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Will goalie be selected in first round of 2019 NHL Draft?

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As much as you need an elite center and a star defenseman, goalie remains the make-or-break single position in hockey. Unfortunately, it’s easier to herd cats than predict goaltending performances.

With that in mind, it’s not that shocking that the Marc-Andre Fleury/Rick DiPietro/Roberto Luongo era of goalies going high in drafts is no more. Instead, it’s increasingly common for there to be zero goalies selected in the first round of a draft. None went in 2018, for example, as the Rangers were the first team to select a netminder when they tabbed Olof Lindbom in the second round (39th overall).

American goalie prospect Spencer Knight recently admitted to NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce that he’s pictured becoming one of the rare recent goalies to go in the first round.

“You do think about it, and if I told you I didn’t I’d probably be lying,” Knight said “You do think about all the different ways it could go, but I think the biggest thing is to worry about the small things, the everyday things. It’s very cliché but it’s true. You do have to focus on one day at a time and enjoy the process because all these things only come around once. You only play in this (All-American Prospects Game) once, you only get drafted once.”

Here’s a quick glance at goalies who went in the first round since PHT began draft coverage in 2010.*

2017 – Jake Oettinger (26th pick)
2015 – Ilya Samsonov (22)
2012 – Andrei Vasilevskiy (19)
2010 – Jack Campbell (10), Mark Visentin (27)

* – If I happened to miss one, please note in the comments, email, or social media.

It’s too early to tell if the Dallas Stars will be glad they selected Oettinger (although, oof, they could have landed Eeli Tolvanen), and the same can be said regarding the Washington Capitals and Ilya Samsonov. The Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning do a solid job of shining a light on the highs and lows of drafting goalies with such prominent picks.

While it was refreshing to see Campbell earn a few nice starts with the Kings, the goalie hasn’t justified his draft status. That said, the Stars themselves haven’t had much luck finding answers in net, whether they’ve tried in other rounds, free agency, or via trades. Instead, they’ve sunk a ton of money into bad options, and the hope is that Ben Bishop can reverse that trend (and maybe hold down the fort while Oettinger develops?).

On the other hand, the Lightning knocked it out of the park with Vasilevskiy, who’s on the short list of hyper-promising young NHL goalies. It almost makes too much sense that Tampa Bay’s success in drafting Vasilevskiy allowed them to part ways with (wait for it) Ben Bishop.

Ultimately, there are only 31 starting jobs, and only 62 NHL goalie gigs including backups, aside from those rare stretches where three netminders make a roster.

/nods to J-F Berube.

There have been some fascinating, semi-recent studies regarding drafting goalies early, and the high risk-reward factor.

Back in 2016, TSN’s Travis Yost laid out one of the many arguments against drafting a goalie in the first round. Yost, like many others – including, clearly, NHL teams – notes that there’s simply an incredibly heavy opportunity cost with such an investment. That’s particularly true since many of the NHL’s standout goalies come later in the draft. Henrik Lundqvist and reigning Vezina winner Pekka Rinne went in the seventh and eighth round of their respective drafts, as just two prominent examples.

On the other hand, the payoff from finding a high-end goalie can be enormous. Hockey Graph’s Matt Cane summarized such thoughts following Yost’s post:

Drafting is an inexact science; there isn’t a team in professional sports that hasn’t whiffed badly on their selections. As a New York Giants fan who’s marinating in the poor choice of Saquon Barkley at second overall (mesmerizing talent, terrible value), going against the grain can hurt that much more.

You ultimately have to trust your scouts and your gut while making the decision, whether it be with Knight in 2019 or any other prospect.

It makes you wonder: which teams might want to take such a plunge next year? One could picture a team with aging goalies looking for answers (maybe the Senators if they do manage to trade for a first-rounder?) or teams that seem to be in perpetual pursuit of puckstoppers (the Hurricanes come to mind, in particular).

The smarter, studied route may be to accrue information by seeing goalies succeed overseas, in junior/college hockey, in the AHL, or even on another NHL teams.

Still, if you can identify a Vasilevskiy, you can really reap the benefits. That’s easier said than done, much like goaltending in general.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames, Wild continue bad blood with three early fights

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When the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames met this past week all hell broke loose, resulting in a pair of suspensions to Flames teammates Mark Giordano and Ryan Lomberg.

Giordano was hit with a two-game suspension for kneeing Mikko Koivu, while Lomberg was suspended two games of his own for leaving the bench during a line change to start a fight with Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba. That fight was in response to a big hit by Dumba that injured Mikael Backlund.

A lot of that bad blood spilled over into Saturday’s 2-1 Flames win that featured three fights early in the first period.

Those fights started just 40 seconds into the game when Dumba found himself in a fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.

Dumba ended up exiting the game after the first period and did not return. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had no update on his status after the game except to say they would know more on Monday.

