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Goalie nods: Aaron Dell goes again as Sharks give Jones some rest

At this point in the regular season there really is not much mystery as to where the San Jose Sharks are going to end up in the standings.

They know they are going to the playoffs, and barring what would have to be a pretty significant collapse down the stretch, are more than likely going to win the Pacific Division crown. Their priority now is to simply stay healthy to be ready for the start of the postseason so they can make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Part of that is a desire to make sure starting goalie Martin Jones gets enough rest down the stretch, similar to the way he did a season ago when James Reimer started eight of the team’s final 20 regular season games.

Backup Aaron Dell has already started three of the Sharks’ first seven games this month, and he is going to get another one on Thursday night when the team hosts the St. Louis Blues.

Dell has been magnificent in his backup role this season and carries a .938 save percentage on the season into Thursday’s game. The Sharks are also riding a five-game point streak with him in the lineup (4-0-1) with Dell recording at least .939 save percentage in each game during that stretch, never allowing more than two goals in any of those games. He has allowed more than two goals just three of his 15 appearances this season and never more than three.

The Blues, entering the game having won five of their past six, have not announced their starter. Jake Allen played on Wednesday night in their loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Elsewhere on Thursday night…

Cory Schneider gets the night off for the New Jersey Devils when Keith Kinkaid gets the start against the Philadelphia Flyers. No official word yet from the Flyers, but Steve Mason just recorded a shutout on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thomas Greiss had a nice bounce back game for the New York Islanders on Tuesday, stopping 30 of 32 shots, and gets the call again on Thursday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets will counter with Connor Hellebuyck.

Pekka Rinne looks to break out of his recent funk on Thursday night when he goes against the Washington Capitals. Rinne has given up at least three goals in nine of his past 11 starts, including six starts where he has given up four goals. Braden Holtby goes for the Capitals.

Eddie Lack is back in net for the Carolina Hurricanes when they host the Minnesota Wild. It is expected that Devan Dubnyk will get the night off for the Wild, which means Darcy Kuemper would be in net.

— With Roberto Luongo still sidelined, James Reimer starts for the Florida Panthers as they try to cling to whatever remains of their playoff hopes against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have yet to announce their starter.

— It will be Frederik Andersen vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy in a massive game in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Craig Anderson remains sidelined with a lower body injury so Mike Condon goes for the Ottawa Senators when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. No word yet from the Blackhawks.

Tuukka Rask is net for the Boston Bruins as they try to complete the Alberta sweep when they visit the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers will start Cam Talbot, because they always start Cam Talbot.

Kari Lehtonen tries to stop the bleeding for the Stars defense when they visit Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

— After recording a shutout in his previous start Mike Smith returns to the Arizona Coyotes net on Thursday when they host the Detroit Red Wings. No word yet from the Red Wings on their starter.

Jonathan Quick starts for the Kings as they try to get closer to a playoff spot against the Buffalo Sabres. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

Trouble for Ducks: Lindholm and Vatanen need major shoulder surgeries, will miss months

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Not a great week for the Anaheim Ducks.

After being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference final — the toughest loss of Ryan Kesler’s career, apparently — the Ducks broke more bad news on Friday as GM Bob Murray announced d-men Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen both require torn labrum surgery, and will be out an awfully long time.

The timeline on Lindholm is 4-5 months, while Vatanen’s recovery will extend beyond that because his injury was more serious.

Looking at the calendar, four months would run Lindholm up to the end of September, meaning he’d miss a good chunk of the preseason. If it’s five months, he could miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

Murray didn’t even put a timetable on Vatanen, only saying it would be longer.

This adds to what was already going to be a pretty stressful summer in Anaheim. As we wrote earlier, Murray has some big decisions on his hands.

Vatanen and Lindholm are huge parts of the team. Both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season, and both broke the 20-point plateau. They’re also locked in long term — Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen for the expansion draft, the defense will definitely be worth watching. Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. There are already reports that extension negotiations are going well but, after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Add it all up, and the Ducks will certainly be worth watching this offseason.

In a surprise, Blues name Steve Ott assistant coach

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Pretty wild last few days for St. Louis on the coaching front.

After gutting Mike Yeo’s staff of four assistants, then hiring hiring Darryl Sydor, the Blues went totally off the grid on Friday by announcing longtime NHLer Steve Ott would become Yeo’s new assistant.

“Steve was a competitor on the ice as a player and I expect him to bring that energy in this role,” Yeo said in a release. “He was highly respected as a player and a person among his teammates and I believe he will be a huge asset to our staff.”

The decision caught many off guard given Ott, 34, has no prior coaching experience and was playing as recently as last month, suiting up for Montreal in its opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Ott is familiar with the Blues organization, having played there for three seasons.

“I am very proud of my playing career and will devote the same work ethic to my coaching career,” said Ott. “The Blues organization is very special to me and my family and I’m excited to take the next step in my hockey career with this franchise.”

Blues GM Doug Armstrong signed Ott to a three-year deal. It’s fitting that Armstrong was the one to engineer this move, as he’s been behind unorthodox coaching moves in the past. Last summer, he defied convention by hiring Yeo as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant, with the understanding that Yeo would inherit the head man position next season.

It didn’t go exactly to plan. Armstrong fired Hitchcock in February, accelerating Yeo’s ascension.

Kesler calls Game 6 loss to Nashville the ‘toughest’ of his career

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Ryan Kesler has lost some big games in his career.

He was on the United States team that lost to Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He was on the Vancouver Canucks team that lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

But apparently neither of those losses were as bad as the one his Anaheim Ducks experienced on Monday.

“This was the toughest loss of my career,” Kesler said of losing Game 6 of the Western Conference Final to Nashville. “This stings. It still stings. We left everything out there.”

Kesler had a particularly tough game, finishing minus-4 in the 6-3 loss. In the series, he only had one assist, failing to score on any of his 19 shots.

At 32 years old, Kesler is running out of time to win his first Stanley Cup.

And perhaps that’s why this latest loss was especially tough for him. The Ducks had a great chance to eliminate the Predators once Ryan Johansen was lost for the series, and then they would’ve faced either Pittsburgh minus Kris Letang or the underdog Ottawa Senators.

That’s gonna sting every time.

Related: Johansen wishes he was there to shake Kesler’s hand after Predators won

Fisher returns to Preds practice, but still not cleared

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Given the injuries Nashville’s sustained at center this postseason, Mike Fisher‘s presence at today’s practice was a welcome sight — regardless of his availability for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I feel pretty good,” Fisher told NHL.com after practicing for the first time since May 18. “I skated a few days here. Still not cleared, but it felt good to get out there with the guys.”

Fisher was knocked out of the Western Conference Final in Game 4, after taking a Josh Manson knee to the head. That, combined with the loss of Ryan Johansen to season-ending thigh surgery, whittled Nashville’s center depth down to Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissions, Vern Fiddler and Frederick Gaudreau.

Even though Fisher is pointless through 14 playoff games, his return would still be massive. In addition to serving as team captain, he was averaging just under 17 minutes per night prior to getting hurt, while winning 52 percent of his faceoffs.

He said his undisclosed injury feels “a lot better than it was a few days ago,” adding that his goal is to return for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Fisher took minimal contact at today’s skate, and worked on a line with James Neal and Harry Zolnierczyk.