Report: More AHL affiliation changes coming

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It appears there are more changes coming for the 2015-16 American Hockey League season.

The Florida Panthers, who are currently affiliated with the San Antonio Rampage, are expected to partner with the Portland Pirates next season. The Pirates are currently affiliated with the Arizona Coyotes.

According to Texas Stars beat reporter Sean Shapiro, San Antonio could be the new affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes beginning next season. The Rampage and Coyotes were affiliated from 2005 to 2011.

Fox Sports reported last month that the Coyotes would ultimately like to have their affiliate in Arizona, but that would require the team to purchase a franchise and relocate it.

The Portland Press Herald reports the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears are currently in negotiations and are expected to announce a new affiliation agreement as early as this week.

The Coyotes and Panthers’ affiliation swap is just the latest in what has been a busy few months for the American Hockey League.

Last week the Montreal Canadiens announced they would relocate from Hamilton to St. John’s next season with the Winnipeg Jets moving its AHL affiliate to Winnipeg.

In January the AHL announced a new Pacific Division for the 2015-16 season, which will feature five teams playing in California.

The Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks will all have their top development club playing in the new division.

Goalie nods: With Halak hurt, Neuvirth looks to snap Isles’ skid

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Neuvirth faces ‘Hawks

The New York Islanders are looking to avoid their longest losing streak of the season tonight, but will have to do it without the services of their No. 1 netminder.

Jaroslav Halak will miss this evening’s tilt in Chicago with a lower-body injury, meaning Michal Neuvirth will try to keep the Isles’ skid from extending to four games.

Neuvirth, acquired at the trade deadline from Buffalo in exchange for Chad Johnson, has started three games for the Isles, going 1-1-1 with a .889 save percentage and 2.57 GAA. In his last outing, a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday, Neuvirth allowed just two goals on 29 shots and finished with a .931 save percentage, his best outing as an Islander to date.

For the ‘Blackhawks, Corey Crawford will get the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Pens at Devils: Thomas Greiss (probable) vs. Cory Schneider

Sens at ‘Canes: Andrew Hammond vs. Anton Khudobin

Sabres at Bruins: (No Buffalo starter yet) vs. Niklas Svedberg

Habs at Panthers: Dustin Tokarski (probable) vs. Dan Ellis

Wild at Preds: Devan Dubnyk vs. Pekka Rinne (probable)

Sharks at Jets: Antti Niemi vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Blues at Flames: Brian Elliott vs. Jonas Hiller

Flyers at Canucks: No starters yet for either team.

Pavelec expected to start for Jets against Sharks

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Paul Maurice is riding the hot hand.

Or, at the very least, the lukewarm hand.

Ondrej Pavelec has reportedly been tapped to start in goal for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the San Jose Sharks tonight in a meeting of two desperate teams.

Pavelec stopped 15 of 16 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory in Tampa Bay, a much-needed solid performance from the much-maligned netminder given the struggles of rookie Michael Hutchinson.

“In Tampa we kept them to a low number of shots, but they missed the net on a few… not 20, but there’s a bunch of shots off good shooters’ sticks that if they’re under the bar, they’re in,” Maurice said, per the Winnipeg Free Press.

“So, we need some saves mixed in there, too.”

Related: Jackman’s long shot beats Pavelec for late winner

Jets get Byfuglien, Myers back at practice but lose Postma for ‘weeks’

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Eventful Monday in Winnipeg — the Jets welcomed back a pair of defensemen, but lost another one for a significant length of time.

First, the returnees: Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers were back at it, with Myers declaring himself “good to go” for tomorrow’s game against San Jose after sitting Saturday’s big win over Tampa Bay; Byfuglien said it was too soon to tell if he’d be back, having missed the last four contests.

For Postma, the news was far less encouraging.

The 26-year-old, who returned to the Jets lineup on Saturday after a lengthy stint in the press box, played very well — getting over 23 minutes of action — but suffered a lower-body injury, with a timetable for return of “weeks, not days, even on the positive end of it,” per today’s update from head coach Paul Maurice.

That puts Postma on the shelf with fellow blueliners Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot and Grant Clitsome, and could sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. Postma had appeared in 42 games this season, scoring six points.

The Jets are in a fight for their playoff lives, and Tuesday’s tilt against the Sharks will be a significant contest in terms of Western Conference postseason jockeying. San Jose is four points back of Winnipeg for the final wild card, though it’s possible both the Sharks and Jets could be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in by tomorrow; with a win over Arizona tonight, Los Angeles would take the wild card lead.

Hutchinson or Pavelec — who should the Jets go with down the stretch?

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Interesting tidbit this morning from the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle, who notes that the Winnipeg Jets “have the worst team save percentage in the NHL in their last 20 games (.881).”

Not surprisingly, the Jets won just eight of those games (and only five in regulation). As a consequence, they’ve seen their playoff chances fall from around 93 percent at the All-Star break to just 46.3 percent today, per Sports Club Stats.

Rookie Michael Hutchinson, such a pleasant surprise earlier in the season, has really been struggling. His save percentage in February was a lowly .898. And it’s been even lower in March, just .845 in four appearances.

That has many wondering if coach Paul Maurice should start turning more to much-maligned veteran Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 15 of 16 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 win in Tampa Bay.

“This hasn’t been an easy week,” Pavelec said afterward, per the Winnipeg Free Press. “Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it. What happened in St. Louis, before the goal

… I felt really good in that game. That thing happened at a bad time. After that, I didn’t know if I was even going to get another chance to play. I was trying to put it behind me. But it was in my head, for sure. You can say whatever you want, but it’s there. So you just try to put it behind you. It wasn’t going away. Maybe now it has.”

Maybe.

The Jets have a couple of tough home games this week, against a desperate San Jose team Tuesday and a very strong St. Louis club Thursday.

We’ll have to wait and see how Maurice handles the goaltending duties going forward. But if the Jets end up missing the playoffs again, and it’s again due in the large part to the goaltending, expect plenty of questions for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who went into the season with a starter that hasn’t been good in a number of years and a totally unproven rookie as the backup.

Related: Ondrej Pavelec had some interesting things to say after allowing that center-ice goal