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Canadian women know Olympic gold standard expected in hockey

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WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (AP) — Wearing the big maple leaf on the jersey and playing hockey for Canada comes with the burden of history and tradition – and only one outcome is acceptable at the Winter Games.

Bring home gold.

Expectations are sky high in Canada where boys and girls grab sticks and start whacking at pucks almost as soon as they start walking. The women have done their part, winning the last four Olympics to maintain their spot atop the game worldwide.

Yes, the women tasked with winning a fifth straight gold at the Pyeongchang Games know exactly what is expected from them come February.

”There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” said forward Natalie Spooner, who helped Canada win gold at the 2014 Sochi Games. ”I think you’ve got to embrace it and run with it and thrive from it.”

The United States won the inaugural gold in women’s hockey in 1998. The Canadians have won the rest. An estimated 13 million people in Canada watched in 2014 as the Americans had a puck clank off the post just missing an empty-netter to clinch gold. Marie-Philip Poulin then tied it up with 54.6 seconds left in regulation before winning gold with her second goal in overtime .

Poulin said she couldn’t write a story that ended any better than the game itself. Even better? Knowing that Canada still ruled women’s hockey.

”Every time I talk to people, they still remember where they were,” Poulin said.

Forward Jennifer Wakefield was 8 when women’s hockey debuted in Nagano in 1998. When she saw Canada take gold over the United States in 2010 in Vancouver, Wakefield was addicted.

”It brings the country together, and it’s just an incredible feeling to even be a part of the history that other people have put before us wearing the Canadian jersey,” Wakefield said.

Laura Schuler knows what’s expected of Canadians perhaps better than anyone else. She is the first woman to not only play for Canada but also coach the women in the Olympics – she’ll be behind the bench in Pyeongchang. Schuler, taking a break from her job coaching women’s hockey at Dartmouth, helped Canada win three world championships in 1990, 1992 and 1997 before taking silver in her lone Olympic appearance in 1998.

”Oh, I think no matter what, whenever you put the jersey on and represent your country, it doesn’t matter if it’s exhibition or international play or the Olympics, you’re always making sure that you’re giving 100 percent,” Schuler said.

Hockey Canada certainly has done its part to groom players for the world’s biggest stage. Women get a chance to first start putting on the national sweater with that maple leaf as part of the under-18 team, then there’s the national development team that plays a three-game series with the United States each summer along with other events.

The national team also uses a centralized program of training and exhibition games to prepare for the Olympics. Canada announced its 23-woman roster for the 2018 Winter Games on Dec. 22.

Forward Rebecca Johnston, 28, said playing in the Olympics is a goal she’s had since she was a little girl. And yes, playing in the Olympics means bringing home gold. She is going for her third and said the feeling of representing Canada never gets old.

”It’s what we train for four years leading up to that Olympics is to get the best possible spot we can, the best possible team we can in hopefully that gold medal game to represent our country and to be able to win a gold medal for Canada,” Johnston said. ”So that is our ultimate goal. We have the mindset of not accepting anything less than that.”

If Canada needed any extra motivation, they need only look at United States having won the last four world championships and eight of the last 10.

”You don’t want to go out there not having that pressure behind you,” Wakefield said. ”I think we can become complacent with coming in second. So it’s nice to feel the desire to need a win.”

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.