Let the Luongo-or-Price debate begin

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Team Canada’s coaching staff will hold a press conference Monday in Sochi, where surely one of the first questions Mike Babcock gets will pertain to his goaltending plans. Will he go with Roberto Luongo, the man who stepped in for Martin Brodeur and back-stopped Canada to Winter Olympics gold in 2010, or will it be Carey Price, who unlike Luongo hasn’t lost his last five NHL starts for a team that’s stuck in its worst slump in years?

With the possible exception of Alex Ovechkin, there may not be a player in today’s game that’s spurred more debate than Luongo. In Vancouver, where he’s been since 2006, he’s been the most talked-about athlete in the city’s history. And in his last five starts for the Canucks — all regulation losses, though certainly not all his fault — the 34-year-old has allowed 17 goals on 142 shots, for an unenviable save percentage of .880.

According to the Vancouver Province, when asked about the state of his game, Luongo paused before replying with, “I don’t know. Obviously, we haven’t won, so it’s tough from that side of things.”

Back in 2010, following Canada’s loss to the United States in the preliminary round, Babcock explained his decision to sit Brodeur and turn to Luongo like this: “We’re in the winning business. To win at in any game at any level you need big saves. You need momentum-changing saves. We’re looking for [Luongo] to do that for us.”

And in the end, Luongo came through. But that was four years ago. Hockey fans don’t need to be told how much water’s gone under Luongo’s bridge in the time since.

In Price, Babcock has a 26-year-old who’s allowed just three goals in his last three games, with a sky-high save percentage of .971. All three were Montreal wins. And remember what business Babcock’s in.

Now, of course, one must consider both goalies’ overall body of work, not just their last few games. It’s not like Price is throwing a perfect game in the NHL. Far from it. And there’s something to be said for his lack of big-game experience, of which Luongo has plenty, even if it hasn’t always gone his way in those games.

The challenge for Babcock will be getting a good handle on his netminders before his team faces a must-win game. Tournament minnows Norway and Austria are Canada’s first two opponents in the preliminary round — and Luongo and Price may split those games — before a slightly tougher test against injury-ravaged Finland. After that, it’s likely a spot in the win-or-go-home quarterfinals.

Let the Great Canadian Debate begin.

NWHL buoyed over future after adding financial backers

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The National Women’s Hockey League announced Thursday it had added enough financial backing after a two-month capital campaign to ensure its viability beyond its fifth season this year.

The league declined to reveal specifics in noting its number of private investors has grown beyond 20 with the addition of insurance and technology entrepreneur Andy Scurto. In 2017, Scurto sold his firm for $160 million.

“This infusion of capital from Andy Scurto and our partners who believe in the power and value of professional women’s hockey is another important milestone for the NWHL, our players, supporters and fans,” NWHL Commissioner and founder Dani Rylan said. “This provides us with long-term viability.”

The league is a little over a month into its season with teams in Boston, Buffalo, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and New Jersey.

The NWHL was able to add investors despite losing the backing of a majority of the world’s top players in the offseason. In May, more than 200 players – including members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams – pledged not to compete in North America this season following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to push for establishing a league with what they said needed to have a viable, sustainable economic model.

The Buffalo Sabres relinquished ownership of the NWHL Buffalo Beauts, while the New Jersey Devils ended their agreement with the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters.

In September, Rylan vowed her league wasn’t going anywhere, and added the NWHL was proving it could be viable without the NHL.

The league said the new funding will be directed toward building the league’s infrastructure, enhancing player development and attracting more investors, including team owners. Two months ago, Miles Arnone led a group of investors to purchase the Boston Pride.

Arnone said the focus on infrastructure and adding owners will eventually lead to an increase in player salaries. The NWHL no longer reveals its salary scale, though players can now earn a bump in pay through a newly introduced 50-50 split of sponsorship and media right revenue.

In September, the NWHL announced players had already earned a 26% pay increase based on new agreements reached over the summer.

Disorderly conduct charge against Auston Matthews dismissed

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The disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour charges against Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews have been dismissed.

Those charges were made against Matthews after an incident in Scottsdale, Arizona last May, when a female security guard at Matthews’ condo complex, Fayola Dozithee, filed a complaint against the 22-year-old for trying to break into her car while she was in it doing paperwork at 2 a.m.

