Around the rink – Friday, October 29th

It’s Halloween weekend and it’s time to dole out the tricks and treats on a Friday night in the NHL. Thankfully, hockey is the one sport where wearing a goalie mask isn’t indicative of being a camp-roaming serial killer. As always, all times are Eastern thanks to our raging Eastern bias.

7:00 pm

Montreal @ NY Islanders

The Habs go rolling into Long Island on a three-game win streak and will get to have backup Alex Auld try to lead the way for them in goal. The Habs have been playing tough defensively of late and with timely goal scoring thanks to the likes of Andrei Kostitsyn and Jeff Halpern, they’ve done well. The Isles, meanwhile, have James Wisniewski leading the way for them, he of his 11 points this year. Of course, Wisniewski could be on the hunt for payback against Travis Moen who laid a questionable hit on him when these two met up the other night.

Carolina @ NY Rangers

With Derek Boogaard being questionable for the game, young Russian forward Evgeny Grachev will get his first shot of the season on the ice for the Rangers. Of course, Grachev is a scorer and not a face-pounder so don’t expect the same kind of action there. The Rangers will have to be a lot more consistent if they’re going to contain the Hurricanes. After losing in disappointing fashion to Atlanta, another Southeastern team looking to be a playoff contender comes to New York looking to show up the Blueshirts. The Canes aren’t scoring a lot, but they’re keeping teams off the board well. Hello, recipe for Rangers disaster.

Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh

Suffice to say, the Mike Comrie experiment isn’t going well for Pittsburgh. After already ending up as a healthy scratch once this year, Comrie is set to be on the fourth line tonight. That’s not good for Pittsburgh’s offense, but lately it’s the goaltending that’s gone under the microscope for the Pens. As for Philly, they’ll be looking to get Nikolay Zherdev going as he was counted on being a top six performer for them and as of now, he’s got just two goals. Instead, he too will be mired on the fourth line in the doghouse. Ouch.

7:30 pm

Buffalo @ Atlanta

These two teams just met up in Atlanta last week with the Sabres coming out on top. Atlanta will look to change things up a bit as they come into the game coming off a nice win over the Rangers on Wednesday. The Thrashers will get defenseman Zach Bogosian back into the lineup tonight so that should help. Buffalo, meanwhile, would like to put their loss to Philly on Wednesday behind them. The Sabres will need to stiffen up the defense if they’re going to win as they’ve been rather miserable there sitting 24th in the league in goals allowed. After Ryan Miller carried them last year while the offense sputtered, the script has been flipped so far this season. Hockey is funny that way.

8:30 pm

Edmonton @ Chicago

The Blackhawks start their stint without Marian Hossa having to deal with the Oilers who are coming off a bummer of a defeat in the shootout against Columbus last night. Taylor Hall will hope that breaking out of his goal funk last night will lead to breaking things open for him, but against Chicago that might be asking a lot as Marty Turco has been solid this season. The guy the Oilers will really need to be worried about is Patrick Sharp. Sharp so far has been an offensive revelation for Chicago and unafraid to both dish it off or shoot the puck.

10:00 pm

New Jersey @ Anaheim

The Devils struggles this year have been discussed ad nauseum as have the Ducks’ defensive woes. Something has to break here, right? The Ducks have been a tough home team this year and the Devils have been banged up for most of the season with little flexibility to make changes. This almost reads like a depressing novel. Getting Ilya Kovalchuk going would be a huge help for the Devils and against the Ducks porous defense, all things are possible. Speaking of porous defense, the Devils are 28th in the NHL in goals against. Rolling with that while the offense is dead last in the league shows how badly the Devils are hurting.

Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

Things will be different in 2017-18.

Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

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John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

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For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”