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Rule changes haven’t curbed concussions in the NHL this season

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There are some definite positives when you compare the way the NHL is handling hits to the head this season compared to last. One would think that Matt Cooke surely would have been suspended for that brutal hit on Marc Savard if it took place during this season rather than last, especially when you consider the suspensions handed out in borderline cases such as Joe Thornton’s hit on David Perron.

Teams are also being far more careful with players who are fighting through concussion symptoms, this season especially.

All that being said, we must get to the sobering bad news: TSN passes along a report that the league is still on the same disturbing pace when it comes to players suffering concussions according to Dr. Ruben Echemendia (the NHL’s neuropsychologist).

Echemendia has been studying concussions in the NHL since 1997, noting that there tends to be an average of 75 of those types of head injuries per season, but last season featured a worrisome 84 and this season matches that pace through the same number of games.

That being said, Echemendia didn’t want to be totally negative.

Dr. Ruben Echemendia, the NHL’s neuropsychologist, said Friday that 33 concussions had been reported as of Dec. 1 — the exact same number as a year ago. However, he was quick to note that it doesn’t necessarily mean the rule change hasn’t been ineffective.

“It’s premature,” said Echemendia. “We need to very carefully follow the concussions this year and next year and see to what extent the rule changes have or have not had a change in behaviour. We don’t know exactly what’s causing the concussions to be at the level that they are at this point in time.”

The league has been tracking concussions since 1997 and typically sees about 75 reported each season — roughly half of which are the result of blindside hits.

Rule 48 officially entered the NHL’s rulebook over the summer, giving referees the right to call a minor or major penalty for any “lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” where the principal point of contact is the head. Every call is automatically reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.

It’s unclear what is causing this jump in concussions – or what can really be done to slow them down, aside from changing the very nature of the game – but at least the league is trying to handle them with more finesse. Concussions have been on many of our minds in the last two seasons in particular and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

Video: On Hockey Day in America, Auston Matthews did this . . .

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11:  Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Born in Scottsdale, AZ., Auston Matthews has taken the NHL by storm in his rookie season as an elite talent headlining an impressive freshman class.

Taken first overall last June, Matthews made history with four goals in his debut, surely a dizzying experience for Maple Leafs fans accustomed to heartbreak and frustration. And he really hasn’t slowed down since.

On Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes — and on Hockey Day in America — the 19-year-old Matthews once again put on a show, scoring his 28th goal of the season. That gave Toronto a two-goal lead.

As he’s often done in his brief time in the NHL, this goal was of the spectacular variety, as he broke in off the left wing and, as he was getting hauled down to the ice, slid the puck five-hole on Cam Ward.

Related: Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

Video: After a slow start, Evander Kane is on a roll for the Sabres

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For about a month now, Evander Kane has enjoyed a particularly productive stretch for the Buffalo Sabres.

Kane scored with 5.6 seconds remaining in the first period of Sunday’s game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, converting on a nifty pass from Jack Eichel and going top shelf on Scott Darling.

He now has goals in three straight games, and 15 points in 14 games as the Sabres have fought their way back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, this latest run comes just before the trade deadline, and Kane’s name has consistently been in speculation about a possible move — in addition to off-ice issues. While GM Tim Murray has said earlier this month that he’s not actively shopping Kane, he also didn’t absolutely rule out trading the 25-year-old left winger, now into his second season in Buffalo.

(Murray: “Is there a crazy deal that somebody could throw at me that would force me to do it? I guess there is.”)

Most impressive about Kane’s numbers — remember he missed time earlier this season with a rib injury and then had a slow start, which drew the ire of the coach — is that he’s done the vast majority of his scoring, 20 of 21 goals, at five-on-five.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Sharks

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Dominic Moore #28 of the Boston Bruins defends Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks during the first period at TD Garden on February 9, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins are back from their bye week, looking to continue a three-game winning streak since Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach from Claude Julien.

The Bruins can extend their streak Sunday, when they visit the San Jose Sharks (8:30 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

Pre-game reading: Are the Bruins and Avalanche on verge of trade?

Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

Video: Trouba called for a hit to the head on Stone

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Jacob Trouba could be getting a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit to the head of Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone.

The incident occurred during the third period of Sunday’s game, as Stone was passing the puck after he entered the zone. Trouba stepped up and delivered a high hit, resulting in only a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Stone, who dealt with a concussion that was reported in September, remained down on the ice before eventually going to the dressing room.

As you can see from the video, Senators coach Guy Boucher was furious officials on the ice decided this was only worth a minor for Trouba.