The fisticuffs did not stop there. Later in the period Giordano fought Minnesota’s Matt Hendricks.

But there was more! The most unexpected fight of the three featured Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, who has not been involved in a fight since the 2009 season, dropping the gloves with Sam Bennett

All of that happened in the first 18 minutes of the game.

But Giordano and Tkachuk did not just impact the game with their fists — they also scored goals.

Giordano continued what has been a  career year (and maybe even a Norris Trophy worthy season) by scoring a shorthanded goal mid-way through the first period to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead, while Tkachuk scored his 14th goal of the season in the third period to help give the Flames the win.

David Rittich also continued his surprising play in the Flames’ net by stopping 34 of the 35 shots he faced.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins ready to welcome back Matt Murray, but Kris Letang’s status is in doubt

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to welcome back the one player that could significantly alter their 2018-19 season, and are also facing the possibility of being without the one player they may not be able to replace.

Matt Murray, the team’s regular starting goalie over the past two years, is expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday night for the first time since Nov. 17 when the team plays host to the Los Angeles Kings.

His return could potentially coincide with the loss of their top defenseman, Kris Letang.

Letang had to leave the Penguins’ 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Friday night with just under eight minutes to play in the third period after he found himself tangled up with Bruins forward Joakim Nordstrom and awkwardly fell to the ice. He struggled to make it back to the bench with an apparent leg injury, and then needed help getting down the tunnel from the team’s bench to the locker room.

When asked after the game if he had any update on Letang’s status, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan simply responded with “no” and gave no other details.

It is still not yet known what his status for Saturday’s game is, or if he will be sidelined for any length of time.

If he is, that would be brutal news for a Penguins team that is trying to play its way back into a solid playoff spot after an inconsistent start to the season. Letang has probably been their best, most irreplaceable player this season and has bounced back from a down 2017-18 season in massive way. He is playing more than 26 minutes per night at a Norris Trophy level. He already has 25 points in 30 games and fairly dominant numbers across the board, from his ability to generate shots, to his possession numbers, to the way he has played alongside his defense partner, Brian Dumoulin.

When asked about potentially losing Letang, Dumoulin said “Obviously it’s tough, we need that guy in the lineup.”

He is not wrong.

The Letang-Dumoulin duo has been one of the NHL’s best this season. During 5-on-5 play the Penguins are outscoring teams by a 28-14 margin when Letang and Dumoulin are on the ice, and controlling more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and more than 58 percent of the scoring chances.

It is a night and day difference between them and their bottom-two pairings that are currently made up of Olli Maatta and Jamie Oleksiak on the second period, and Jack Johnson and Marcus Pettersson on the third. When Letang and Dumoulin are not on the ice together the Penguins’ goal differential drops to minus-1 while their shot attempt and scoring chance percentage all plunge to under 48 percent.

The common refrain from the Penguins on Friday night is that they have succeeded in Letang’s absence before, specifically during the 2016-17 season when they won the Stanley Cup with him missing the second half of the regular season and the entire postseason.

“We’ve done it before,” said Dumoulin. “We know we can do it. We’ve been carrying eight defensemen so far this year, everyone can play, everyone needs time and action and we want to just keep it simple as a defense corp if he is missing.”

“Because we think we have NHL defenseman,” said Sullivan when asked why he thinks the team would be able to succeed again if Letang has to miss time. “Juuso [Riikola] has played extremely well. Chad [Ruhwedel] is an NHL defenseman. He’s played for our team for a few years, he’s played in the playoffs, he’s won the Stanley Cup with us. These guys are NHL defensemen, and regardless of who is in our lineup we believe we have enough to win.”

Honestly, there is no other approach for the coaches and players to take. But looking at things objectively from an outside perspective it’s easy to see how that team was very fortunate to win without such an important player, and also how different this team is.

With Justin Schultz already sidelined (and he is still expected to miss a couple more months), the only defenders still left over from the 2017 Stanley Cup winning team are Maatta, Dumoulin, and Ruhwedel, the latter of which only appeared in six playoff games that year and has only been a role player this season.

This team also isn’t getting the same level of goaltending that 2017 received, and that was probably the biggest driving force behind that championship run.

Which brings us to the news of Murray’s likely return on Saturday.

Injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him to just 11 games this season and an .877 save percentage that is among the worst in the league. He was activated from injured reserve late in the week and backed up Casey DeSmith in the Penguins past two games, including for DeSmith’s 48-save performance on Friday night.

Overall DeSmith has done a fine job filling in, mixing in some spectacular saves and games with some rough patches as well. But if they are going to get back to the top of the NHL and compete for a championship again it is awfully hard to see them doing that without Murray playing some kind of a significant role in that.

