Howard confirms ‘open battle’ for No. 1 gig in Detroit

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The goalie duel is officially on in the Motor City.

“There’s been discussions over the summer,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said of his duel with fellow goalie Petr Mrazek, per the Free Press. “Blash [Wings head coach Jeff Blashill] and I sat down and went to lunch together and had a great conversation.

“It’s going to be an open battle, the way it should be.”

Mrazek overtaking Howard’s No. 1 gig was a big story of last season, especially in the playoffs. The 23-year-old Czech rookie, who’d never played in the postseason before, got the nod and was stellar in a seven-game opening-round loss to the Lightning, posting a 2.11 GAA and .925 save percentage.

The demotion was frustrating for Howard but, during his end-of-year media availability, he tried to keep a level head. The 31-year-old said he wouldn’t demand a trade, noting that he looked forward to competing for the No. 1 gig in ’15-16.

And now, the competition begins.

Mrazek is well aware of what’s at stake; in May, he (astutely) noted that “only one goalie can play.” Under regular circumstances, it would be Mrazek’s gig to lose given he ended the year as the No. 1 — but these aren’t normal circumstances in Detroit.

Blashill comes in with a new approach, fresh slate and different philosophies from Mike Babcock, who actually never spoke with Howard about not starting. Howard said it was “weird actually sitting down and actually having a discussion with Blash,” about the situation in goal, but seems to appreciate the clear lines of communication.

Of course, Howard’s optimistic tone could change if Mrazek takes the starting job. Again.

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.