Neuvirth earns a start after saving the day for Flyers


Expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start tomorrow afternoon in Boston.

He earned it last night.

Neuvirth gave the Flyers exactly what they needed after he replaced Steve Mason to begin the third period. At the time, the Flyers were trailing, 4-3. They ended up winning, 5-4, in the shootout.

Neuvirth stopped all 14 shots he faced in regulation and overtime. He then went three-for-three in the breakaway competition, which featured only one goal, by Claude Giroux.

The victory was just the second for the Flyers in their last nine games. Neuvirth’s record improved to 6-2-0 on the season — a pretty incredible mark considering his save percentage is just .876.

“(Mason) would probably admit there’s probably one more save he can make, but at least equal or more than that, it was time to make a change for our team,” head coach Dave Hakstol said afterwards. “(Neuvirth) went in and did a good job.”

As for Mason, well, let’s just say January hasn’t been his best month. In five starts, he’s allowed 16 goals on 127 shots for an .874 save rate.

“At the end of the day I just have to be better,” Mason said, per the Burlington County Times. “I am struggling right now and have to find ways to get back. Overall, I am just not happy with where the game is at right now. I have to find ways to work through this and like I said, to get back to where I normally can be.”

Blackhawks see all their one-goal victories as a positive, not a warning flag


All the games the Chicago Blackhawks have won by the slimmest of margins could easily be used against them.

But Artem Anisimov sees it differently. Chicago’s 17 one-goal victories, by far the most in the NHL, is good practice for the playoffs, when tight games become the norm.

“It’s easy to win the games when you’re up three goals early,” Anisimov said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “But tight games keep you in shape. This team knows how to respond in tight games — if we have to come back, or play with a one-goal lead, or a tie game. It’s all different situations, and we’ve been through everything. You learn to relax and play hard every shift, and I think it’s a good thing to play so many.”

Still, people will point to their record in one-goal games (17-6-5) and conclude the ‘Hawks aren’t as good as their place in the standings (third overall) suggests. Chicago’s goal differential (+17) pales in comparison to juggernauts like Columbus (+45) and Minnesota (+44). And based on Corsi, the ‘Hawks are a mediocre puck-possession team.

Yes, this is what happens when you win three Stanley Cups in less than a decade — you get nitpicked. Simply winning isn’t good enough. The wins have to be convincing.

But that’s the bar the Blackhawks have set for themselves. When they won the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, they were a dominant team. This year, more than ever, they’ve really needed their goalies to stand on their heads.

It’s why, if they want to win another Cup, they’ll need their rookies to keep improving.

It’s also why many expect GM Stan Bowman to be active leading up to the trade deadline, in spite of a tight salary-cap situation.

The ‘Hawks will face a big test tonight when they take on the Capitals, winners of seven straight, in DC.


Related: Coach Q wants Seabrook to ‘get back’ to what he does best

Korpisalo remains with Blue Jackets, and he may get a start soon


Tuesday night in Carolina, Anton Forsberg made his first start of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It may also have been his last. Forsberg allowed four goals on 27 shots in a 5-3 loss, and yesterday he was sent back to the AHL.

Staying up with the Jackets is young Joonas Korpisalo, who’d been recalled to back up Forsberg due to Sergei Bobrovsky‘s illness.

Bobrovsky is better now and is expected to start tonight in Tampa Bay. But Korpisalo may get a chance to play soon. The Jackets also have a game tomorrow in Sunrise.

Prior to getting called up, Korpisalo was not enjoying a particularly good season in the AHL, where he was 5-5-1 with a .900 save percentage for Cleveland. But unlike Forsberg, who’d been playing well for the Monsters, Korpisalo has been good in his limited time in the NHL. Last season, the 22-year-old went 16-11-4 with a .920 save percentage. He’d come up to the big club after Bobrovksy was sidelined by a groin strain.

Read more: Korpisalo is ‘poised’ and ‘confident’ in Jackets’ crease

Be it Korpisalo or Forsberg, the Jackets need somebody to step up and provide consistent backup goaltending. They don’t have Curtis McElhinney anymore, and they don’t want to wear down Bobrovsky before the playoffs even start.

