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Riding the Zamboni – Wednesday, December 15th: Hat tricks for everyone!

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Detroit 5 – St. Louis 2

The night of hat tricks starts with a legend getting his first career hat trick. 40 year-old Nicklas Lidstrom had the hat trick to lead Detroit to an impressive win over Jaroslav Halak and the Blues. Considering how long Lidstrom’s been in the league this being his first hat trick is amazing in itself. Lidstrom has had a remarkable year and with a healthy Wings lineup around him, he looks like the multiple Norris Trophy winner once again. We’re not exactly sure that Lidstrom ages the way humans do.

Buffalo 3 – Boston 2

Drew Stafford was healthy for Buffalo tonight and for the Sabres it’s a good thing because his hat trick was all the offense they could muster in taking out Boston. Tuukka Rask and Ryan Miller were equally solid in goal, but it was Miller’s 32 saves that stood taller than Rask’s 32 saves in the end.

Vancouver 3 – Columbus 2 (F/OT)

Much like Drew Stafford did for Buffalo, Ryan Kesler was all that for Vancouver. His overtime winner gave him a hat trick and gave the Canucks a tough win over the Blue Jackets. Roberto Luongo \stopped 28 shots in this one playing the part of a clutch goaltender while Mathieu Garon stopped 27 shots. For Vancouver it’s their third win in their last four games.

Colorado 4 – Chicago 3

Chicago is getting tired of seeing Colorado and tonight it was new Avalanche forward Tomas Fleischmann causing them pain netting a hat trick to lead the Avs to victory. Fleischmann’s trick helped make Chicago goalie Corey Crawford look bad in the loss as the speedy Avs kept giving the Blackhawks fits. Crawford stopped just 19 shots in the loss while Craig Anderson saved 35 for the Avs.

New Jersey 3 – Phoenix 0

From the department of “Headlines the Devils wish they saw all year long” Ilya Kovalchuk had a pair of goals while Martin Brodeur earned his third shutout of the season stopping 29 Coyotes shots. Is it the sign of a breakout coming? Perhaps. Kovalchuk has two goals and three assists in his last three games. It’s baby steps for the Devils but it’s something.

NY Rangers 4 – Pittsburgh 1

It’s only natural that after a 12 game winning streak that things slow down a little bit right? Tonight the Rangers had a four-goal third period to put the Penguins away in Pittsburgh. Erik Christensen and Alexander Frolov scored goals 13 seconds apart in the third to silence the Pittsburgh crowd. The Pens had what they thought was a tying goal disallowed because Pascal Dupuis interfered with Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers then added two more goals from Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle to put it away. The win is impressive since Ryan Callahan left the game in the first period with a broken hand. Lundqvist stopped 27 saves in the win while Brent Johnson ate the loss for Pittsburgh saving 18 shots.

Anaheim 2 – Washington 1 (F/OT)

Seven losses in a row for Washington now. Ryan Getzlaf put the Caps away in overtime with his game winner, but if there’s an upside to things for Washington, they played tough defensively and got solid goaltending out of Semyon Varlamov. That’s a start. The offense continued to suffer, this time at the hands of the posts and the hot game from Jonas Hiller. Hiller stopped 31 shots in the win

Philadelphia 5 – Montreal 3

Another night, another intense game between these two teams. Philadelphia had a 3-0 lead before Chris Pronger left the game with an injury and the Habs stormed back to tie it up at three halfway through the third period on a Brian Gionta goal. It would be James van Riemsdyk’s power play goal with just over five minutes to play that would put Philly ahead for good though. For van Riemsdyk it was his second goal of the night to lead the way for the Flyers. Claude Giroux would score a minute later to provide the final tally of the game. Jeff Carter had a goal and two assists while Sergei Bobrovsky made 38 saves in the win. Habs defenseman P.K. Subban will likely be the center of discussion again as offensively he had a solid game with a goal and an assist, but defensively he made two big mistakes that turned into Flyers goals.

