Antti Raanta

NHL teams putting importance on backup goaltender position

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins had it all set up to honor backup goalie Jaroslav Halak on Tuesday night for becoming the 74th goalie in NHL history to play in 500 games.

Then something went wrong: Starter Tuukka Rask was injured, Halak became the No. 1 guy and the Bruins decided to postpone the ceremony until a night Halak would be off.

”A lot of times, they’re in a zone before the game. We want them to enjoy that ceremony,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”With Tuukka’s, injury we were forced to change it.”

There are a lot of NHL teams making a lot of changes because of injuries to their starting goalies this season – and not just the ceremonies to honor middling milestones. Four goalies selected for the All-Star Game are injured, with Rask joining Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury. (Rask had already begged out of the game before he was injured.)

For NHL teams, the days of riding one goalie as much as possible have long since passed. Now, general managers know they need a strong No. 2 to get the team through the back-to-backs and the injuries that can pop up at any time.

”Some of that’s obviously the ability of the second goaltenders. Some teams just don’t have that,” Cassidy said. ”We’ve got two guys we feel real comfortable with. It makes for a good combination. Jaro, he’s handled if before. If it was Jaro hurt, Tuukka could have handled it.”

Last week, the Panthers said Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury. Starter Sergei Bobrovsky has already missed much of January with an unspecified injury.

Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk was out for 15 games because his wife had a serious medical situation, and the Wild went 9-3-3, with six of those wins credited to Alex Stalock, their primary backup in his third season with the team.

The Coyotes thought they had their No. 1 goalie for the future when they got Antti Raanta from the Rangers in 2017. But he played just 59 games his first two seasons in Arizona. Darcy Kuemper took over and earned a spot in last year’s All-Star game, finishing fifth in the Vezina Trophy Award voting.

When Raanta returned, the Coyotes went with co-No. 1’s, and hovered near the top of the Pacific Division. Then Kuemper, who was 15-7-2 and second in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average, was injured on Dec. 20 and hasn’t played since.

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said there was interest in Raanta earlier in the season, and he’s glad that general manager John Chayka didn’t bite on trade offers.

”I remember him saying to the staff, ‘A lot of teams are calling about Rants. We all looked at each other and said, ‘Rants and (Kuemper) are the identity of our team. They give us a chance to win,”’ Tocchet said ”I mean, we try to play good defense and do a lot of other things. But they give us this identity and this confidence. Why would we want to put a crack in the armor?”

Raanta went 9-9-2 before he was injured early this month. Adin Hill, who played 17 combined NHL games the previous two seasons, has gone 2-2-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average with Kuemper and Raanta out.

Bobrovsky won two Vezina Trophies in Columbus before departing for Florida as a free agent, and Korpisalo inherited the No. 1 job. A five-game winning streak in December landed him an All-Star selection.

But Korpisalo injured his knee trying to block a shot in a shootout on Dec. 29; rookie Elvis Merzlikins, a 25-year-old Latvian who had never won an NHL game when he took over, is 8-2-0 with a .955 save percentage, 1.55 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last four games.

”There’s certain teams in the league, they rely on one guy,” Cassidy said. ”Some of that may be that their salary cap just played out that way. They didn’t have the luxury. The cap probably precludes you from going to fix an area that maybe you didn’t see coming, or you did see coming but, hey, you went and spent it somewhere else.

”I just know as a coach, whoever’s number is on the board to go into the nets, we feel good about our chances.”

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Bjorkstrand, Dvorak highlight this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle had a disappointing first half of the campaign, but he’s picked up the pace lately with four goals and six points in seven games. He’s a tough one to gauge. Certainly when he’s at his best, he’s worth owning and he had some very strong seasons earlier in his career. The last two seasons though have featured stints of strong play from Eberle, but he’s been more miss than hit over that span. There’s the hope that his recent play will be the start of a second half turnaround, but that’s far from a safe bet. What I will suggest is that you should be weary of him. Pick him up for now and hope for the best, but be prepared to drop him in a couple weeks if things aren’t playing out as you wished.

