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Around the Rink – Thursday, December 9th

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s five games. As always, all the start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Florida @ Washington

All of a sudden, the Penguins have a three-point lead over the Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington played in one less game than Pittsburgh, though, so they can make up some solid ground against the lowly Florida Panthers. With a 12-2-2 home record, odds are pretty good that the Caps will break their three game losing streak.

NY Islanders @ Boston

The Bruins just went above .500 at home with their last win against the Buffalo Sabres and they have a great opportunity to get even better in Boston against the Isles. The Islanders haven’t won a game on the road in 10 straight games … so yeah, it’s a good chance for Tim Thomas and company to gain ground against Montreal.

San Jose @ Buffalo

The Sharks absolutely stole a win from the Philadelphia Flyers last night, so they have the momentum. The Sabres, on the other hand, don’t have much momentum but do have the advantage of being well rested. One good thing is that each team is starting to get their act together as of late.

Philadelphia @ Toronto

Both of these teams might be a little angry; the Flyers dropped that game at home against the Sharks while the Maple Leafs ran into the buzz saw known as the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. We’ll see if Philly can get back on track against an up-and-down Toronto bunch.

7:30 pm

NY Rangers @ Ottawa

These teams met last weekend, with Chris Kelly scoring a hat trick to help the Senators win 3-2. The Rangers are still in a much more comfortable position to make a run for the playoffs overall, though, as they’re in the “upper middle class” while the Senators are mired in the “lower middle class.”

8:00 pm

Columbus @ St. Louis

While the Blues are just banged up (Andy McDonald recently joined the wounded ranks along with T.J. Oshie and David Perron), the Blue Jackets seem to switch between great and dreadful every couple weeks. Both teams are competitive yet flawed, just like the many middle-of-the-pack squads that comprise most of the Western Conference.

9:00 pm

Minnesota @ Phoenix

The Coyotes are starting to look like that team that gave the Detroit Red Wings serious headaches in the playoffs last summer (7-2-1 in their last 10 games) while things are bleak enough for the Wild that people are pining for the times of Jacques Lemaire.

10:30 pm

Calgary @ Los Angeles

After beating the Red Wings and Panthers in Los Angeles, the Kings now have twice as many wins at home (10) than on the road (5). It seems like the SoCal bunch is getting things together after a stunning fall from grace while the Flames are barely staying in front of the Oilers to avoid being the worst team in the Western Conference. You’d think this would be an easy one for the Kings, but you never know.

Rangers mostly dodge a bullet: Nash only expected to miss a week

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers moves the puck along the boards during the second period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.

At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.

It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.

The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:

(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)

Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.

“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!

Goal-starved ‘Canes need to get to the net

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Toby Enstrom #39 and Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets follow the puck as Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes screens Hellebuyck during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The statistics say the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the top puck-possession teams in hockey.

But unlike most teams who fare well in the Corsi and Fenwick departments, the ‘Canes still lose more games than they win.

In the past, much of the blame for their struggles has been piled on Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, the two goalies. But Ward has actually been much better this season. The veteran netminder has a .924 save percentage over his 19 starts. He just hasn’t received much in the way of goal support, which explains his modest 9-7-4 record.

In fact, in Ward’s last five starts, he’s allowed just eight goals combined. The ‘Canes only won one of those games, a 1-0 overtime triumph Sunday against Tampa Bay.

   Read more: The curious case of the Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina (10-10-5) starts a three-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim.

“Our focus is on scoring,” coach Bill Peters said, per NHL.com. “It’s the ability to get on the board. I’d love to get on the board early. … It’s about the urgency to score, what you have to do to score. I want to see more guys in the blue paint. I want to see guys making it harder on the goaltender. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

It remains to be seen if they have the personnel to score more dirty goals. At the moment, they’re without Jordan Staal (concussion), and that’s a significant loss. Up front, the ‘Canes just aren’t a very heavy team. Their top point-producers are speedy and skilled — Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskSebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen — but Staal is the biggest and most physical of the bunch.

“To generate more offense and score more goals, we’ve got to be able to work our way inside and make it tough on them,” said defenseman Justin Faulk.

However they do it, they need to find a way. Because the ‘Canes have been slipping in the standings. They’re now six points back of a wild-card spot, tied with the Islanders and Leafs for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

Via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, here are the 10 goalies who have received the least amount of goal support this season:

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