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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.

NHL hopes to make inroads in China with preseason games

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SHANGHAI (AP) As the Vancouver Canucks held their first practice in Shanghai before their exhibition game with the Los Angeles Kings, a dense fog settled over the ice. The humidity in the arena was high and the players could barely see the puck.

Large dehumidifiers were rolled in and the mist eventually cleared, but the NHL has perhaps a bigger visibility problem in China – a country with little tradition of winter sports, hockey included. The league is hoping to turn that around with a major push in the country, beginning with its first two preseason games between the Canucks and Kings in Shanghai and Beijing this week.

The timing couldn’t be better for the NHL. With Beijing set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the government is putting a massive emphasis on developing winter sports. Hockey training programs and youth leagues are expanding across China, and the nation’s first professional team, the Kunlan Red Star, plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

With interest on the rise, the NHL believes it now has an opportunity to crack a market that has traditionally been more fixated on basketball and soccer.

“You don’t quite know what to expect the first time the game is coming here, but I’ve always believed that hockey is a game you need to see live,” Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens said after Wednesday’s practice. “And once you see it live, you become hooked as a fan.”

A glance at the numbers shows just how far the NHL has to go. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has just 1,101 registered players, compared with nearly 556,000 in the U.S. and more than 631,000 in Canada.

And the fan base in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people is still in its infancy. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the NHL has just 47,000 followers, some of whom are obviously new to the sport. (One posted a question about the temperature of the arena and what was suitable to wear to the game.) The NBA, which hosted its first preseason exhibition games in China in 2004, boasts more than 33 million followers on Weibo.

“We’re learning a lot about how to market here and we’re learning a lot about how tickets are sold,” says David Proper, the NHL’s executive vice president of media and international strategy. “We’re just viewing this as Year 1 of a multi-year project and in Year 1 we may not knock it out of the park . but we can still build over time.”

Media exposure certainly helps. State broadcaster CCTV now televises five games per week to Chinese audiences and the Internet giant Tencent streams 14 games per week on its digital platforms, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL also has an influential partner on the ground in Zhou Yunjie, the billionaire founder of a Chinese drinks packaging company who has devoted significant time and resources to building the game he fell in love with as a youth in Beijing. Zhou’s company, ORG Packaging, is the presenting partner for this week’s exhibition games.

“Hockey was actually quite common in northern China back in the ’60s and ’70s, so there is a foundation among the kids in those areas,” Zhou told The Associated Press at his company’s newly opened hockey training base in a Beijing suburb, which includes a fully stocked gym, physical therapy room and a hotel for players attending training camps.

Zhou said China’s hockey revival should focus on both universities and a professional league, using the North American, northern European and Russian systems as models.

“It will take time before ice hockey really becomes like a religion with young people as it is in the West,” he said. “But ice hockey will definitely catch on with lots of kids.”

One thing that will certainly help is developing a home-grown star similar to Yao Ming in basketball and Li Na in tennis. There are promising signs on this front, too.

Song Andong became the first China-born player to be drafted in the NHL two years ago, selected by the New York Islanders. The 20-year-old Song has committed to play at Cornell this season.

On Monday, the Vancouver Canucks signed 21-year-old Sun Zehao to an amateur tryout contract to serve as the team’s third goaltender for the China preseason games.

“He’s working with our goalie coach,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “He liked how quick (Sun) was, how competitive he was. . I just think it’s a great experience for him.”

The NHL should also get a boost in China as excitement builds for the 2022 Olympics. The league angered its players by deciding not to interrupt its season to allow them to take part in the 2018 Games in South Korea in February. That stance may change for 2022 in the much larger Chinese market.

To some, skipping the Pyeongchang Olympics is a missed opportunity to gain a bigger foothold in China.

“With 2022 coming up, winter sports are taking the leading focus of all sports in China right now – more so than football,” said Mark Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website. “They’ll be promoting the Korea Olympics more than ever before.”

For now, the league is focused on taking its first baby steps in China, giving spectators in Shanghai and Beijing a good show.

