Tonight's games: Time to focus on the playoffs

The 2010 Winter Olympics allowed hockey to take center stage (at least for one day) but now it’s time to get back to business. With 24 teams returning to action, let’s take a look at each game beginning with the most intriguing match-ups.

Today’s Best
New Jersey Devils (37-21-3, 77 pts) at San Jose Sharks (40-13-9, 89 pts) – 10:30 PM ET

A staggering 13 players from the Sharks and Devils represented their countries in Vancouver. There won’t be much time for them to lick their wounds, though, because both teams hold paper-thin leads over their rivals.

Buffalo Sabres (33-18-9, 75 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-4, 76 pts) – 7:30 PM ET
Yes, it would have been sexier if we had the chance to see overtime gold medal winning goal (OTGMWG?) scorer Sidney Crosby play against USA goaltender Ryan Miller a mere two days after that thrilling game on Sunday. Still, with only one point separating Pittsburgh from Buffalo, both teams have plenty to play for.
Rest of the games after the jump


Montreal Canadiens (29-28-6, 64 pts) at Boston Bruins (27-22-11, 65 pts) – 7:00 PM ET


Montreal’s grasp on the 8th-seed is tenuous at best and slightly-more-comfortable Boston would like nothing more than to make life miserable for their eternal rivals.

Chicago Blackhawks (41-15-5, 87 pts) at New York Islanders (25-29-8, 58 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET

With nearly 30 points separating these teams, this is a true battle of  the “Haves” versus the “Have nots” …

Carolina Hurricanes (24-30-7, 55 pts) at Toronto Maple Leafs (19-31-11, 49 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET
… while this game basically pits the poor versus the homeless.
Florida Panthers (24-27-10, 58 pts) at Atlanta Thrashers (26-24-10, 62 pts)  7:00 PM ET

In the spirit of Wednesday’s trade deadline, we have the most demoralizing move of last year (Florida losing Jay Bouwmeester for nothing) against this year’s most depressing trade (Atlanta receiving peanuts for Ilya Kovalchuk). H-hooray?
Vancouver Canucks (37-22-2, 76 pts) at Columbus Blue Jackets (25-28-10, 60 pts)  7:00 PM ET

Obviously, the Canucks probably went home during the break but it’s way more fun to imagine the team on the road this entire time as if they’re in some Homer-like odyssey. Right?
New York Rangers (28-27-7, 63 pts) at Ottawa Senators  (36-23-4, 76 pts)   7:30 PM ET

Two of the most unlikely success stories in the NHL face each other in this one. The Senators are inexplicably on fire (8-2 in their last 10 games) while Glen Sather inexplicably made two good trades this season.
Philadelphia Flyers (32-25-3, 67 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-24-11, 63 pts)  7:30 PM ET

If the Flyers actually do land Dan Hamhuis, we might as well call Philadelphia “Nashville East.” Which, strangely enough, is one of the nicest things anyone ever said about the Flyers.
Edmonton Oilers (19-36-6, 44 pts) at Nashville Predators (33-23-5, 71 pts) – 8:00 PM ET
When you shoot the puck though the net like Shea Weber did, you can drink at my imaginary bar for free.
Los Angeles Kings (37-20-4, 78 pts) at Dallas Stars (28-21-12, 68 pts) – 8:30 PM ET

It’s kind of weird that Johnathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury received medals for doing nothing, sort of like when Tom Brady’s backup gets a Super Bowl ring for holding a clipboard. Can’t they get half medals or something?
St. Louis Blues (28-25-9, 65 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (37-21-5, 79 pts) – 9:00 PM ET

With the Coyotes seemingly poised to make an improbable run to the playoffs (and possibly, gulp, home ice for the first round), it’s pretty difficult to argue against  naming Dave Tippett coach of the year.

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    Flyers not ‘focusing on or looking’ to trade Neuvirth, Mason

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    One of Philly’s areas of strength this year was in goal, where Steve Mason and Michal Neuvrith both enjoyed solid seasons and, at times, held the No. 1 gig.

    That’s led some to suggest that a trade could be in the works — y’know, deal from a position of strength.

    But that’s not what GM Ron Hextall is thinking.

    “I don’t believe that’s a strength that you want to weaken,” Hextall said, per CSN Philadelphia. “The old saying, Wayne Gretzky got traded, right? So I’m not going to sit here and say no I wouldn’t trade anybody on our team, because the reality of it is, if the deal was right, it’s my job to strengthen our team and the organization.

    “It’s certainly not something we’re focusing on or looking to do.”

    In fact, Hextall suggested both goalies would head into next season in a similar situation to this year, and platoon the starting job. Mason was the busier of the two — 53 starts to Neuvirth’s 29 — but some of that had to do with Neuvirth’s late-season knee injury, which saw Mason play exclusively down the stretch and at the start of Philly’s opening-round playoff series against the Caps.

    Neuvirth was the one that finished the Washington series, however, and finished it strong. He posted a ridiculous .981 save percentage over the final three games, allowing just two goals on 105 shots.

    Now yes, Neuvirth’s appearance came after Mason struggled, allowing a horrific long-range goal in Game 2 before getting beat six times in Game 3. But that didn’t take away from his body of work this season — “Mase played the last month-and-a-half and was terrific,” Hextall said — and Mason is under contract for one more year, at $4.1 million.

    Finances matter for the cap-strapped Flyers, and that’s probably why Hetxall is comfortable keeping the status quo in goal. Like Mason, Neuvirth is also under contract for one more year — with a tidy $1.625M cap hit — which makes for a much more affordable goaltending duo than in, say, Dallas, where the Stars have over $10 million tied up in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.

    Both Mason and Neuvirth have expressed their desires to be the No. 1 guy. Hextall seems content to let them battle for it.

