All the latest from the blue paint…
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.
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.
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.
A year ago, goaltender Braden Holtby’s future was cloudy as he struggled to get through the 2013-14 campaign. Although he was just 24 at the time (he turned 25 in September), it was far from certain that he was still the Washington Capitals’ top long-term option between the pipes. Now he’s got a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 43 games, which not only gives him a firm grasp on the starting job, but also puts him in the running for a spot on Team Canada and the upcoming 2016 World Cup.
As things currently stand, Carey Price looks like a heavy favorite to serve as Canada’s number one goaltender. He was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics and has stayed sharp this season with a 2.03 GAA and .933 save percentage in 39 contests. Holtby and Price were locked in a goaltending battle on Saturday and while Montreal ultimately beat Washington in overtime, Holtby still turned aside 29 of 30 shots.
“With Carey over there, I think he’s a guy that I’ve looked up to in the past,” Holtby told NHL.com. “He’s a very, very elite-level goaltender. When you’re in our position you appreciate greatness, and he’s obviously great. It’s fun to play against guys like that, challenge yourself, and next game we’re going to try to make it a different outcome.”
Canada’s other two goaltenders from the Winter Games might not be back for the World Cup. Florida’s Roberto Luongo will be 37 years old at that point and Arizona’s Mike Smith has suffered a hard collapse this season.
Instead Holtby’s main competition might be Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Both have far more playoff experience than Holtby, which might be a major factor given the nature of the World Cup. Although Fleury doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to high pressure games, he has won a championship and seemed to rebound last year after several rough playoff runs in a row. With that in mind, how each of the three goaltenders do in the next two postseasons could have a significant influence.
Other noteworthy contenders include Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott.
Mike Smith’s nightmare 2014-15 season continued Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.
Smith, the Arizona Coyotes goalie who a year ago was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team, was pulled after allowing five goals on 20 shots, including two goals 20 seconds apart early in the third period to essentially put the game out of reach for his teammates.
The Coyotes lost to the Senators, by no means one of the Eastern powerhouses, by a final score of 7-2.
That prompted Arizona’s head coach Dave Tippett to release a critical assessment of his goalie’s play afterward.
“Bottom line is the goaltender has to be good for you and ours wasn’t very good tonight,” said Tippett, as per Sarah McLellan of azcentral sports.
Smith’s numbers this season have been disastrous — just an .888 save percentage and 3.49 goals-against average, which would make this by far his worst statistical season since he came to the Coyotes beginning in the 2011-12 season.
Earlier in January, when the Coyotes traded away Devan Dubnyk, Arizona’s general manager Don Maloney reiterated his stance that Smith was the guy for that franchise.
All the latest from the blue paint…
Smith seeks better showing against Ottawa
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith surrendered five goals on 33 shots on Jan. 10 against the Senators, but he’ll be back between the pipes tonight in Ottawa. Smith has started in every game since Devan Dubnyk was traded to Minnesota.
Smith has struggled mightily this season, posting a 3.41 GAA and .890 save percentage in 33 contests, but he held Toronto to a single goal on Thursday, so this is an opportunity for him to string a couple good games together.
Ottawa will counter with Robin Lehner.
Islanders at Red Wings: Chad Johnson vs. Petr Mrazek
Kings at Bruins: Jonathan Quick is the probable goaltender against Tuukka Rask.
Panthers at Devils: Roberto Luongo vs. Keith Kinkaid
Canes at Rangers: Neither goaltender is confirmed, but it will probably be Cam Ward facing Henrik Lundqvist.
Leafs at Flyers: James Reimer vs. Steve Mason
Stars at Jets: It’s believed that Kari Lehtonen will play against Michael Hutchinson.
Blue Jackets at Lightning: Curtis McElhinney and Ben Bishop are both considered probable.
Oilers at Flames: No word on who Edmonton will go with, but Calgary will send out Jonas Hiller.
Hawks at Sharks: Chicago will start Antti Raanta. San Jose’s starter remains a mystery, although odds are it will end up being Antti Niemi.