Pre-game reading: On the sky-high price of top-4 defensemen

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks about Charlie McAvoy, Colin White, and Clayton Keller — three American players who really impressed him at the World Juniors.

— Sportsnet’s Mark Spector writes about the sky-high price of defensemen in the wake of the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade between the Oilers and Devils. It’s required reading for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an up-and-coming team that could really use another top-4 blue-liner to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner. Would the Leafs be willing to put William Nylander on the market? Because they’re not trading Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, and James van Riemsdyk may not get them what they need. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin surpassed the 1,000-point mark last night. It was a fantastic accomplishment, one that only 83 players had done before him. But we all know the big knock on Ovechkin. He’s never won a Stanley Cup. Heck, he’s never even been past the second round of the playoffs. Hence, this piece by SI’s Alex Prewitt: “Those close to Ovechkin will swear that individual marks occupy increasingly less of his attention these days. He’s 31 years old now, averaging the least time on ice (18:21) of his career by more than one full minute, because coach Barry Trotz wants him fresh for when it matters.” (Sports Illustrated)

— As the Dallas Stars continue to scuffle along, GM Jim Nill can’t help but think it would be nice to have Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup. “With all the injuries, it would have been great to have him here. He would have played a lot of minutes. Big, strong – it would have been great to have him. But he made a decision to go back (to the KHL) and I can’t control that.” (Star-Telegram)

— A list of players who did not deserve to be named to the All-Star Game, starting with Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban. Writes list-maker Michael Traikos: “He’s not the best player on the Predators this year. He might not even be their best defenseman. With seven goals, 17 points and a minus-11 rating, he’s certainly not having an all-star season.” Traikos then takes out the carving knife for John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Frans Nielsen, and five others. (National Post)

— Pierre LeBrun’s series on the expansion draft continues with a look at the Nashville Predators. “While the vast majority of clubs will opt for the 7-3-1 format (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie), I think there’s a strong likelihood that the Predators will go with the 8-1 format (eight skaters and a goalie) despite the fact that it allows for two fewer players to be protected. It’s worth it for a team like Nashville that’s so deep on defense. And, in this case, it would allow the Predators to protect defensemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

The Wild’s owner is thrilled with their success, but realistic about their Cup chances


When the Minnesota Wild only lasted one round of the 2016 playoffs, they looked to many observers like a team on the decline.

And when GM Chuck Fletcher hired Bruce Boudreau to be the head coach, it looked to those same observers like a last-gasp effort to get an aging core over the hump.

Well, it’s only been half a season under Boudreau, but the Wild’s 25-9-5 record does not suggest decline. In fact, Minnesota is on pace for 116 points, which would blow away its 87-point total of last season.

As for that aging core? It’s sure looking a lot younger these days. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker are all on pace to set career highs in points. Heck, even the future core looks more promising, as evidenced by the performances of Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin at the World Juniors.

For owner Craig Leipold, it’s all been a joy to watch.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that, in the past, have played well, but, in our opinion, hadn’t played to their potential,” Leipold told the Star Tribune on Sunday. “And now we’re seeing it. They’re difference-makers. We’re in a window right now where our experienced players and our young players are all starting to play at the peak of their performance.”

Leipold also loves the job Boudreau has done, and he thinks the addition of Eric Staal was a savvy way to capitalize on a player who had a ton to prove.

That being said, Leipold isn’t sure the Wild have what it takes to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet. We’ve got some guys coming up who within a couple of years of being in this league can start to make a difference in the weakness that we have, which is the size of our players — although we’re better than we were last year.”

Leipold is only being realistic. The Wild have definitely overachieved in the first half of the season. They’ve had a red-hot Devan Dubnyk between the pipes, and every puck they shoot seems to go in. On top of that, most of their key players have been healthy for all 39 games.

But even if their luck runs out a little in the second half, they’ve put themselves in solid position to make the playoffs for a fifth straight time. It would take a gigantic collapse to miss the postseason, and after how their season ended last year, it’s hard to imagine how things could be going much better.

Related: Boudreau doesn’t believe superstars are needed to win