    “To have inner competition is a good thing,” the GM explained. “So we get two good goalies and I think as we saw this year, it’s nice to have.”

    Good news for the Senators, who move one step closer to building a new arena

    OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Owner, governor and chairman Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators walks the red carpet and greets fans during the Senators' 20th anniversary pre-game ceremonies prior to the start of the NHL home opener against the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Place on October 11, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    The Ottawa Senators got some very good news today in their quest to build a downtown arena.

    From the Ottawa Citizen:

    The plan from Eugene Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton team has emerged as the highest ranked of two competing proposals for the redevelopment of 21.6 hectares of vacant land on LeBreton Flats.

    RendezVous LeBreton’s plan focuses on a new downtown arena that would house Melnyk’s Senators and major events. It also includes a restored “heritage aqueduct” lined with shops and cafes and an Abilities Centre catering to disabled and able-bodied athletes.

    The Sens were one of two bidders to develop LeBreton Flats and build an arena on the vacant land. The other proposal came from the deep-pocketed Devcore Canderel DLS Group — a group that was bidding despite Melynk’s insistence that 1) the Sens weren’t for sale “at any price” and 2) he had no interest in moving into an arena he didn’t control.

    According to the Citizen, the DCDLS bid was “rated lower but will remain in contention as a second choice,” meaning the Sens will still need to deliver on their proposal.

    From CTV Ottawa:

    This is one major step in a long process, but the Senators group promised in their bid that a new arena would be ready for the puck to drop by September of 2021.

    The big question for Kanata residents now: what are the plans for the Senators current home the Canadian Tire Centre.

    Melnyk says he has plans for that site too, and will reveal them soon.

    Colton Orr — one of the last enforcers — has retired

    Florida Panthers' George Parros (22) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr (28) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Monday, Feb. 18, 2013.  (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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    After 477 games, 12 goals, 12 assists and — most notably — 1,186 penalty minutes, Colton Orr has retired from the NHL.

    “I feel privileged to have played for a decade in the NHL and to have had the support of four great organizations in Boston, New York, Toronto and Calgary,” Orr, 34, said, via the NHLPA. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play with great teammates and against great players, many of whom have become great friends.”

    Undrafted out of the WHL, Orr was a prototypical enforcer, the kind that few teams carry anymore. In 2009-10, he fought 23 times in 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, piling up 239 PIMs in the process. That was the most he ever fought in a single NHL season. But he dropped the gloves 36 times for the Providence Bruins in 2003-04 and 33 times in 2004-05, per hockeyfights.com

    In the NHL, Orr had a couple of infamous bouts with fellow tough guy George Parros — one that ended with Orr going face-first into the ice and suffering a season-ending concussion, another with Parros getting knocked out and leaving on a stretcher.

    “I look forward now to the next chapter of my life which I could not be happier to share with the two loves of my life — my wife Sabrina and daughter, Charlotte,” Orr said. “They are the two consistently bright lights in my life who have made the darker parts of my journey a very bright part of a very fulfilling career.”

    Related: ‘The game has changed’

    No chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM

    2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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    Reflecting on a year in which pundits saw mostly regression and a lack of team cohesion, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher took to the podium on Thursday to reflect on what he called a “disappointing” campaign.

    Among the key takeaways:

    There’s no chemistry issue on our team.

    Not surprising Fletcher had to go here.

    In mid-February, the club was forced to fire head coach Mike Yeo amid rumblings the players had tuned him out — which, not coincidentally, came amid a horrific losing streak.

    There were also major, season-long issues with veteran players like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, both of whom woefully underachieved.

    Vanek, in particular, was a healthy scratch under Yeo and interim bench boss John Torchetti. The 32-year-old’s effort level repeatedly came into question, and now buyout rumors loom.

    Elsewhere, team leaders Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were embroiled in controversy when, following his dismissal, Yeo took issue with the two working with skills coach Adam Oates during the season.

    The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo noted that Oates showed up at a Wild morning skate in January, so he asked Yeo about it:

    When you say things never felt right, did this start with the Adam Oates stuff? “Yeah. I thought we dealt with it. We talked with Zach, and we had no issues with it after that. And talked with some players, and … Whether it’s something like that, whether it’s the trade rumors, whatever it is, when there’s things that might cause a little unrest, they kind of sit there and they hang out. When things are going well, they’re forgotten and pushed to the side. But when things don’t go well, quite often they come back.”

    Did it bother you that Oates came to the Buffalo morning skate? That was at the start of the tailspin? “I’m not going to even comment on it. But I would say, that I would not do the same thing.”

    Yeo went on to add he felt there was a divide in the Wild locker room.

    “It just felt like there were almost two groups,” he explained. “There were younger guys and there were the older guys. It wasn’t just a group.”

    He’s definitely a very serious candidate for the head coach position.”

    That was Fletcher on Torchetti, who’s currently holding the interim tag. The Wild GM praised Torchetti for being “able to push and pull this team into a playoff position,” but stopped short of promoting him to full-fledged head coach.

    Why?

    Well, the Wild weren’t that good under Torchetti.

    They went 15-11-1 during the regular season and bowed out to Dallas in six playoff games. Granted, they showed some fight and spirit at times, and a few players definitely played better under Torch than Yeo (Erik Haula was exhibit 1a).

    But there were also some alarming moments of apathy and poor play, like a late-season drubbing in Winnipeg which led goalie Devan Dubnyk to remark, “we’re going to get throttled if we’re going to play like this.”

    This is probably why Fletcher fielded so many questions about his team’s character and chemistry on Thursday.

    He’s done almost everything within his power as a GM with this group — big trades, coaching changes, free agent splashes — yet the club is still potentially headed in the wrong direction.

    That’s why it was time to start questioning the group.

    Related: Wild owner says Fletcher’s not on the hot seat