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.

Stepan to miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs

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Derek Stepan is out 4-6 weeks with broken ribs, the New York Rangers announced today.

Stepan was hurt Friday on a controversial hit by Boston’s Matt Beleskey. The Bruins’ forward did not receive any supplemental discipline for the check, despite admitting it was “maybe…a little bit late.”

It’s a big loss for the Rangers, who suddenly find themselves on a three-game losing streak. Considering the timeline, New York could be without one of its top centers for 12-18 games, give or take.

The Rangers host Carolina tonight.

Related: Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Price to miss minimum six weeks, so no Winter Classic for him

Carey Price,
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Carey Price will miss a minimum of six weeks with a lower-body injury, the Montreal Canadiens announced today.

That means Price will miss the Winter Classic against the Bruins on New Year’s Day. The 30-year-old goalie has only appeared in 12 games this season.

On the bright side, the reigning Hart Trophy winner will not require surgery. And considering the Habs have already built up a 13-point playoff cushion in the standings, well, if something like this were going to happen during the season, now is as good a time as any.

Related: The latest on Price’s injury

Report: Jets offered Byfuglien for Hamonic, Isles said no

Dustin Byfuglien

If Travis Hamonic could choose one team to be traded to, he’d probably choose Winnipeg. The 25-year-old Islanders defenseman wants to be closer to his family, and his family is from Manitoba. Hamonic already owns a condo in Winnipeg.

So far, though, the Jets and Islanders haven’t been able to work out a deal. The Jets have three right-shot defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers who could, theoretically, be swapped for Hamonic, also a right shot.

“I think the Islanders were offered Byfuglien and they said no,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this morning on Sportsnet 960 (audio), per Today’s Slapshot. “And I understand why, because Byfuglien’s got no term left.

“I think they’d love to have Trouba, but the Jets aren’t really there to do it. Myers, if it’s happened – I can’t say for sure it has or hasn’t – I’m not sure that’s the deal either team really wants to make, to be perfectly honest.”

Byfuglien is a pending unrestricted free agent who’s expected to cash in big-time on his next deal. The 30-year-old may not be the most disciplined player, but at his best, he’s an absolute force on the back end.

That the Isles reportedly said no to Byfuglien shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given his contract uncertainty. However, it does make one wonder about his future in Winnipeg. Remember that the salary cap is not expected to go up by much, and the Jets have another pending UFA in captain Andrew Ladd, plus a couple of key RFAs in Trouba and Mark Scheifele.

While it’s never easy to tell what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is thinking, the big question with Byfuglien and the Jets may end up being when, not if, they part ways. Will it be after the season or before the Feb. 29 trade deadline?

Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

Mike Fisher
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The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.