Tanner Pearson, Canucks – LW: Pearson’s first full season with Vancouver got off to a quiet start. He had just two goals and six points in 18 games through Nov. 10th. He’s found another gear since then though with 12 goals and 31 points in 31 games. He’s been playing alongside Bo Horvat and that combo has worked well together. With Pearson still only owned in 37% of Yahoo leagues, you should check on his status in your league and pick him up if he’s available.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: Danault is on a three-game point streak with a goal and five points over that span. That’s a solid start to what will hopefully be a longer hot streak, but even putting that aside, he’s had a great campaign with 12 goals and 36 points in 50 contests. His center-only eligibility means that he’s still something of a borderline option in standard leagues, but he’s worth taking a chance on while he’s off and he’s good enough to hang onto even when he’s not.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand scored five goals and seven points in four games from Dec. 16-21, but in the last game during that stretch he suffered a rib/cartilage contusion and an oblique strain. He made his return from those injuries on Sunday and picked up right where he left off with another two goals. It helps that he’s been averaging 17:18 minutes this season, which is a huge leap from the 12:20 minutes per game of work he got in 2018-19 when he finished with 36 points in 77 games.

Mike Smith, Oilers – G: Smith has certainly not been an ideal goaltender this season, but he’s been great lately and has asserted himself as the Oilers’ starter in the process. So far in January he’s 5-0-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .924 save percentage in six games. I don’t trust him to stay strong for the rest of the second half, but if you’re in need of goaltending help, Smith is probably your best option right now among those who are available.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: Cirelli had a hat trick on Friday, which gives him six points in his last three games. Immediately following the break might be a good time to bet on the Lightning in general. They’ll kick off with a four-game road trip that takes them to Dallas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose. The Stars are a tough team defensively, but the other three teams in the trip are pretty vulnerable and that could lead to some high scoring games for Tampa Bay in the near future.

Radko Gudas, Capitals – D: If you want help offensively, Gudas isn’t a great bet. He has contributed two goals and 14 points in 49 games, so he’s not a pure stay-at-home defneseman, but he’s very useful in other fantasy categories. He’s tied for sixth in plus/minus at 22 and ranks fifth among defenseman with 135 hits. He’s also been taking a lot of shots lately, accumulating 19 in his last seven games. He’s more of a situation pickup to grab if you’re hurting in categories that are a bit easier to neglect than the more eye-catching offensive statistics.

Alexander Steen, Blues – LW/RW: Steen had a terrible start to the season with five assists in his first 24 games. He may have turned a corner though with four goals and nine points in his last nine contests. This might just be a hot streak and if that’s the case then he’s only worth a short-term pickup. However, Steen’s a good enough player that he might end up having a strong second half of the campaign.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak has 13 goals and 30 points in 51 games in 2019-20, which puts him in that borderline range where he could conceivably be on a fantasy squad year round without looking out of place, but in many cases there are better options out there. For now though he’s hot, having recorded a point in each of his last four games, so if you’re looking for a short-term pickup, he’s an option worth considering, especially given his left wing eligibility.

Zach Parise, Wild – LW: Parise isn’t the star he once was, but the 35-year-old is having a great season with 18 goals and 30 points in 48 games. Right now he’s on a goal scoring streak with four markers in his last three games, so he’s worth considering right now, to ride for as long as he’s hot. It’s worth adding that aside from a bad start to the season where he scored three goals and had no assists in 13 games, he’s been a pretty stable contributor in 2019-20, so he’s also not a bad player to grab simply as an injury replacement if you have a hole to fill on the left wing.

Players You May Want To Drop

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Raanta made his return from a lower-body injury on Saturday, but was chased from that contest after allowing six goals on 18 shots. That’s not the primary reason I’m recommending dropping him though. The All-Star break is just around the corner and Darcy Kuemper will likely return shortly after it. Once he does, Raanta will be relegated to backup duties and won’t have much value as a result.

Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes – D: Hamilton is still owned in 86% of Yahoo leagues and unfortunately, I’d advise that you drop him unless you’re in a keeper league. Hamilton has had an amazing season, but after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left fibula, he’s likely to miss most if not all of the rest of the campaign. To be fair, we don’t know exactly how long Hamilton will be out because Carolina didn’t provide a timetable, but this is a major injury and half the season is already done so the situation is rather bleak.

Esa Lindell, Stars – D: Lindell had a five-game point streak from Dec. 29-Jan. 9, recording eight assists over that span. He’s been held off the scoresheet over his last four games though, with the lone silver lining being his goal on Jan. 14th. He’s a solid defenseman, but not quite good enough offensively to warrant holding onto at all times unless you’re particularly hurting for blueliners or you’re in a deep league.

Jared McCann, Penguins – C/LW: McCann had a good run from Jan. 5-14 with four goals and five points in his last five games, but he’s been held off the scoresheet in his last three contests. He’s a solid secondary scorer for the Penguins, but isn’t good enough to hold onto outside of his hot streaks. For that reason, I’d recommend dropping him for now and just keeping an eye on him if you’re interesting in grabbing him again once he starts to heat up.

Rasmus Sandin, Maple Leafs – D: Sandin was called up on Jan. 13th and made a great first impression with two assists on Jan. 14th. That excited some fantasy owners given the 19-year-old’s potential, but Sandin was held off the scoresheet in the two games that followed. I think Sandin will eventually be a great defenseman, but right now he’s mostly with the Leafs to fill a hole. He’s only averaged 16:03 minutes over his three games since being summoned. I don’t think he’s going to have much use to fantasy owners in standard leagues in the near future.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Larkin goes coast to coast; Hurricanes shut out Coyotes

Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates
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Three Stars

1) Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

Larkin took matters into his own hands midway through the second period when he skated from his own zone and completed a breakaway in the Red Wings’ 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators. He would later add a shootout tally that proved to be the game-deciding goal in Detroit’s second straight win.

2) Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

The Czech goaltender made 32 saves and picked up his third shutout of the season in the Hurricanes’ 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes Friday. Several lucrative contracts were given out to goaltenders this past offseason but Mrazek has proven to be the best value. Semyon Varlamov has been solid for the Islanders and Sergei Bobrovsky has been inconsistent for the Florida Panthers but both received long-term deals. Mrazek has provided a strong return on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2019.

3) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin tied Jaromir Jagr for 3rd on the Penguins’ all-time assist list when he helped set up a third-period game-tying goal. He later added a goal of his own when he fired a wrister past Pavel Francouz at 15:43 of the third period. Cale Makar helped the Avalanche force OT with a goal in the final seconds, but the Penguins would leave the Pepsi Center with two points thanks to Jared McCann’s game-winner.

Highlight of the Night

If Larkin prefers to not attend All-Star Weekend, he should stop completing these types of plays.

I’ll just leave this here.

The tweet below says all that is needed.

Blooper of the night

Tyler Ennis’ unusual shootout attempt was not successful.

Injury

In his first game back since leaving a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 4th, Antti Raanta exited the Coyotes game Friday with a lower-body injury.

Stat of the night

NHL Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Arizona Coyotes 0

Detroit Red Wings 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (SO)

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 (OT)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs, Lightning back on track

Order has been restored to the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

After miserable starts to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, they enter the week as two of the NHL’s hottest teams and have rocketed to the top of this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

The Maple Leafs are currently on a 10-game point streak (9-0-1) and have looked like the powerhouse offensive team they were built to be under new coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Lightning, meanwhile, are quietly starting to wake up from their early season slumber. Since Dec. 1, the Lightning have the second-best record in the NHL and are starting to post downright dominant underlying numbers. Their shot attempt share since then is second best in the league. They are third in expected goals (all numbers via Natural Stat Trick). They are averaging more than three-and-a-half goals per game. Finally they are starting to look like the team that won 62 regular season games a year ago.

Both teams continue to make big jumps in the power rankings and occupy the top two spots for this week given their recent play.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

1. Toronto Maple Leafs. They have not lost a game in regulation since Dec. 12 and have the league’s best record (15-4-1) since hiring Keefe. They have some flaws, but they look like the team they were were supposed to be.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. Everyone was so quick to bury the Lightning this season that no one seems to be paying attention to the fact they have been one of the league’s best teams for more than a month now.

3. Washington Capitals. They showed the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that they are never out of a game.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are by no means giving up on Matt Murray but the net belongs to Tristan Jarry right now, and he has earned it.

5. St. Louis Blues. A tough road trip that saw them go 0-2-1 and get outscored 16-8 drops them from the top spot for now.

6. Vancouver Canucks. They have feasted at home this season and enter the week on a seven-game winning streak. But they have to show they can win on the road, too, and they get a chance to prove that this week as they start a five-game road trip.

7. Dallas Stars. If you like goals this is not the team to watch because they don’t score many and they don’t give up many. What do they do? Win.

8. Boston Bruins. Is this too low for a team in first place in its division with one of the best overall records in the league? Not when consider they have only won four of their past 15 games. To be fair, six of those 11 losses have come in overtime or shootout (they have zero OT or shootout wins during that stretch) and there is a HUGE element of bad luck there.

9. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped for a bit, but then started to break out of it with back-to-back blowout wins against the Blues and New Jersey Devils.

10. Vegas Golden Knights. They were better than the early record showed, and now the results are starting to back up the process.

11. New York Islanders. Overall, they are fine. But they have struggled a bit over the past couple of weeks. They have won just four of their past 10 games and only two of those wins have been in regulation. Losing Adam Pelech will not help.

12. Florida Panthers. Imagine how good they would be if Sergei Bobrovsky played like they hoped he would.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is on his way to becoming a superstar in this league.

14. Arizona Coyotes. Goaltending is a big part of their success, and their top two goalies are currently injured. Hopefully for their sake Antti Raanta‘s injury is not serious.

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Every time you think you have them figured out, they do a complete 180 and go in the opposite direction.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. The injury list keeps growing, but they keep finding ways to collect points and keep themselves in the playoff race.

17. Minnesota Wild. Bruce Boudreau has done a really good job keeping this team in the playoff hunt because the roster just is not very special.

18. Nashville Predators. They are fine, and actually quite good, during 5-on-5 play. Their special teams and goaltending is sinking them.

19. Calgary Flames. They should be better than this, but outside of a brief surge following the coaching change they have been a pretty mediocre team all season.

20. Chicago Blackhawks. They are trying to overcome the early deficit they gave themselves, but they still have a lot of points to make up and a lot of teams to jump over.

21. Edmonton Oilers. Huge win in Boston over the weekend. It was just their sixth win in 18 games.

22. Buffalo Sabres. Jason Botterill finally did something to address the defensive logjam and shortage of forward depth. Just not sure if it was enough, especially as they lost another top forward (Victor Olofsson) to injury.

23. New Jersey Devils. They have found some success in recent weeks, but it is probably way too little, way too late.

24. Winnipeg Jets. They are on the playoff bubble and heading in the wrong direction.

25. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin is on his way to a career season. He just does not have enough help around him yet.

26. San Jose Sharks. They have won a few games lately, but losing that game in Washington is going to sting. When you are desperate for points and have a two-goal lead with one minute to play on the road that has to be two points 100 percent of the time.

27. Montreal Canadiens. I don’t know if Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella can fix this. What they really need is a healthy Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Brendan Gallagher.

28. Los Angeles Kings. The short-term outlook is very bleak for this team.

29 Anaheim Ducks. The only games they have been able to win for more than a month now are the occasional game that makes it to a shootout.

29. Ottawa Senators. Just watching to see where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up and how they deal with Anthony Duclair‘s breakout year offensively (contract extension or trade while his value is at its highest point?)

31. Detroit Red Wings. Right now you are just looking for young players to make some progress. Filip Zadina has shown some flashes this season.

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.

The Buzzer: Hat trick for Rantanen; Hutchinson shines for Maple Leafs

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After routing the St. Louis Blues in their most recent, the Avalanche have now won back-to-back games thanks to their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Mikko Rantanen shined in this one with three goals on three shots in the win. He has 15 goals and 31 total points in only 26 games this season. That is a 47-goal pace over 82 games.

2. Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs. Hutchinson has been having a miserable season for the Maple Leafs and has struggled to find his game from the very start. He has now won three consecutive decisions for and stopped all 33 shots he faced on Saturday against the New York Islanders to record his first shutout of the season. The Maple Leafs are now on a 9-0-1 over the past 10 games and are 15-4-1 in their first 20 games under new coach Sheldon Keefe. In Hutchinson’s first six starts this season he went 0-5-1, only once had a save percentage higher than .875 (never higher than .897), and allowed at least four goals in every game, including four games where he allowed five goals. He has allowed just five total goals in his past three starts.

3. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom found out he is going to the All-Star game on Friday to replace Marc-Andre Fleury (read more about that here). He played like an All-Star on Saturday against the New York Rangers. Markstrom’s 36 saves helped the Canucks steal a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers to maintain their hold on a top-three spot in the Pacific Division and keep pace with the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. He has been one of the Canucks’ best players this season and really solidified their goaltending spot as he continues to play for a big contract this summer.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The San Jose Sharks won their second game in a row and snapped the Columbus Blue Jackets’ point streak with a 3-2 win.
  • Eric Staal scored a controversial goal in overtime to lift the Minnesota Wild to a big win over the Winnipeg Jets. Read more about that play here.
  • The Edmonton Oilers scored four consecutive goals to stun the Boston Bruins. David Pastrnak scored his league-leading 31st goal of the season for the Bruins.
  • Chandler Stephenson continued his strong play for the Vegas Golden Knights since being acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals, recording two points in a come-from-behind overtime win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. His goal, the overtime winner, is already his fifth goal in 16 games with the Golden Knights. Before this season he never scored more than six goals in a single season.
  • Sam Reinhart had a big game for the Buffalo Sabres as they chased Sergei Bobrovsky early in a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Read more about Bobrovsky’s struggles here.
  • Matt Murray had a strong game for the Pittsburgh Penguins to help them get a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Tyler Johnson scored a late third period goal to help the Tampa Bay Lightning extend their winning streak to six consecutive games.
  • Clayton Keller scored two goals for the Arizona Coyotes in a big 6-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Coyotes did lose starting goalie Antti Raanta to a lower-body injury in the win. Read more about that here.
  • Rocco Grimaldi‘s two points and Pekka Rinne‘s 23 saves helped the Nashville Predators snap what had been a three-game losing streak in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Kasperi Kapanen helped get things rolling for the Maple Leafs on Saturday with this slick assist.

Cale Makar makes it look easy as he enters the offensive zone and finds Rantanen for one of his three goals for the Avalanche.

Roman Josi had the play of the night for the Predators as they get a much-needed win against Kings.

Blooper of the Night

Ottawa Senators forward Colin White found you can not head-butt the puck in the net. Read more about it here.

Factoids

  • The Maple Leafs are now on a 10-game point streak (9-0-1) for the first time since the 2005-06 season. [NHL PR]
  • The Golden Knights’ come-from-behind win on Saturday was the first three-goal comeback win in franchise history. [Vegas Golden Knights]
  • With the Sharks’ win against Columbus on Saturday general manager Doug Wilson became the 19th general manager in NHL history to reach 700 wins. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Leon Draisaitl has recorded at least one point in all but eight games this season for the Oilers. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to his two goals on Saturday Zach Werenski is the first defender in Blue Jackets franchise history to score 50 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Canucks rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes needed just 41 games to record his 30th point this season. That is faster than any rookie Canucks defenseman in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Roman Josi is on a nine-game point streak for the Predators, tied with Shea Weber for the longest run by a Predators defender. [NHL PR]

Scores

Edmonton Oilers 4, Boston Bruins 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Buffalo Sabres 3, Florida Panthers 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 5, St. Louis Blues 4 (OT)
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, New York Islanders 0
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Montreal Canadiens 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Ottawa Senators 3
Colorado Avalanche 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Arizona Coyotes 6, Philadelphia Flyers 2
Vancouver Canucks 2, New York Rangers 1
Nashville Predators 4, Los Angeles Kings 1

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.