Around The Rink: Saturday, October 16th

It’s Saturday and that means it’s a full docket of games, so without further ado, here’s today’s NHL schedule and preview of all the action. Hope you all didn’t have plans that didn’t center around hockey, you’ve got a lot of studying to do. As always, all times listed are Eastern.

6:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia

This one is getting an hour head start so as to not conflict with Game 1 of the NLCS. The Penguins are coming off a win against the Islanders last night but still not looking all that smooth. Philly will hope to take advantage of that and the good sports karma brought to town by the Phillies. Worth watching here is seeing if either team can snap out of their miserable power play doldrums.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Montreal

Hockey Night in Canada gets this battle featuring the Senators having to start Brian Elliott while Pascal Leclaire is out with an injury. The Habs will be looking to stay hot after a strong defensive effort in a win over Buffalo last night. Ottawa, meanwhile is still trying to get themselves figured out. Cracking the Montreal defense would do them a world of good.

Boston @ New Jersey

Boston hits the ice once again after their long layoff after returning from Europe. The Bruins haven’t played since Sunday so jet lag shouldn’t be an issue for them. Being rusty may be an issue though and going against a frustrated New Jersey team might not make for the best recipe for success. Expect New Jersey to come out firing after losing last night to Colorado 3-2 despite putting up 43 shots on goal.

Colorado @ NY Islanders

Speaking of the Avs, they’ll be hoping to keep the number of shots on goal down against the Islanders who come back home after dropping a tough one in overtime to Pittsburgh. Colorado’s tenacious high-paced skating should make for a challenge for the Islanders.

Tampa Bay @ Florida

The unbeaten Lightning will be trying to ruin the Panthers home opener in Sunrise. The Lightning are off to a great start going 3-0-0 to start the season. While the Panthers are just 1-2-0, they very easily could’ve finished their western Canada road trip 3-0 with a little bit of luck. The Panthers may not have all the talent in the world, but they’re playing solid hockey. Believe it or not, this one could turn out to be pretty good.

8:00 pm

Washington @ Nashville

Even though the Preds are without starting goalie Pekka Rinne, it hasn’t stopped them from winning. Of course, having to deal with the high-powered Capitals should make for a good test for Barry Trotz’s team. If they can keep Ovechkin and company under control, the buzz about the Predators will only grow.

Columbus @ Minnesota

After the Blue Jackets got virtually run off their own ice against Chicago last night, they get to make the trek to Minnesota to play the schizophrenic Wild. Will the Wild team that attacked and took it to the Oilers in the second half of their last game show up or will the team that struggled and couldn’t put together many chances rear its ugly head? Bet on both happening. It’ll be up to Columbus to try and take advantage of the Wild while they’re figuring out their game.

8:30 pm

Buffalo @ Chicago

You may have heard a little bit about this one. Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson makes his return from a two-game suspension for hitting Sabres forward Jason Pominville from behind. Conveniently enough, Hjalmarsson gets to face those very same Sabres in his first game back. The Sabres are struggling to find their way right now, and getting motivated for this game could be the thing they need to snap out of their early season funk.

St. Louis @ Dallas

The Stars are off to a nice start and so are the Blues. Jaroslav Halak has done very well so far, even in spite of dropping his last start against Nashville. Meanwhile Kari Lehtonen is making Stars fans forget about Marty Turco, meanwhile Brad Richards is picking up where left off last year scoring points at will. It’s a shame that Cam Janssen is out for St. Louis, otherwise we could’ve seen the first Twitter-arranged NHL fight between him and Stars enforcer Krys Barch.

9:00 pm

Detroit @ Phoenix

It’s the Coyotes home opener and the fans could be in an even more festive mood considering their team is close to being sold to an investor looking to keep the team in Arizona. As for the game, it’ll mark the first meeting between these two since Detroit beat Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs last year. Detroit will be looking to rebound after a stinkbomb of a game in Dallas the other night.

10:00 pm

Edmonton @ Calgary

So they meet again. They seemed to play each other non-stop in the preseason and now they’re already going at each other for the second time this season. Nothing like getting those rivalry games out of the way early I suppose. When these two faced off on opening night, the Oilers routed Calgary and beat them up along the way. Calgary is mired in some miserable play and a game with Edmonton might be what they need to get themselves figured out.

10:30 pm

Atlanta @ San Jose

Atlanta is coming into the Sharks home opener after coming back to beat Anaheim in a shootout last night. They’ll need all of their magic to handle the Sharks in a game that will see more than a few former Blackhawks potentially facing off against each other with Antti Niemi playing goal for San Jose while Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Brent Sopel hold down Atlanta’s roster. It’d be a bit of a bummer if Niemi doesn’t start for the Sharks now wouldn’t it?

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck