Pre-game reading: On Peter Budaj, who’s been a great story for the Kings

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— Up top, Eric Staal reflects on his first year in Minnesota, which has gone rather well we’d say. The Wild committed just $10.5 million over three years to Staal. Quite the bargain for GM Chuck Fletcher.

— An excellent read on Peter Budaj, the 34-year-old netminder with the $600,000 contract who’s been so good for the Kings in the wake of Jonathan Quick‘s injury. “When you look at where I was at the beginning of the year, or maybe two years ago, not many people would give me this kind of a chance to become anybody. Nobody, I think, in the hockey world would believe that I’d be here. Not even me.”  (Sports Illustrated)

— The Winnipeg Jets have an interesting decision to make about Bryan Little. The 29-year-old center is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, and he’d apparently love to do just that. But GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to be careful not to overpay. Though Little is an under-rated player, he’s already got 646 NHL games under his belt, and he’s getting to the point in his career where many players start to decline. (TSN)

— With all we’re learning about the long-term effects of concussions, it can be pretty darn scary to get one these days. Take it from Devils defenseman John Moore, who had to be stretchered off the ice on New Year’s Eve after getting hit from behind by Washington’s Tom Wilson. “For about a week, I really wasn’t myself at all,” Moore said. “I couldn’t remember things, I was angry all the time, and anxious. I know I wasn’t easy to be around, just not myself. It was scary, really scary.” The good news? Moore is hoping to return to New Jersey’s lineup soon, possibly even Sunday against San Jose. (Yahoo Sports)

Frederik Andersen plays a lot of games for the Maple Leafs, and he faces a lot of shots. In fact, as noted by Jonas Siegel of the Canadian Press: “The 27-year-old is on pace to face 2,173 shots in his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, in what would be the 15th highest total ever. Only 31 times in league history has a goaltender faced even 2,100 shots in a single season — Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward the last to do so five years ago.” Andersen stopped 38 of 40 shots in Thursday’s 2-1 OT loss to St. Louis. Though he didn’t get the win, it was a solid performance after four straight tough outings. (Canadian Press)

— Speaking of busy goalies, here’s an interview with Bruins starter Tuukka Rask, who had the following to say about the new, slimmer pants that all NHL netminders must wear now: “The way they feel, it will increase scoring, for sure.” Not all goalies feel the same way, but Rask believes the pants are “so much slimmer from your hips and thighs that some pucks that would normally hit your pants will go right through.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

Video: Ovechkin joins elite company with this goal vs. Coyotes

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Barring a miraculous barrage of goals in the final stretch of games, Alex Ovechkin very likely won’t hit the 50-mark this season.

Now 31 years old, there has been talk that this could be the beginning of the decline for Ovechkin.

But on Saturday, he scored the 30th goal of his season, letting that famous Ovechkin shot rip from his favorite spot on the power play.

For Ovechkin, that’s 12 straight seasons with at least 30 goals scored. He has been consistently prolific since joining the league in 2005-06. He’s an elite player, as everyone has known for years, and he once again joined elite company with this latest goal.

Per the Capitals, Ovechkin joins Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky — he was good — as the only three players in NHL history to score at least 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the league.

Sharp to undergo hip surgery, expected recovery is 4-5 months

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Patrick Sharp‘s difficult season is now over.

The Dallas Stars announced on Saturday that the 35-year-old forward will undergo hip surgery on Tuesday. The recovery time, according to the club, is between four and five months.

Sharp is in the final year of a five-year contract with a $5.9 million cap hit, per CapFriendly

“We are going to get the surgery done and let him heal. He’s going to train and let’s take a look at him,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, per NHL.com. “We’ve had conversations. If he comes back, he wants it to be Dallas. He thinks he’s a Dallas Star.”

Not only has Sharp dealt with injuries on the ice, but he is dealing with a personal matter off it.

