Around the rink – Wednesday, November 17th

Happy hump day folks – here’s your beefy rundown of games in the NHL tonight with 12 games rocking your eyeballs across the continent. All times listed are Eastern because that’s just how we roll.

7:00 pm

Tampa Bay @ NY Islanders

Jack Capuano makes his NHL head coaching debut for the Islanders and he gets to deal with a Lightning team that could use a win themselves. A battle between two teams that are trending down of late, the Isles more so having lost 10 straight, doesn’t usually mean there’ll be headlines to be had, but this one’s a bit different.

Boston @ NY Rangers

The Rangers get to debut their 85th anniversary jerseys tonight and doing so against a Bruins team that’s looking for their offense to come back. The Rangers have been playing some solid and tough hockey of late and Marian Gaborik’s return to action has been worth the offense his presence demands. Boston meanwhile may have Johnny Boychuk back in the lineup on defense.

Vancouver @ Pittsburgh

Had this game happened last year, the story line would be “Sid vs. Lou in a battle of gold medalists.” It’s not happening then, and it’s happening now so forget it. Vancouver’s east coast tour is treating them with a .500 record and trying to get one over the Penguins will be tough.

Buffalo @ Washington

The Caps will look to get one back on Buffalo after the Sabres overtime win on Saturday thanks to Thomas Vanek’s crazy overtime winner. The Sabres are winners of four of their last five but beating the Caps in Washington is a tough order to fill. For the Caps, the loss to Buffalo on Saturday was the one hiccup in what’s been a stellar run of late winning seven of their last eight.

Ottawa @ Carolina

The Hurricanes are looking to bounce back after two ugly losses in a row in which they gave up 15 goals total to Philadelphia and Montreal. The Senators would approve if Carolina decided to continue not stopping shots as they’ve scored five goals in their last three games including a 5-1 drubbing by Philly.

Florida @ Atlanta

The Panthers have won two of their last three games and dealing with an Atlanta team in search of a break in goal might be the cure to an ailing offense for Florida. Atlanta has lost five of their last six and in all those losses they’ve given up a ton of goals, an average of 4.6 goals per game in those losses. Ugly.

7:30 pm

St. Louis @ Detroit

The Wings come into tonight’s game winners of six of their last seven and while Mike Babcock has taken his power play players to task, the Blues come into the game looking to turn things around. The Blues have lost four in a row and the great goaltending that was guiding them before has evaporated as the Blues have allowed 22 goals in the last four games. They’ll need Jaroslav Halak to be playoff-good to take down the streaking Wings.

8:00 pm

Anaheim @ Minnesota

After a tough loss last night in Dallas, the Ducks will try and bounce back against the Wild. What’ll be making that difficult is the Wild goaltending which has been outstanding of late. Both Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore have been solid-to-stellar this year. Also playing great of late for Minnesota is Martin Havlat. Havlat’s got points in five of his last six games and is coming off a three assist night against Tampa Bay.

9:00 pm

San Jose @ Colorado

The Avs are playing about as well as you can when you’re down as many defensive players as they are. They’re on a streak of winning one then losing one that stretches back to October 30th, a span of seven games. If the trend continues, they’re due to lose tonight and playing a hot Sharks team won’t help their chances. The Sharks are coming in winners of three straight including a thumping of the Kings in their last outing.

9:30 pm

Phoenix @ Calgary

The struggling Flames have lost six of their last seven and dealing with a Coyotes team that’s on a three-game win streak likely isn’t going to help the Flames get their act together. At least they’ll have home ice to keep them warm (cold?) tonight.

Chicago @ Edmonton

Do we think that maybe once the Blackhawks can beat the Oilers this year? Chicago is already 0-2-0 against Edmonton this season with both losses coming in Chicago, all while the Oilers have been able to score at will on the Hawks. Perhaps home ice will treat Edmonton as well as it did Chicago in their previous meetings.

10:30 pm

Columbus @ Los Angeles

The Jackets look to get Mike Commodore back in the lineup tonight and while they’ve been playing well, they’ve lost two of their last three. The Kings, meanwhile, saw their win streak snapped the other night against the Sharks and will be hoping to get back on top of things against the Jackets as they begin their three-game swing through California.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan
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Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.

Full Sparks: Leafs rookie posts shutout in NHL debut

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Exactly 366 days ago, Garret Sparks was tending goal for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.

What a difference a year can make.

On Monday, Sparks — the 22-year-old netminder just recalled from the AHL Marlies — was the big story in Toronto, posting a 24-save shutout over Edmonton in his NHL debut.

Sparks’ debut came after the in-form James Reimer went down with injury and Jonathan Bernier struggled mightily to start the year. A seventh-round pick in 2011, Sparks was taken 189 spots behind the guy lined up across from him tonight — that’d be Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in ’11.

So yeah, Sparks might not be high on pedigree. But he’s certainly full value for what he’s achieved.

The former OHL Guelph standout went 8-2-1 with the Marlies this year, with a .938 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. Those numbers impressed the club’s brass and afforded him the chance to get a spot start against the Oilers.

And needless to say, it went well.

Leo Komarkov provided two-thirds of the Toronto offense on the night, scoring both the opening goal and insurance marker (into an empty net) to put him on 10 goals for the year. Komarov’s offensive outburst is nearly as surprising as Sparks’ emergence; prior to this season, the gritty Finn had never scored more than eight goals in a single NHL campaign.

Nazem Kadri scored the other goal for the Leafs, who are now 8-11-5 on the year.

As for Edmonton… well, the scoreline says it all. The club has just six goals in its last five games and has been shut out twice (the other occurred last Monday, in a 1-0 loss to the Caps). The defeat dropped the Oilers to 8-15-2, putting them right in the Western Conference basement next to Calgary, with 18 points.

New York, New York: Rangers snap slump, Isles win second straight

Oscar Lindberg

It was a good night in NYC.

In Manhattan, the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the ‘Canes at MSG and, while that was going on, the Isles won their second straight with a victory over the Avs in Brooklyn.

Nice little Monday, that.

Let’s begin with the Rangers.

Heading into tonight’s action in arguably their worst slump of the season, the Blueshirts got goals from Mats Zuccarello, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard to edge the ‘Canes. While it was hardly an oil painting — New York was out-shot 36-22 — the club will gladly take the win, and the positives that came with it.

Like the power play, that went 2-for-4 on the night with Zuccarello’s and Lindberg’s tallies. And the fact the club was able to withstand the loss of d-man Kevin Klein, who exited early in the first period — despite missing a steadying presence that plays over 21 minutes per night, the Rangers’ remaining five d-men (Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Marc Staal) all played at least 20 minutes save Yandle, who clocked in at 19:43.

The Rangers also got a solid outing from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 33 saves on 36 shots. Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Chris Terry scored for Carolina.

Now, over to Barclays.

The Isles overcame Blake Comeau‘s game-opening tally in the first to win 5-3, thanks to a three-goal barrage in the final period.

Head coach Jack Capuano will no doubt be pleased with the balanced scoring across the board, as five different Isles found the back of the net: Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas and Mikhal Grabovski, with Cizikas’ goal proving to be the eventual game-winner.

The win was also sweet given it came with backup netminder Thomas Greiss in goal. The victory pushed him to an impressive 7-3-2 on the year, putting him in the conversation among the NHL’s top second-string goalies.

For the Avs, tonight’s loss will sting. It was another unremarkable outing from Semyon Varlamov (four goals on 27 shots, an .852 save percentage) and a forgettable night for three of Colorado’s best players. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene combined to go pointless on the night, with a minus-8 rating.

And yes, I just referenced plus-minus.

Update: As longtime and cherished PHT commenter bcislesman pointed out, I neglected to mention Wednesday’s Rivalry Night game on NBCSN — between the Rangers and Isles! Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty on it in the coming days. A reminder the game will be available on TV and via NBC Sports’ Live Extra at 8 p.m. ET.