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Around the Rink – Monday, November 22nd

What’s the general percentage of people working on the Monday during Thanksgiving week? I’m thinking somewhere between 80 and 90 percent, but I could be 100 percent wrong there. Either way, whether you’re planning a leisurely day full of hockey watching or in need of a light at the end of the tunnel at work, here are previews of today’s eight games. As usual, the start times are Eastern (ET).

7:00 pm

Dallas @ Toronto

The Stars have won the last four meetings between these two relative strangers and their odds of continuing that streak are solid. They bring in a high-powered offense while the Maple Leafs are struggling to provide goal support for their beleaguered goalies. Toronto’s biggest advantage is probably the fact that they are playing at home, though.

Calgary @ NY Rangers

When I think of these two teams, the first thing that pops into my head is the recent trend that Darryl Sutter often looks like an even more befuddled general manager than mistake prone Glen Sather. (Sutter’s most recent trade seemed silly, as he had to throw useful defenseman Ian White in a deal just to get rid of a troubled family member.)

The Flames come into this game frustrated, as they coughed up a two goal lead in the third period to lose to the Red Wings in crushing fashion. The Rangers are the more rested of the two teams, so we’ll see if that factors into this contest.

Washington @ New Jersey

This game was supposed to be a clash between two Eastern Conference titans, but only the Capitals are holding up their end of the bargain. Meanwhile, the Devils are off to their second worst start in team history and are especially pitiful at home with a 1-5-2 record. Put their sputtering start together with the fact that Martin Brodeur will be out as he rests his elbow and it’s pretty difficult to predict good things for New Jersey. Then again, the NHL often surprises, so you never know.

Montreal @ Philadelphia

The only thing separates these two teams in the standings is one point via an overtime/shootout loss for the Flyers. Last time these two teams met, Carey Price continued his outstanding play with a shutout victory. We’ll see if the league’s stingiest team (Montreal has only allowed 39 goals this season) can shut down its most explosive (Philadelphia leads the league with 75 goals) once again.

Nashville @ Columbus

The Blue Jackets might just be the most surprising team in the NHL, at least in a positive way. Columbus just wrapped up an undefeated road trip, but are only .500 at home. They are currently on a three game winning streak as they host the Predators, who are starting to get things back together after struggling a bit the last few weeks.

7:30 pm

Pittsburgh @ Florida

It’s been a bumpy start to the season for the Penguins – which really isn’t as big of a surprise as you might think – but it seems like they’re starting to heat up (4-0-1 in their last five games). They’ll pay a Panthers team that is pretty stout at home (5-2-0 in Sunrise so far) and Tomas Vokoun is 4-1 in his last five, so this could be an interesting game even if it seems lopsided in star power.

Los Angeles @ Ottawa

These two teams show how quickly things can change in the NHL. The Kings suddenly find the Coyotes rapidly approaching their rear view mirror in the Pacific Division while the Senators seem to go from hot and cold streaks seemingly with the suddenness of a flick of a light switch. Ottawa was outscored 17-4 in dropping the last three games of a four game road trip, so it’s safe to say they are happy to be home again.

Boston @ Tampa Bay

Each of these teams has 24 points (although Boston got there in two less games played), but they got there in different ways; the Lightning with electric goal scoring and the Bruins with outstanding goaltending and defense. One heartening thing for Tampa Bay: they played 13 of their first 20 games on the road, so they are quietly one of the league’s scrappier clubs. That being said, the Bruins are 7-1 on the road so it won’t be a picnic for the Lightning.

Video: Frustrations boil over as Stars lose again

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The Dallas Stars just cannot get it together. And this afternoon in Buffalo, where the Stars dropped a 4-1 decision to the Sabres, captain Jamie Benn‘s frustrations boiled over.

As you can see in the video above, Benn snapped three sticks in total — one on the ice, two while on the bench.

It’s worth noting that Benn committed a bad giveaway on the Sabres’ winning goal in the first period. With the Stars on the penalty kill, Benn had a chance to clear the puck. Instead, he put it right on the stick of Jake McCabe, who beat Antti Niemi to make it 2-0 Buffalo.

With the loss, the Stars’ record fell to 18-19-8. And after 45 games, last year’s Central Division champs find themselves four points back of Los Angeles for the second wild-card spot in the West, with the Kings holding two games in hand.

Credit to the Sabres, who improved to 17-17-9 with today’s well-earned victory. But this one will be remembered for Benn’s very public display of frustration. The Stars get right back at it tomorrow in Manhattan against the Rangers.

Pre-game reading: On Willie O’Ree, who ‘broke so many barriers’ for black hockey players

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— Up top, enjoy Rick Jeanneret’s call after Tyler Ennis opened the scoring this afternoon in Buffalo. Ennis was making his first appearance for the Sabres since Nov. 7. He missed 30 games with a groin injury.

— Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. To honor it, Willie O’Ree will drop the puck in a ceremonial faceoff prior to this afternoon’s Kings-Lightning game in Los Angeles. O’Ree was the NHL’s first black player and has served as an inspiration for present-day players like Tampa Bay’s J.T. Brown. “He broke so many barriers, made it possible for me to play the game that I love. Anything I can do to keep growing the game, keep doing the things he did to help, that’s something I’m willing to do.” (Tampa Bay Times)

— The Detroit Red Wings are probably going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and that could turn them into sellers at the trade deadline. Might Thomas Vanek draw interest? The 32-year-old winger is a pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $2.6 million. He’s also the Wings’ co-leading goal-scorer with 11 tallies in 32 games. (The Detroit News)

— Speaking of the trade deadline, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox has written a “Who’s Buying and Who’s Selling” post. Halfway through the season, only Colorado and Arizona are totally out of the race, but teams like the Wings, Devils, Sabres, Islanders and Canucks need to be realistic about their chances of making the playoffs. At the very least, a Plan B should be put in place now, because March 1 isn’t all that far away. (Sportsnet)

— Derek Boogaard’s father, Len, wants fighting banned from all levels of hockey. And he’s not just passing the buck — he fully accepts responsibility for allowing, or even encouraging, his late son to become an NHL enforcer. “You’re supposed to be looking after your kids. In hindsight it is always, ‘Well, maybe I should have done this, maybe I should have done that.’ When I was taking him to Saskatoon for boxing lessons at 15, it’s like, ‘What was I thinking?'” It’s a compelling read, even if you still think there’s a place for fighting in the game. (Globe and Mail)

— Edmonton used to have the best ice in the league. But that’s not the case anymore at their new downtown rink, Rogers Place. Milan Lucic gives the ice a 6.5 out of 10, which is at least better than the 3 he gave it back in October. “I don’t think there is a 10 out there, but I definitely do feel that they’re going to eventually get it to be an eight and a half or nine.” (Edmonton Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Waived at start of year, Watson’s become ‘a real force’ for Preds

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 12:  Austin Watson #51 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Boston Bruins during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on January 12, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Seven years ago, hopes were high for Austin Watson.

A big-bodied forward from the OHL, Watson was selected 18th overall by Nashville at the 2010 draft — ahead of the likes of Nick Bjugstad, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Charlie Coyle, among others.

“We were really happy to get Austin. He’s certainly a Predator- type player, doing all the little things to help your team win,” GM David Poile said at the time, per the Peterborough Examiner. “He’s got leadership qualities, and he’s been compared to Ryan Kesler in Vancouver.

“If he’s anything close to that, we’ll have had a very good day at the draft.”

Needless to say, expectations were high.

Yet expectations couldn’t have been much lower at the start of this campaign when Watson, who’d only played 63 games for the Preds over four seasons, was placed on waivers after training camp.

He’d failed to establish himself at the big-league level and was off to AHL Milwaukee, where he’d already spent a good part of his professional life.

That, it seems, was the motivation Watson needed.

Since being recalled in late October, the 25-year-old has been impressive, scoring a career-high 11 points through just 39 games. He’s averaging over 12 minutes per game and has earned not just the trust of head coach Peter Laviolette, but praise as well.

“He’s been doing everything right,” Laviolette said, per the Preds website. “His physicality, his defensive play, his offensive play, he’s been a real force for our team.”

Watson’s been on a tear lately, with three goals and four points in his last four games. Poile said he’s starting to play like the power forward the Preds envisioned back in 2010, and Watson has certainly acquitted himself physically, sitting second among all Nashville forwards with 76 hits.

That’s key for a team that doesn’t boast a ton of physicality. With Watson and the newly-acquired Cody McLeod in the lineup, the Preds feel they’re a tougher team to play against — and they are playing some of their best hockey of the year at the moment, with five wins in their last eight.

Isles chase Rask with three goals on just 15 shots (Updated)

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 1: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins watches a replay during first period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on November 1, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 2-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Boston’s maddening inconsistency was on display once again Monday.

Fresh off a 6-3 win against the Flyers on Saturday, spirits were high. The B’s felt like their offense was finally starting to connect, and there was hope the club could string together victories for the first time this calendar year.

Then the opening 40 minutes of today’s game transpired.

After a nondescript first period, Boston came out flat in the second and were smacked by an Islanders team down the services of Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck. By the time the middle frame ended, Tuukka Rask had been beaten three times in just over five minutes — two of those goals courtesy Nikolai Kulemin — and was hooked at the intermission, with Zane McIntyre coming out to start the third.

The B’s did out-shoot the Isles 24-15 through two periods, but that hardly impressed the TD Garden faithful:

If the Bruins can’t turn things around in the third, they’ll head into a tough stretch on a rather sour note. Four of Boston’s next seven games are on the road — in Detroit, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Washington — and their home dates include tough matchups against the Blackhawks and Penguins.

Update: Well, that was ugly. Jason Chimera added a shorthanded marker in the third to make the final score Isles 4, Bruins 0.

“Whether it was fatigue or not, I don’t know,” head coach Claude Julien said postgame, per CSNNE. “But we were flat today. It’s very disappointing.”