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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    Struggling Sabre Tyler Ennis out with upper-body injury

    Tyler Ennis, James Wisniewski
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    Tyler Ennis can probably relate with the Buffalo Sabres’ opponent on Wednesday, as he’s struggling almost as much as the Nashville Predators.

    Perhaps some of that has to do with health?

    Whether that’s the case or not, Ennis is out for the Sabres tonight, as the team announced that he’s dealing with an upper-body injury.

    The Buffalo News discussed Ennis’ struggles in this article.

    “I’d say he’s pressing too much. You can’t make those plays in every situation and in every point you touch the puck,” Dan Bylsma said to the Buffalo News. “ … He’s just got to simplify his game. He is a special player who can make those plays, but he can’t be trying to do it every time he touches the puck.”

    He’ll need to wait a while to start getting things together, anyway.

    WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry (Flyers-Islanders; Blackhawks-Sharks)

    Ryan White, Matt Martin
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    You can check out tonight’s Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader on NBCSN, and you can also stream them online.

    Here are the handy links for the two contests.

    First, the New York Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.


    After that, the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks.


    Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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    The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

    Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

    “Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

    Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

    Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

    Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

    Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

    Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

    Ryan Johansen
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    One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

    You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

    — Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

    — GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

    — Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

    So there’s that. What’s next?

    At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

    Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

    So, consider the similarities now:

    — Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

    — Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

    — Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

    — Both are Overhardt guys.

    — The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

    — Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

    For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

    And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

    And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.