Chris Drury

Rangers’ Chris Drury will return Friday, potentially steal spot on first line

It was mere speculation just the other day that Rangers captain Chris Drury could return to action by Friday and as it turns out, speculation became truth today. Rangers coach John Tortorella declared today that Drury will be in the lineup on Friday for the Rangers’ home opener on Friday against Toronto. Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants has the details of Drury’s return as well as the possibility that Drury gets to start on the team’s first line right out of the box.

Coach John Tortorella has confirmed that captain Chris Drury will return to the lineup for Friday’s home opener against the Maple Leafs. He’s not ready to say where Drury might fit into the lineup and answered it was still a possibility Drury could play wing.

However….

Tortorella also said Artem Anisimov’s line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan was the team’s best during Monday’s 6-4 loss to the Islanders and that Derek Stepan’s line with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko was not far behind. Therefore, Tortorella said he’s not inclined to tinker with those two lines. If that’s indeed the case, Drury would seem ticketed for the top line since nobody on the Derek Boogaard-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line is likely to fill a top-line role.

Give credit to Tortorella for not wanting to monkey around with early solid chemistry, but Drury and Marian Gaborik never had a chance to click well last season and mixing in another guy like Frolov makes the dynamic all the more intriguing for the Rangers. Obviously Brian Boyle isn’t a threat to start on the first line, but it could be Boyle who comes under the gun later on when Vinny Prospal eventually returns to the lineup.

What makes things all the more perplexing in New York is that while the Rangers have a lot of guys that can play center, most of them aren’t very good at the position and Drury is their best natural centerman. Putting him on the wing is something they can do with virtually anyone on the roster that plays center, so that’s nice.  That said, Drury is a solid faceoff man and while he’s not at all like the scorer he was in Buffalo, there is the wacky thought that maybe having him center Frolov and Gaborik he could rekindle the magic he once had with Daniel Briere in Buffalo. It’s a pipe dream, sure, but stranger things have happened.

One thing that cannot happen for the Rangers when everyone is back healthy is to find a way to slow down the development of sudden phenom Derek Stepan. After scoring a hat trick in his first game as a Ranger, Stepan has quickly become the toast of New York. He’s shown through two games so far that he can stick in the NHL and if the Rangers are serious about his development they have to know right away what their plan is for him. When Prospal returns to the lineup and should Stepan be slated to be buried on the fourth line somehow, the best thing would be to send him to the AHL. If they want to keep Stepan in New York, they need to make sure to give him the minutes and the patience to grow into the NHL on the job. If they don’t want to do that, then he should be ticketed for the AHL. Given Prospal’s state, however, the Rangers have more time to consider their options.

Mike Smith is out with illness that is not the mumps, Coyotes say

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that she was told Mike Smith is missing tonight’s game because of an illness that is not the mumps.

You may recognize “not the mumps” as the NHL’s version of letting out a barrage of coughs and then insisting the issue is not contagious.

Anyway, Smith is out tonight as the Arizona Coyotes visit the Stars in Dallas. With that, Louis Domingue gets the start while the team made an emergency recall of Adin Hill to be his backup.

A quick 411 on Hill: the 20-year-old goalie was the 76th pick in 2015 by the Coyotes. He’s put together some solid work after being promoted from the ECHL to the AHL this season, managing a respectable .916 save percentage in 26 games with the Tucson Roadrunners.

It’s been a tough season for Domingue (5-13-1, .895 save percentage, 3.29 GAA), so you almost wonder if the Coyotes are tempted to see how Hill would handle a little relief work.

Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

Trade deadline players?

Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

That schedule, though

Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

Saturday: vs. Capitals
Sunday: vs. Oilers
Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
Thursday, March 9: at Kings
Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.

‘Hawks nab Jurco in trade with Red Wings

Tomas Jurco
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The Chicago Blackhawks picked up some forward depth today, adding winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

In return, the ‘Hawks sent the Wings a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Jurco has only appeared in 16 games this season. He has no goals and no assists.

The 24-year-old was forced to undergo back surgery this past offseason.

“I could still play with it but the worst for me was sitting on the bench all the time,” Jurco said in November, per NHL.com. “Sometimes I’d have to get up and walk. Sometimes I’d stretch it. It was bad and I’ve been sitting a lot for the last couple of years on the bench. It was really tough but I’m glad it’s gone and I’m excited for a fresh start.”

A pending restricted free agent, Jurco’s cap hit is just $900,000.

In a corresponding move, the ‘Hawks assigned rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza to the AHL.