Jason Brough

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov makes a glove save against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
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Varlamov, Stempniak and Elliott are NHL’s three stars of the week

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Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, Devils winger Lee Stempniak and Blue goalie Brian Elliott have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Varlamov posted a 4-0-0 record with a 0.99 goals-against average and .972 save percentage to lift the Avalanche (26-21-3, 55 points) into the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

Stempniak shared the League lead with four goals in three games (4-1-5) to propel the Devils (25-19-5, 55 points) into the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Elliott went 2-1-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .955 save percentage to backstop the Blues (28-16-8, 64 points) within one point of second place in the Central Division.

You may recall that Varlamov did not start the season well. He had an .889 save percentage in October and an .885 mark in November.

“We just need more from him,” Patrick Roy said after the first two months. “He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

Varlamov responded. His save percentage was .942 in December and it’s .926 in January.

Escrow went up…again

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at the Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City. Joining him from left to right is Ruslan Fedotenko, Henrik Lundqvist, Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Escrow has risen from 16 percent to 18 percent, according to multiple reports.

No surprise there, given the Canadian dollar’s plunge. With seven of the NHL’s 30 teams in Canada, there was no way league revenues weren’t going to be affected. Some had predicted escrow would go up even more.

Despite the fact it’s not the owners’ fault that the oil market crashed, taking the loonie down with it, the players won’t be happy to have almost a fifth of what they expected to earn withheld from their paychecks. While some of that significant chunk could be returned at a later date, there’s no guarantee that it will be.

In a related story, click here to read a column in the Seattle Times, with the headline: “Canada’s falling dollar could be raising hopes for a Seattle NHL expansion team.”

Also related, the NHL’s executive committee held its “special” meeting on expansion last week:

can

Related: To understand escrow issue, consider Duncan Keith

Jackets say Bobrovsky didn’t return too early from groin injury

Sergei Bobrovsky
AP
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Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen insists that Sergei Bobrovsky was not rushed back from his latest groin injury.

“He was fully healed, with full strength, full range of motion,” Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch over the weekend. “Everything was back to normal. In everybody’s mind who has worked with him, he was not coming back too early at all.”

But it’s understandable why people would wonder. Bobrovsky has suffered yet another groin strain. The 27-year-old with the big contract is out indefinitely.

The Dispatch spoke to a specialist in sports-related injuries for its story, and the good news is that Dr. Randy Wroble sees “no reason to think this is going to end” Bobrovsky’s career.

Just don’t expect the Jackets to have their starting goalie back anytime soon. It’s not like the playoffs are a factor for this team, and this time, according to Kekalainen, they’re going to be even more cautious than the last time.

Surging Sharks have made a big move up the standings

San Jose Sharks' Chris Tierney (50) smiles after scoring a goal as Arizona Coyotes' Nicklas Grossmann (2), of Sweden, Michael Stone, right, and Viktor Tikhonov, of Russia, look for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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The San Jose Sharks still haven’t lost a game in regulation since being called out on this here blog. They won again last night — a 3-1 victory on the road in Arizona — improving their record to 6-0-1 in their last seven.

The Sharks are now second in the Pacific Division. Just two weeks ago, they were second to last, ahead of only Edmonton.

Beating the Coyotes was especially big, given Arizona is one of the teams that’s competing for a playoff spot in the division. The Sharks and Coyotes play each other four more times this season.

“It’s going to be a long season series versus them, and this was a good way to start off,” forward Chris Tierney told CSN California.

Another team the Sharks may have to fend off is Vancouver. They play the Canucks five more times this season. In fact, they play them five times in just over a month, first on Feb. 28 then for a fifth time on March 31. That’s five meetings in a span of 33 days.

Anyway, here’s what the standings look like today:

standings

You’ll note that only two teams, the Kings and the Sharks, have a positive goal differential.

In the past two seasons, only one team — the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings — has made the playoffs with a negative goal differential.

San Jose hosts Minnesota Saturday, Los Angeles Sunday and Colorado Monday. After that, it’s the All-Star break, followed by a tough four-game trip through Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville, and Chicago.

Panthers put Mitchell on IR, but getting Ekblad back

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 8: Willie Mitchell #33 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck behind the Calgary Flames net during first period action at the BB&T Center on November 8, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida. The Flames defeated the Panthers 6-4. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Willie Mitchell has been shut down for the foreseeable future by the Florida Panthers, a move that could give their captain an extended rest to recover from some nagging injuries.

Mitchell was placed on injured reserve Friday. He’ll miss Florida’s games Friday against Stanley Cup champion Chicago and Saturday against Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay.

After that, Florida’s last game before the All-Star break is Tuesday against Toronto. The Panthers’ first game back from the break is Feb. 2, so Mitchell could conceivably get two full weeks off for rest and miss only three games.

“I don’t think it’s serious,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said.

Gallant said Mitchell has been “limping around” for a couple weeks with various issues. Mitchell played in all 46 of Florida’s games this season going into Friday, with one goal and six assists on the season.

“Willie’s got a great stick,” Panthers All-Star defenseman Aaron Ekblad, a mentee of Mitchell’s, said Friday. “He’s unbelievable penalty-killing, 5-on-5 defensively he’s unbelievable. He still has a pretty good shot, getting it through on the point. There’s a lot missed from him. He’s a leadership guy. He’s our captain. He kind of lights the way. Obviously we’ll be missing that.”

The Panthers are getting Ekblad back in the lineup for Friday’s game against Chicago, after he missed the last four games while recovering from a concussion. Florida was 0-3-1 with Ekblad out of the lineup.

“Everyone’s a little banged up,” Ekblad said. “We’ve got warriors in this room who are willing to push through anything.”