“It’s going to be pretty cool, especially for people who have never really experienced it before,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. “It’s going to hopefully start something good here.”

 

Report: Up to eight teams have recently expressed interest in Duchene

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Another day, another development in the ongoing, lengthy Matt Duchene trade saga.

“Many teams are interested and many teams have been talking with (general manager) Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. Up to as many as eight teams over the last stretch of days,” said TSN’s Darren Dreger during Insider Trading.

“But the reality is none of these teams think they’re getting him. If you look at the Ottawa Senators, Pierre Dorion has been among the more aggressive and you look at the need he has with Clarke MacArthur out and Colin White out. But I’m pretty sure Ottawa doesn’t think they’re getting Matt Duchene. And the same applies to Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets.”

Yesterday, it was reported in the Ottawa Sun that the Senators were making quite an aggressive push to try to land Duchene, the Avalanche center who has been for months the focus of trade speculation following yet another disastrous season for Colorado’s NHL team. That said, the same report added that the two sides aren’t close.

Duchene has two years remaining on his current contract — five years, $6 million annual cap hit — before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency.

The Senators are dealing with a list of injuries up front right now, including the aforementioned MacArthur and White, the prospect center who got only a small sample of NHL playing time this past spring after his college season ended and he turned pro. The former did not pass his physical at the beginning of camp and the latter was announced as being out six to eight weeks with a wrist injury.

Last week, Duchene reported for training camp and gave a brief statement to reporters but didn’t take questions. He has since spoken to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, calling his future with the Avalanche “day to day.”

“I’m not going to predict the future on my longevity here,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “I’m day by day. I’m just enjoying playing hockey. A lot got blown out of proportion. I said what I wanted to say then. Nothing’s changed since Thursday. I’m here to get better, I’m here for those reasons — that I said on Thursday.”

Trocheck’s upper-body injury not believed to be ‘anything serious’

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Vincent Trocheck scored a goal during Tuesday’s exhibition game versus Nashville, however the 24-year-old forward had his night limited by an upper-body injury.

Trocheck recorded 6:49 of ice time — the vast majority of that taking place on the power play — in the first period and missed the second and third periods.

Per reports, Trocheck was to have the injury re-evaluated today.

“He had an upper-body injury, I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told 560 WQAM Sports Radio on Wednesday. “I expect him back for practice in the next couple days.”

Originally a third-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, Trocheck enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16 with 25 goals and 53 points, emerging as one of Florida’s promising young forwards.

He followed that up with 23 goals and 54 points last season. That point total led the Panthers, a team that was decimated by injuries to a number of key players, particularly Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.

After ‘a tough recovery and a long road,’ Tyler Myers is feeling healthy again

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The 2016-17 season wasn’t an easy one for Jets defenseman Tyler Myers.

The 27-year-old was limited to just 11 games because of a nagging groin injury that just didn’t want to go away. It was the first time in his NHL career that he was forced to sit out that long.

The good news, is that he appears to be fully healthy heading into this season.

“It was a tough recovery and a long road, but we got through it. I’m feeling good now and it’s exciting for me to be back on the ice with the guys,” said Myers, per the Winnipeg Sun. “You just have to put last year behind you and I don’t feel like it’s going to take too long to get back into the swing of things.”

On top of going through his own physical ailments, the Myers family was dealt another blow when their son, Tristan, was born five weeks prematurely and suffered a stroke.

Thankfully, Tristan’s now doing well, according to his father, and things are looking up for the entire family.

“There were so many things going on last year. I was getting treatment and then the personal stuff came up. It was a very strange year, but it was never in my mind that I wasn’t going to get back. I always knew I’d get back to this point. It just took a little bit longer, given what was going on.”

The Jets didn’t make the playoffs last season, but they have one of the deepest blue lines in the league heading into this season.

Myers is part of a group that includes Dustin Byfulgien, Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey and Dmitry Kulikov, who signed with Winnipeg in free agency.

If the Jets miss the postseason again, it won’t be because of their blue line.

Getting back to Myers, it sounds like he’ll be making his preseason debut tonight against the Oilers: