Riding the Zamboni – Saturday, December 11th

There’s a lot to get to tonight so… Let’s just get to it already.

Philadelphia 2 – Boston 1 (F/OT)

A Bruins comeback sent to defeat as Mike Richards scored with three seconds left in overtime to give Philly the win. James van Riemsdyk had Philly’s other goal while Nathan Horton continues to be Boston’s main source of offense. Both Brian Boucher and Tim Thomas were both outstanding in this one, but Boucher’s 35 save performance was top notch. Thomas was no slouch stopping 31 shots of his own. Every time these two teams match up it makes us hope they get to face each other again in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh 5 – Buffalo 2

Make it 12 in a row for the Penguins. In a feisty affair with Buffalo it wasn’t Sidney Crosby who led the way but rather recently called up rookie Dustin Jeffrey, the AHL’s leading scorer this season, who got it done. Jeffrey had a goal and an assist to lead the Pens to victory. Sidney Crosby did keep his point streak alive and extended it to 18 games with an assist on Alex Goligoski’s third period goal. Goligoski finished with an impressive +4 rating for the game.

Toronto 3 – Montreal 1

A classic rivalry tilt in Toronto ended up with happy fans and no waffles hitting the ice from anyone posing as the Waffle Man. Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle had first period goals to set the pace against what looked like a bad Habs team tonight. You can’t hang the loss on backup goalie Alex Auld who got a rare start in this one, it was on the effort of his teammates in front of him instead. Kris Versteeg added an empty net goal for the final tally. Jean-Sebastian Giguere was solid in the win stopping 22 shots.

Detroit 4 – New Jersey 1

This one was over before it really got started. The Red Wings scored on their first two shots of the game with Tomas Holmstrom scoring 28 seconds in and Dan Cleary scoring 1:14 after that. For the Devils it was a rough night with the fans booing the team and Martin Brodeur hearing Bronx cheers for making saves. They at least had a Patrick Elias goal to cheer for, but that’s about it. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk added goals for Detroit while Chris Osgood won his 399th career game.

Atlanta 5 – NY Islanders 4

A wild, up and down game with 1,100 Quebec Nordiques fans in attendance helped make this one hell of a way to sell the game to these fans that likely won’t get to see either of these teams play in Quebec City.  Johnny Oduya scored his first two goals of the year for Atlanta, Bryan Little scored a goal reminiscent of something Mario Lemieux or Adam Oates would do off a face off and the Thrashers held on to beat the Islanders. Blake Comeau had two goals in a losing effort for the Isles who keep slipping away in the East.

Colorado 3 – Washington 2

The Caps dropped their fifth game in a row in a game Colorado was in control of most of the way thanks to goalie Craig Anderson. Anderson made 40 saves in the win while Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Wilson, and Paul Stastny had goals. Mike Knuble had a goal and assisted Matt Hendricks on his third period goal but it wasn’t enough. Caps fans are likely getting as antsy as the players are frustrated.

Columbus 3 – NY Rangers 1

Tonight was the Rick Nash show as the Jackets superstar scored twice to lead the way over New York. Steve Mason wasn’t too bad either stopping 32 shots for Columbus. For Nash, the goals are his 15th and 16th on the season as he’s quietly gotten himself back into position in the goal scoring race. While Crosby and Stamkos are well ahead of the pack, all it takes is one hot streak to get serious. This could be the start of something big for Nash.

Carolina 2 – St. Louis 1 (F/SO)

Goalie showdown? Goalie showdown. Cam Ward came out on top in this one making 38 saves and standing tall in the shootout to get Carolina the win. Jaroslav Halak was no slouch himself making 28 saves. Brandon Sutter and Alex Pietrangelo had the goals in regulation while Jussi Jokinen had the shootout winner.

Nashville 3 – Florida 0

Anders Lindback earned his first career shutout stopping 22 shots. Ryan Suter added a goal and an assist for the Predators who have now won two in a row.

Phoenix 5 – Dallas 2

A bad night for Andrew Raycroft and the Stars in Phoenix. Shane Doan scored twice and Raycroft was chased from the game leading to Richard Bachman seeing his first NHL action in goal. Keith Yandle had a goal and two assists to pace the offense. Ilya Bryzgalov was solid once again making 33 saves.

Tampa Bay 5 – Vancouver 4 (F/OT)

Remember Steve Stamkos? Sure you do, he was the guy that was taking the NHL by storm just a week or two ago. He was back tonight in leading the Lightning to victory spoiling Markus Naslund’s special night in Vancouver. Stamkos scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime, and added an assist to give Tampa Bay the win. For Stamkos the goals bring him to 24 on the season, two behind Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead. Daniel and Henrik Sedin each had a goal and an assist for Vancouver. Dan Ellis stopped 23 for Tampa Bay while Cory Schneider stopped just 18 for the Canucks.

