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The 10 players that will impact NHL playoff race in second half

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With the NHL All-Star break wrapping up and the second half of the 2019-20 season ready to begin, we are taking a look at some of the players, coaches, and general managers that could have the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff races and which teams end up making the postseason.

Here, we focus on 10 players that could stand out the most.

For the six coaches and general managers that could make the biggest impact, click here.

1. Elvis Merzlikins (Goalie), Columbus Blue Jackets. You don’t have to dig very deep to figure out how the Blue Jackets have exceeded all preseason expectations and played their way back into a playoff spot: It’s the goaltending. For as good as Joonas Korpisalo was to start the year, the play of Merzlikins is what has really helped turn this season around.

Since taking over in place of the injured Korpisalo, Merzlikins is 9-2-0 in his 11 starts (Matiss Kivlenieks also won a start in the middle of that stretch) with a save percentage well over .940. The Blue Jackets don’t score a lot of goals, they don’t have a ton of resources to deal from to strengthen the roster at the deadline, and while Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are both great defensemen, the team surrenders a lot of shots and doesn’t have great defensive metrics. But goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey and right now it is making all the difference for Columbus.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky (Goalie), Florida Panthers. While the Blue Jackets have found a tandem that works in net, their former goalie has made a very different impact with his new team. A bad one. There is plenty of reason for Panthers fans to finally be excited about their team, and they do enter the post-All-Star break stretch with a solid playoff footing despite the early struggles of Bobrovsky. He doesn’t have to be the Vezina Trophy goalie he was earlier in his career, but if he can bounce back in the second half the Panthers could become a very dangerous team given the strength of their offense.

3. Johnny Gaudreau (Forward), Calgary Flames. The Flames have regressed this season after finishing the 2018-19 season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. At the center of that regression is an offense that has gone from being one of the league’s highest scoring, to one of its lowest scoring. With only five goals in his first 29 games Gaudreau was a big factor in that team-wide decline offensively. He is currently on pace for the worst offensive output of his career, but over the past month or two has really started to show signs of breaking out and getting back to being the offensive difference-maker he is. If that continues down the stretch it could make all the difference in the Pacific Division.

4-5. Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie (Defensemen), Toronto Maple Leafs. Everyone knows the Maple Leafs’ flaw. Everyone knows the issue. It is defense. With Morgan Rielly sidelined for at least two months, the Maple Leafs are going to need Muzzin and Barrie to be great. Muzzin, probably the team’s best defensive player, has been sidelined since late December and it’s not a coincidence the team has struggled since then. Barrie was a huge offseason pickup, but has not yet met expectations. A healthy Muzzin and Barrie making the impact the Maple Leafs had hoped for would go a long way toward not only solidifying the Maple Leafs’ playoff hopes, but also giving them a chance to finally make a run beyond the first round.

6. Carter Hart (Goalie), Philadelphia Flyers. His first full season has had some inconsistencies to it, and he is currently sidelined with an injury, but Hart has the upside and ability to impact the Flyers’ playoff chances more than any other individual player on the roster. He and Brian Elliott both have league average numbers this season, but Hart showed last year as a rookie (and has at times this season) that he is capable of far more than that. If he can get to that level on a regular basis there is no reason this can not be a playoff team, even in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division.

7. Taylor Hall (Forward), Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes made their big trade deadline acquisition months before the actual deadline, and Hall gives them the exact type of difference-maker they have needed up front. If Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper are healthy, the Coyotes have the goaltending to win with a very good defense in front of them. They can shut teams down. The one thing they lacked was a top-line scorer. Hall provides that and seems to be settling in with 12 points in his past nine games. He carried the Devils to a playoff spot two years ago in his most recent fully healthy season, and he has a much better supporting cast on this team.

8. Jaccob Slavin (Defenseman), Carolina Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton is most likely done for the season, and you simply can not replace what he has done this season, especially offensively. He has been arguably the best all around defenseman in the league so far. There is no trade to be made to add that back. There is no player sitting in the press box or player in the AHL that can step in and do it. Slavin is the Hurricanes’ best defensive player (and one of the best in the NHL), and without Hamilton in the lineup he becomes their biggest offensive presence on the blue line as well. That is a big role, but he should be capable of filling it.

9. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Forward), Ottawa Senators — for now. He does not play for a playoff team just yet, but he will. With Hall already traded and the Rangers not necessarily guaranteed to trade Chris Kreider, Pageau might be the biggest name available on the trade market and he would be a significant add to any contender given his two-way play. He provides a shutdown defensive game as a second-or third-line center while also being on pace for more than 30 goals this season. Every playoff team in the league could find a use for a player like that, and he could be the type of secondary player that changes a game or two in the playoffs.

10. Dustin Byfuglien (Defenseman), Winnipeg Jets. On one hand, if he was going to play this season it seems like there would be more progress toward that right now. So maybe this is a long shot. But, if he did return it would be quite an add to a Jets defense that needs all the help it can get. They have managed to stay in the race for more than half of the season with a makeshift defense. They have the forwards, they have the goalie, they just need help on the blue line and there remains the possibility for a top-pairing player to walk through the door at some point. It would help.

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 All-Star Game 2020: Pastrnak, Duclair power Atlantic past Metro

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The Metropolitan Division won’t win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game after winning the 2019 edition. The Atlantic Division dispatched the Metro 9-5 in the first round. The Atlantic awaits the winner of the Central vs. Pacific Divisions.

As you’d expect, the game had a lot of goals, plenty of laughs and smiles, with very little defense.

Shea Weber did throw a rare check, though.

The gap between the two teams was exaggerated, though. David Pastrnak and Anthony Duclair both generated a hat trick and assist apiece, although their third goals were both empty-netters. Tyler Bertuzzi (four assists) and Victor Hedman (1G, 3A) were the Atlantic’s other four-point players.

Seth Jones (1G, 3A) ranked as the Metro’s only four-point producer.

Three Metro players (Chris Kreider, Kris Letang, and Jaccob Slavin) and one Atlantic (Mitch Marner) finished that round without a point.

T.J. Oshie got a big cheer for his nice goal:

Andrei Vasilevskiy enjoyed the best performance of the four goalies, stopping six out of seven shots. The Atlantic carried a 22-16 SOG advantage overall.

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.

NHL All-Star Game 2020: Pacific wins, Pastrnak MVP, Laila shines

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The Pacific Division edged the Atlantic in the NHL All-Star Game final for 2020, with Connor McDavid setting up Tomas Hertl for the game-winner in St. Louis.

There was quite a bit else beyond that game though.

Fan-favorite Laila Anderson introduced the hometown Blues players, while Patrick Kane even got some cheers from Blues fans. There’s a complete rundown of the feel-good and exciting moments here.

As for the first two games of the night, the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan, while the Pacific ran away from the Central.

Format, rules for NHL All-Star Game

Four teams (one representing each of the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan, and Pacific Divisions) square off in a two-round tournament. The three 20-minute games will be played 3-on-3.

In round one, the two Eastern Conference teams (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) face off, while the two West teams (Central and Pacific) meet in the other bracket. The winners face off in round three.

Teams change ends at the 10-minute mark of each game. Shootouts decide any games that are tied after 20 minutes.

NHL All-Star Game jerseys

The NHL publicized those a few weeks ago. The goal was “to pay homage to the original sweaters of the St. Louis Blues and to transform the city’s acclaimed rhythm and blues history into a tangible form, the 2020 Honda NHL® All-Star Game jersey’s striping mimics a musical staff along the front and sleeves of the jersey. As another nod to the host city, the stitching elements are conducted in an eye-catching silver thread, inspired by the iconic Gateway Arch.”

Anyway, here’s what they look like:

All-Star Skills event

That was Friday night and, it seems a good time was had by all. Click here for a recap of the event, or watch the video below.

Recent NHL All-Star Game history: MVPs and winners

This represents the fifth time an NHL All-Star Game will go with this 3-on-3 format. Before that, the most recent format involved an entertaining (but maybe too embarrassing?) “fantasy draft” format. Since 1947, the NHL has gone with several other formats including Stanley Cup champions versus All-Stars, your typical clash of conferences, and North America vs. “The World.”

Here are the All-Star Game-winning teams in recent years. The events haven’t happened every season, as the Olympics and lockouts sometimes intervened.

2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

Also, consider recent All-Star Game MVPs:

2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

NHL All-Star Game rosters

Here are the latest rosters from the league, which account for injuries and other absences.

Atlantic Division

David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd appearance) — captain

Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)

Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)

Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)

Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)

F Mitchell Marner, TOR (1st)

Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1st)

Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)

D Shea Weber, MTL (7th)

Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (3rd)

Tuukka Rask, BOS, has chosen not to play. F Auston Matthews, TOR, will attend but not participate in on-ice activities because of a wrist condition.

Metropolitan Division

Kris Letang, PIT (6th appearance) — captain

Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)

Nico Hischier, NJD (1st)

Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)

T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)

Chris Kreider, NYR (1st)

John Carlson, WSH (2nd)

Jaccob Slavin, CAR (1st)

Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)

Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)

Jake Guentzel, PIT, F Kyle Palmieri, NJD, D Dougie Hamilton, CAR, G Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ, and F Artemi Panarin, NYR, were replaced because of injury. F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (captain), has chosen not to play.

Central Division

F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th appearance) — captain

Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)

Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)

David Perron, STL (1st)

Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)

Eric Staal, MIN (6th)

Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)

Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)

Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)

Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)

Pacific Division

F Connor McDavid, EDM (4th appearance) — captain

Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)

Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)

Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)

Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)

Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)

Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)

Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)

Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)

Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)

David Rittich, CGY (1st)

Jakob Silfverberg (personal), ANA, F Logan Couture (injury), SJS, and G Darcy Kuemper (injury), ARI, were replaced. G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK, has chosen not to play.

Elite Women’s 3-on-3 breakdown, rosters

The two teams will feature nine skaters and one goalie made up of U.S. and Canadian players who are part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association — a group that is boycotting playing this season as they push for a sustainable professional league. The game will go by IIHF women’s rules and feature two 10-minute periods with running time. Penalties will result in penalty shots for the fouled team.

Here are the rosters:

American All-Stars (Coach: Cammi Granato)
F Alex Carpenter
F Kendall Coyne Schofield
F Brianna Decker
F Amanda Kessel
F Hilary Knight
F Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson
F Annie Pankowski
D Kacey Bellamy
D Lee Stecklein
G Alex Rigsby Cavallini

Canadian All-Stars (Coach: Jayna Hefford)
F Meghan Agosta
F Mélodie Daoust
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Nurse
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Natalie Spooner
F Blayre Turnbull
D Renata Fast
D Laura Fortino
G Ann-Renée Desbiens

Referees Kelly Cooke and Katie Guay and lineswomen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh will officiate the game.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• NHL All-Star Game captains
• All-Star Game coaches
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

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.

WATCH LIVE: 2020 NHL All-Star Game on NBC

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The 2020 NHL All-Star Game will take place at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday night on NBC, with four teams vying to share a $1 million prize.

Four teams (one representing each of the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan, and Pacific Divisions) square off in a two-round tournament. The three 20-minute games will be played 3-on-3.

In round one, the two Eastern Conference teams (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) face off at 8:15 p.m. ET, while the two West teams (Central and Pacific) meet in the other bracket at 9:15 p.m. ET.

Teams change ends at the 10-minute mark of each game. Shootouts decide any games that are tied after 20 minutes.

The winners of both games will square off for a deciding third game, with $1 million on the line.

[WATCH LIVE – NHL ALL-STAR GAME 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

Atlantic Division
F David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd appearance) — captain
F Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)
F Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)
F Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)
F Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)
F Mitchell Marner, TOR (1st)
F Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1st)
D Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)
D Shea Weber, MTL (7th)
G Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (3rd)
Coach: Bruce Cassidy

G Tuukka Rask, BOS, has chosen not to play. F Auston Matthews, TOR, will attend but not participate in on-ice activities because of a wrist condition.

Metropolitan Division
D Kris Letang, PIT (6th appearance) — captain
F Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)
F Nico Hischier, NJD (1st)
F Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)
F T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)
F Chris Kreider, NYR (1st)
D John Carlson, WSH (2nd)
D Jaccob Slavin, CAR (1st)
D Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)
G Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)
G Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)
Coach: Todd Reirden

F Jake Guentzel, PIT, F Kyle Palmieri, NJD, D Dougie Hamilton, CAR, G Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ, and F Artemi Panarin, NYR, were replaced because of injury. F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (captain), has chosen not to play.

Central Division
F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th appearance) — captain
F Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)
F Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)
F David Perron, STL (1st)
F Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)
F Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)
F Eric Staal, MIN (6th)
D Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)
D Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)
G Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)
G Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)
Coach: Craig Berube

Pacific Division
F Connor McDavid, EDM (4th appearance) — captain
F Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)
F Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)
F Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)
F Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)
F Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)
F Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)
D Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)
D Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)
G Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)
G David Rittich, CGY (1st)
Coach: Rick Tocchet

F Jakob Silfverberg (personal), ANA, F Logan Couture (injury), SJS, and G Darcy Kuemper (injury), ARI, were replaced. G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK, has chosen not to play.

Here’s a look back at what happened during Friday’s NHL All-Star Skills event:

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analysts Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will call the NHL All-Star Game on NBC.

NBC Sports’ live digital-only presentation on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app showcasing puck and player tracking data will highlight elements such as skating speed, shot speed, skating distance and shift times. In addition, graphic identifiers for players and the puck will be utilized as they move on the ice.

Kenny Albert and AJ Mleczko will call NBC Sports’ digital presentation of the All-Star Game on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

MORE NHL ALL-STAR COVERAGE:
Looking back at the 1988 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis
Florida Panthers to host 2021 NHL All-Star Game
Canada edges U.S. in entertaining debut of Elite Women’s 3-on-3
2020 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, fun moments, Hertl as Bieber
Shea Weber reclaims NHL Hardest Shot title
NHL All-Stars enjoy ‘really hard’ and ‘unique’ Shooting Stars event
Bettman responds to IIHF president’s Olympic decision deadline
Crosby, Kane, Ovechkin highlight NHL’s All-Decade Team

NHL All-Star Skills Competition: Kane, Barzal, Weber highlight the winners

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The 2020 All-Star Game weekend opened Friday night with a slate of memorable moments from the NHL All-Star Skills Event, which includes the always popular Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot events, and the new Elite Women’s 3-on-3 game.

So what were the best moments at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis?

Patrick Kane takes ‘Shooting Star’

The Blackhawks star (despite some boos from the audience) beat Mitch Marner in a tiebreaker to win the debut of this new event. There was a little rules confusion, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the night’s biggest hits.

McDavid’s reign as the fastest skate ends

Mathew Barzal won the 2020 Fastest Skater competition with a time of 13.715 during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition Friday night. The Islanders forward ended Connor McDavid‘s three-year run as champion.

“You watch him out there, his stride is picture perfect, he never stops moving … I don’t think I could have skated a better lap,” Barzal said. “I don’t think I could have done it again.”

For full results click here.

Canada beats the United States

The women’s 3-on-3 event was a big hit, thanks to an entertaining 2-1 win for Canada.

”To be able to make history tonight and have a lot of fun doing it is a dream come true,” U.S star Hilary Knight said. ”It was a great opportunity for everyone, a great opportunity for fans who aren’t introduced to women in the sport and also that young girl who is looking at the TV and can now see a women’s hockey player and aspire to be that.”

Here’s a list of who was in the game.

American All-Stars (Coach: Cammi Granato)
F Alex Carpenter
F Kendall Coyne Schofield
F Brianna Decker
F Amanda Kessel
F Hilary Knight
F Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson
F Annie Pankowski
D Kacey Bellamy
D Lee Stecklein
G Alex Rigsby Cavallini

Canadian All-Stars (Coach: Jayna Hefford)
F Meghan Agosta
F Mélodie Daoust
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Nurse
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Natalie Spooner
F Blayre Turnbull
D Renata Fast
D Laura Fortino
G Ann-Renée Desbiens

106.5 M.P.H.!

Shea Weber has been here before. And his monster slapshot was enough to show that he’s not going anywhere, either. The Montreal captain won this event three times last decade and returned with a vengeance this time around.

Here’s who was in the event

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens (three-time winner)
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
John Carlson, Washington Capitals

2020 NHL All-Star Game rosters

Here are the latest rosters from the league, which account for injuries and other absences.

Atlantic Division

F David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd appearance) — captain

F Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)

F Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)

F Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)

F Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)

F Mitchell Marner, TOR (1st)

F Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1st)

D Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)

D Shea Weber, MTL (7th)

G Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)

G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (3rd)

G Tuukka Rask, BOS, has chosen not to play. F Auston Matthews, TOR, will attend but not participate in on-ice activities because of a wrist condition.

Metropolitan Division

D Kris Letang, PIT (6th appearance) — captain

F Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)

F Nico Hischier, NJD (1st)

F Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)

F T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)

F Chris Kreider, NYR (1st)

D John Carlson, WSH (2nd)

D Jaccob Slavin, CAR (1st)

D Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)

G Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

G Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)

F Jake Guentzel, PIT, F Kyle Palmieri, NJD, D Dougie Hamilton, CAR, G Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ, and F Artemi Panarin, NYR, were replaced because of injury. F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (captain), has chosen not to play.

Central Division

F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th appearance) — captain

F Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)

F Ryan O'Reilly, STL (3rd)

F David Perron, STL (1st)

F Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

F Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)

F Eric Staal, MIN (6th)

D Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)

D Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)

G Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)

G Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)

Pacific Division

F Connor McDavid, EDM (4th appearance) — captain

F Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)

F Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)

F Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)

F Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)

F Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)

F Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)

D Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)

D Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)

G Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)

G David Rittich, CGY (1st)

F Jakob Silfverberg (personal), ANA, F Logan Couture (injury), SJS, and G Darcy Kuemper (injury), ARI, were replaced. G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK, has chosen not to play.

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.