Quick hits: Langenbrunner is a sad panda

langenbrunner.jpgThere have been a lot of different stories floating around the NHL today, but some of them might be more like a kernel and less like a fluffy, delicious piece of popcorn. While you contemplate smelling up your break room or kitchen by microwaving some popcorn, I’ll throw out a few quick hits from the league.

Reverend Nathan Horton’s heat

After yet another failed season, things got a little testy between Florida Panthers forward Nathan Horton and assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Horton and Kitchen reportedly got into a screaming match during the team’s pre-game skate, according to TSN. The two apparently had to be separated by Peter DeBoer and Horton smashed his stick before he left.

One bright side: the two have last names tailor-made for puns. One might joke that Kitchen riled Horton up by saying “you moved a lot faster when we were at Tim Horton’s, donut boy.” Or perhaps some inventive headline writer came up with a line like, “If Horton can’t handle the heat, he should stay out of Mike’s Kitchen.” ( … sorry about that.)

Jamie Langenbrunner = long in the last name, long in the face

While most of the Devils’ spotlight is likely on Brodeur seeking win number 600 and Ilya Kovalchuk’s awkward return to Atlanta, the most puck-relevant story could be the crisis facing captain Langenbrunner. The Fire & Ice blog reports that Langenbrunner refused to speak with the media for two straight days after Jacques Lemaire sat him out during New Jersey’s last game. Perhaps this will end up being a mere blip on the radar, but it’s a story to watch for the time being.

The hottest second-half teams

A lot has been made of Pierre LeBrun’s piece on second-half numbers and he makes a good point that both Detroit and Pittsburgh finished hot last season. Washington, Vancouver, Phoenix and Detroit were the top four teams in the study. While I think that finishing strong is a nice indicator of future success, the truth is that there is more than one way to skin that playoff cat. Ultimately, it comes down to willpower, matchups, bounces, goalies … basically everything that normally decides hockey games. Here’s the good news, though: Behind the Net’s numbers indicate that the games won’t be decided by refs. Don’t tell that to Angry Jilted Fan of the Moment during the playoffs, though, unless you want a lot of hot angry nacho breath directed your way.

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    Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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    The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

    Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

    Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

    In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

    “I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

    With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

    “I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

    No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).

    Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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    Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

    However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

    “For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

    Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

    The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.

    Auston Matthews puts on a show in preseason tilt vs. Habs

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    Auston Matthews and William Nylander are showing no signs of any sophomore slump so far through the pre-season.

    Matthews had a hat trick and an assist and Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in an NHL preseason game on Monday night.

    Matthews scored his first goal of the game 47 seconds into the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya.

    Matthews made it 2-0 at 4:56. Nylander’s initial shot went high, and Matthews batted down the rebound and into an open side of the net.

    He scored his third goal in the third period. While on a breakaway, Matthews shot the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46.

    Matthews has four goals and two assists in three preseason games.

    Jeff Petry scored for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.

    Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.

    Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.

     

    Video: Trouba receives match penalty for hit on Flames’ Hrivik

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    Tempers flared during the third period of Monday’s preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

    Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba received a match penalty for a hit at the blue line on Flames forward Marek Hrivik, leading to a melee along the boards.

    Garnet Hathaway took exception to the hit, immediately jumping in and dropping the gloves with Trouba. Hathaway was also assessed an instigator penalty.

    The hit occurred just after Hrivik dumped the puck into the Jets zone. Trouba stepped up at the line and delivered the hit, sending Hrivik hard to the ice.

    Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice commented on the hit after the game:

    The league’s Department of Player Safety has been busy over the past few days, handing out preseason suspensions to Capitals forward Tom Wilson and, on Monday, Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins.