Ryan Malone hands jersey No. 12 to new teammate Simon Gagne, takes No. 6

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ryanmaloneno12.jpgWith training camp approaching and the summer bringing a great deal of league-wide change, new teammates are given the opportunity to make a first impression on each other. In a sport jam-packed with unassuming, humble athletes who make some not-so-humble salaries, it’s always great to read about little moments of generosity.

I discussed Drew Doughty’s willingness to hand over his No. 8 to incoming defenseman Willie Mitchell yesterday and a similar story happened with another feel-good team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Damian Cristodero reports that Ryan Malone handed over his number 12 to Simon Gagne and will wear No. 6 next season.

The best part is that Malone didn’t ask for anything return, a far cry from many situations in other sports leagues, like when Deion Sanders gave a Cowboys teammate a car for his favorite number.

“It showed the class of the guy,” Gagne said Monday after his first skate with his new teammates after 10 seasons with the Flyers. “I heard a lot of great things about him, but by giving No. 12 away that just showed the person he is. I’ll try to buy him dinner on the road this year or something like that. It’s a number I’ve been wearing since I was a kid, so it means a lot to me.”

The story, as Gagne told it, unfolded like this:

After finding out Malone was wearing No. 12, Gagne said he would wear 21, which he wore at the 2002 and ’06 Olympics in deference to Jarome Iginla. But after Malone spoke to head equipment manager Ray Thill, Gagne got the news Malone was willing to give up the number.

“I said we’re happy to have him on the team,” Malone said. “He’s done some great things with that number and it was time for a change for myself, I thought, so it was no problem at all. I just said with open arms, ‘Come join the team.’ “

“I called him back and asked him what he wanted for it and he said nothing,” said Gagne, acquired in the trade for defenseman Matt Walker. “I never met the guy. I never met anyone here. It showed the welcome.”

It’s been a summer of considerable change for the Lightning and the team should see some significant contributions from new additions such as Gagne. But let’s not forget that Malone can be an impact player, especially in support of guys who have more talent, as he did quite nicely in his final season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Malone, Vincent Lecavalier and Victor Hedman produce improved 2010-11 campaigns, Tampa Bay could be a formidable team even sooner than expected.

If nothing else, their locker room should be a much better place to be next season.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.