Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Dustin Byfuglien named November’s three stars

With December beginning today, the NHL decided to name its three stars for the month of November: Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Dustin Byfuglien. It’s pretty difficult to argue with those three choices, but let’s take a look at the kind of month enjoyed by each player. Here are some of our observations along with some lines from the league’s press release

(You have to enjoy the symmetry that comes from naming one forward, one defenseman and a goalie, by the way.)

First star: Crosby

Say what you will about Crosby; it’s understandable to get slightly annoyed by the hype. (A Canadian magazine naming him “Newsmaker of the Year” does seem to be a bit strong.) Yet you cannot deny that the young star delivers about as much as one can ask him to.

In the case of November, he scored almost two points per game.

Crosby led all players last month with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 14 games, taking first place in the NHL scoring race and lifting the Penguins (16-8-2) to a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Atlantic Division. Crosby finished the month with an active 13-game point streak, the longest in the NHL this season and the third-longest of his career, helping the Penguins reel off seven consecutive victories.

Second star: Price

A lot of goalies had great runs during November, but the league chose Price because of his overall body of work. Marc-Andre Fleury and Ondrej Pavelec (among others) put together great two week spans here and there, but Price made the biggest impact over the entire month.

Price posted an 8-4-0 record, 1.59 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and three shutouts in 12 games, backstopping the Canadiens (15-8-1) to a five-point lead atop the Northeast Division. Price faced more shots than any goaltender in November (392) and allowed one goal or fewer in six of his final nine starts of the month, highlighted by a 41-save performance in a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Nov. 16.

Third star: Byfuglien

After attracting criticism from many corners of the hockey world for moving the beefy former Blackhawk back to his original spot on the blueline, Byfuglien and the Atlanta Thrashers look like they might get the last laugh. His 10 goals and 27 points lead NHL defensemen, but check out his productivity in terms of November.

Byfuglien led all defensemen in scoring with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 14 games and posted a +9 rating, helping the Thrashers (13-9-3) climb to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Two of his goals were game-winners, bringing his season total to a League-leading five. Byfuglien closed the month with a flourish, scoring the game-winning goal plus three assists and a +2 rating in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins Nov. 28 and notching the game-tying goal late in the third period and drawing an assist on Anthony Stewart’s overtime goal in a 4-3 win at Colorado Nov. 30, extending the Thrashers’ winning streak to six games.

Report: Flames working to sign free agent defenseman Josh Healey

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The Calgary Flames are working on finalizing a contract with undrafted free agent defenseman Josh Healey, according to reports from Bob McKenzie and Elliotte Friedman on Saturday.

Healey, 22, has spent the past four seasons playing for Ohio State and has developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters and most physical players at the NCAA level.

“Hits too hard for college,” is how one NHL scout described his play back in February.

That style of play has resulted in him getting himself into hot some water in the form of several ejections and suspensions over the past two seasons.

Along with his willingness to play a physical game, Healey’s offensive game took off a bit during his junior and senior seasons, including the 2016-17 season when he finished as the top scoring defenseman on the Buckeyes with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 35 games.

In 133 games over four years at Ohio State he has accumulated 212 penalty minutes, leading the team by a pretty wide margin the past two years.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.