Minnesota 3 – Los Angeles 2 (F/OT)

Kings goalie Jon Quick played like a secret agent for the Wild. Sloppy play and puck turnovers helped lead the Wild to victory as two brutal mishandles by Quick led to both of Minnesota’s goals in regulation. Quick stopped just 18 shots in the loss. On the other side of things, Jose Theodore played solidly for Minnesota. Brent Burns’ overtime power play goal proved to be the game winner. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown each had two points for Los Angeles, Brown with a goal and an assist and Kopitar with two assists.

San Jose 2 – Chicago 1 (F/OT)

Ryane Clowe’s two-goal night for San Jose will get overlooked in this one thanks to one quick whistle in the first period. What was believed to be a goal by Viktor Stalberg was waived off thanks to a fast whistle by the officials. That non-goal turned out to be big for San Jose as they were able to get the game to overtime and help Antti Niemi beat his former team. Both Niemi and Corey Crawford played well, each stopping 28 shots.

EA Sports rolls out NHL 18 closed beta, with a lot of 3-on-3 focus

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EA Sports released a closed beta for “NHL 18” today, which gives players on Xbox One and Playstation 4 the chance to test three modes out from July 25 – Aug. 1.*

It sure seems like the beta – if not the full game – will focus on 3-on-3 overtime, and extending that experience beyond the confines of normal NHL action.

For one thing, the established EA Sports Hockey League mode will apparently include 3-on-3 overtime in the beta, and maybe more interestingly, also through full games. EA Sports explains as much:

Bringing authentic NHL 3-on-3 overtime to EA SPORTS Hockey League, you can now choose to play 3-on-3 full matches, opening up more ice for you and your teammates to get creative, pull off big plays, and showcase brand new skill moves. With more space to attack – and to make mistakes – 3-on-3 EASHL is higher stakes with more competition and skills.

Fans of the ailing sub-genre of arcade-style sports video games should take note that “NHL 18” introduces “NHL Threes.” The format hearkens back to the 16-bit days by turning off offside and icing calls, while a penalty will give a player a chance at penalty shot. Interesting. EA provided a little more information about the mode here, and it sure sounds like it could be fully featured upon release. The beta at least provides a taste of that.

(It wouldn’t be surprising if “NHL Threes” apes the previous generations “3 on 3 NHL Arcade,” which became something of a cult classic for some hockey game fans.)

Along with EA Sports Hockey League (note: a mode where you control a single player rather than a full team) and “NHL Threes,” the beta also includes the more vanilla Online Versus Play mode.

While the beta appears to be closed, EA’s NHL account is tweeting out ways to get codes on Tuesday, so it might not be too late if you’re lucky.

Without taking the beta for a test run personally just yet, this sounds like a nice opportunity for people to give the near-complete “NHL 18” a trial before the full game comes out on Sept. 15.

* – Or, as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier recently noted, maybe for a longer period of time.

Streit on Canadiens return: ‘Montreal always had a special place in my heart’

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Whether he’s Andrei Markov‘s replacement or a depth addition, the bottom line is that Mark Streit is slated for his second run with the Montreal Canadiens.

Streit, 39, would be justified in feeling like this signing could really tie his career in a nice bow.

MORE: Canadiens sign Streit

(Amusingly for everyone beyond his accountant, with a reported $700K cap hit for 2017-18, Streit is drawing almost the exact same salary as he did from the start; Streit received $600K in 2006-07 and 2007-08, according to Cap Friendly/Cap Geek.)

Back in 2004, the Canadiens drafted him … barely. He was a ninth-round pick, going 262nd overall in 2004.*

All things considered, Streit jumped to the NHL remarkably quickly, playing more than half a season in 2005-06. He would bounce from the Canadiens to the Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, and now back to Montreal. Despite him pretty well-traveled, the Swiss-born blueliner feels most at home with the Habs, as he told the team website.

“Montreal always had a special place in my heart because I started there,” Streit said. “One thing I really always missed was playing at the Bell Centre. It’s a unique rink with unique fans and a unique atmosphere. If you get the chance to play in front of them every night – with the atmosphere and the life in the city – I think it’s very motivating.”

Streit acknowledged the pressure that comes with playing there, and he’d certainly feel some if Canadiens fans are expecting a player who struggled to even crack the Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason lineup to replace Markov.

Considering his $700K cap hit, Canadiens fans should keep expectations reasonable, especially since Streit tends to really blossom when people don’t expect much from him.

