Jason Brough

AP

Sharks recall Mueller, who’s been ‘excellent’ in the AHL

It’s getting to the point where Mirco Mueller is either going to make it with the San Jose Sharks, or he isn’t.

Mueller, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft, turned 21 in March. While that’s still young for a defenseman, it’s about the age where the Sharks should expect their first-round investment to start paying off.

And with injuries to David Schlemko and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Mueller may get a chance to show his stuff during a four-game road trip that starts Tuesday in Toronto. He was recalled today from the AHL’s Barracuda.

“All the reports out of the American League team were that that he’s been excellent,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, per CSN Bay Area. “I think he’s really taken a step maturity-wise as a player and as a kid this year. Everybody’s saying that he looks like he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. … He’s a guy that belongs up here.”

Mueller has no goals and seven assists in 18 AHL games this season. He has 50 games of NHL experience, 39 of them in 2014-15 when he was perhaps rushed into the league as a teenager.

A left shot, there is opportunity for the native of Switzerland to advance in the Sharks’ organization. Paul Martin is 35 and may require fewer and easier minutes going forward. Vlasic, 29, only has two years left on his contract and will be expensive to re-sign. Brenden Dillon currently plays the left side on the third pairing and could theoretically be beaten out for a lineup spot.

But it remains to be seen if Mueller will make his season debut on this trip.

From CSN Bay Area’s story:

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters on Sunday that Vlasic had improved since Saturday but was still “day-to-day.” Last season, the Sharks were 7-7-1 without their defensive stalwart in the lineup.

Schlemko said on Thursday that he had hoped to play in one of the two Sharks games over the weekend, but that didn’t happen.

Mueller has taken warmups in each of the last two Sharks games, but has yet to make his season debut.

The Sharks (16-11-1) will also make stops in Ottawa, Montreal, and Chicago before returning home.

Stolarz making case to be with Flyers full-time next season

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Ron Hextall went into the season with an open mind about his goaltending. The Flyers’ general manager didn’t want to commit to anything before he had to, and he still hasn’t yet.

And so Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, who both played very well last season, are still pending unrestricted free agents, and potential goalie of the future, Anthony Stolarz, is still just the potential goalie of the future.

That being said, if you had to bet on a tandem for next season, the current favorites would be Mason and Stolarz. The former has bounced back after a tough start, winning seven in a row with a .930 save percentage over that stretch. The latter was called up to replace the injured Neuvirth and has won both his starts, including Sunday’s 28-save shutout of the Red Wings in Detroit.

“It’s exciting, that’s for sure. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better and when you’re a kid dreaming of playing at Joe Louis Arena,” Stolarz told reporters. “It’s something you can’t even put into words. I’m excited, but I’m more excited to have the [nine-game winning] streak going.”

The 22-year-old did not just come out of nowhere. He was a second-round draft pick in 2012, the fourth goalie selected that year, and has been developing slowly but surely the past couple of seasons in the AHL. He was 6-2-0 with a .927 save percentage for Lehigh Valley prior to getting the call.

“He’s been amazing, very confident,” Jakub Voracek said, per CSN Philly. “He made a couple huge saves (in Detroit), especially on the penalty kill in the third period.”

The first goalie selected in 2012 was Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay’s goalie of the future, so it’s not too big a stretch to picture Stolarz full-time in the NHL next season.

Of course, that would mean bidding adieu to either Mason and Neuvirth, perhaps even prior to the trade deadline. The latter’s numbers this season (4-2-0, .859) won’t help his value, but with a cap hit of just $1.625 million, he may garner interest, especially if he can show something when he gets healthy.

Five team stats you may find interesting

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7.0 — The Boston Bruins’ shooting percentage. Out of 29 other teams, only the Buffalo Sabres’ is lower (6.8%). This is why the Bruins (15-12-2) haven’t been able to translate their excellent possession numbers into a really great record. On Saturday, the B’s outshot the Maple Leafs, 33-20, but lost the game, 4-1. “Goalies are too good in this league if you don’t make it hard on them,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “A lot of it is that.” Some of it may also be bad luck. But it won’t get any easier tonight in Montreal, where Carey Price is expected to start for the Habs.

.893 — The Dallas Stars’ team save percentage, the lowest in the league. It’s a broken record by now, but Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi aren’t getting it done. The fact the Stars aren’t scoring nearly as many goals as they did last season has really exposed their goaltending and defensive deficiencies. Both Lehtonen and Niemi are signed through next season for a combined cap hit of $10.4 million, so it’s not an easy fix for GM Jim Nill. And there’s no solution in the AHL, where Maxime Lagace and Philippe Desrosiers have identical .893 save percentages for the Texas Stars.

