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Around the rink – Saturday, December 18th

A busy day and night lies ahead in the NHL with one matinee game kicking things off in style in Philadelphia as the Flyers play their first game without Chris Pronger. Getting the gutsy Rangers first should make for an interesting test. As for the rest of the night, our eyes are peeled in Boston as the Capitals come calling again and in Nashville where the red hot Predators deal with the Kings. Oh yeah, and Ilya Kovalchuk makes his less-than-triumphant return to Atlanta. Does he get booed or laughed at? All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

NY Rangers @ Philadelphia

No Pronger for Philly and Oskars Bartulis gets to replace him. No pressure there we’re sure. Meanwhile, the Flyers are on a four game win streak while the Rangers come in winners of three straight. It’s got all the makings of a rivalry classic in Philly. The Rangers are winning the tough close games while the Flyers have found the offense to put teams away more effectively.

7:00 pm

Washington @ Boston

Something’s got to give here. Two teams that are trending in bad ways. The Caps are losers of seven in a row while the Bruins have dropped their last three. Boston’s played tough in their last two but have come out on the short end of things while the Caps have been temperamental alternating between poor efforts with worse results to playing great and getting no breaks. This is the fourth and final time these two teams meet up this season and the Bruins own a 2-1-0 edge on the Caps. Washington will be without Alexander Semin who didn’t travel with the team to Boston because of a lower body injury. The flu bug that’s gone through the entire Caps locker room is bothering defensemen Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan. There’s one great eight the Caps don’t want to see by the end of the night and that’s an eighth straight loss. Captain Ovechkin will have shoulder the load against the tough Bruins.

New Jersey @ Atlanta

How’s this for a turn of events? Ilya Kovalchuk gets dealt to New Jersey after years of playing for losing teams in Atlanta. Now he returns to Atlanta for the first time this season and the Thrashers are in the thick of the playoff hunt while the Devils are mired in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. We know that Kovalchuk will hear boos but we can’t help but wonder if a chorus of “Ha-Ha’s” a la Nelson Muntz from “The Simpsons” might be more fitting. The Devils are coming off another bad loss last night, this time to Nashville, meanwhile Atlanta has dropped two in a row in the shootout.

Phoenix @ NY Islanders

Well hey look, the Islanders are on fire. All right, so one win doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on fire but it’s close enough for the woeful Isles. Getting to match up with a Coyotes team that isn’t fairing too well on the east coast trip could help keep themselves motivated. Phoenix has dropped two in a row and are coming off a shootout loss to the Rangers that stung worse because they blew a 3-1 lead in that one.

Anaheim @ Carolina

A grumpy Ducks team rolls into Raleigh after suffering the ignominy of losing to the Islanders. Carolina, on the other hand, have won three straight including two in the shootout. The Hurricanes are getting some great play from Brandon Sutter of late and having him pick things up helps keep the pressure off of rookie Jeff Skinner. The Ducks, meanwhile, need to get some production from lines aside from the first one. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry can’t do the heavy lifting every night.

Dallas @ Columbus

Columbus sure seemed to miss Kristian Huselius. Without Huselius’ hat trick against Edmonton on Thursday night the Blue Jackets 6-3 loss would’ve looked even uglier than it actually was. As it is, the Jackets would kill to get some efficiency out of goalie Steve Mason. Mason over the last four weeks has been nothing short of miserable and now that backup goalie Mathieu Garon has returned to earth after a hot start of his own, the defensive deficiencies of Columbus are really starting to show through. Going up against a Dallas team that’s got Brad Richards and James Neal playing great won’t help matters there very much. After going on a five game win streak, the Blue Jackets have won just two of their next 11 games. The Stars would like to just regain some consistency as they’ve alternated between wins and losses over their last four games.

Toronto @ Vancouver

An odd early start out on the west coast for this one, but for Leafs fans across Canada, they get to see their team in prime time on Hockey Night in Canada. The Leafs will be without Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he’s out indefinitely with another groin injury.  If the Leafs continue to play defense the way they did in a 5-2 loss to Calgary it won’t matter who’s in goal for them because they will lose. Vancouver has won three of their last four games and appear to be snapping out of their mental funk that’s kept them playing inconsistent this year winning seven of their last nine games.

7:30 pm

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay

After laying an egg last night against Florida, the Sabres hope to find their stride again. After they got a big win over Boston earlier this week, that could’ve been the turnaround they were looking for. A 6-2 loss to Florida says they’re back to square one. Tampa Bay meanwhile has Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup and they’re winners of two in a row. If they can get their goaltending right, they’ll be able to start scaring some teams.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ St. Louis

The Blues will be hoping to continue their assault against California teams. They’re coming off a big win over Los Angeles and now dealing with a Sharks team that’s playing like they’re on a roller coaster, catching them on the right night means getting a win. With the Sharks you just never know what you’re going to get. One night it’s the offensive juggernaut, on others it’s a fight with bad goaltending, and on others it’s the team decked out in v-neck sweaters singing fractured Christmas carols.

Los Angeles @ Nashville

Life is good for Nashville of late. They’re missing a bunch of guys up front and their starting goalie and it just doesn’t matter. They keep winning. They’ve won eight of their last nine games and have trimmed the distance between themselves and the Red Wings in the Central. Now they face off with a Kings team eager to put their failure in St. Louis behind them. For the Kings it’s the first of two brutal back-to-back games as they’ll head to Chicago for a game on Sunday following this tough one with the Predators. If the Kings are going to show what they’re made of, getting a win in Nashville would be huge.

10:00 pm

Minnesota @ Calgary

Hockey Night in Canada’s nightcap game doesn’t really give us the warm fuzzies, but when these two get together you’re either guaranteed a huge game from Jarome Iginla or the Wild opening up the floodgates on the Flames. This time around, we’re praying for both things to happen to keep us going into the late night hours. The Wild come in losers of two in a row while the Flames have won two straight.

Wild didn’t just get Hanzal — they kept him away from the rest of the West

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Martin Hanzal #11 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Gila River Arena on November 25, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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In acquiring Martin Hanzal on Sunday, Minnesota built itself a formidable quartet of centers — Hanzal, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Erik Haula — but also did something else in the process.

It didn’t let Hanzal go to a competitor.

This, perhaps, is equally important to what the 30-year-old brings to the team. Hanzal’s big, he’s physical, he’s got sound defensive awareness and good offensive instincts — the kind of attributes you want heading into the playoffs.

And the kind you don’t want your rivals acquiring.

In Sunday’s trade call, GM Chuck Fletcher acknowledged as much when asked if he made trades with other teams in mind. In the case of Hanzal, the question was asked specifically about Chicago — a team that had been occasionally linked to the ex-Coyotes center, and one with a history of swinging for the fences at the deadline.

“Obviously everyone knows Chicago has won three Stanley Cups over the last six or so years,” Fletcher said, per the Star-Tribune. “Clearly in the West they’re always the team you have to go through and you have to beat to get anywhere you want to go to.”

To be fair, Fletcher — like his counterpart in Chicago, Stan Bowman — also has a long history of wheeling at the deadline. The Hanzal trade didn’t come out of the blue. This marks the fifth consecutive year the Wild have gone out and acquired a forward, acquisitions which have ranged from minor pickups (David Jones, Chris Stewart) to prominent ones (Jason Pominville).

In each instance, Fletcher’s goal was to make the team better. But this year, things were a little different. Whereas acquisitions likes Jones and Stewart were designed specifically to impact the Wild and only the Wild, yesterday’s trade took something significant off the table for other teams.

Fletcher realized the Western Conference is wide open and that Hanzal, arguably the most impact player available, would be a difference maker.

And not just in Minnesota. The reverberations of this trade will be felt.

“Of all the guys with expiring contracts, we thought he, at forward, would have the biggest impact on any roster,” Fletcher explained. “So certainly our goal was to have him play for us, and also to keep him away from other teams in the West.”

After perfect road trip, Panthers drop third straight at home

Ottawa Senators center Kyle Turris (7) celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) There’s a reason Craig Anderson is often at his best when he faces his former team.

Kyle Turris scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period and Anderson stopped 37 shots to lift the Ottawa Senators over the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Sunday night.

Anderson played for the Panthers from 2006-09 and is 14-7-2 against them.

“This has always been kind of home for me. It’s a little more emotional for me when I play here,” he said. “You seem to get up for those types of games when you have friends and family in the stands.”

Anderson was coming off a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.

“You just have to get back on that horse and start riding it again,” he said. “If you have a bad memory I think it works to your benefit.”

Zack Smith scored an early short-handed goal for the Senators, who have won four of six. Erik Karlsson had two assists.

Anderson was out from Dec. 7 until Feb. 11, a span of 26 games.

“Andy is an outstanding No. 1 goalie,” Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said. “We missed him for a long time. You saw what a difference his experience made tonight.”

Jonathan Marchessault scored for Florida, and James Reimer made 31 saves. The Panthers have lost three straight after sweeping a five-game road trip, and dropped their last four home games overall.

The Panthers, fifth in the Atlantic Division, trail the second-place Senators by six points and missed a chance to gain ground.

“This was a four-point game right here,” Marchessault said.

