Henrik Lundqvist

Arizona Coyotes left wing Brendan Perlini, o Britain, center, scores on Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj, right, of Slovakia, as defenseman Drew Doughty tries to defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Sutter pins loss to Coyotes on Budaj

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Peter Budaj has been a great story for the Los Angeles Kings. The 34-year-old goalie wasn’t even supposed to be in the NHL this season, until an injury to Jonathan Quick forced him into action. Budaj has 26 victories, tied for seventh most in the league with Henrik Lundqvist.

All that being said, Budaj has struggled in his last four outings, surrendering 16 goals in all. Last night, his coach called a spade a spade after a 5-3 loss to Arizona in which the Kings outshot the Coyotes 44-22.

“I don’t think our goaltending was very good tonight,” said Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “Big saves and bad goals are the difference in most hockey games now.”

Sutter added, “I’m sure [Budaj] would like to have three of the four goals back.”

The fifth Coyotes goal was scored into an empty net, sealing the loss for the Kings, who remained one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot.

Quick, meanwhile, is not expected to return until early March, so it’ll be up to Budaj to carry the mail until then.

L.A.’s other goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage and hasn’t made a start in almost a month.

The Kings’ next game is Saturday at home to Florida.

PHT Morning Skate: A list of 110 players that helped Sidney Crosby hit the 1,000-point mark

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Ben Bishop is the biggest name when it comes to goalies that are pending unrestricted free agents, but as The Hockey News points out, there are other useful players at that position that could find themselves on different teams next season. Chad Johnson, Brian Elliott, Ryan Miller, Steve Mason and Scott Darling could all be nice pickups if they don’t re-sign with their respective clubs before July 1st. (The Hockey News)

–Claude Julien is considered by many to be one of the best coaches in hockey, but that doesn’t mean he won’t face any challenges in his new adventure with the Montreal Canadiens. His biggest obstacle will be finding ways to win without being able to count on a strong two-way center like he did in Boston with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. (Vice Sports)

–Sabres forward Evander Kane scored a spectacular goal in last night’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised many by being in playoff contention this late into the season, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. But thanks to some creative cap management, the Leafs could potentially be one of the teams that makes the biggest splash between now and the end of the month. (Sportsnet)

–Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hit the 10,00-point mark in yesterday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets. Crosby is in pretty elite company when it comes to points-per-game for players that have played a minimum of 500 games in the NHL:

–Speaking of Crosby’s latest accomplishment, the Penguins PR staff came up with a list of 110 different players that helped the Penguins captain hit the 1,000-point mark. To no one’s surprise, Evgeni Malkin leads the way, as he had a direct link to 262 of Crosby’s points. (BarDown)

–The Garden of Dreams foundation allowed a young New York Rangers fan to get the experience of a lifetime. Moshe Illouz became an honorary Rangers player five days. He answered questions from the media and got to skate with Henrik Lundqvist and the gang.

Goalie nods: Philly sticks with Neuvirth in second of back-to-back

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on during the second  period of a game against Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Desperate for points as they fight for a playoff spot, the Flyers will once again roll with Michal Neuvirth when they take on the Oilers in Edmonton tonight.

Last night, Neuvirth was in for 3-1 loss in Calgary. Though he wasn’t overly busy — just 22 shots faced — he’s still a bit of a surprise starter, given Steve Mason hasn’t played in a week and has a .918 save percentage over his last five appearances.

Neuvirth, though, is clearly the more in-form ‘tender. He’s 3-2-1 in his last six outings, boasting a 1.34 GAA and .940 save percentage.

For the Oilers, no questions over who starts in goal. Cam Talbot gets his NHL-leading 52nd nod of the year.

Elsewhere…

Mike Condon returns to the Ottawa net after Craig Anderson started the last two. The host Devils will counter with Cory Schneider, who’s coming off a 28-save win over the Avalanche on Tuesday.

— After Antti Raanta started on Monday, Henrik Lundqvist returns to the Rangers net for a rivalry game against the Isles. Lundqvist will face Thomas Greiss, who has host three of his last five.

Ondrej Pavelec‘s still out injured, so Connor Hellebuyck makes another start for the Jets. He’ll be up against Marc-Andre Fleury, who last played on Saturday in a loss to the Coyotes.

— Jeremy Smith made his NHL debut for the Avs on Tuesday, so Calvin Pickard draws back in tonight in Buffalo. Robin Lehner, coming off a banner 39-save win over his former Ottawa team earlier this week, gets another start.

— It’s Jacob Markstrom versus Jake Allen as the Canucks take on the Blues in St. Louis.

— Minnesota will give Darcy Kuemper his second start in five games when it hosts Dallas. The Stars will counter with Kari Lehtonen, after Antti Niemi lost to the Jets on Tuesday.

Mike Smith, fresh off a 36-save shutout of the Flames on Monday, gets right back in for the Coyotes, who are in L.A. The Kings are going with Peter Budaj.

WATCH LIVE: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31:  Jack Johnson #7 of the Columbus Blue Jackets tries to get past Kevin Klein #8 of the New York Rangers in the first period on January 31, 2016 at Madison Square Garden  in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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More and more, it’s looking like it will be a three-team race for the second and third seeds in the Metropolitan Division, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets jockeying for position.

This makes Monday’s game in Columbus a treat, as the second-place Blue Jackets (75 points in 54 games) host the fourth-ranked Rangers (73 points in 55 games). With Pittsburgh at 75 points in 55 contests, it’s clear that these three teams are running neck-and-neck right now.

The Rangers might just be the hottest of those squads. Henrik Lundqvist just won his 400th game and the team itself is on a five-game winning streak.

Columbus has dealt with some ups and downs, including questions about how players might be interacting with fiery coach John Tortorella. The Blue Jackets beat Detroit 2-1 on Saturday, so maybe they’re on the verge of another run themselves.

You can watch the action on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers look to push winning streak to six games against Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31:  Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets tries to keep the puck as Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers defends on January 31, 2016 at Madison Square Garden  in New York City. The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the New York Rangers 6-4.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Columbus Blue Jackets host the New York Rangers at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Rangers have been invincible since the beginning of the month. They just completed a perfect 4-0 homestand at MSG and they head into tonight’s game riding a five-game winning streak.

Henrik Lundqvist, who collected his 400th win on Saturday, has been between the pipes for each of those five straight victories. After going through many ups and downs in 2016-17, he finally seems to have found a level of consistency to his game. That can only be beneficial to the Rangers heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

Another player who’s been contributing with regularity is forward J.T. Miller. Oh by the way, he leads the team in scoring and he’s on a six-game point streak. Miller’s racked up four multi-point games during that stretch and he’s also recorded at least one point in nine of his last 10 games and 16 of 18.

A win over the Blue Jackets would propel the Rangers into a three-way tie for second in the Metropolitan Division with 75 points, but they’ve played more games than both Columbus and Pittsburgh.

The last time the Rangers dropped a game was back on Jan. 31 when they lost a 6-4 decision to this very same Columbus team.

The Jackets have cooled off since they went on their 16-game winning streak earlier this season. After leading the division for a while, they’ve dropped to second place and are currently nine points behind the red-hot Capitals with two games in hand.

They’re still in the midst of putting together a quality season, but are things starting to unravel under John Tortorella’s watch?

On Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman talked about how the players recently had a meeting with Tortorella about how they want him to ease up on them and be more positive around the group.

You’re probably thinking, “same old Torts,” right? But according to captain Nick Foligno, the report made things seem worse than they actually are.

“This whole story is blown out of proportion,” Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday. “We talked about a lot of things in the meeting. Meetings happen all the time, and I’m not sure why this one was turned into something way more than what it was.”

Columbus is coming off a 2-1 win over the Red Wings on Saturday night, but they’ve been mediocre during this last stretch. In their last 18 contests, they’ve managed to come away with just eight wins.

Every team goes through rough patches over the course of an 82-game season, but we’ll see how this young team responds with the Pens and Rangers breathing down their neck.

Even though the schedule won’t be easy this week, Columbus is fortunate that their games against Toronto, Pittsburgh and Nashville will all be played at home. They’ll then go on their bye week before returning home to take on the Isles on Feb. 25. Their next road game won’t come until the 26th when they take on these same Rangers.