Around the rink – Saturday, November 13th

There’s far too much going on tonight to be really witty. As always, all times listed are Eastern because that was our favorite failed airline.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Boston

After winning four of their last five, Ottawa starts a four-game road trip in Boston against Tim Thomas, a guy who has owned them throughout his career. Thomas is 17-7-2 in his career against the Sens with a 2.02 goal against average. Ottawa could stand to see their offense continue to improve. During their stretch of success in their last five games they’re averaging over three goals a game.

Washington @ Buffalo

The Sabres are on a roll of late and their reward for that is facing the best team in the league. The Sabres have five points in their last three games, meanwhile the Caps and Alex Semin come roaring into Buffalo with a 12-4-0 record and the top scoring offense in the NHL. Semin leads the way with 11 goals and has been an offensive revelation making teams forget a bit about Alex Ovechkin the goal scorer. Meanwhile, Ovi leads the team with 12 assists and leads in scoring with 21 points.  For Buffalo, look for Ryan Miller to get the nod tonight for the first time since late October. They’ll need him to be in top form to stop the flying circus of offense from Washington.

Vancouver @ Toronto

Think there’s any pressure on Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri? After being called up from the AHL yesterday, the 2009 first round pick gets to make his debut on home ice on Hockey Night In Canada against gold medal winner Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. The Leafs are in desperate need of offense and Kadri’s been producing that of late in the AHL. No pressure, kid. Meanwhile, the Canucks continue their tour of eastern Canada looking to build off their stomping of the Senators the other night. This one could turn out to be special for Kadri and the Leafs or continue pouring gasoline on the speculation over Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s job security.

Carolina @ Montreal

The first place Canadiens welcome the Hurricanes to town fresh off of a 8-1 thumping at the hands of the Flyers. Meanwhile, the Habs are riding high after back-to-back wins over the Canucks and Bruins. The Habs are doing it with defense and after all the preseason speculation over Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, it appears that Price has settled in just fine and many Habs fans are happy to just stop talking about Halak from now on. Do the Hurricanes that won 7-1 or lost 8-1 show up tonight for the Habs to deal with? We shall see.

Florida @ Philadelphia

Florida will be without Steve Bernier after catching a butt-end in the face from Minnesota’s Brent Burns last night in their 2-1 win over the Wild. In his place, enforcer Darcy Hordichuk gets the call and it’s convenient considering the ever-forceful Flyers are the opponent. The Flyers, meanwhile, are winners of eight of their last nine games and have Sergei Bobrovsky and Claude Giroux to thank for that.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta

The Penguins look to keep things rolling after a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay last night. Marc-Andre Fleury redeemed himself for at least one night. Ondrej Pavelec gets the nod against the Pens and his history against them is a bit dubious. In his career, he’s 0-4-0 with a 5.22 goals against and just an .843 save percentage. Considering how shaky Atlanta’s defense and goaltending have been of late, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be putting on a show for the Atlanta fans tonight.

Colorado @ Detroit

An old rivalry renewed it’s not, so let’s put that to bed right now. Still, these two get together to play some exciting games of late. The Avs continue to do well despite all their injuries, including a 5-1 spanking of the Blue Jackets last night. Meanwhile, quietly, Detroit is having a very solid season. Jimmy Howard is playing well and the stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are producing in a big way for the Wings. This game shapes up to be like a movie script with the young, plucky upstarts going against the veteran machine of a team. Whether it plays out like Hollywood would dictate remains to be seen.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Nashville

The Predators get a big boost tonight with the return of defensemen Ryan Suter and Alexander Sulzer. With Suter back, the steadiness of the Preds blue line becomes even more improved. With Pekka Rinne in goal, tonight’s Preds lineup gets a bit closer to looking the way it should which means potentially big headaches for the middling Blackhawks. The Hawks have been inconsistent of late and while there have been flashes of brilliance, it’s not quite the same. With Dave Bolland back in the lineup for Chicago, they’ll have at least one more top producer out there and a key factor on special teams.

St. Louis @ Phoenix

We’ll say this right now to get it out of the way: If Vernon Fiddler strikes back with another hat trick tonight we’ll be stunned. One Fiddler hat trick last night was enough to throw the universe into disarray and having another one would have us questioning mankind. Meanwhile, the Blues M.A.S.H. unit rolls into town without David Perron once again and now without T.J. Oshie as well as a host of starting defenseman. Yet still they’re tied with Detroit atop the Central Division. Jaroslav Halak has to be some kind of miracle worker, right?

10:00 pm

Calgary @ San Jose

The Flames roll into San Jose coming off a bad loss to the Coyotes last night. Sure, the final was 5-4 but it wasn’t actually that close. The Flames could stand to get those goals a bit sooner in the game and put the pressure on the opponents for once. Meanwhile, the Sharks are looking like they’ll roll out Antti Niemi in goal tonight and they’re looking to get things right. They’ve won two of their last three games, sure, but they’ve yet to look like the world beaters they’re expected to be. Thumping on an inconsistent Flames team will help them out as they’ve got a date with the Kings after this.

10:30 pm

NY Islanders @ Los Angeles

Speaking of the Kings, could they be looking at a trap game against the hapless Isles? Sure, the Isles have lost eight in a row, but they’re not losing games by a wide margin. They’ve looked tight but at least defensively responsible in their last three losses to the Flyers, Ducks, and Sharks. With the Kings slated to have a game with San Jose up next, the possibility for getting caught looking ahead is there and real. If the Kings fall asleep at the wheel in this one, the Isles might be able to break that streak.

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.

————

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