Ryan Miller

Goalie nods: Canucks sticking with Lack, who wants ‘to be the hero again’

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All the latest from the blue paint…

You can be their hero, Eddie

The Canucks had three goalies on the ice for this morning’s optional skate — Ryan Miller, Jacob Markstrom and Eddie Lack — but it’ll be the latter who’ll get the start tonight in a crucial tilt versus Los Angeles.

Lack hasn’t exactly been a hero over his last five games, going 2-2-1 with a .903 save percentage, numbers that have been skewed by tough outings in Winnipeg (five goals on 36 shots) and Nashville (four goals on 38). It’s also worth noting Lack’s seen an awful lot of rubber lately; he’s faced an average of 35.2 shots per game over his last five, including 40 in a overtime loss to Dallas last week.

With Miller getting closer to a return to game action, tonight’s tilt will prove huge for Lack’s future as Vancouver’s No. 1. Tonight’s tilt will also prove huge for Western Conference playoff jockeying, as the Kings head into tonight’s action just three points back of Vancouver in the Pacific, and one back of Calgary.

Speaking of the Kings, no official word yet on who’ll start, but it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick.

Elsewhere…

‘Canes at Sabres: Cam Ward vs. Anders Lindback

Blue Jackets at Rangers: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Jets at Wild: Ondrej Pavelec vs. Devan Dubnyk (“DUUUBS” — Halford.)

Stars at Sharks: (No Dallas starter yet) vs. Alex Stalock

What are the Oilers going to do about their goaltending?

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Given the unpredictable nature of goaltending — a notion we’ve been hammering home all season — it seems a bit unfair to bring up something Craig MacTavish said a year ago and hold it against the Oilers’ general manager.

But here’s the quote anyway, made after the Oilers had 1) signed Ben Scrivens to a two-year contract extension and 2) acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim:

“I think anyone who tells you they’re sure about the performance of their goaltenders based on a relatively small sample size, is not likely accurate. But we have two really good options next year and it will be a competitive position, as it always is. When I was driving into the office today, I thought that if we could stabilize our goaltending for next year and check that box off, that was my objective going in.”

Yada, yada, yada, based on their team save percentage of .888, the Oilers have had the NHL’s worst goaltending this season.

That’s right — instead of improving, it’s actually gotten quite a bit worse. Out of 44 goalies that have played regularly this season, Scrivens (.893) and Fasth (.888) rank 42nd and 44th in save percentage, respectively.

Now, two things:

1. The Oilers have defensive deficiencies, no doubt about it. How much that impacts a goalie’s save percentage is up for debate, but there’s sure good reason to believe it doesn’t help.

2. MacTavish wasn’t the only one who thought he’d stabilized the position. And he did acknowledge the unpredictability of goaltending with his “relatively small sample size” disclaimer.

Neither of those things changes the fact the position remains a problem, and how the Oilers try to solve the problem will be interesting to watch. Scrivens has one year left on his contract, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent. Fasth can become unrestricted this summer. There’s no obvious option in the AHL; 22-year-old Laurent Brossoit is developing nicely, but he’s still just a prospect.

So, assuming Fasth isn’t back, the Oilers will need to go out and get a goalie.

One name that’s been bandied about is Kings backup Martin Jones. Of course, the risk there is his limited body of work in the NHL, just like it was with Scrivens and Fasth.

Instead of going the “promising backup playing behind an entrenched starter” route (Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta fall in that category as well), it may behoove the Oilers to acquire a more experienced netminder, similar to what the Canucks were thinking when they brought Ryan Miller aboard last summer.

So, would Antti Niemi be worth talking to when he becomes a UFA this summer? He’s not the most exciting option, but there’s something to be said for consistency:

source:

Or, if not a free agent, might the Oilers be able to pry Eddie Lack out of Vancouver? It’s unlikely the Canucks will be able to keep Miller, Lack and Jacob Markstrom past this season.

