Goalie nods: Red-hot McElhinney faces desperate Kings

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Jackets roll with McElhinney

Curtis McElhinney will start his third straight game when the Blue Jackets host the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Columbus tonight.

McElhinney, propelled into starting duties with Sergei Bobrovsky injured, has been excellent as of late; over the weekend, he earned back-to-back starts against St. Louis and Ottawa and played extremely well, stopping 66 of 68 shots for a .971 save percentage (and a pair of wins: 7-1 over the Blues and 4-1 over the Sens).

The 31-year-old, who’s a UFA at season’s end, has been pretty steady for Columbus this season and received plenty of playing time given Bobrovsky’s recurring health woes. McElhinney’s 7-8-1 on the year with a 2.77 GAA and .915 save percentage.

For the Kings, Jonathan Quick is expected to get the start in goal. L.A. heads into tonight’s action five points back of eighth-place Calgary in the Western Conference.

Elsewhere…

Oilers at Devils: Ben Scrivens vs. Cory Schneider

Canucks at Wild: Ryan Miller vs. Devan Dubnyk

Coyotes at ‘Hawks: Mike Smith vs. Antti Raanta

Flames at Sharks: Jonas Hiller for Calgary, Antti Niemi likely for San Jose.

NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks open lengthy homestand vs. Coyotes

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyoteas at United Center at 8:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

By their own lofty standards, the Chicago Blackhawks have been just OK so far in 2014-15, but Monday begins their big chance to make a run for the Central Division crown.

(As far as it seems away today, with the Nashville Predators ahead by eight points.)

The Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes to begin an eight-game homestand that serves as a great opportunity to make up ground. Here’s that upcoming slate of games:

Monday: vs. Arizona
Wednesday: vs. Vancouver
Friday: vs. New Jersey
Sunday: vs. Pittsburgh
Feb. 18: vs. Detroit
Feb. 20: vs. Colorado
Feb. 22: vs. Boston
Feb. 24: vs. Florida

With all of those contests at the United Center (not to mention no back-to-back sets unless you count today), the Blackhawks could at least position themselves to rest some players late in the season if they can’t do much about their seeding position.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $20,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

While the Blackhawks have been up and down over the big picture, they’ve won two games in a row. They’re also not that far removed from throttled the Coyotes in Chicago by a score of 6-1 on Jan. 20.

With two straight losses and only five wins in 2015, the Coyotes seem like a vulnerable opponent on paper, although their collective confidence should almost certainly be considerably higher than the last time these two teams met.

If nothing else, Mike Smith has to be feeling better about his play, as he’s at least looked like a respectable starting goalie in February.

The Blackhawks are coming off of a 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues from Sunday, so Arizona can add the rest advantage. On paper, this seems like a mismatch, but there are a few signs pointing to this contest being closer than many might expect.

Can Chicago build up some momentum with the season starting to wind down? We’ll see on NBCSN tonight.

Goalie Nods: Dubnyk gets ninth straight start

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Dubnyk looks for a fifth straight win

Devan Dubnyk will make his ninth consecutive start Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche visit Minnesota. Dubnyk posted a 24 save shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. The 28-year-old has won four straight while posting a 0.75 G.A.A. and a .974 save percentage.

Semyon Varlamov gets the start for the Colorado Avalanche.

Elsewhere…

Kings at Lightning: Jonathan Quick vs. Ben Bishop

Blue Jackets at Senators: Curtis McElhinney vs. Robin Lehner

Devils at Canadiens: Keith Kinkaid vs. Carey Price

Oilers at Leafs: Viktor Fasth vs. James Reimer

Stars at Sabres: Anders Lindback vs. Jhonas Enroth

Islanders at Bruins: Chad Johnson vs. Tuukka Rask

Red Wings at Coyotes: Petr Mrazek vs. Mike Smith

Penguins at Canucks: Thomas Greiss, vs. Ryan Miller

Hurricanes at Sharks: Cam Ward  vs. Antti Niemi

Goalie nods: Pekka back for Preds

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Rinne Returns

Pekka Rinne will start in goal for Nashville — for the first time since Jan. 19 — when the Preds host the Ducks tonight at Bridgestone.

Rinne, the NHL’s wins leader (29), had been playing at a Vezina- and Hart-worthy level prior to suffering a sprained knee three weeks ago, posting a .931 save percentage and 1.96 GAA. While Nashville did well in his absence (Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec combined to go 4-2-2), Rinne’s return will be a massive boost, especially against a Ducks team that’s tied on 72 points with the Preds, but trails in the standings because of the regulation wins tiebreaker.

For Anaheim, Frederik Andersen will get the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Blues at Sabres: Jake Allen vs. Jhonas Enroth

Isles at Flyers: Jaroslav Halak vs. Steve Mason

Caps at Sens: Braden Holtby vs. Robin Lehner

Kings at Panthers: Roberto Luongo for Florida, Jonathan Quick likely for L.A.

Bolts at Stars: Andrei Vasilevskiy for Tampa Bay, Kari Lehtonen likely for Dallas.

Wings at Avs: Petr Mrazek for Detroit, no word on a Colorado starter.

‘Canes at Coyotes: Cam Ward vs. Mike Smith

Sharks at Canucks: Ryan Miller for Vancouver, Antti Niemi likely for San Jose.

Richards comes down on Jackets for sluggish start vs. Arizona

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The Columbus Blue Jackets got off to a slow start against Arizona and it snowballed from there in 4-1 loss to the Coyotes.

“You’d think we’d be ready to play,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards remarked, per Rob Mixer. “It’s part of being a professional. We had some guys that were, but not enough.”

Defenseman James Wisniewski echoed his coach’s comments in his own postgame presser.

“I don’t know what our deal is,” he said, according to the team’s Twitter feed. “We weren’t ready to start the game, for whatever reason.”

That being said, Wisniewski did give Columbus an opportunity to overcome its sluggish start by beating Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith early in the second period to tie the game at one. The 30-year-old blueliner took an interference penalty shortly after that though and Arizona promptly regained the lead.

Shane Doan also scored with the man advantage at 5:19 of the second period to give Arizona some breathing room.

Columbus has now lost eight of its last 11 games. Before that slump began the Blue Jackets still had a shot of making the playoffs, but now it would take a truly spectacular run for them to avoid elimination.