Holtby emerging as a leading candidate to represent Canada in World Cup

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A year ago, goaltender Braden Holtby’s future was cloudy as he struggled to get through the 2013-14 campaign. Although he was just 24 at the time (he turned 25 in September), it was far from certain that he was still the Washington Capitals’ top long-term option between the pipes. Now he’s got a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 43 games, which not only gives him a firm grasp on the starting job, but also puts him in the running for a spot on Team Canada and the upcoming 2016 World Cup.

As things currently stand, Carey Price looks like a heavy favorite to serve as Canada’s number one goaltender. He was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics and has stayed sharp this season with a 2.03 GAA and .933 save percentage in 39 contests. Holtby and Price were locked in a goaltending battle on Saturday and while Montreal ultimately beat Washington in overtime, Holtby still turned aside 29 of 30 shots.

“With Carey over there, I think he’s a guy that I’ve looked up to in the past,” Holtby told NHL.com. “He’s a very, very elite-level goaltender. When you’re in our position you appreciate greatness, and he’s obviously great. It’s fun to play against guys like that, challenge yourself, and next game we’re going to try to make it a different outcome.”

Canada’s other two goaltenders from the Winter Games might not be back for the World Cup. Florida’s Roberto Luongo will be 37 years old at that point and Arizona’s Mike Smith has suffered a hard collapse this season.

Instead Holtby’s main competition might be Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Both have far more playoff experience than Holtby, which might be a major factor given the nature of the World Cup. Although Fleury doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to high pressure games, he has won a championship and seemed to rebound last year after several rough playoff runs in a row. With that in mind, how each of the three goaltenders do in the next two postseasons could have a significant influence.

Other noteworthy contenders include Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott.

Coyotes coach Tippett rips Mike Smith’s performance in loss to Senators

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Mike Smith’s nightmare 2014-15 season continued Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

Smith, the Arizona Coyotes goalie who a year ago was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team, was pulled after allowing five goals on 20 shots, including two goals 20 seconds apart early in the third period to essentially put the game out of reach for his teammates.

The Coyotes lost to the Senators, by no means one of the Eastern powerhouses, by a final score of 7-2.

That prompted Arizona’s head coach Dave Tippett to release a critical assessment of his goalie’s play afterward.

“Bottom line is the goaltender has to be good for you and ours wasn’t very good tonight,” said Tippett, as per Sarah McLellan of azcentral sports.

Smith’s numbers this season have been disastrous — just an .888 save percentage and 3.49 goals-against average, which would make this by far his worst statistical season since he came to the Coyotes beginning in the 2011-12 season.

Earlier in January, when the Coyotes traded away Devan Dubnyk, Arizona’s general manager Don Maloney reiterated his stance that Smith was the guy for that franchise.

Goalie nods: Smith gets shot at revenge vs. Senators

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Smith seeks better showing against Ottawa

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith surrendered five goals on 33 shots on Jan. 10 against the Senators, but he’ll be back between the pipes tonight in Ottawa. Smith has started in every game since Devan Dubnyk was traded to Minnesota.

Smith has struggled mightily this season, posting a 3.41 GAA and .890 save percentage in 33 contests, but he held Toronto to a single goal on Thursday, so this is an opportunity for him to string a couple good games together.

Ottawa will counter with Robin Lehner.

Elsewhere…

Islanders at Red Wings: Chad Johnson vs. Petr Mrazek

Kings at Bruins: Jonathan Quick is the probable goaltender against Tuukka Rask.

Panthers at Devils: Roberto Luongo vs. Keith Kinkaid

Canes at Rangers: Neither goaltender is confirmed, but it will probably be Cam Ward facing Henrik Lundqvist.

Leafs at Flyers: James Reimer vs. Steve Mason

Stars at Jets: It’s believed that Kari Lehtonen will play against Michael Hutchinson.

Blue Jackets at Lightning: Curtis McElhinney and Ben Bishop are both considered probable.

Oilers at Flames: No word on who Edmonton will go with, but Calgary will send out Jonas Hiller.

Hawks at Sharks: Chicago will start Antti Raanta. San Jose’s starter remains a mystery, although odds are it will end up being Antti Niemi.

Goalie nods: Dubnyk goes again for Wild in key game vs. Flames

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All the latest from the blue paint…

All Devan, all the time

Devan Dubnyk has been the goalie of record for Minnesota since coming over from Arizona two weeks ago, and that won’t change tonight when the Wild face the Flames in Calgary.

Dubnyk, who’s posted a .911 save percentage and 2.04 GAA in five games, is coming off a 2-1 win over Edmonton in which he stopped 23 of 24 shots. He’ll need a similar performance tonight if the 12th-place Wild want to stay within striking distance of the eighth-place Flames, who are currently seven points up in the standings:

For Calgary, Jonas Hiller starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

Bruins at Isles: Jaroslav Halak for New York, Tuukka Rask likely for Boston.

Habs at Rangers: Carey Price vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Jets at Flyers: Michael Hutchinson vs. Steve Mason

Jackets at Panthers: Curtis McElhinney vs. Roberto Luongo

Wings at Bolts: Petr Mrazek vs. Ben Bishop

Stars at Sens: Robin Lehner for Ottawa, Kari Lehtonen likely for Dallas.

Coyotes at Leafs: Mike Smith vs. Jonathan Bernier

Preds at Blues: Carter Hutton vs. Brian Elliott

Sabres at Oilers: Jhonas Enroth vs. Ben Scrivens

Ducks at Sharks: Ilya Bryzgalov likely for Anaheim, Antti Niemi likely for San Jose.

Video: Simmonds’ shootout winner lifts the Flyers over the Coyotes

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Wayne Simmonds had the lone shootout goal as the Flyers battled back for a 4-3 win over the Coyotes Tuesday night.

Philly has now won two straight shootout contests after starting the season 0-5.

Arizona opened a 2-0 lead scoring two goals on their first four shots chasing Flyers’ starter Ray Emery.

Connor Murphy and Martin Erat scored in a 2:17 span of the first period forcing Craig Berube to make a goaltending change.

Steve Mason made 22 saves in relief of Emery to improve to 9-12-6 on the season.

Simonds got the Flyers on the board near the midway mark of the first period and R.J. Umberger tied it 2-2 in the second.

Michael Del Zotto scored his fourth of the season at 18:59 of the middle frame briefly giving Philly a 3-2 lead.

However, 23 seconds later, Tobias Rieder tied it 3-3.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan had to assists in the loss.

Mike Smith made 39 saves.

Arizona doubled up Philadelphia 4-2 on Dec. 29 in the only other meeting between the two clubs this season.