12 — The number of first-period goals for the Vancouver Canucks, who have only opened the scoring in eight of their 29 games. The Canucks have a respectable 22 goals in the second period and 26 in the third.  “When we’re down, we’re playing well,” Daniel Sedin said recently. “Why is that? We’re aggressive. We have to bring back that aggressiveness early on. … I think we’re waiting to see what happens in the game and you can’t play that way.” The Canucks failed to score in any period Sunday in Washington, where they were shut out, 3-0, by the Capitals.

10 — Power-play goals for the New York Islanders, the fewest in the NHL. In a related story, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen combined for 14 PP goals last season. This season, John Tavares leads with three, Anders Lee has two, nobody else has more than one, and Andrew Ladd is still looking for his first. While execution has been sorely lacking, part of it is a simple lack of opportunities. The Isles have only had the man advantage 77 times in 27 games. The Flyers, in contrast, have had an NHL-high 116 power plays in 31 games.

16 — Regulation losses for the Winnipeg Jets, who are in worse shape than the standings may appear at first glance. That’s because the Jets have already played 32 games, at least two more than any other team in the Central Division. Last season, Chicago finished third in the Central and only lost 26 times in regulation. To match the Blackhawks’ record from last season, the Jets would need to go 34-10-6 the rest of the way. No team in the NHL has more regulation losses than Winnipeg.

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Flyers’ Voracek named NHL’s first star of the week

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Jakub Voracek is earning his money. The 27-year-old forward was named the NHL’s first star of the week today, after a pair of four-point games in the past seven days for the streaking Philadelphia Flyers.

Voracek entered the season under a lot of pressure to produce. He did not have a fantastic 2015-16, finishing with 55 points in 73 games. Through 31 games of 2016-17, he already has as many goals (11) as he did all of last season. He also has 21 assists, giving him 32 points total, tied for the second most in the league behind only Connor McDavid (39).

This is the first year of an eight-year, $66 million contract extension that Voracek signed in the summer of 2015.

From the league’s press release:

Voracek led the NHL with six assists and nine points in four outings to help the Flyers (18-10-3, 39 points) complete a perfect week and extend their overall winning streak to nine games, their longest such run since April 2-22, 1995 (also 9-0-0). He scored his eighth career overtime goal – and second of the season – in a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers Dec. 6. Voracek then registered 1-3—4 in each of his next two contests: a 6-5 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers Dec. 8 and a 4-2 win against the Dallas Stars Dec. 10. In doing so, he became the first Flyers player to collect four-plus points in consecutive team games since Dec. 31, 1997 – Jan. 3, 1998 (Eric Lindros).

Rangers goalies Antti Raanta and Blue Jackets center Sam Gagner were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

All hail the Metropolitan, the new best division in the NHL

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The New York Rangers are 20-9-1 and tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the most points in the NHL.

And yet, the Blueshirts can’t get too comfortable, because lurking below them in the Metropolitan Division are…

— The defending Stanley Cup champs from Pittsburgh.
— The Philadelphia Flyers, who’ve won nine in a row.
— The Columbus Blue Jackets, who’ve gone 11-2-3 in their last 16.
— And the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.

Indeed, the Metropolitan is the new best division in hockey, assuming the mantle from the Central, which only has two teams, Chicago and Minnesota, with a positive goal differential so far this season. The Blues are still a good team, but the Predators and Stars have been disappointing.

The top five teams in the Metropolitan have a combined goal differential of — get this — plus-99.

Pity the New York Islanders, who’ve gone 6-1-1 in their last eight and still sit 10 points back of the fifth-place Capitals.

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The Caps, meanwhile, have won four in a row, and they’re also having trouble making up ground. They’re currently in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Though on the bright side, they’re seven points clear of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic, so a playoff spot isn’t really in serious jeopardy yet.

“You just realize how good the Eastern Conference is this year,” said Capitals coach Barry trotz, per the Washington Post. “I think two years ago, we didn’t have as much balance in the Eastern Conference. There was six or eight teams that you knew they were going to be in, and there was just going to be a fight for the rest. Now, all those teams have drafted well, their young players have developed. Free-agent signings were probably a little more prominent in the East than the West last year, and maybe the last two years.”

The way the standings look right now, the Metropolitan will have five playoff teams, leaving just three spots for the Atlantic.

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The Habs have a comfortable cushion for now, but that won’t be easy to maintain without Alex Galchenyuk for next month and a bit.

The Senators are definitely vulnerable, with one of the lowest score-adjusted Corsis in the league.

The Bruins really need to make the playoffs after missing them two straight years.

The Lightning were considered strong Stanley Cup contenders, but they’ve really been scuffling along lately.

The Panthers will be very interesting to watch after the firing of coach Gerard Gallant.

And the Red Wings, of course, have a lengthy playoff streak on the line — one that looks more and more likely to end in their final season at the Joe.

As for the Maple Leafs and Sabres, well, they’re probably going to draft well again. They could maybe make a run at third place in their division, but failing a dramatic turn of events, a wild-card spot is almost out of the question.