* – In case you’re wondering, that was a respectable ninth round. Danniel Winnik (717 games played, 265th overall), Grant Clitsome (205 GP, 271), Adam Cracknell (203, 279), and Jannik Hansen (580 GP, 287) all made solid careers for themselves. Not bad for guys who were drafted in rounds that wouldn’t even take place today.

Canada would consider Doan, Iginla for 2018 Winter Olympics

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When discussing the construction of Canada’s possible roster heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sean Burke can be almost frustratingly coy. Still, in leaving virtually every available avenue at least conceivably open, he leaves room for some fascinating scenarios.

It might be tough to top this one discussed on TSN’s Overdrive 1050: if NHL teams pass on signing Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, perhaps the Olympics could be their swan song?

Yes, there are quite a few “ifs” involved, but it’s an intriguing thought during the dog days of the hockey summer.

Burke likely presented more realistic possibilities in acknowledging that professional players plying their trade in Europe, particularly the KHL, might be the greatest source for talent.

“Most of our players will be guys that come from Europe playing in the KHL,” Burke said to TSN’s Overdrive 1050.

When pondering possible entries, recent international tournaments could be helpful.

Looking at Canada’s 2016 Deutschland Cup roster and who they’re sending to the 2017 Sochi Open, NHL castoffs such as Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Nigel Dawes, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, and Mason Raymond all seem likely logical choices. College players such as Cale Makar make things more complicated – both for Canada and the U.S. – as well.

In a separate interview with TSN, Burke noted that he would rather not supply specific names himself. Even in being vague, he provided an additional interesting detail: upcoming tournaments may illuminate what Canada lacks on its roster as much as who could have a leg-up on making the team.

And, if nothing else, they’ll get a good look at some players through a rigorous process.

Wow.

That notion makes you wonder if AHL players will be at a significant disadvantage to make both Team Canada and the United States rosters. As the Associated Press notes, AHL teams look poised to loan certain players, but only for a window of Feb. 5-26.

Burke notes that he’ll want a significant chunk of his roster more or less settled around December, and he already pointed to a preference for those who are playing in Europe.

Now, that doesn’t mean Canada or the U.S. will ignore an obvious AHL talent – if available – yet it sounds like those players would face an uphill battle to making the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That said, a lot can change, especially considering how often injuries can throw a wrench in things.

As much as we’d all love to watch a “best-on-best” tournament featuring NHL players, the alternative is also intriguing: seeing how different teams construct rosters from a variety of other leagues/resources.

And, hey, it could be awfully fun to see the likes of Iginla and/or Doan leading a motley crew of young players and former NHLers. Such a thought might even get Doan to admit that he was out of bounds in blaspheming “Miracle.”

Zibanejad jumps at opportunity to be Rangers’ No. 1 center

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It’s reasonable to assume that the New York Rangers were comfortable trading Derek Stepan in part because they believed Mika Zibanejad could step into the No. 1 center role.

That puts a lot of pressure on Zibanejad, who’s never been the top pivot on an NHL team before. If that wasn’t enough, now he’ll need to justify the first big contract of his career (seeing his cap hit rise from $2.625 million to $5.35 million).

MORE: Rangers lock up Zibanejad for five years

At least he isn’t oblivious to this challenge, and as the Rangers website notes, he’s actually super happy* to raise the stakes.

“I think even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I’m working really hard to make sure that I’m … taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”

Stepan drew criticism – arguably unfair criticism – from Rangers fans for not being quite the No. 1 center many of them wanted, so it will be interesting to see how Zibanejad handles the challenge/burden.

If you were to grade his first season with the Rangers, you might be tempted to hand him an “Incomplete.”

Injuries really limited him for much of 2016-17, but when he played, he was solid, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games. Zibanejad had a flair for the dramatic, too.

Still, in full seasons, Zibanejad’s produced nice-but-unspectacular numbers. Two straight 20+ goal seasons to finish his Senators days were helpful, but many of his stats more or less fell in line with Stepan’s production.

Now, at 24, it’s reasonable to believe that Zibanejad’s best days are in front of him. It’s also true that, while he’s received nice opportunities to succeed, he wasn’t quite getting those top-line reps that Stepan received.

In all likelihood, it will come down to expectations. If Rangers fans want Zibanejad to produce at a level far exceeding Stepan, they might be disappointed; the bar for a successful season by most forwards’ standards has changed in the NHL, and Stepan’s mostly made the grade. On the other hand, if expectations are kept in check, Zibanejad could be a very nice fit for the Rangers.

Though he might miss the Derick Brassard comparisons now that the measuring stick changed to Derek Stepan.

* – Seriously, the guy said “super happy” a lot.