Around The Rink – October 11

Happy Columbus Day to all of you fortunate enough to have a bank holiday to sit around and watch afternoon hockey. There are three games dropping the puck before the sun sets today while you’re kicking back enjoying some lasagna to celebrate everyone’s favorite 15th Century Italian explorer. All times are eastern because that’s the way Columbus wanted it.

1:00 pm

NY Rangers @ NY Islanders

Nothing says “holiday” like the Rangers and Isles going at each other like cats and dogs on Long Island. It’s their first meeting of the season and, like all other times they meet, should be a slugfest. Look for Derek Boogaard and Zenon Konopka to get to know each other at some point. Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers in goal while Dwayne Roloson will start for the Islanders. Update: So much for Roloson, DiPietro gets the nod.

2:00 pm

Anaheim @ St. Louis

So the Ducks won’t have newly-signed Andreas Lilja in the lineup just yet, but at least they’ll have defenseman to kick around soon. Until then, the leaky defense will have to deal with David Backes and company. Cam Janssen won’t be around to punch people as he’s out for two weeks with a concussion.

4:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ New Jersey

Paul Martin makes his return to New Jersey as a member of the Penguins and he’s expecting to be met with boos. As for the game, the Devils will hope to tighten things up a bit after losing 7-2 to Washington Friday night. That might be tricky to do as they’ll be playing perhaps as few as 18 players. They’ll be without Pierre-Luc Letorneau-Leblond who was suspended. Anton Volchenkov may also miss the game after taking a puck in the visor that broke his nose.

7:00 pm

Chicago @ Buffalo

Buffalo native Patrick Kane gets to show off in his hometown this time without the Stanley Cup or a fire truck crane to get stuck in. Chicago is looking for their first win of the season while the Sabres are hoping they can bounce back after a 6-3 drubbing at the hands of the Rangers on Saturday.

Colorado @ Philadelphia

With Michael Leighton out for up to eight weeks with back surgery, it’ll be the Sergei Bobrovsky/Brian Boucher show in Philly. Bobrovsky looked solid in a win over Pittsburgh while Boucher fared well in an overtime loss to St. Louis. Meanwhile Colorado is riding high after an OT win over Chicago on opening night.

Ottawa @ Washington

The fighting Capitals are hoping to build on the 7-2 win they had over New Jersey on Saturday night that saw the Capitals make like it was the 1980s and both score tons of goals and have everyone drop the gloves. Meanwhile, the Senators are looking for their first win of the season. Coming off a rough 5-1 loss to Toronto gives the Sens all the motive they need to play better.

10:00 pm

Florida @ Vancouver

These teams dealt with each other enough in the off-season and training camp making three different trades with each other. As it happens, Keith Ballard will be all that Vancouver will be bringing to the ice that Florida might recognize, while the Panthers will break out Steve Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk. Look for Hordichuk to find a fighting partner on Vancouver to deal with.

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    It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

    BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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    In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

    Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

    The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

    Off-season

    Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

    They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

    The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

    Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

    On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

    A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

    Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

    Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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    From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

    Perhaps not.

    The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

    It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

    With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

    Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

    Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

    What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

    Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

    In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

    The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

    Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

    Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

    SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

    As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

    “All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

    The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

    Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

    If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

    For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

    That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

    Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.