According to the police report, Dozithee added that she was terrified by the actions of Matthews and the friends he was with at the time. Matthews was also accused of pulling down his pants and grabbing his buttocks (with his underwear on) sometime after the initial incident took place.

The two sides have now come to an agreement on a financial settlement that would simply dismiss the charges against Matthews.

“On Nov. 13 the matter was settled between the parties and the criminal matter was dismissed,” a spokesperson from the City of Scottsdale’s communications department said, per the Toronto Star.

Despite the fact that the incident occurred in May, it only came to light during Maple Leafs training in late September.

“It’s not something that I think any of us really wish we were talking about today. Unfortunately, it’s the situation we’re in,” Matthews told reporters during camp. “I regret any of my actions that would ever put a distraction on the team or distress any individual.

“I take a lot of pride in preparing myself for the season and representing the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as I can. Unfortunately due to the situation, I’m afraid I can’t really make any other comments.”

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, Arizona prosecutors and Matthews’ lawyers were scheduled to meet at a trial readiness conference on Nov. 27. That will no longer be necessary.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Makar’s incredible rookie season; Load management in NHL

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Capitals head coach Todd Reirden brought a few champions in to talk to his team about winning it all. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Why have the Devils’ bad players playing well and why are the good players playing bad? (All About the Jersey)

• How has Kevin Hayes looked in his first few games with the Flyers? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Rod Brind’Amour is already the best coach in Hurricanes franchise history. (Cardiac Cane)

• Only Brendan Shanahan will be able to fire Mike Babcock. (Leafs Nation)

Noel Acciari has been an incredible steal for the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

Cale Makar is having a rookie season for the ages. (The Hockey News)

• The wives and girlfriends of Canadiens players are learning how to play hockey. (Sportsnet)

• We’re starting to see load management between the pipes in the NHL. (ESPN)

• This broadcast duo have been calling Red Wings games for 25 years. (Detroit News)

• The Golden Knights need to make sure that they don’t let their recent struggles frustrate them. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl stay red-hot; Lightning torch Rangers

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers
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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

There is a reason these two lead the NHL in points and a combined 11-point outing will certainly keep them there a bit longer. McDavid recorded his second hat trick in three games and his first career six-point outing. Draisaitl had five assists and extended his point streak to 11 games as the Oilers skated to a 6-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. If the Oilers feel that the rest of the lineup can provide enough support McDavid and Draisaitl can build on a dynamic partnership and help Edmonton return to the postseason.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

A trip to Sweden was the perfect opportunity for the Lightning to find their form and in their first game back in North America, they proved they still are an elite offensive team. Kucherov capped off an explosive stretch when Tampa Bay scored three times in a span of 61 seconds and added three assists. It was the second time this season Kucherov recorded four points.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

The Czech forward had two goals as the San Jose Sharks extended their winning streak to five with an important 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Hertl was the beneficiary of a suspect call when he pushed John Gibson’s pad over the goal line in the opening period. But on his second of the night, the 26-year-old wired a wrister to even the score in the second period. After a slow start, the Sharks are hoping to climb their way back into the playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid doing McDavid things

Video game dekes are normally reserved for an alternate reality but Justin Dowling of the Dallas Stars showed his slick hands with an impressive toe drag.

Before a one-timer is launched, there are times you just know the player is going to connect. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is one goal away from the 400-goal mark after this blistering slap shot.

Blooper of the Night

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably had a different plan for this celebration

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the fourth player in Oilers history to record two hat tricks in three games, joining Wayne Gretzy, Glen Anderson and Jari Kurri [NHL PR].
  • McDavid and Draisaitl are just the second Oilers teammates in the last 30 years to each record five points in a game [NHL PR]
  • The Hurricanes have not lost a game against the Sabres since March 22m 2016 and are one of five teams with an active win streak of 10+ games vs. one opponent [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton is the fastest defenseman in Hurricanes/Whalers franchise history to reach 20 points in a season (19 GP) [Sportsnet Stats]
  • The Lightning scored four goals in each of the first and second periods of a game for first time in franchise history [NHL PR]
  • Tampa Bay scored four goals in the first 6:42 of Thursday’s game. Only five teams have accomplished that feat faster in the last 25 years [NHL PR].

Scores

Lightning 9, Rangers 3

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Jets 4, Panthers 3

Wild 3, Coyotes 2

Oilers 6, Avalanche 2

Stars 4, Canucks 2

Sharks 5, Ducks 3

Kings 3, Red Wings 2

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.