How many games should a goalie play?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The speculation started even before the Nashville Predators lost in the Western Conference quarterfinals last season, that goaltender Pekka Rinne was working a bit too much during the regular season and he was going to be worn out for the games that matter most.

The Predators talked about whether fatigue played a role in their ouster from the postseason, then dismissed the idea.

So does Rinne.

“I’m not too worried about the number,” said Rinne, who started 64 games last season and was still tied only for seventh among the workhorse goalies in the NHL. “Obviously going deeper this season, you want to feel fresh and you want to be able to give everything you have and help this team. But in the past, I’ve played a lot of games, and I feel like that helps me, too, having that experience.”

Balancing a goalie’s workload over an 82-game season is tricky. Earning a playoff berth usually means playing the best goalie as much as possible – even when the team is going to need him in the long, long postseason where he is the one player who can steal a game and even a series in the chase for a Stanley Cup championship.

So how much is too much?

Nobody played more games in the NHL last season than Braden Holtby. The Washington goalie was in net 73 games, and he also led the league winning 91.1 percent of the Capitals’ games with 41 of 45 victories. Holtby said he simply feels better when he plays more.

“If you can just keep rolling, it makes things easier,” Holtby said. “But at the same time, it’s great if you’re not getting fatigued, mentally fatigued, with injuries or whatnot, so that just depends on the season. You can’t plan on those things. You just take it one day at a time and see where it ends up.”

Holtby’s workload was on Washington coach Barry Trotz’s mind when he ran into Martin Brodeur at the NHL draft in June. Brodeur started 78 games for the New Jersey Devils in 2006-07 and 77 games in three other seasons. Only Grant Fuhr started more games in a single season with 79 for St. Louis in 1995-96, and Brodeur won two of his three Stanley Cups in seasons he started 72 and 73 games.

Trotz said Brodeur believed he got into a rhythm playing game after game, and off days hampered the run. Trotz saw how hard Brodeur worked on a day off in Nashville while coaching the Predators. Brodeur took part in the Devils’ morning skate and kept working, still on the ice when Trotz returned from lunch stopping possibly 400 pucks compared to 25 he might have faced in the game.

Brodeur suggested most goalies can play 70 games a season, a number posted by many in the Hall of Fame.

“I guess ‘a body in motion stays in motion’ type thing,” Trotz said.

Patrick Roy always tried to talk coaches into letting him play more, only to be kept around 60 games per season (his career high was 68 games played in 1993-94). Now coaching Colorado, Roy is using that approach with Semyon Varlamov.

Managing travel and the time change is a bigger issue for Western Conference teams, especially with goalies stuck on planes for hours. Roy left Varlamov at home for a preseason game at Calgary, and he noted the close proximity for Brodeur and the Devils to teams like the Rangers, Flyers and Islanders.

“It’s the traveling you have to look at,” Roy said. “Varly will tell us. We’ll see. We’ll manage that.”

New Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma wanted Marc-Andre Fleury playing no more than 65 games when he coached the Pittsburgh Penguins. Out of the league last season, Bylsma said he watched closely as goalies played 30 games or more in a row with games stacking up to 70 for others. Jonathan Quick started 71 of his 72 games as Los Angeles missed the playoffs, while Tuuka Rask started 67 of his 70 games for Boston, which also missed the postseason.

“I don’t know what the number is,” Bylsma said. “And maybe there’s different numbers for different goalies, and maybe there’s different concerns. But we did look at it, and I was pretty closely watching some of the scenarios last year to see what happened. You see some of those goalies when they went into the playoffs.”

After playing in 73 games, Holtby was in net for 13 of 14 playoff games as Washington lost in the second round.

Devan Dubnyk set the standard last season playing 38 straight games after Minnesota acquired him from Arizona in January. Dubnyk started 39 of 40 games overall with a 1.78 GAA, and the Wild went 27-9-2 with him in net. Dubnyk said he felt good during that stretch, needing only practices off between games to recuperate. Dubnyk then played every playoff game as the Wild beat St. Louis before being swept by Chicago.

The rush of stopping pucks under the lights sure helps a goalie forget the sore hips and knees.

“It’s nothing that every single guy who plays in the league doesn’t deal with,” Dubnyk said.

 

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.