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.
In the wake of three straight regulation losses for the Winnipeg Jets in which they surrendered 15 combined goals, it sounds like Michael Hutchinson will get the nod tonight in Calgary.
It’ll be Hutchinson’s third consecutive start. The 24-year-old rookie has been excellent overall this season, going 14-6-2 with a .927 save percentage. However, there was reason to wonder if Ondrej Pavelec might get the nod tonight against the Flames after Hutchinson surrendered five goals on 32 shots in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Dallas and four goals on 31 shots in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to Philly.
To be fair to Hutchinson, four of the five goals the Stars scored against him came on the power play.
Jonas Hiller will be in goal for Calgary.
Roberto Luongo versus Henrik Lundqvist as the struggling Panthers take on the Rangers.
Antti Niemi gets the call for streaking San Jose against the Oilers, who haven’t named a starter.
So let’s see here…
That’s four road games against good teams* and four home games against good teams.
In fact, it’s unlikely that the Panthers will be favored in any of those eight games. Especially considering their record of late.
Saturday in Newark, the Panthers lost for the fifth time in six tries, falling 3-1 to the Devils despite limiting New Jersey to just 14 shots.
“We have to score some ugly ones,” said forward Brandon Pirri, per the Associated Press. “We’re an ugly team. Scoring one goal just is not good enough. It’s not going to get any easier from here.”
Florida hasn’t been all that great defensively either. And goalie Roberto Luongo, so outstanding earlier in the season, hasn’t been able to bail his teammates out, surrendering 20 goals in his last seven appearances and getting pulled twice.
The Panthers’ slide, combined with the resurgence of the Boston Bruins, has left them eight points out of a playoff spot. With such a tough schedule to start the month, that deficit could easily grow larger.
*Yes, we’re counting Dallas and Minnesota as “good teams.” The Stars are 13-6-2 in their last 21 games, and the Wild actually have goaltending now.
Jaromir Jagr is up to goal No. 715 for his NHL career in the regular season.
The 42-year-old winger opened the scoring for the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, ripping a wrist shot from the slot over the left shoulder of Roberto Luongo to the top corner. That’s Jagr’s first goal and point since Jan. 3, when he recorded a hat trick — becoming the oldest NHL player to do so — against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jagr had been battling a flu and the mumps, which caused him to miss a portion of the Devils’ schedule this month.
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.
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.