for the Ottawa Senators against Braden Holtby. Holtby has allowed more than two goals just twice in his past 10 appearances and has a better save percentage this season (.928) than he did a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy (.922).

— Huge game in the Atlantic Division when the Florida Panthers host the Boston Bruins. Two points separate the two teams in the standings. It will be James Reimer in net for the Panthers while Tuukka Rask goes for the Bruins.

Sergei Bobrovsky gets a much deserved night off as Curtis McElhinney starts for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they try to start a new winning streak against the New York Rangers. The Rangers have not announced their starter yet.

— No word yet on the starters for the Islanders and Coyotes. Both teams played on Friday.

— In St. Louis it will be Carter Hutton vs. Kari Lehtonen when the Blues host the Dallas Stars.

— The Vancouver Canucks look to extend their winning streak to seven games with Jacob Markstrom in net when they take on the Calgary Flames. The Flames will counter with Chad Johnson. After a terrific start to the season that saw him take over the starting job Johnson’s play has started to cool off considerably over the past month, recording only a .905 save percentage in December. He tries to snap a personal four-game losing streak on Saturday.

Jared Coreau gets another start for the Red Wings when they visit the San Jose Sharks. Martin Jones goes for San Jose. Coreau has a 3-1-1 record in five starts this season and is coming off of a 34-save shutout against the Los Angeles Kings earlier this week.

Report: Predators avoid arbitration … with Marek Mazanec

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The Nashville Predators avoided salary arbitration in at least one case on Thursday, but it wasn’t the biggest name they were worried about.

FanRag’s Craig Morgan reports that Marek Mazanec settled for a one-year deal worth $650K at the NHL level and $100K in the AHL.

That two-way split is quite relevant, as Mazanec probably comes in fourth on the Predators’ goalie depth chart behind Pekka Rinne, Jusse Saros, and Anders Lindback. Actually, with Matt O’Connor in mind, Mazanec may even come in at fifth.

One interesting wrinkle is that Lindback gets the same $650K at both levels while Saros and Mazenec see different salaries depending upon where they are, according to Cap Friendly’s listings. From a sheer financial standpoint, that might give Lindback some fuel to push as Rinne’s backup, though Saros is already pushing for starts after strong showings in 2016-17.

It’s not the easiest situation for Mazanec, but credit Predators GM David Poile for giving his team plenty of options in net. Both Mazanec and Lindback saw elevated action when Rinne was hurt in 2013-14, so these situations can change quickly at times.

Mazanec was the least crucial of the Predators’ three salary arbitration situations, as Viktor Arvidsson‘s hearing is scheduled for Saturday (July 22) while Austin Watson is set for Monday (July 24). Arvidsson emerged as a legitimate first-line winger last season, so that will be a significantly trickier situation for the Predators.

For more on Arvidsson’s situation, click here.

Penguins GM confident they can find third-line center with Bonino gone

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August is nearing, and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made a trade or signing to replace Nick Bonino, their outstanding (but former) third-line center.

On the bright side, the Penguins have remarkable breathing room considering their status as repeat Stanley Cup champions. Cap Friendly places their 2017-18 room at about $10.38 million.

That robust space likely explains why GM Jim Rutherford seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“I do feel confident that, by the start of the season, we’re going to have a third-line center that we’re comfortable with,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s one of those guys on the list or one of the guys that I could go and get right today.”

Rutherford (jokingly?) said that he had a list of “hundreds of names” as options, although it’s difficult to top Mackey’s suggestion of Phil Kessel‘s buddy, Tyler Bozak. After all, Bozak is a competent player who carries a $4.2 million cap hit that Pittsburgh could comfortably absorb (and the Toronto Maple Leafs might need to shed). It doesn’t hurt that Bozak’s contract expires after 2017-18, so the Penguins wouldn’t be on the hook if things don’t work out.

Of course, Matt Duchene is another name worth considering. It almost feels a little strange to ponder that speedy Avalanche forward being a “third-line center,” especially if Pittsburgh would want to get the most out of him.

MORE: Duchene might begin next season with the Colorado Avalanche

After that, though … the pickings could be much slimmer than Rutherford indicated to Mackey.

Shallow pool

Take a look at this current list of forwards who are unrestricted free agents.

There are some potential bargains here (P.A. Parenteau, Jiri Hudler, anyone?), but the situation gets significantly shakier if you’re picky enough to look only at centers. The likes of Daniel Winnik and Ryan White are reasonable roster additions, but the drop-off from Bonino could be pretty drastic.

What about other trade possibilities?

That’s a shaky group, too, especially if you apply Bozak-like terms as far as guys who only have one year left on their current contracts.

Honestly, the Penguins’ best bet in looking at that list would probably come down to an in-season move with a team that realizes it’s not a contender or simply understands that a player won’t be back.

Maybe the Calgary Flames would want to cut bait on Matt Stajan or (less realistically) Mikael Backlund? Would the Ducks move speedy, versatile sometimes-center Andrew Cogliano? There are other remote possibilities, such as the Leafs instead trading Leo Komarov (or especially unlikely moves in Paul Stastny or Tomas Plekanec).

Even if the above list seems enticing, how many of those teams would really want to move those players now, especially the bigger difference-makers?

If you’re the Penguins, you’re probably hoping that a Bozak deal could take place. And maybe you’re sweating this situation more than you let on.

(Note: There’s also the slight possibility that the Penguins might identify a replacement from within, though a contending team like Pittsburgh might not be so comfortable with that approach.)

Blues have ‘wiggle room’ after locking up Parayko

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The St. Louis Blues didn’t break the bank to keep Colton Parayko for five more years, and that’s important since they don’t believe the NHL’s salary cap will rise significantly in the next little while.

Parayko’s cap hit came in at a manageable $5.5 million, as the two sides narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for today.

“You like to have as much wiggle room as possible,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now we view the cap will stay flat for the foreseeable future. We’re content with the space we have. We’ll move forward and get ready for training camp.”

The Blues now have a number of key players locked up long term, including Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen.

For Armstrong, the next big decision could involve Paul Stastny, the 31-year-old center who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But a decision on Stastny doesn’t need to be made now, or even before the season starts. It’s the trade deadline that could be the real pressure point, akin to the Kevin Shattenkirk situation this past year.

Per CapFriendly, the Blues have just over $3 million in cap space, with one roster spot left to fill.

‘Highly unlikely’ Suns will pursue shared arena with Coyotes

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The Arizona Coyotes appear to be on their own in pursuit of a new arena in the Phoenix area.

That’s because Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, says it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll pursue a shared arena with the Coyotes.

Instead, Sarver is focused on upgrading the Suns’ current home (and Coyotes’ old home) in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena.

From the Arizona Republic:

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena, formerly called America West Arena when the Coyotes played there, was designed for basketball and isn’t ideal for hockey. In that way, it’s a lot like Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which hasn’t been a great fit for the Islanders.

The Coyotes recently hired a new president and CEO, Steve Patterson, whose top priority is finding the team a new home in the Phoenix area.