Unfortunately for MacTavish, there just isn’t a glaringly obvious candidate for him to pursue. Not one that we can think of anyway.

In a cruel twist for Oilers fans, the most sought-after UFA goalie this summer will probably be — yep, you guessed it — Devan Dubnyk.

Related: ‘Amazing how quickly we regained our confidence’ with Dubnyk, says Wild GM

Miller (knee) set to rejoin the Canucks for practice

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Canucks’ goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been out of action since Feb. 22 due to a sprained knee, is set to rejoin the club.

The Canucks announced on Thursday that Miller was joining the team for practice, which is the next step in his recovery.

“He’s ready to practise. We’ll take it day to day and see where he’s at,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning per the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre.

The 34-year-old suffered the injury during a game against the New York Islanders after teammate Jannik Hansen ran into him.

Miller was 28-15-1 to go along with a 2.47 G.A.A. and a .913 save percentage prior to the injury.

Vancouver is 11-6-2 during Miller’s absence.

A report last week suggested Miller won’t be ready for game action before the playoffs.

After concluding their four-game road trip in Winnipeg on Saturday, the Canucks have just three games remaining.

Blues confirm Elliott will be playoff starter

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The St. Louis Blues have developed something of a rite of passage in the spring in which they’re faced with questions about their starting playoff netminder.

This year, they’re getting out in front of it.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed on Thursday that Brian Elliott is currently the team’s No. 1 and will be when the posteason begins, per the Post-Dispatch.

“Ells is the starter,” Hitchcock explained. “He’ll play the majority of games leading up to the playoffs. We’re on the course that we set two months ago when we made the decision that Ells was going to be the guy and we’re not changing that course.”

Questions were asked about Elliott’s status after backup Jake Allen started each of the last two games, and fared well, allowing just four goals on 51 shots in an OT loss to Detroit and an OT win over Pittsburgh.

Allen, 24, is considered to be the franchise’s goalie of the future and, what’s more, the Blues do have a history of platooning in goal.

Last spring, Ryan Miller — acquired in a trade deadline blockbuster from Buffalo — played in all six games of St. Louis’ opening-round series loss to Chicago. The year prior, Elliott played all six in St. Louis’ opening-round series loss to Los Angeles and, the year prior to that, Elliott, Halak and Allen all saw playoff time as the Blues advanced to the second round.

Hitchcock did keep the door slightly open for a goalie switch should Elliott struggle, but added it doesn’t look like that’s about to happen.

“Obviously if [Elliott] doesn’t play well at all, then we’ve got to reassess it like any team does,” he explained. “[But] right now, he’s showing no signs of letting up.”

Related: Hitchcock clears the air regarding the Blues’ goaltending situation

Goalie nods: Markstrom tries to get on track

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All the latest from the blue paint …

Markstrom hopes to make his … well, mark

There was a time when Jacob Markstrom seemed like the goalie of the future for the Florida Panthers. He was once regularly labeled as “the best goalie not in the NHL” (or at least the best goalie in the AHL).

Those thoughts feel a little distant for a netminder who is still only 25.

One thought that Ryan Miller’s injury might give Markstrom another opportunity to redeem himself, but Eddie Lack’s been so solid that his opportunities have been few and far between. Sunday stands as a big moment in the big Swede’s career, then.

On the bright side, he’s remained an impressive goalie at the AHL level. He’s currently 19-7-2 with a .932 save percentage for the Utica Comets, doing about all that can be asked of him in that regard.

These are the type of games that can make an impression one way or the other, however, so he aims for a strong showing against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

As a bonus for those who kept reading, here’s a really random photo of Markstrom:

Jacob Markstrom
Source: AP

Almost feel like we’re seeing a hockey game from the perspective of HAL, huh?

Elsewhere …

Bruins at Lightning: Tuukka Rask (probably) vs. Ben Bishop (almost certain).

Ducks at Rangers: Expected to be Frederik Andersen vs. Cam Talbot, yet neither are confirmed.