Goaltending was one of the biggest factors in the Penguins’ early postseason exit a year ago (and some of their regular season struggles), and it’s played a role in their early struggles this season. Even if Murray and DeSmith end up splitting time they’re going to need strong performances from both no matter who is in the lineup on defense.

The position is going to take on even more importance if their top defender has to miss any extended time as they attempt to play their way out of their mediocre start.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL offers clarification on obscure OT penalty on Blues’ Tarasenko

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Thanks to Ryan O'Reilly‘s shorthanded goal in overtime on Friday night the St. Louis Blues were able to win consecutive games for just the third time this season. A shorthanded goal in overtime is always noteworthy just because of the circumstances, especially when it lifts a team that has been struggling all season.

What made this one so fascinating for the Blues is why they were shorthanded in the first place.

Just 1:31 into the overtime period Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko was whistled for using an illegal stick when he picked up a stick that originally belonged to defenseman Colton Parayko.

This resulted in a lot of confusion both during the game and the day after.

There is nothing in the rule book against using a teammates stick (it is actually quite common when a defender loses or breaks their stick during the flow of the game) but the NHL seems to have one very large exception when it comes to equipment — players that have been granted an exception to use an oversized stick because of their height.

Via NHL rule 10.1

No stick shall exceed sixty-three inches (63″) in length from the heel to the end of the shaft nor more than twelve and one-half inches (121/2″) from the heel to the end of the blade.

Requests for an exception to the length of the shaft (only) may be submitted in writing to and must be approved by the League’s Hockey Operations Department prior to any such stick being approved for use.

Only players 6’6” tall or more will be considered for exception. Maximum length of a stick granted an exception under this rule is sixty-five inches (65”).

Blues coach Craig Berube said after the game on Friday that the 6’6″ Parayko is one of the few players around the league that has one of those exceptions. Because of that it seemed to indicate that Tarasenko would be penalized for using it, and it was immediately called during the game with no challenge from the Avalanche or a measurement by the officials.

As we would find out on Saturday, this is not what the NHL wants to see happen in this situation.

Rutherford has a further statement from the NHL which admits the referees technically, by the letter of the law, got the call right, but that they don’t want to see it called in that situation.

From the NHL, via Rutherford:

“It is a minor penalty to play with an exempt stick so technically ref got it right. But the NHL does not want that penalty called in that situation. It does not want refs nor players to need presence of mind to know who’s using who’s stick or if it’s exempt during play. It could be penalized if the bench had handed Parayko’s stick to Tarasenko or if Tarasenko had returned for his next shift with it. But moving forward the NHL will only call a penalty under those circumstances when play is stopped and when challenged by opposition. Even if Colorado had challenged last night, the NHL would not want that to be called a penalty in the manner it unfolded.”

In other words, if it happens during the flow of the game — let it go.

Fortunately for the Blues it did not end up hurting them as O’Reilly scored the winning just 35 seconds later.

Parayko also scored two goals during the game.

This is the second obscure rule the Blues have been involved with in as many games this week.

In their previous game, a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Florida Panthers, they had a goal disallowed on a weird play when a Robert Bortuzzo dump-in from center ice deflected off of referee Tim Peel and bounced into the net behind Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. NHL 78.5 rule state that any apparent goal will be disallowed when it has been deflected directly into the net off of an official.

The Blues are back in action on Sunday afternoon against the Calgary Flames and it might be worth watching just to see what obscure rule has to be pulled out of the rule book.

(H/T Scouting The Refs)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres suspend Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failing to report to team

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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Saturday morning that the organization has suspended forward Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failure to report to the team. The Sabres said they will have no further comment on the suspension at this time.

This announcement comes after the 30-year-old forward missed the previous two games due what coach Phil Housley had called an illness. The Sabres are set to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday evening and are looking to win their third game in a row.

Berglund was one of the players acquired by the Sabres over the summer in the blockbuster Ryan O'Reilly trade with the St. Louis Blues.

In 23 games with the Sabres this season he has two goals, two assists, is a minus-five, and had been averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game. Before he missed the previous two games he had been stuck in a 10-game point drought. The last time he found the scoresheet was the Sabres’ win over the Ottawa Senators back on November 3 when he scored a goal and recorded an assist.

He scored 17 goals and nine assists in 57 games for the Blues a season ago.

Berglund is in the second year of a five-year, $19.250 million contract that carries a salary cap hit of $3.85 million per season and includes a modified no-trade clause.

The Sabres have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprise teams this season with a 19-9-4 record entering play on Saturday, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division and a 10-point cushion over the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. This is all happening after they finished the 2017-18 season with the worst record in the league for the third time in five seasons. Along with Berglund, the Sabres also acquired Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka in the O’Reilly trade, while also adding Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary, and Carter Hutton and selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Their 42 points on the season are currently tied for the fourth most in the league.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.