Around the rink – Wednesday, December 22nd

It’s another night for a showdown in the Western Conference featuring the Detroit Red Wings. This time it’s the Vancouver Canucks that come rolling into Detroit. With it being a light night on the schedule, this one stands out as the must-see game of the night. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Tampa Bay @ NY Islanders

No Rick DiPietro for the Islanders as he’s back on the IR. Dwayne Roloson gets to be the main man again for the woeful Islanders. Facing the streaking Lightning might not be what they were looking forward to doing. Tampa’s won four in a row but they’ll have to hope Dan Ellis can take the reigns effectively with Mike Smith feeling banged up. The Isles better be ready to stop Steve Stamkos as he’s got four goals in the last four games for the Lightning.

Florida @ Pittsburgh

Both of these teams come into this one after blowout wins on Monday night. The Panthers disposed of Philly in quick order while the Penguins dismantled a sloppy Phoenix team. The Pens are coming into this one looking more dangerous than usual. Sure, Sidney Crosby still has his point streak going strong but now Evgeni Malkin is back and healthy and killing it. Malkin had two goals and three assists against Phoenix and has looked like the former Art Ross Trophy winner once again. That bodes poorly for the Panthers who hope to end up in a lower scoring affair. At least they’ve got Tomas Vokoun on their side to help them do that. Vokoun has four shutouts this season after earning a big one against Philadelphia.

7:30 pm

Vancouver @ Detroit

The Canucks sit tied atop the Northwest Division with Colorado and two points behind Detroit for second place in the Western Conference. It’s not playoff push time, but it still speaks to how good these teams are. Vancouver rolls into town winners of four in a row and looking good defensively while doing it giving up five goals in those four games. Detroit meanwhile has dropped their last two games and three of their last four. A win over Vancouver would be a solid sign of getting things back to normal in Detroit, otherwise it’s time for the fans to start fretting.

8:30 pm

Nashville @ Chicago

The Predators are back in action for the first time since Saturday after getting thumped by L.A. The time off helps them out and Anders Lindback will get to keep playing goal for the meantime. The Preds had won six in a row before that. Chicago comes in with a two game win streak and they’ve done it on the strength of Corey Crawford.  For Lindback, stuffing the Chicago offense that’s still without Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Viktor Stalberg makes the effort seem easier but over the last four games the Hawks have scored 15 goals. It’s stunning that they’ve lost two of those four.

Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:



Factoids of the Night:


Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

Getty Images

Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks lose Bieksa for 2-5 weeks


ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa will be out for two to five weeks after surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand.

Bieksa is having surgery Friday, the Ducks announced.

The 36-year-old Bieksa has eight assists in 59 games this season for Anaheim, which is fighting to get into playoff position with three weeks left in the regular season.

Anaheim recalled defenseman Korbinian Holzer from its AHL affiliate in San Diego before facing the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center on Friday night.

The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and made five straight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals last season. But Anaheim (35-24-12) began this weekend out of playoff position and in fourth place in the Pacific.

More AP NHL: