Simon Gagne

Lightning injury news: Simon Gagne’s status still unclear, Steve Downie should play tonight

For the second year in a row, a seemingly shrewd forward pickup seems like it’s backfiring for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Last season, free agent acquisition Alex Tanguay floundered in Florida, scoring four less points (37) in a 80-game 2009-10 campaign than he had in a 50 games in 08-09. This time around, another French Canadian addition is struggling, as Simon Gagne cannot seem to find his feet after being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers.

First, he was snake-bitten; he managed exactly zero points in six games with a pitiful -8 rating even as the Lightning started the season with a quick-strike offense. Now he cannot even get back on the ice as the oft-injured forward is dealing with “mysterious” neck problems, according to Joe Smith of Tampa

The news seems pretty cloudy at this point, although the good news is that the injury doesn’t appear to be related to the concussion problems that plagued Gagne throughout his career.

Gagne, who has missed the last seven games while on injured reserve, said he’s feeling better, but is “still not quite where I want to be.” Gagne has seen several doctors, including local neurologist Ed Grant, and said the good news was that tests appeared to show there isn’t anything wrong with his brain, nor are their symptoms stemming from his last concussion a few years ago. But the hardest part is that he can’t pinpoint the exact injury he suffered when he got hit hard into the boards against the Islanders Oct. 21.

“We’re still not quite sure what’s going on,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to be really careful.  We want to make sure we know what we’re dealing with.”

Head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said the next step is a nerve conduction test today to make sure the nerve patterns are properly coming out of the neck. Mulligan said an MRI of Gagne’s cervical spine showed some fluid in the back of his neck, but they believe that’s from an old injury while Gagne was with Philadelphia, and not a cause for his current symptoms.

For now, Gagne has been riding the stationary bike and getting treatment, hoping to find an answer. He said his neck is still stiff, and Mulligan said there is some vision issues related to Gagne’s focus when he’s moving his head from one position to another.

It’s a real shame, too, because Gagne is an explosive player when healthy. He’s in a contract year, so the injury must bother him quite a bit to keep him off the ice.

So, the bad news is that Gagne is on the shelf indefinitely. The good news is that Steve Downie – a player whose tendency to deliver dirty hits overshadows his considerable grit and offensive talent – will fight through back problems to stay in the Lightning lineup.

He’s a valuable energy/toughness element in the Steve Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line, so Tampa Bay won’t feel too bad that he insists on playing through the pain.

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.