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Plenty of surprises among NHL’s goal scoring leaders

It’s important to note that we are still in the early stages of the season, but we’re deep enough into the proceedings that goal totals are hitting the double digit mark. Chances are that most of the biggest dark horse candidates will fall out of the top ranks of the Maurice Richard race, but that’s almost half the fun in glancing at the leaders now.

So let’s look at the top guys and then analyze their individual situations.

Tied for first:

Brandon Dubinsky, center, New York Rangers: 10 goals

Steve Stamkos, center, Tampa Bay Lightning: 10 goals

Patrick Sharp, center/winger, Chicago Blackhawks: 10 goals

Tied for second:

Chris Stewart, winger, Colorado Avalanche: nine goals

Loui Eriksson, winger, Dallas Stars: nine goals

Tied for third:

Daniel Sedin, winger, Vancouver Canucks: eight goals

Alex Ovechkin, winger, Washington Capitals: eight goals

Alex Semin, winger, Washington Capitals: eight goals

Sidney Crosby, center, Pittsburgh Penguins: eight goals

Brenden Morrow, winger, Dallas Stars: eight goals

Tied for fourth with seven goals: Rene Bourque, Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa, Clarke MacArthur, Raffi Torres, Phil Kessel.

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Here is a quick list of the guys who should stay in the hunt (barring injury): Stamkos, Ovechkin, Semin, D. Sedin, Crosby, Hossa and Kessel.

Here are a few players who could be productive enough to really make a charge: Sharp, Eriksson, Morrow and Bourque.

Now, let’s quickly touch on the biggest surprises.

Dubinsky: Brandon “Dubie” Dubinsky is known for being an all-around player more than a scorer, with a career-high of 20 goals. He’s likely to regress a bit at some point, but perhaps he’s simply responding to the Rangers’ dire need for offense?

Stewart: He might be worthy of inclusion in the “players who could be productive enough to really make a charge,” but I still wanted to single out his ascension as a possible star power forward in the NHL. His current 25.7 shooting percentage is more than double the 12.7 mark he put up last year when he put up 28 goals, so don’t be surprised if the quick start helps him flirt with 35 or 40 goals this season. You really never know.

Giroux: He is almost halfway to his 16 goal total from 2009-10, but he scored 10 goals in 23 playoff games so maybe he’s just hitting his stride as a young, super-talented NHL player. He probably won’t maintain his .54 goal per game pace, but 30-plus goals is certainly reasonable. (Oh, did I mention that he’s in a potentially lucrative contract year?)

MacArthur: The former Atlanta Thrashers arbitration rejection victim probably would be happy with a 25 goal season, to be honest. He scored five of his seven goals in the first four games of the season and only scored one in his last five games. Still, he might have been worth the bargain pickup anyway.

Torres: Laffy Raffi is basically the reverse version of MacArthur; after a cold start he’s absolutely on fire with five goals in his last three games, including a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers. He probably won’t be in the top ranks of goal scorers this season, but he could threaten his career high of 27 goals from the 2005-06 season.

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So there’s a quick rundown of some of the surprises in the top ranks in goal scoring. Which players do you think will keep up their hot paces and which ones are just the beneficiaries of good luck? Let us know in the comments.

With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.