Jason Brough

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A big Olympics meeting will reportedly take place tomorrow

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A big meeting is reportedly planned for tomorrow in New York, where IOC president Thomas Bach and IIHF president Rene Fasel will discuss Olympic participation with the NHL and NHLPA.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, it will be the first time there has been “direct contact” between the NHL/NHLPA and IOC about the 2018 Games in South Korea. To date, the IIHF has played the “middle man” in negotiations, says Shannon.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Bach and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman exchange views.

This past weekend in Los Angeles, Bettman took direct aim at the IOC, blaming it for opening a “whole can of worms” when it said it would no longer cover out-of-pocket expenses for NHLers to go to South Korea.

“What I think has happened…you know, there were probably some owners over time who always thought the Olympics were a good idea, there were some owners who always hated it,” said Bettman, “and there were probably a bunch of clubs that really didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said we weren’t going to pay the expenses. And then I think it caused a number of clubs to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if that’s how they value our participation, why are we knocking ourselves out?’”

For those still hoping a deal can be struck, and that includes the players, it’s at least promising that a meeting is taking place. If the NHL really didn’t want to participate anymore, it could’ve just said no already.

The clock is certainly ticking, though. One deadline has already passed without consequence. If an agreement isn’t struck soon, time will run out for real.

Related: Bettman argues that Olympic participation hurts NHL product

Tuukka Rask has been one busy goalie

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If there was any doubt that Claude Julien has next to no faith in his backup goalies, consider what Tuukka Rask has done in the past week.

Seven days ago, Rask made his ninth straight start for the Bruins, making 19 saves in a 4-3 win over the Penguins.

He then traveled from Boston to Los Angeles for All-Star weekend, where he participated in the skills competition and played one half of a 3-on-3 game.

After he was finished in L.A., he flew all the way back across the country to Florida and started Tuesday against the Lightning, making 18 saves in a 4-3 win over the Bolts.

He wasn’t done there. The very next night in D.C., he started against the Capitals and allowed five goals on just 22 shots in a 5-3 loss.

Oh, and he also hurt himself late in the third period.

“Yeah, I’m alright. I just popped my groin a little bit,” said Rask, per CSN New England. “But it’s nothing major.”

The Bruins had better hope Rask is okay, because there’s only Zane McIntyre, Anton Khudobin, and Malcolm Subban behind him.

Frankly, it is starting to look a bit like the 2014-15 season, when Rask played a ridiculous amount down the stretch because 1) he was playing pretty well and 2) Julien had lost faith in Niklas Svedberg.

The big difference now is that Rask isn’t playing all that well. Since the beginning of January, he’s 6-6-1 with an .874 save percentage — and one naturally wonders if fatigue has become a factor.

The good news? It’s about to get a lot less busy. The Bruins don’t play again until Saturday when they host Toronto. In fact, thanks to their upcoming bye week, they only play four games between now and Feb. 18, and all of them are at home.

That should give Rask plenty of time to rest up and get ready for the stretch drive. It starts with a tough trip to California, and there aren’t many chances to recuperate after that.

Bruins netminders this season

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Gostisbehere will be healthy scratch for third time this season

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Plus-minus can be a misleading statistic, with the “worst” ratings often belonging to the best players on bad teams.

Still, Shayne Gostisbehere can’t be liking the fact he’s minus-19 on the season. It was an especially frustrating January for the Flyers’ second-year defenseman, who went minus-11 in 12 games with no goals and four assists.

“I really don’t care about points or scoring goals. My first job is to play defense,” Gostisbehere said, per the Courier-Post. “Sometimes the way the pucks are going in the net I feel like I have bad luck, but again I can’t just use that as an excuse. I just look at that and say I can do a lot better myself.”

Gostisbehere has already been a healthy scratch twice this season, and it’s expected he’ll sit tonight at home to Montreal after Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Carolina.

The 23-year-old was on the ice for the Hurricanes’ first goal. As you can see below, his teammates turned it over on the breakout, and he got caught trying to join a rush that never developed.

It was an ugly game for the Flyers, and there was plenty of blame to go around. But expect to see the more defensive-minded Nick Schultz enter the lineup to take Gostisbehere’s spot versus the Canadiens.

Another youngster, 19-year-old Travis Konecny, is also expected to sit tonight. He’ll be replaced by veteran winger Dale Weise.

Worst +/- in the NHL

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Pre-game reading: What does the future hold for Hitch?

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— Up top, it was a very emotional Doug Armstrong who announced the firing of his “best friend” today in St. Louis. It’s up to Mike Yeo now to turn the Blues around.

— As far as the future of Ken Hitchcock is concerned, there’s little question he’d draw interest if he wants to keep coaching. Writes TSN’s Gary Lawless: “I think he might be the perfect associate coach, the same role he held with Mike Babcock’s Team Canada staffs in Vancouver and Sochi. Let someone else deliver the daily message while still having access to all of Hitchcock’s knowledge, which has resulted in over 700 NHL wins, a Stanley Cup and a mantle full of international honors.” (TSN)

— More on the Blues from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who writes in his latest 30 Thoughts column: “A few executives were surprised the Blues did not ‘invent’ an injury to Jake Allen rather than say he needed time off in the last couple of weeks to repair his confidence. I’m not in the business of ripping people for honesty. But a couple guys admitted they would have lied: ‘Harder to rebuild his confidence when you’re telling everyone he has to sit out because he’s lost it.'” (Sportsnet)

Opinions are varied when it comes to the new pants that NHL goalies will be forced to wear come Saturday, but Chicago’s Scott Darling is no fan of the change to a slimmer fit: “I think it’s a waste of time and money. But whatever the league feels they need to do.” The Blackhawks’ other netminder, Corey Crawford, has said the best way to increase scoring is to have better ice, not smaller goalie equipment. (Chicago Tribune)

— A Q&A with Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters, who played for Mike Babcock at Red Deer College when the two were in their 20s. “I was 23. He was 25. It was his first coaching job in North America. It was my third year in the league, called the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. If you can imagine, the coaches at the time were [current Canucks assistant] Perry Pearn, Mike Babcock and [former Penguins head coach] Mike Johnston. Three of those guys went on to coach in the NHL, out of five or six teams in the league. That was an opportunity to be around high-level thinkers of the game and learn from them, ask them questions and grow your passion for the game.” (Sports Illustrated)

— Speaking of Carolina, the Philadelphia Flyers were pretty bad there last night in a 5-1 loss. Said d-man Mark Streit: “If you have six shots on net after two periods, that’s just a devastating performance. It’s tough for me to explain it.” The Flyers finished with just 16 shots to the Hurricanes’ 28. Philly’s next game is tomorrow at home to Montreal, and the Canadiens will have Alex Galchenyuk back in their lineup. (CSN Philly)

Enjoy the games!

Getting healthier, Panthers send McIlrath and McCann to AHL

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Panthers defenseman Dylan McIlrath has cleared waivers and been assigned to Florida’s AHL affiliate in Springfield.

Forward Paul Thompson also cleared waivers, but he remains on the NHL roster for now. Instead, 20-year-old forward Jared McCann has been sent down.

The Panthers beat the Senators, 6-5, last night to move to within two points of a wild-card spot. It was the second game back for d-man Alex Petrovic, whose return knocked McIlrath even further down the depth chart.

Florida is still without key forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, though both have been skating and the latter’s return sounds imminent.

“I feel better every day,” Barkov said Monday, per the Sun-Sentinel. “I’m skating with the team and feel happy for that. It’s a lot more fun than skating by my own. I hope I could play soon.”

Florida’s next game is Friday at home to Anaheim.