Around the Rink – Wednesday, December 15th

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Here are previews for tonight’s 11 games. As usual, all start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Phoenix @ New Jersey

The Coyotes and Devils are prime examples of the disparity at the lower levels of the two conferences. While New Jersey is so far behind the pack that some wonder if they’re already out of playoff contention, Phoenix is only four points behind the Pacific Division lead and seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the overall lead in the West.

So yeah, the West is better.

Anaheim @ Washington

On paper, this should be an easy win for Washington. The Caps have 12 of their 18 wins at home while the Ducks only won five in 15 games on the road. Yet, you know the drill: the West tends to beat the East more often than not. If nothing else, the offense on both sides should make for an entertaining contest.

Boston @ Buffalo

Despite losing their last game, the Bruins are now only two points behind the Canadiens for the top spot in the Northeast and Boston also owns two games in hand. Beating the stuck-in-the-bubble Sabres would be very helpful, especially considering the daunting task facing the Habs tonight.

NY Rangers @ Pittsburgh

The Rangers won’t get the chance to end the Penguins’ winning streak after Pittsburgh lost to Philadelphia last night, but they can start a losing trend for their division rivals tonight. They’re more rested than Pittsburgh, so it might come down to whether or not the Penguins are more angry or tired on these back-to-back games.

7:30 pm

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

With the Capitals on a six-game losing streak, the Thrashers and Lightning can entertain the idea of leading the Southeast Division sooner than almost anyone imagined. Atlanta could tie Washington’s record (before the Caps play tonight, though) while Tampa Bay would only be one point behind them, depending on who wins tonight.

Carolina @ Florida

Tonight’s games feature the other Southeast Division teams, as the Hurricanes and Panthers also square off. Carolina is a model of up-and-down mediocrity (12-12-4) while it’s difficult to say if Florida is mediocre or just bad.

Philadelphia @ Montreal

The Habs will have Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek back, but will that be enough for them to beat the newly crowned kings of the Eastern Conference? It should be fun to see another rematch of last summer’s conference finals either way.

St. Louis @ Detroit

With the Blues being seriously depleted by injuries and the Red Wings so clearly strong at home, it would seem like a shoo-in for Detroit. That might happen, but don’t count scrappy old St. Louis.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ Nashville

It’s almost a joke at this point; since the days of Tomas Vokoun, the Predators have had resounding success when their should-be starter goes down with an injury. This time around, it’s Anders Lindback carrying the torch for Pekka Rinne. The result is hard to deny: Nashville is going for their fourth win a row against San Jose tonight.

8:30 pm

Colorado @ Chicago

The Avalanche and Blackhawks share the same numbers of wins (16) but Colorado has more points (36 to 35) in two less games. The Avs are quietly hot, too, as they’re on a three game winning streak.

10:00 pm

Columbus @ Vancouver

To show how closely matched the West is: the Canucks are tied with the Avalanche (but with less games played) and only two points ahead of the Blue Jackets. In other words, it seems like just about every game matters in this wacky conference.

Looks like Coyotes dodged a bullet with Oliver Ekman-Larsson

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The Arizona Coyotes’ defense really rose up the NHL ranks during this summer, but how impressive would that group look with star Oliver Ekman-Larsson out of the lineup?

There was fear that another Coyotes young blueliner would face a setback as far as knee injuries go, yet the news seems positive for “OEL.”

Coyotes GM John Chayka considers him day-to-day with a knee injury, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any structural damage.

No kidding.

In other Coyotes news, the team made Pierre-Olivier Joseph (the 23rd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft) one of their training camp cuts. So not all good news for prominent Coyotes with hyphenated names, although you could argue that POJ(?) might be better off receiving additional seasoning.

Donald Trump tweets about Penguins’ White House visit

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Earlier today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they would accept an invitation to visit the White House. You can read all about that here, including the Penguins’ brief statement on the matter.

On a day in which NFL teams are drawing attention for how players (and owners) are acting during the national anthem, Donald Trump took a moment to confirm the Penguins’ visit, and also to praise them on Twitter.

Trump issued this tweet on the matter:

This came about four minutes after he addressed the NFL once again, finishing with this tweet:

While NHL players haven’t been as outspoken as athletes in other sports, there have been some reactions to Colin Kaepernick and the situation as a whole.

A year ago, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said he would bench a player who sits during the anthem, something Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones stated was not a problem. Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, however, did have an issue with Tortorella’s stance.

Of course, those comments surfaced about a year ago, so it’s plausible one or more of those opinions might be different, in either large or small ways, as of today.

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (one of the standouts of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men’s team) criticized Trump on Twitter last night:

The 2017-18 regular season kicks off on Oct. 4, so we’ll see if there are any larger protests or statements from teams and/or players.

For more on how this situation is playing out with other sports, check Pro Football Talk (including this post), Pro Basketball Talk (Mark Cuban’s comments are the latest there), Hardball Talk (noting that Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem), and other sites under the NBC umbrella.

Bruised Blues: Add Robby Fabbri to a worrisome list for St. Louis

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It sure looks like the St. Louis Blues are going to limp into the 2017-18 season (sometimes literally).

The team announced that promising young forward Robby Fabbri will miss the remainder of training camp after injuring his surgically repaired left knee. The Blues say that they will re-evaluate Fabbri, 21, in 10 days.

It’s difficult to say how bad this issue is, but knee injuries – particularly involving knees that are already problems for athletes – can be tricky.

Even if this is a mere short-term setback, it’s staggering how long the Blues’ injury list is even before their season-opener.

Alex Steen was ruled out of training camp (and possibly beyond) just days ago because of a hand injury. Zach Sanford‘s push toward being an NHL regular is on hold thanks to being sidelined for multiple months with a shoulder issue, while a fractured ankle puts Jay Bouwmeester‘s 2017-18 season in some question, too. (More on Sanford and Bouwmeester here.)

Patrik Berglund might not be back until late 2017 or even into 2018 with his own shoulder issues.

While such injuries open up opportunities for younger players to make even temporary jumps, it’s tough to stomach as Mike Yeo preps for his first full season behind the Blues bench.

In Fabbri’s case, this is a considerable disappointment, as he was starting to show the zip at the NHL level that’s made him such a prolific scorer in the OHL. Here’s hoping he gets over these issues, as considering his size, a significant loss in speed could be a serious problem for Fabbri.

Coyotes want to retire Shane Doan’s number in the future

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After more than two decades the Arizona Coyotes and Shane Doan parted ways this offseason, ultimately resulting in the 40-year-old forward retiring from the league.

The decision to part ways with Doan was part of a massive overhaul that dramatically changed the outlook of the team, ending a lengthy chapter in its history.

The Coyotes would eventually like to honor Doan by retiring his number “at a time that is right for him.”

That is what team owner Andrew Barroway said at a Coyotes’ town hall meeting, via Sarah McLellan.

“The relationship with Shane Doan has improved,” Barroway said. “We’ve reached out. We’ve spoken with Shane. Everyone loves him. He’s a class act, great guy.”

There are no plans for any sort of an official announcement this season, but Barroway said the Coyotes will revisit it next summer.

Doan spent is entire career playing for the Coyotes organization dating back to its days in Winnipeg (he played one season with the original Jets). During his career he appeared in 1,540 regular season games, scoring 402 goals, 570 assists and 972 total points. He is the team’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, total points, even strength goals, power play goals, and shots on goal.