Tampa Bay 2 – Atlanta 1 (F/SO)

Carolina 4 – Florida 3

What started off looking like a Florida romp turned into a great comeback win for the Hurricanes. The Panthers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead scoring two goals in the first 1:42 of the game with Evgeni Dadonov scoring 29 seconds in followed up by a Michal Frolik goal. That chased out starter Cam Ward from the game and Justin Peters would take over to allow just one more goal four minutes later and settle in after that. From then on it was all Carolina with Tuomo Ruutu scoring twice with Jeff Skinner and Sergei Samsonov each adding two assists a piece. Tomas Vokoun would surrender the lead in perplexing manner as he’d go from making outstanding highlight reel saves to making brutal turnovers that ended up in the back of the net. Vokoun finished the game with 30 saves while Peters finished out with 20 and the win.

Nashville 3 – San Jose 2

In case you haven’t noticed, the Predators are on a bit of a roll now. They’ve won their fourth straight game and seven of their last eight games. They’ve done it with rookie goalie Anders Lindback providing all the support they need and tonight he was huge on the score sheet and in stature. The 6’5″ Swede stopped 25 shots to earn the win as the Predators came back from down 2-1 heading into the third to secure the victory. Sergei Kostitsyn and Colin Wilson scored 44 seconds apart with under four minutes to play to pull ahead and secure the win. Dany Heatley scored his 14th goal of the year for San Jose while Antti Niemi was the tough luck loser stopping 32 shots.

Looking to make the leap: Nikita Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The physical part of the game will be different for him in the NHL, but the way he moves the puck and skates and how defensive you now have to be to play, it just really makes you think he can be really successful for the Leafs.”

That quote was from former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, speaking in May about newly minted Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who went up against Whitney in the KHL.

So needless to say, expectations for Zaitsev this season are fairly high.

And they’re high for reason. At 24, the undrafted blueliner has a wealth of professional experience — seven full campaigns, split between Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow — and really came into his own over the last few years. He routinely led CSKA in d-man scoring, and was named a KHL first-team all-star in ’14-15.

That pedigree should translate into plenty of opportunities in Toronto.

And hey, Toronto has plenty of opportunities to offer.

It’s likely one of the big reasons Zaitsev chose the Leafs over other interested suitors like Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (per Sportsnet). The Leafs are still in the early stages of their rebuild, and it shows on defense — based on current projections, Zaitsev could open as a top-four guy alongside Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick, leapfrogging the likes of Martin Maricin, Roman Polak and Connor Carrick in the process.

The great unknown, of course, is how his success in the KHL will translate into North America. Every NHL club is hoping to land the next Artemi Panarin, but it’s important to remember that 1) Panarin is a forward, and 2) jumped onto a line next to Patrick Kane.

The transition for defenders has generally been tougher, something folks in Philly saw last year with the failed Evgeny Medvedev experience.

Of course, Zaitsev has a few more things going for him than his fellow Russian. He’s younger than Medvedev by nearly a decade, and is a coveted right-handed shot (Medvedev’s a lefty).

And like most players coming over from the KHL, Zaitsev’s on a one-year, performance bonus-laden contract that amounts to a “prove it” deal in the NHL.

That should be enough motivation to help him make the leap.

And if it’s not, there’s always the leap back to Russia.

‘Canes extend GM Francis, who’s ‘rebuilt our organization the right way’

Ron Francis
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The Carolina Hurricanes locked in a key part — arguably the most key part — of their rebuild on Tuesday, signing GM Rom Francis to a contract extension through the 2018-19 campaign.

“Ron has rebuilt our organization the right way, stocking our team and system with young players who will help this franchise compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out,” club owner Peter Karmanos said in a release. “I’m thrilled that he will continue to see the job through.

“The future is very bright for the Hurricanes in Carolina.”

Francis, 53, has been on the job in Carolina for the past two years, and has done a terrific job of stockpiling young talent through the draft and via trade: Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier, to name a few.

Francis was also instrumental in hiring head coach Bill Peters. At the time of the hire, Peters was something of an unknown — an under-the-radar assistant with no NHL head coaching experience — but has since developed into one of the game’s more respected bench bosses.

Peters was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the most recent world championship, and led the country to gold.

This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Mike Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained in July, when he extended Peters’ contract through 2019. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

For all the praise Francis has received during his short time on the job in Carolina, there is one area of concern — goaltending. This summer, Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

It’ll be interesting to see how that move plays out.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.