Tonight's games: They can't all be gems

Not to be ungrateful, NHL, because you are giving fans 8 games tonight but … wow. There isn’t one game that jumps out at me as a barn burner. Really, I hate to say it, but the barn is frozen. Anyway, let’s take a look at tonight’s weak sauce slate of games.

Usually, I’ll choose the best game(s) of the night but … yuck. Let’s just go in order.

Toronto Maple Leafs (19-32-12, 50 pts) at Ottawa Senators (36-25-4, 76 pts) 7:00 PM ET

So Toronto is now the worst team in the Eastern Conference since the Hurricanes decided to start playing hockey again for whatever reason. Really, with Edmonton winning a game for once, things are looking really good for the draft lottery hopes of the … oh, right the Bruins have those picks. Oops.

New York Rangers (29-27-8, 66 pts) at Washington Capitals (43-13-8, 94 pts) 7:00 PM ET

I’m guessing it would be better for Marian Gaborik just to sit this one out; the Caps are an absolutely ridiculous 24-3-3 at home this season.

Carolina Hurricanes (26-30-7, 59 pts) at Florida Panthers (25-28-10, 60 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Look at you, Carolina! Now you can be at the Panthers’ level of being just bad enough to barely miss the playoffs.

Rest of the games after the jump

Atlanta Thrashers  (28-24-10, 66 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning  (26-26-11, 63 pts) 7:30 PM ET

The Thrashers are, at this moment, the 8th seed in the East. I imagine the Lightning aren’t terribly thrilled with their 5 game losing streak right now, but at least they don’t have to pretend to watch Saw III anymore.

Anaheim Ducks (30-26-7, 67 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (38-22-5, 81 pts) 8:00 PM ET

If the Coyotes want to make their feel-good story last more than one round of the playoffs, they’re going to need to hold onto the fourth seed. Twenty-three out of the team’s 38 wins have come in what you’d think would be a slightly depressing home arena.

St. Louis Blues (30-25-9, 69 pts) at Colorado Avalanche (36-22-6, 78 pts) 9:00 PM ET

The Blues are just strange because they’re much better on the road (18 wins) than at home (12 wins, more losses). After Craig “Ice Girls fan” Anderson was left off of Team USA, I think that the goofy but talented goalie deserves a playoff run as a consolation prize.

Montreal Canadiens (30-29-6, 66 pts) at Los Angeles Kings (38-21-4, 80 pts) 10:00 PM ET

Is it reasonable to say that the Pacific division is still the toughest division in the NHL? The Sharks are obviously dangerous, the Kings and Coyotes look like legit playoff teams and even though the Ducks/Stars seem a bit hapless they have the talent to upset anyone. The Kings could probably contend for a division title if they were in the Northwest.

Columbus Blue Jackets  (25-28-11, 61 pts) at San Jose Sharks (41-14-9, 91 pts) 10:30 PM ET

Obviously, the playoff seeding will probably change a lot in the next 18 or so games, but if I were San Jose (or any team) I’d much rather take my chances against the Nashville Predators than the Detroit Red Wings. As for Columbus, how’s that reactionary coach firing treating you?

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    Pre-game reading: Is better ice the key to more scoring?

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    — Up top, the resurrection of Alexander Radulov has been quite the story in Montreal.

    Corey Crawford has an interesting theory on how to increase scoring in the NHL. It’s not smaller goalie equipment; it’s better ice. “I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment. The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. ” (Chicago Sun-Times)

    — Speaking of horse[bleep] ice…the New York Islanders! Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News think the Isles need to see what they’ve got in youngsters like Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Kennedy writes: “Admittedly, I’ve only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don’t think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.” The Isles could certainly be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Veteran forwards like Nikolay Kulemin and Jason Chimera aren’t going to be part of the future. If Garth Snow can move their salary, or even part of their salary, it might be wise to do it. (The Hockey News)

    Marian Hossa is the 10th-oldest player in the NHL. How has the 38-year-old winger maintained such a high level of play? The answer: Hard work. “He’s one of the best professionals, the way he carries himself, prepares every day,” teammate Ryan Hartman told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always here early, even after games he’s in the gym doing some type of stuff to keep his body in shape. The way he presents himself, it helps us young guys, for sure, to learn from him.” (SI)

    — A profile of Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Writes Postmedia’s Michal Traikos: “Some have called him the second coming of Anze Kopitar, because he has off-the-charts hockey IQ and already plays a mature, two-way game. With a dad (Steve) and an uncle (James) who both played in the NHL, Patrick understands the subtleties of the game. When he was 16, the Wheat Kings matched him up against Leon Draisaitl, who was two years older and already drafted, in the WHL final.” (National Post)

    — Patrick was, indeed, the first overall pick in Adam Kimelman’s mock draft over at NHL.com. The second pick was another center, Gabriel Vilardi. The third was also a center, Nico Hischier. In fact, of Kimelman’s top 10 picks, six were listed as centers. While there may be no obvious, future superstar like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this summer’s draft, there’s still plenty of talent to be had — especially down the middle, apparently. (NHL.com)

    Enjoy the games!

    Goalie nods: Talbot starts for 43rd time in 48 games

    Cam Talbot
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    No rest for the weary in Edmonton — though to be clear, there’s only one Oiler that currently fits that bill.

    Cam Talbot, who’s emerged as the NHL’s busiest workhorse, will make his league-leading 43rd start tonight when the Oilers host the Preds at Rogers Place.

    That’s right. Forty-three starts, and tonight is Edmonton’s 48th game of the season.

    Talbot isn’t just the league leader in starts, either — he also sits top of the table in minutes played, shots faced and saves.

    “We’re playing it one game at a time — Cam’s fresh and ready,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said of his starter’s workload, per the team’s Twitter account. “We’ll worry about Calgary tomorrow.”

    Ah yes, Calgary. The Oilers and Flames clash tomorrow night in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta. That led our very own Jason Brough to speculate that Laurent Brossoit might get the start tonight, thereby giving Talbot some rest in advance of a key divisional — and nationally televised — battle.

    But now, who knows? Talbot’s fully embracing his workload, and McLellan doesn’t seem too concerned about overworking him. Heck, Talbot could be right back out there tomorrow.

    Anyway, the Preds. Pekka Rinne gets the nod tonight, after Juuse Saros scored the win in Calgary on Thursday.

    Elsewhere…

    Corey Crawford has started five in a row, so Scott Darling gets a shot in Boston. Darling’s last outing was a 39-save win over the ‘Canes on Jan. 6. He’ll be up against Tukka Rask, who has lost two in a row while giving up eight goals.

    — After replacing Jared Coreau in a comeback win over Boston, Petr Mrazek starts for the Wings in Buffalo. He’ll be up against Anders Nilsson, who replaced Robin Lehner in a loss to Toronto on Tuesday. That game, of course, was the one in which Lehner freaked out after getting pulled.

    — One of the NHL’s other busy netminders, Carolina’s Cam Ward, will make his 39th start of the year as the ‘Canes host the Pens. Matt Murray is in goal for Pittsburgh.

    Al Montoya gets the nod for Montreal in New Jersey, looking to extend his personal winning streak to four games. No word yet on a Devils starter.

    Roberto Luongo returns to Vancouver and, fittingly, gets the start. He’ll have the benefit of some rest, too, as James Reimer played on Wednesday in a shootout loss in Edmonton. For the Canucks, Ryan Miller will look to continue his hot streak — he’s 4-0-2 in his last six, with a .946 save percentage.

    P.K. Subban expected to play Friday

    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    P.K. Subban is ready to play again. The Nashville Predators announced today that he’s been activated off injured reserve and will be in the lineup tonight in Edmonton.

    Subban has missed the last 16 games with what the club would only call an upper-body injury (reportedly a herniated disc). The Preds had hoped he’d be back sooner, but “sometimes this is what happens with injuries,” said GM David Poile.

    Nashville has won four of its last five games and has moved back into a playoff spot. The Preds have also been without defenseman Roman Josi the last three games. Rosi is still on injured reserve with what he’s said is a concussion.

    Subban had 17 points (7G, 10A) in 29 games before he went on IR. The Preds play tonight in Edmonton and Sunday in Minnesota before returning home to face the Sabres on Tuesday.

    Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

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    After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins went into the offseason with three major things on their to-do list:

    1. Fix the defense.
    2. Get a better back-up goalie.
    3. Get “heavier” at right wing.

    By the time the offseason was over, they’d:

    1. Done nothing to fix the defense.
    2. Signed Anton Khubodin to back up Tuukka Rask.
    3. Signed David Backes.

    In other words, Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, and Don Sweeney, the general manager, went 1-for-3. Signing Backes made the B’s heavier on right wing. There’s no disputing that.

    But the defense? It has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on a top pairing with 20-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo. And it still has Adam McQuaid in a top-4 role.

    That’s not meant to slight McQuaid. It is less about him than the two right-shot defensemen who have been traded away and not replaced: Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

    The fact is, when the Bruins were winning championships and going to the Stanley Cup Final, McQuaid was a bottom-pairing guy. Since his role has been expanded, the Bruins have not made the playoffs.

    Read more: The Bruins didn’t fix their defense, but Neely still expects improvement

    Which brings us to the backup goalie. Khudobin was a bad signing, plain and simple. He went 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage before he was dispatched to the minors — and, if you were paying attention, it was not a huge surprise that he failed to deliver. This is a goalie who hasn’t put up good NHL numbers since 2013-14. Heck, he spent most of last season in the AHL.

    And make no mistake, for bubble teams like Boston, backup goaltending can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Not only does it cost wins when a bad backup plays, the coach’s reluctance to use his backup means more work for the starter. Consider: only three other goalies have started more games than Rask (37) has this season, and he has not looked particularly fresh in his last few outings.

    That, finally, brings us to the head coach. Claude Julien has been on the job for almost a decade, and perhaps it’s time for a new voice with some new ideas. After all, the league is faster now, and these aren’t Milan Lucic‘s Bruins anymore. Sometimes, change can be a good thing.

    But just remember — if Julien does, indeed, get fired — Bruins management had three things they wanted to fix over the summer, and they only fixed one of them.

    And that’s not on the coach.

    Related: Julien’s job reportedly in danger