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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.

Limping Sabres could give Burgdoerfer, 27, his NHL debut

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Fans of the Buffalo Sabres pose for the camera as they cheer during the game against the Winnipeg Jets at First Niagara Center on November 26, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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After losing the services of Dmitry Kulikov (back), Zach Bogosian (knee), Josh Gorges (broken foot) and Taylor Fedun (undisclosed), Buffalo was in desperate need of depth on the back end.

So, on Monday, the club set about fixing that by recalling Erik Burgdoerfer from AHL Rochester.

Burgdoerfer, 27, is a pretty good story. Undrafted out of R.P.I, he spent parts of five seasons in the East Coast league before becoming an AHL regular in ’14. He spent two years in Hershey before catching on with the Sabres this past July, signing a one-year, two-way deal and then starting the season with the Amerks.

Through 22 games this year, Burgdoerfer has seven points and 24 PIM.

Buffalo takes on the Caps tonight and while Burgdoerfer’s debut could be a neat narrative, it doesn’t take the sting away from another injury wave that’s swept over the club. The Sabres project to roll a six-man defensive unit of Burgdoerfer, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Brendan Guhle, Cody Franson and Justin Falk tonight, which is pretty thin.

And this is a Sabres club, don’t forget, that’s already lost forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane for significant lengths of time this season.

Surging Flames putting early struggles behind them

Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan, right, celebrates with Johnny Gaudreau after a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL game in Calgary, Alberta, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Back in October, they had a new coach, a new system, and a new goalie that wasn’t stopping the puck.

But it’s a different story today for the Calgary Flames. They’re one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and they just blasted the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 8-3.

Of course, the big story yesterday was that Johnny Gaudreau was back. He returned from injury ahead of schedule, then scored just 2:09 into last night’s game.

But the Flames were already on a roll without Johnny Hockey, thanks in large part to the goalie who was supposed to be the backup, Chad Johnson, and also to a system that seems to have become more comfortable to play.

“It’s just experience,” said Johnson, per the Flames’ website. “New group. New systems. I said from Day One we were going to have some struggles the first month.”

   Read more: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows

Credit to new coach Glen Gulutzan for getting his charges to believe. They started 5-9-1 in their first 15. They’re now 13-13-2, just barely out of a playoff spot after three straight home wins.

“You don’t get too many games in the NHL where you can breathe,” Gulutzan told reporters after last night’s blowout victory. “When it was 6-1 at the end of the second when you’re like, ‘OK. As long as we play good and solid … we can breathe a little bit.’ It was nice. I thought eight-different goal scorers is good for the whole morale. Good for the whole group.”

Randy Carlyle left Jonathan Bernier in for 8 goals, but he had a very good reason

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Earlier this season, the Montreal Canadiens dropped a 10-0 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Habs head coach Michel Therrien left Al Montoya in for all 10 goals against.

His refusal to pull Montoya made waves around the hockey world. The topic sparked a debate about unwritten rules in hockey.

On Sunday, it seemed as though the Ducks would reignite that debate, as they left Jonathan Bernier in the game for all eight goals in an 8-3 loss to the Calgary Flames.

But in his post-game press conference, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle explained why he decided against putting John Gibson in the net.

Here’s an excerpt from the OC Register:

The situation might have called for Carlyle to pull (Bernier) but Gibson, who played Saturday in Edmonton, was suffering from stomach flu and diarrhea. Had Gibson been in condition to play, Carlyle said he would have pulled Bernier after the fourth Calgary goal.

“We kind of left him hanging high and dry,” Carlyle said. “We wouldn’t normally have never done that to him. In these situations, you can’t put people that are sick into the net. You’ve got to think big picture. Big picture is this game we couldn’t change (the score).”

Well, that sounds like a pretty good reason not to put the backup goalie in.

If you haven’t seen all eight goals the Ducks gave up tonight, here they are:

The Ducks have two days off before they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. Gibson should be fine by then.

PHT Morning Skate: Are the Oilers handling Jesse Puljujarvi correctly?

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–The Oilers decided to keep Jesse Puljujarvi on their roster this season, but is that the right decision? He’s been a healthy scratch in three straight games, and even though he’s burned the first year of his entry-level contract, there’s still reasons to send him down to the AHL or Europe. (Edmonton Journal)

–The NHL season is almost two months old, but there are still some players that aren’t producing as much as we expected. The Hockey News looks at five players that aren’t living up to expectations right now. (The Hockey News)

–When we think of this year’s top rookies, we think of guys like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner, but Carolina’s Sebastian Aho tends to fly under the radar. “He’s got a lot of skill, and he’s pretty smart and shifty. It’s not easy to come into this league and play well, and I think he’s done a pretty good job. Coming in and being able to handle the NHL at that age is impressive,” ‘Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said of Aho. (Sports Illustrated)

–Canadiens forwards Michael McCarron and Artturi Lehkonen go head-to-head in a “cookie race”. The first player to get a cookie from their forehead to their mouth (without using their hands) wins. (Top)

–You probably don’t think of Alabama-Huntsville as a hockey factory, but they’ve produced an NHLer and their program is improving. “Not too many people can believe the route that I took, but I wouldn’t change it. I hope that anything that I’ve been doing at this level is helping out that program,” said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot. (New York Times)

–On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1991 Stanley Cup victory. It was a big deal. Unfortunately, Jaromir Jagr couldn’t attend the event, but he had a pretty good reason. (NHL)