Around the rink – Friday, November 19th

Friday night kicks off your hockey-filled weekend of wonder. Wait, that makes it sound like a trippy kid’s show from the 1970s. Ahh screw it, we’re running with it and H.R. Pufnstuf is just going to have to deal with it. A docket filled with nine games comes your way tonight. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Carolina @ Pittsburgh

In the last four games the Hurricanes have played, either they or their opponents have scored seven or eight goals. If this trend continues, someone’s having a big night and with Justin Peters getting the call in goal tonight against Marc-Andre Fleury… Well, all bets are off. Peters is 2-0 this year when giving Cam Ward a night off. Meanwhile, the Pens are on a roll getting points in their last four games, winning three of them.

7:30 pm

Minnesota @ Detroit

The Wings are hot and the Wild are going to need to muster every bit of goaltending they can to deal with them. The Wings are winners of four straight and are coming off a seven-goal game in which they dented Jaroslav Halak for all seven. Nik Backstrom has been very good this year for Minnesota but he’ll need his best to slow down Detroit on home ice and continue their own winning ways. The Wild have won two in a row and have held their opponents to just one goal in both wins.

Los Angeles @ Buffalo

The Sabres kick off a four-game home stand with one of the best in the west. Craig Rivet will be back in the lineup for Buffalo on defense, meanwhile Peter Harrold gets the start on D for the Kings over Jake Muzzin. The Sabres are starting to get a bit more consistent. Meanwhile, the Kings will be looking to bounce back after a loss to Columbus. This could’ve featured Ryan Miller against fellow American goalie Jon Quick, but Jonathan Bernier will get the start for L.A. instead.

Washington @ Atlanta

So we meet again… This will be the fourth meeting between these two teams already this season and with them having just six games against each other all year, you have to wonder why the schedule makers wanted these two to get done with each other so soon. Atlanta is 1-1-1 against the Caps so far this year, winning their only game on opening night. Atlanta at some point is going to have to get some good goaltending going and if it doesn’t come tonight, it could mean big things for Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin who each have 25 points already this year.

8:00 pm

Ottawa @ St. Louis

A couple of teams looking for some redemption meet up in St. Louis. The Sens are coming off a 8-1 beating at the hands of the Hurricanes, meanwhile the Blues are still recovering from a 7-3 thrashing by Detroit. Ty Conklin will try to bring some stability to the St. Louis nets as they’ve been getting lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree of late during their five-game losing streak. In those five games, the Blues have allowed a total of 29 goals, nearly six per game. Ottawa hasn’t been much better in their last two losses giving up 12 total goals. Perhaps a couple of struggling offenses can get jump-started tonight instead.

9:00 pm

NY Rangers @ Colorado

The Rangers hit the road and get to deal with Craig Anderson in goal for Colorado who returns from a knee injury. One thing possibly working in Colorado’s favor tonight is Marian Gaborik. Sure, he’s an offensive threat against them but it’s possible he could be looking ahead to the Rangers next game in Minnesota. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rangers defense handles the speedy Avalanche and whether or not Henrik Lundqvist will have to stand on his head or not.

Phoenix @ Edmonton

So the Coyotes are on a tear and the Oilers are floundering under the pressure of youth, meanwhile the Oilers will be without Nikolai Khabibulin who is out with a groin injury. Devan Dubnyk figures to start for Edmonton but should he falter, we’ll have the NHL return of Martin Gerber who was called up from Oklahoma City to back up Dubnyk in the meantime. The Coyotes, meanwhile, are winners of four in a row and playing very well much thanks to the play of Ilya Bryzgalov.

9:30 pm

Chicago @ Calgary

The Flames will be without Olli Jokinen who is sitting for his suspension for cross checking Wojtek Wolski in the head the other night. The Flames will have new acquisitions Tom Kostopolous and Anton Babchuk in the lineup however. Chicago, meanwhile, looks to keep building off of the great play of Jonathan Toews of late. Guy to keep an eye on? Patrick Kane. Today is Kane’s 22nd birthday and we’re sure he’ll be looking to bust loose to celebrate.

10:00 pm

Columbus @ Anaheim

So far, so good on the California trip for the Jackets. A 5-3 win over L.A. the other night got them started, but dealing with the Ducks in Anaheim is a tricky task in itself. Anaheim is a tough team to face at The Pond and that’s how they’d like it to stay. Seven of their 10 wins this season have come in Anaheim. Meanwhile, the Jackets top line will be their focus. The line of Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard, and Rick Nash have been nasty and carrying the load for the team.