From the Dallas Morning News:

But in battling through two concussions, hip pain, and his dad’s fight with leukemia, Sharp has shown significant fortitude. The Dallas chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Sharp Saturday as its candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy, given each season to a player who displays the attributes of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“It shows what kind of person he is and what kind of hockey player and leader he is,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I think that’s why he’s a winner at every level he’s played at. I think that’s why he’s a great leader for this team and a great guy for a lot of these young guys to look up to.”

Sharp was first sidelined with a concussion in October. He was then placed on injured reserve with another concussion in December.

He has been held to just 48 games, with eight goals — his lowest total since the lockout-shortened season — and 18 points.

‘That was embarrassing,’ says Boudreau after Wild lose to Canucks

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The Wild continue to struggle and fans on Saturday expressed their frustration.

Think about this: The visiting Canucks are terrible at scoring goals, ranked 29th in the league in that category. Yet they managed to score four goals in the second period against the Wild. So bad was Minnesota’s performance to that point that there was a Bronx cheer directed at goalie Darcy Kuemper after he made a save on a harmless shot and fans later booed the Wild off the ice into the intermission.

It’s bad when the Canucks, 27th in the overall standings, embarrass an opposing team.

The Wild failed once again to clinch a playoff spot after a 4-2 loss. That score flattered the home team, which got late goals from Ryan Suter and Eric Staal. Too little, too late. Afterward, coach Bruce Boudreau lit into his team.

“That was embarrassing. I’m embarrassed,” Boudreau told reporters. “To me, if I was the fans, I’d be booing even more because they pay good money for this.”

As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Wild are in, even if they haven’t yet officially secured a spot. Sports Club Stats is giving them a 100 per cent chance of qualifying for the post-season.

But prior to this month, Minnesota looked like a team that could do some serious damage in the playoffs. That’s not to suggest they are suddenly incapable of going on any prolonged run but they very clearly have some issues that need to be addressed over the next few of weeks.

“Yeah, it wasn’t good enough,” Jason Zucker told the Pioneer Press.

“We are leaving guys open. We aren’t winning battles. We are hanging our goalies out to dry. … I don’t think we’re prepared enough to start some periods and they score and we’re not being resilient enough to come back.”

Meanwhile, for the Canucks, this game should provide at least a glimmer of optimism for their fans. Less than 24 hours after his college season ended with a double overtime loss to Boston University, Brock Boeser signed an entry-level deal and made his NHL debut versus the Wild.

What a debut it was.

Boeser, a first-round pick of the Canucks in 2015, scored the winning goal and was tied for the team-lead in shots on goal with four alongside Reid Boucher, who also scored twice.

The unfortunate news? Jack Skille left the game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. The outlook doesn’t look good, as Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said afterward, “I wouldn’t expect to see Skille in the line-up for a while.”

Only eight games remain in Vancouver’s season.

Another shutout for Bobrovsky as he steals one for Blue Jackets

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Sergei Bobrovsky continued to make his case for the Vezina Trophy on Saturday afternoon when he stopped all 36 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

The win helped the Blue Jackets avoid what would have been their first three-game losing streak of the season.

In a game where his team was outshot by a 36-21 margin and managed just a single goal (an Alexander Wennberg tally in the second period), it would not be unfair to say that he probably stole a couple of points for his team as the Blue Jackets continue to compete with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

Bobrovsky being the difference in a game is nothing new for the Blue Jackets lately because he has been a brick wall in their net for much of the season. But for as good as his performance has been overall, it is over the past few weeks where he has really started to establish himself as a Vezina Trophy front runner.

With his win on Saturday the Blue Jackets are now 9-0-2 in his past 11 starts.

Bobrovsky remains the NHL’s leader in pretty much every major goaltending category, collecting his 40th win (first in the NHL), raising his overall save percentage to .934 (also first in the NHL), his even-strength save percentage to .940 (also first in the NHL), and recording his seventh shutout (tied for second, just one behind Braden Holtby).

He has four shutouts in the month of March alone.

There are a lot of factors you can point to for the Blue Jackets’ massive turnaround this season, but none of them have been bigger at this point than the play of Bobrovsky.

He has already won the Vezina Trophy once in his career, and he is putting together a pretty convincing argument to win it again this season.