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Mike Keenan says ‘Neon’ Dion Phaneuf caused some locker room issues, but praised his overall play

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If anyone knows “difficult” people, it’s former NHL coach “Iron” Mike Keenan. After all, he sees one every time he looks in the mirror.

The fiery coach – known for brow beating a considerable amount of players, though it’s unclear that he always left as good an impression as he did on Jeremy Roenick with his rants – was last fired from the Calgary Flames after the 2008-09 season. During his last two seasons behind an NHL bench, he surely had the opportunity to get to know then-face of the Flames franchise, Dion Phaneuf.

TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke with Keenan about the Flames-turned-Maple Leafs defenseman, who will return to Calgary as the Toronto captain tonight.

Keenan admitted that Phaneuf’s “overly confident, if not cocky” behavior rubbed some Flames veterans the wrong way. If you need any evidence of that feeling, just look at the nickname he gave him: “Neon Dion.” Yup, when people compare you to a former NFL cornerback whose theatrics and rampant egotism overshadowed his elite coverage skills, it’s probably a sign that the target of such comparisons has a substantial ego.

There were arguments, and some wanted Keenan to tighten the reigns and discipline Phaneuf, but the former coach enjoyed Phaneuf’s sometimes, combative nature and verbal approach and was willing to live with his mistakes as he developed.

Keenan compliments the 25 year old defenceman for always showing drive and arriving at the rink everyday, fired up, and ready to play.

At times there was friction in Calgary’s dressing room, and perhaps a sense of jealousy over the 6 year, $39 million dollar extension Phaneuf signed with the Flames in 2008.

However, Keenan says he very much enjoyed coaching Phaneuf and says he would have him on any team he’s associated with in the future; adding former NHL stars such as Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, or Ed Belfour, all had their issues, but all were thoroughbreds Keenan found very coachable.

Now, it’s tough to argue with one sentiment floating around Twitter and other sections of the hockey world: perhaps Keenan is just trying to get his name back out there after watching the last two seasons from afar?

That being said, it’s not that tough to believe that Phaneuf’s sense of self worth might have inflated along with his notoriety and wealth. There were some thoughts that his combination of brutal hits and a scorching slap shot might allow him to become the next Chris Pronger, but defensive lapses and other shortcomings have transformed his contract into one of the league’s worst deals.

So far, it seems like “Neon Dion” is burning out like an old neon light. Unfortunately, that just means his playing career parallels Keenan’s coaching days.

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line doing the business in Carolina

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Brock McGinn #23 of the Carolina Hurricanes awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Bill Peters has found something in the Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn trio.

The line, formed just a short while ago, erupted for 10 points in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Isles. McGinn went on to capture third star of the week honors and, together, the unit has been a major reason Carolina’s knocking on the door of a playoff spot.

“They’re doing it playing against everybody’s best at home,” Peters said of the Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line, per the New York Daily News. “They’re taking on tough matchups each and every shift and more often than not, they win it.”

Given that Staal, the club’s top defensive center, anchors the line, Peters often uses it against the opposition’s top group. So full credit has to go to Lindholm and McGinn, especially given their relative inexperience — both are just 22 years old and, coming into this season, McGinn had all of 21 games of NHL experience.

He’s a pretty good story, to say the least. The youngest of the McGinn brothers — Jamie currently plays for Arizona, Tye is with the Lightning organization — Brock was the 47th overall pick in 2012, and has steadily progressed from a good scorer in junior, to a good scorer at the AHL level, to a good scorer at the NHL level.

McGinn now has 12 points in 27 games with the ‘Canes this season.

“Our scouts stepped up and took [McGinn] in the second round. He’s a little under-sized and he’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s got a lot of hockey player in him,” Peters explained, per the ‘Canes website. “He’s a very courageous kid, a very intelligent player, a lot of old school in him. He’s starting to play with way more pace now, which is a huge credit to him.”

As mentioned above, the ‘Canes are in a great spot right now. They head into today’s action just one point back of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East, but with three games in hand.

Carolina could vault the Flyers with a result against Columbus on Tuesday. It would be another big step in trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

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Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.