Around the Rink – Tuesday, December 21st

Let’s take a look at today’s seven games, with all the start times on Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

7:00 pm

Calgary @ Columbus

It’s a tale of two fairly miserable franchises, although the Blue Jackets can at least point to “upside” (which can mean great things in the future … unless they never progress, of course). Columbus is on a four-game losing streak while Calgary lost two in a row themselves, so at least someone will finish this game with some optimism.

St. Louis @ Atlanta

This game is a great opportunity for the Thrashers to build a bit of a cushion in front of the Washington Capitals in the Southeast. Both teams are coming off of Sunday games, so the back-to-back factor is working against each squad. The Blues only won five of their 16 road games so far this season.

Anaheim @ Buffalo

The Ducks are in the middle of a seven-game road trip and tonight’s game is the second of a back-to-back (they shut out Boston 3-0 last night). Ryan Getzlaf are also pretty weak away from the Pond. Buffalo is 1-3 in their last four games, but aside from the fact that the Ducks are a tough team, this is a great opportunity for Ryan Miller to get back on the winning trail.

7:30 pm

New Jersey @ Washington

The Capitals squeaked by the Senators on Sunday to end their eight game losing streak, but if they lose this one, they should probably get depressed again. That losing skid combined with the great play by Tampa Bay and Atlanta transformed the Southeast Division lead into a hot potato, which is bad news for Bruce Boudreau & Co. but great news for hockey fans without a horse in the race.

9:00 pm

Montreal @ Dallas

Aside from the Thrashers – whose division lead is flimsy and seemingly temporary – the two most surprising division leaders are the Canadiens and Stars. The Habs have been struggling lately, dropping four of their last five games. Meanwhile, Dallas won two in a row and three of their last four.

Let’s not forget how emotional the Canadiens will be to see Mike Ribeiro skate in Stars uniform either.

(I’m kidding.)

9:30 pm

Los Angeles @ Colorado

This is a game between a young, talented team that is struggling to deliver on a ton of preseason hype (the Kings) against a young, talented team that once again is defying very limited expectations (the Avs). Stylistically, these two teams are quite different as the Avs succeed with a high-powered offense (121 goals for) while the Kings give up a sparse amount of goals (75 allowed).

10:30 pm

Edmonton @ San Jose

For all the things that make these teams different, they’ve produced the same results over the last 10 games: a 6-3-1 record. The Sharks sport a bunch of veterans (Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley) and one standout rookie (Logan Couture) while the Oilers sport one solid veteran* (Nikolai Khabibulin) and a bunch of standout youngsters (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark). Which side will prevail? Probably San Jose, but it should be a lot of fun to watch.

* – We can probably debate the amount of solid veterans on the Oilers roster, but just go with it.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick