Off The Draw
With his recovery progressing on schedule Pekka Rinne could be back between the pipes for the Predators as soon as Feb. 3. Perfect timing to kickstart Nashville's promising stretch drive ... but maybe too late to regain his momentum in the Vezina Trophy race.
In terms of awards, the injury came at a terrible time for Rinne, who ranks among the league leaders in goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.931) and still sets the pace with 29 wins. With Carter Hutton struggling to hold the fort (2-1-2 with a miserable .879 save percentage), Rinne's absence makes it clear just how valuable he is to his Nashville's hopes of contending for the Stanley Cup.
But once he returns, Rinne will need to be even better down the stretch in order to hold off the hard charge at the Vezina by Carey Price. The Canadiens keeper has been otherworldly of late, allowing two goals or fewer in 14 of his past 15 starts while closing in on Rinne's numbers (26 wins, 2.00 GAA, .931 save pct.). He even manages to top Rinne in one key category: even-strength save percentage (.940 to .939).
"No shocker. That's just Carey Price," said Canadiens centere Manny Malhotra in the wake of Price's 40-save performance against the Dallas Stars last Tuesday night. "You almost don't get wowed by it anymore. It's just his norm. Hats off to him every night. He comes up with the saves you'd expect him to make, and every night he gives us a highlight reel saves that he has no business making. That's typical Carey Price."
After blanking the Rangers on Thursday night, Price has stopped 97 of the last 100 shots he's faced and is now 6-1-1 with a .943 save percentage in January. His numbers would be even better if he played New York more often. As Steve Mears pointed out last night on Twitter, Price has beaten the Blueshirts in seven of his past nine starts against them while posting five shutouts in the process. In all, he's blanked them six times during his career and is the only active netminder other than Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury (4) to have served New York a goose egg more than twice.
Then there's this: The Canadiens allow 30.6 shots per game, eighth-worst in the league—and yet they're 15-8-2 when being outshot, a .600 winning percentage that ranks third-best. Only one team, the Ducks, has been outshot more often yet remains in playoff contention. That's the full measure of Price's impact there.
Rinne may have been the Vezina favorite when he went down, but it looks like he'll be playing catch-up in the race when he returns.
What to watch this weekend
Blackhawks at Ducks (10:30 p.m. EST; SNE, SNO, SNP, WGN, PRIME)
Two of the best teams in the league come into this one looking for a rebound effort. Chicago blew three one-goal leads in a 4-3 loss to the Kings on Wednesday and has now dropped five straight games against Western Conference opponents. But a trip to the Anaheim might cure what ails the Blackhawks. They've won their past two visits to the Honda Center, including a 4-1 victory back on Nov. 28. The Ducks coughed up five second-period goals in Thursday night's 6-3 loss to the Sharks, so they're hoping to get back to the form that saw them allow a total of only six tallies in their previous five games. Goalie Frederik Andersen, who is 17-2-1 with a 2.09 GAA since Dec. 1, is expected to get the start for Anaheim.
Rest of the schedule: Penguins at Devils (7 p.m. EST; TVA, ROOT, MSG+); Blues at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; FS-MW, SPSO); Predators at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; FS-TN, ALT); Sabres at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, MSG-B, BELL TV, SNP)
Capitals at Canadiens (1:00 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, SN, CSN-DC, RDS)
The Capitals pulled themselves out of a four-game losing skid that had them sinking toward eighth spot in the East with an impressive 4-0 win over the Penguins on Wednesday. The trick now is building on that momentum in order to stay ahead of the hard-charging Rangers. Washington will be up against a Habs squad that's on a four-game roll after knocking off the Broadway Blueshirts with a postseason-style effort on Thursday. Carey Price, who earned his third shutout of the season in the victory, will try to finish the month on a 7-1-1 roll.
Rest of the schedule: Islanders at Red Wings (2 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-D); Coyotes at Senators (3 p.m. EST; RDS2, TSN5); Kings at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, TVA, SN, FS-W, NESN); Panthers at Devils (7 p.m. EST; FS-F, MSG+); Hurricanes at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; FS-CR, MSG); Maple Leafs at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; CBC, CSN-PH); Stars at Jets (7 p.m. EST; CITY, TXA 21); Blue Jackets at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-O, SUN); Oilers at Flames (10 p.m. EST; CBC, TVA); Blackhawks at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; SN, CSN-CH, CSN-CA)
Blues at Capitals (1 p.m. EST; NBCSN)
A bunch of early games today—how convenient for those who may have something else to do this evening—and this one looks like the best of the bunch. The Blues have lately been doing their best impression of the 1980s Oilers, scoring 4.44 goals per game during an 8-0-1 stretch that's pulled them within four points of the Central Division-leading Predators. They'll need to keep up with that pace just to stay ahead of Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 has fully engaged his Beast Mode, scoring seven goals in his past five games and dominating with his physical play. That guy's fun to watch again.
Rest of the schedule: Coyotes at Canadiens (1 p.m. EST; CITY, RDS); Predators at Penguins (2 p.m. EST; FS-TN, ROOT); Wild at Canucks (3 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-WI, SNP)
What you missed
• The goal Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored from his own blueline five seconds into the third period against the hapless Maple Leafs on Thursday night set an NHL record for the fastest shorthanded tally after the start of a period.
• If the Canadian dollar continues to plunge in value, it will wreak some salary cap havoc on teams like the Rangers, Bruins and Capitals down the line.
• Flyers captain Claude Giroux says he'd put his money on his coach in a fight with Winnipeg's hulking defenseman Dustin "Big Buff" Byfuglien.
• The Sabres took the lead in the Connor McDavid Tank Battle by losing to the Oilers.
The numbers game
• On Thursday night, Tampa Bay's Cedric Paquette became the first player since Montreal's Oleg Petrov in Dec. 1993 to score a hat trick against Detroit as the Lightning set a franchise record of nine straight wins at home. The 20 victories and 41 points they've earned in their own barn lead the NHL.
• Boston's Tuukka Rask entered the weekend with a career mark of 8-0-0 in games in which he's made 40 or more saves.
• John Klingberg is now the fourth rookie defenseman in Stars/North Stars franchise history to record at least 20 points in a season. The others: Brad Maxwell (47 in 1977-78), Shawn Chambers (24 in 1988-89) and Matt Niskanen (26 in 2007-08).
• Hot links
• Kevin Oklobzija has been out front of the AHL Pacific Division story all along. Leave it to him to wrap it up perfectly.
• It sorta kinda sounds like Kimmo Timonen might play hockey again this season. Or not. We'll find out today.
• Val James, the first American-born black player in the NHL, says his toughest opponents weren't on the ice. They were in the stands.
• Here's a totally different take on how the falling Canadian dollar is actually good news for some NHL players.
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