Turris put Ottawa ahead when his wrist shot went over Reimer’s glove at 9:58 of the second for his 21st goal of the season.

“We’re right in the race with Ottawa right now,” Florida center Aleksander Barkov said. “We need to win these close games. We played well but that’s not enough.”

The Senators took a 1-0 lead on the short-handed goal by Smith. Reimer blocked a shot from Karlsson, but Smith grabbed the rebound and poked in the puck at 6:28 of the first. Smith has 12 career short-handed goals.

“It was just a great play off the pass. It was right on my stick,” Smith said. “It was nice to get one short-handed and get a little momentum.”

Marchessault tied it on his power-play goal with 2:47 left in the first. He took a feed from Jonathan Huberdeau in the left circle and put the puck high into the net.

 

NHL on NBCSN: Wild and Kings square off after making big trades on Sunday

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 15:  Martin Hanzal #11 of the Arizona Coyotes gets set to take a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Coyotes defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in an overtime shoot-out. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Los Angeles Kings at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Wild and Kings didn’t play on Sunday, but that didn’t stop them from stealing the show, as both teams made major trades.

The Kings acquired goalie Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a modest package. The timing of the deal appeared to be a little odd because starter Jonathan Quick made his long-awaited return from injury on Saturday afternoon and he picked up a shutout in the process.

But during a conference call on Sunday, Kings GM Dean Lombardi admitted that there are a “number of concerns” regarding Quick’s ability to handle a heavy workload.

“You’re never sure how well a guy who’s been out this long — is he going to have his ‘A’ game, so to speak, or not? These type of injuries, which are fairly serious, the history of comebacks can go either way,” Lombardi said of Quick.

Los Angeles could still use another guy to put the puck in the net, but they’ll have to hope that the acquisition of Bishop will give them a shot in the arm (they could sure use one).

If the playoffs started today, the Kings wouldn’t be participating in them. They currently sit three points back of the St. Louis Blues for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Both teams have played the same number of games, but the Blues also have one more regulation/overtime win.

On a positive note, the schedule sets up nicely for Los Angeles. They’ll play back-to-back road games in Minnesota tonight and in Calgary tomorrow, but they’ll follow that up with seven straight home games from Mar. 2-16.

Minutes after the Kings made the first splash of the day, the Wild felt the need to increase their depth by adding forwards Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from Arizona.

Minnesota paid a hefty price of three draft picks, including a first rounder in 2017 to get their hands on Hanzal and White, but the top team in the West now boasts a one-two-three punch of Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu and Hanzal down the middle.

According to GM Chuck Fletcher, both players will suit up in tonight’s game.

After dropping a pair of home games to Chicago this month, the Wild have a one-point lead over the Blackhawks for the Central Division lead, but Minnesota has three games in hand.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild come out of the gate tonight, as this will be their first game back from their bye week.

Report: Sens add forward Chris DiDomenico from Swiss League

LONDON,ON - SEPTEMBER 14:  Chris DiDomenico #49 of the Chicago Black Hawks skates with the puck in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the NHL Rookie Tournament on September 14,2010 at the John Labatt Centre in London,Ontario. The Hawks defeated the Penguins 9-5. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators haven’t made a trade yet, but they have reportedly added some forward depth.

According to reports out of Switzerland, Chris DiDomenico will be leaving the Swiss League’s SCL Tigers to join the Sens immediately. The Swiss team’s president says DiDomenico’s new contract is a one-way deal for this season and a two-way deal for next year.

DiDomenico was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

After stints in both the AHL and ECHL, he moved to Italian side Asiago HC in 2012. He spent  two seasons with them before joining the Tigers.

The 28-year-old has 10 goals and 28 assists in 48 games in Switzerland’s top division this season.

The move was an inconvenience for the Tigers, but they didn’t want to hold him back from making the leap to the NHL.

“From a sports point of view, the timing of this decision is highly unfavorable. For the SCL Tigers, the most important stage of the season is the (playoffs),” said the release. “Chris DiDomenico has nevertheless insisted on contract resolution to pursue his dream of the NHL.

“The board of directors of SCL Tigers therefore felt compelled to release Chris DiDomenico.”

Those who follow the World Junior Hockey Championships will remember DiDomenico from Team Canada’s 2008 roster, which won gold in the Czech Republic. He had two goals and five assists during the tournament.

It’s no secret that the Senators have been looking for forward depth for a while, but with the potential cost of a trade being so high, it looks like they’ve gone the Euro route in stead.

The acquisition of DiDomenico doesn’t mean Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion won’t acquire an NHL forward between now and Wednesday’s deadline, but maybe they aren’t as desperate as before.