Lehtera: Trade from Blues to Flyers will be ‘good for me’

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Let’s be honest. Jori Lehtera felt like a bit of an afterthought in the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues and some significant picks to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Just consider the PHT headline: “Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract.”

That’s certainly a fair way to look at it, as the Flyers received the 27th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and a conditional first-rounder in the deal. Would they have gotten such a haul for Schenn if they didn’t absord Lehtera’s $4.7 million cap hit, which expires after 2018-19?

Again, it’s easy to lose track of the human factor, as Lehtera was moved from the only NHL team he’s ever suited up for. While he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that the news brought out both good and bad emotions, the 29-year-old believes that he’ll benefit on the ice.

“I have no idea why (the Blues traded me), but I think it’s better for me that I got traded, so I don’t really care why,” Lehtera said. “That’s the business part of hockey. It’s always tough to leave when you know all of the guys and the city. But hockey-wise, it’s going to be good for me. I didn’t play well at the end, but I think a new start will be really good for me.”

It’s been an interesting few years for Lehtera.

His numbers have dropped from his nifty rookie season (14 goals, 44 points) to 2015-16 (34 points) and finally last season (22 points).

Context matters, naturally, as centering a line of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko inflated his numbers, especially earlier on.

Still, that couldn’t have been a promising trend for both the player and the team.

The challenge will be to really make a mark with Philly. With Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula, Sean Couturier, and possibly even Nolan Patrick in the way, Lehtera would have plenty of competition down the middle. It wouldn’t be shocking if he was asked to move to the wing on occasion.

Lehtera certainly has plenty to prove, but he also gets a chance to make a positive first impression. If he can make an impact, then he’ll make Flyers GM Ron Hextall look that much brighter in the process.

Report: Avalanche will soon have AHL affiliate in Colorado

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There are upgrades that improve teams in dramatic ways, and then there are moves that improve quality of life.

Mike Chambers of The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche will make a tweak that would likely be a big plus in the quality of life category: starting in 2018-19, the Colorado Eagles will be their AHL affiliate. The Eagles will be bumped from an ECHL team to the AHL.

At the moment, the Avs’ affiliate is the San Antonio Rampage (pictured). So, yeah, there will be a nice advantage in a) calling players up and b) management having more opportunities to keep an eye on prospects.

The Budweiser Events Center is about a one-hour drive to the Pepsi Center according to Google Maps, depending upon traffic. So yeah, that’s an easier situation than traveling from Texas.

The Avalanche haven’t made this news official; Chambers cites two anonymous sources. With the change coming for 2018-19, it’s possible that confirmation might not come for a while. More from Chambers:

The Avs, citing their contract with the Rampage, declined comment, but vice president Jean Martineau confirmed the team’s contract with San Antonio ends after the 2017-18 season. Eagles general manager Chris Stewart could not be reached for comment.

Will Rangers fans warm up to Vigneault this season?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

From the way many New York Rangers fans discuss Alain Vigneault, you’d think he was presiding over the era of 1997-98 to 2003-04, when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

Impressive results

From a sheer win-loss standpoint, Vigneault’s been a success, even if the Rangers haven’t been able to win it all. The Rangers’ points percentage has been at .628, almost as strong as his .632 mark with the Canucks, when AV took Vancouver within one win of that elusive Stanley Cup title.

(Breaking: things haven’t gone so smoothly for Vancouver since he left town.)

The Rangers are 192-108-28 under Vigneault. They made an unexpected run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and also brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Plenty of critics

Of course, Vigneault wasn’t on the ice winning those games, and many would (understandably) attribute the Rangers’ successes to the players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist. In the eyes of many, this team’s successes come despite Vigneault.

Again, the criticisms are often as harsh as they are widespread.

Sometimes people find his defensive pairing decisions maddening. If you want to make some Rangers fans wince, just utter the name Tanner Glass. SBNation Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter provides a portal into such angst, with headlines like “Rangers demise started at the top” and failing grades for his playoff maneuvering.

Twitter can honestly get a little weird with the AV vitriol, although … maybe that’s to be expected? Consider this a random example that’s on the more, well, SFW spectrum:

Not everyone is bashing Vigneault, mind you, but his critics can sometimes resemble a chorus.

