Tonight’s attendance watch: Dallas more interested in World Series, Columbus sets a new low

We’re keeping a stray eye on attendance numbers around some places in the NHL, and couple of games tonight stood out more than others. In Dallas, the Stars announced a paid attendance of 11,306 at American Airlines Center for the Stars 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, a new low since moving to Dallas. Of course, the Stars do have some competition with the Texas Rangers being in the World Series. Folks on the scene tonight, which included our own James O’Brien, say that the actual attendance was far lower than the announced total.

Having to compete with TV sets showing the World Series can be a tough call, but the World Series didn’t seem to affect attendance at the San Jose Sharks home game last night against the Devils where the Sharks once again had a sellout crowd. With San Jose being a stones throw away from San Francisco where Game 1 of the series was held, it was curious to see that the Sharks didn’t suffer while the Stars did, even though the Stars are going out of their way to provide screens and TV sets at the arena to keep Stars fans up to date with what’s going on with the Rangers. Attendance is something they’re worried about in Dallas as Defending Big D wondered aloud if the Stars are going to have problems this year.

Things don’t figure to get any better on Saturday for the Stars home game against the Buffalo Sabres as they’ll be going up against Game 3 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas head-to-head. If you thought tonight’s turnout in Dallas was embarrassing, it could prove to be magnificent compared to what could shake out going up against the first World Series game to ever be held at the Rangers home park.

Meanwhile in Columbus, the woes of the Blue Jackets ability to draw a crowd continue as the attendance tonight at Nationwide Arena managed to set a new team low of 9,128 as the Jackets beat the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout 3-2. The issues facing the Blue Jackets are pretty obvious for them as they’ve only been to the playoffs once in their ten seasons in the NHL. Becoming a winning team will help them out, and they’ve done well to start the season, but getting things done for an extended amount of time is the only thing that will boost the numbers. Relying on playing tons of games against the Red Wings and Blackhawks to help boost the numbers only does so much, especially when the arena is being filled with tons of fans of the opponents.

For now, the Blue Jackets pronounced lack of success in their past is their Achilles heel. Giving the fans a fun team to watch that can win will help things out. Having to deal with the other teams in the Central Division will make life hard for Columbus.

(note: Stars crowd photo courtesy of @5holeblog on Twitter)

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.