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Goalie Nods: Cam Talbot makes 53rd start for Oilers

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The Edmonton Oilers are on their way to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season and there are quite a few players responsible for the turnaround, including two young forwards — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — residing in the top-16 in scoring. McDavid, currently pacing the league at 64 points entering Saturday and giving Sidney Crosby a run for his money when it comes to the best player in the league, is perhaps the biggest factor.

But one of the more underrated parts of their turnaround remains the play of starting goaltender Cam Talbot.

Not only because he has a .920 save percentage on the season (7th in the league among the 32 goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games), but also because of how often he has been able to play.

When he takes his spot between the pipes on Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks he will be matching his career high (set a year ago in his first season with the Oilers) by making his 53rd start of the season. No other goalie in the league has started more than 49 games.

His backups, Jonas Gustavsson and Laurent Brossoit, have started just six games this season and combined for only an .890 save percentage.

A lot of the Oilers’ improvement this season defensively (and in the standings) has come from the fact they have a starting goaltender that has been able to play in almost every game this season and also give them a top-10 performance.

The Blackhawks will go with Corey Crawford.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— St. Louis’ Jake Allen went against Robin Lehner in Buffalo, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck matched up against Carey Price in Montreal. It was Braden Holtby vs. Petr Mrazek in Detroit.

Thomas Greiss, winner in three of his past five starts, gets the call for the New York Islanders as they look to keep pace in the Eastern Conference wild card race. He goes against New Jersey’s Cory Schneider.

Craig Anderson returns to the Senators’ net on Saturday when he takes on Frederik Andersen in the battle of Ontario. This could be a potential first-round matchup in the Atlantic Division.

Aaron Dell, who has played extremely well this season as a backup to Martin Jones, gets a rare start for the San Jose Sharks when he gets the call against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

— It will be Andrei Vasilevskiy against Kari Lehtonen in Dallas on Saturday in a game that might have been looked at as a potential Stanley Cup Final matchup before the start of the season. Now, it is just two disappointing teams desperately trying to stay in the playoff race.

Devan Dubnyk looks to continue his Vezina Trophy worthy campaign on Saturday night when he gets back in the net against Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators. The Predators are returning from their bye week.

— After Jacob Markstrom had a tough night on Thursday, taking the blame for the defeat, Ryan Miller draws back in for the Vancouver Canucks when they host the Calgary Flames. The Flames will counter with Brian Elliott.

Peter Budaj is the likely starter for the Los Angeles Kings when they take on a Florida Panthers team that is starting to find its stride. The Panthers have yet to announce their starter.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).