Glass floor

Of course, any passionate fan base will have its qualms with coaches. People have been discussing “the pros and cons of Alain Vigneault” for ages.

It’s easy to get caught up in your favorite team and ignore the notion that virtually every coach has “their guys.”

In this case, “their guys” means marginal players whose elevated roles leaves fans shaking their heads. Jon Cooper seemingly favored Andrej Sustr and arguably never really trusted Jonathan Drouin. Maple Leafs fans weren’t always thrilled to see, say, Roman Polak getting serious minutes. The list goes on and on.

A turning point?

With that in mind, the 2017-18 season could be an especially fascinating chapter in the love-hate affair between Rangers fans and Vigneault.

Frankly, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took measures to protect Vigneault from himself, and those changes might just leave fans begrudgingly agreeing with more AV moves than usual … or it might send some over the edge if old habits die hard.

As much as people criticize individual moves, Vigneault made a strong argument that he’s a versatile coach in 2016-17, taking a more modern approach with the Rangers. It mostly worked, and now this team has better tools to improve their transition game.

To an extent, it’s addition by subtraction, as Dan Girardi‘s time mercifully ends, and with it the motivation for AV to give him big minutes. This opens the door for more mobile defenders to get time, such as promising young blueliner Brady Skjei.

The actual additions are most important. Kevin Shattenkirk stands, on paper, as a massive upgrade, especially if he slides into a pairing with Ryan McDonagh (who some believe has been dragged down by Girardi for years).

Another key will be how Marc Staal is used. If the emphasis shifts from Staal to Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei, Brendan Smith and maybe even Anthony DeAngelo, stats-minded Rangers fans might be pleased.

Maybe most importantly for the mental health of some fans, that lure to put Glass in the lineup is also gone.

***

To some extent, criticisms are just the nature of the beast for coaches in professional sports. Vigneault’s been around long enough to realize that.

Even so, the highs and lows of Vigneault can sometimes be quite dramatic, making him a polarizing subject for fans. This season should be especially interesting to watch from the perspective of Rangers fans, whether AV makes changes or continues to frustrate them in familiar ways.

Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has indeed done a great job managing the team’s salary structure. In that context, it might be tough to justify the idea of extending an aging power forward who will be 34 when his current deal expires next summer.

There are more than a few people who believe that the Rangers would be wise to bring Rick Nash back, however. Just recently, Josh Lipman made such an argument for Fansided and a similar thought surfaced from Jackson Heil of The Hockey Writers.

Of course, wherever Nash goes, he figures to see a decrease in pay – maybe a drastic drop – from the $7.8 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

For Nash, it’s a fork in the road during what’s been a somewhat odd career.

Nash is closing in on 500 career goals, as the winger already produced 416 in 989 regular-season games. He’s become quite the specialist in New York, scoring 127 goals vs. 97 assists in 315 contests with the Rangers.

On those playoff questions

As Rangers fans likely know too well, there have been some playoff headaches.

It’s wrong to say that Nash has never enjoyed postseason success. In 19 games during their 2015 run, he managed 14 points. He also had four points in what was otherwise a miserable five-game series for the Rangers against the Penguins in 2016.

His strange run of bad luck resurfaced this past postseason, so for all we know, Nash might not ever fully silence critics regarding his supposed lack of “clutch play.”

Best option available?

When people picture Nash’s future, many envision him hitting the free agent market in 2018.

The Rangers might not be so wise to outright dismiss bringing Nash back, though. New York boasts some nice forwards, but it’s plausible that Nash could remain one of their most reliable snipers, even at an advanced age. Lipman points out that Nash easily outclasses other Rangers during his time with the team from a sniping perspective; while he generated 127 goals during that time, the second-most prolific scorer was Derek Stepan, who only managed 90.

It’s worth noting that, despite being limited to 67 regular-season games in 2016-17, Nash still scored 23 goals. Nash generated 42 goals as recently as 2014-15, which was one of his only healthy campaigns with the Rangers.

Now, it’s rarely safe to assume that a player will become more durable as he ages, so that’s another concern to consider.

Still, if the price is reasonable, Nash brings a lot to the table.

The 2017-18 season stands as a year that could have a huge impact on Nash’s future. The Rangers should at least keep an open mind about being a part of his future beyond this next season.