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Goalie nods: Carey Price looks to break out of his slump

Carey Price had his worst game of the season on Thursday night when he voluntarily remained in the game to allow seven goals in a blowout loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Perhaps even more surprising than that individual game is the fact that Price has been going through a bit of a slump for quite a few weeks now.

It is one thing to have an off night and get lit up for a bunch of goals. It happens to even the best goalies in the league, including Price. But the Canadiens are not used to Price going through the type of extended slump he has been experiencing recently.

Going back to Dec. 22 Price has managed only an .881 save percentage in his past seven starts, winning only two of them.

If you look at his numbers all the way back to the start of December, he is at .891 over a stretch of 15 starts that has easily been his worst stretch of play over the past three seasons.

It is a testament to the way the Canadiens have played in front of Price during that stretch that they have managed to win as many games as they have. If you want to be an optimist in Montreal, it might also be a very good sign. Price has been elevating the Canadiens on his own going all the way back to the start of the 2014-15 season and if they were ever going to become serious contenders they needed the team in front of him to play better to be able to win games when Price isn’t necessarily at his best. They are doing that right now. You also have to assume that Price is going to play his way out of this funk and get back to the level we are used to seeing from him. That, plus the improved play of the team in front of him, could make the Canadiens an extremely difficult team to beat.

Maybe that clunker against Minnesota was the rock bottom moment for Price and this recent slump. He gets a chance to get things going back in the right direction on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers have not announced their starter but after Henrik Lundqvist played on Friday, it could be an Antti Raanta night.

Elsewhere…

— In the afternoon games it was Tuukka Rask and Michal Neuvirth for the Bruins and Flyers, and Pekka Rinne vs. Semyon Varlamov in the Predators-Avalanche game.

— Joonas Korpisalo is the likely starter for the Blue Jackets again on Saturday when they take on the Florida Panthers. It will be just one night after stopping 31 out of 32 shots in his season debut.  No word yet on the Panthers’ starter.

Curtis McElhinney is expected to make his Maple Leafs debut on Saturday, but there was some concern he might miss it after Garrett Sparks was called up from the AHL on an emergency basis. At this point McElhinney is still expected to go. The Senators will counter with Mike Condon who is looking to win his third straight in a row. He stopped 29 out of 30 shots against the Penguins on Thursday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury goes for the Penguins in their final visit to Joe Louis Arena. Fleury, of course, was the winning goalie of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final in that building. The Red Wings counter with rookie Jared Coreau who will be making his first start at home.

Thomas Greiss continues his new role as the New York Islanders’ starting goalie when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes. No announcement yet from the Hurricanes, but Cam Ward started on Friday and stopped 36 of 38 shots in the win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Louis Domingue goes for the Coyotes against the Anaheim Ducks. He has taken the loss in five of his past six decisions. The Ducks have not yet announced their starter.

Devan Dubnyk is expected to get the night off for Minnesota before its big game with Chicago on Sunday, which means you should look for Darcy Kuemper to go for the Wild against the Dallas Stars. The Stars are going with Antti Niemi.

Peter Budaj will be in net again for the Los Angeles Kings when they host the Winnipeg Jets. No word yet from the Jets.

— In the Battle of Alberta it is Brian Elliott going for Calgary and, of course, Cam Talbot for Edmonton. This will be Talbot’s league-leading 40th appearance of the season.

— The Blues are giving the start to Carter Hutton in San Jose in a rematch of the most recent Western Conference Final. The Sharks are going with their regular starter, Martin Jones as he looks to increase his personal winning streak to three consecutive games.

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.