Riding the Zamboni – Sunday, December 26th

The gifts are put away, the gingerbread is stale and everyone’s working off some sort of holiday hangover. Tonight, some of the forwards around the league seemed to be playing with the stink of egg nog on their breath while the goalies were sharp as ever. Here’s our look around the league tonight as we see the Penguins finally toss out a stinker while the Caps get back on track and a few teams fight through a blizzard to play some hockey.

Ottawa 3 – Pittsburgh 1

It was about time that Pittsburgh finally played a bad game and the combination of that and Brian Elliott playing out of his mind conspired to take out the Pens. Elliott’s 44 saves  paced Ottawa to a surprising victory. Erik Karlsson’s two goals and assist led the way offensively as the young defenseman had a hand in all of Ottawa’s goals. Sidney Crosby scored his 30th goal of the year and extended his consecutive point streak to 24 games.

Washington 3 – Carolina 2

Alex Ovechkin finally got off the goal scoring shneid. Ovechkin’s goal late in the second period proved to be the deciding goal as the Caps bounced back from their shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Caps needed Ovechkin to get back into the swing of scoring again as his offense has been sorely missed. Washington hopes that this goal is enough to jump start Ovechkin for the second half of the season. Ovechkin also assisted on Dave Steckel’s goal in the second. Tuomo Ruutu had a goal and an assist for Carolina as they weren’t able to get another one past Semyon Varlamov to even the game up. Varlamov made 33 saves to get the win.

Toronto 4 – New Jersey 1

Despite the blizzard outside the arena in New Jersey, the Leafs were able to keep the Devils down in the dumps thanks to Colby Armstrong’s two goals and Jonas Gustavsson’s 29 saves. The Leafs were able to chase Martin Brodeur after two periods of play and three goals on 14 shots. The Devils descent into the basement might be the only thing more embarrassing than having these two teams play the game at all in spite of the horrible weather outside.

NY Islanders 4 – Montreal 1

OK so sure, the Islanders wanted the game to be postponed but it worked out pretty well for them that it wasn’t as they stayed hot beating the Habs. Dwayne Roloson stopped 38 shots while P.A. Parenteau had a goal and an assist to lead the Islanders to victory. The Isles have earned points in three straight games and won two in a row. For a team that was the league’s worst for so long, this makes for an incredible turn of events.

Tampa Bay 3 – Atlanta 2 (F/OT)

Dustin Byfuglien has been tremendous all year for Atlanta, but he made a big mistake he’d like to take back in this one. With the game tied at two late in the third, Byfuglien took a boarding penalty that carried over to overtime. There, Vincent Lecavalier would score his second goal of the game to cinch the win for the Lightning. Steve Stamkos also added his 28th goal of the year to keep him within range of Sidney Crosby for the NHL goal lead.

Chicago 4 – Columbus 1

Marian Hossa made his triumphant return to Chicago’s lineup and looked like the guy that started the season on fire. Hossa had two assists while Patrick Sharp added two goals to lead the Hawks over the majorly slumping Blue Jackets. Marty Turco got the surprise start and made 26 saves in the victory. Mathieu Garon continued Columbus’ bad goaltending ways stopping 21 shots in the loss.

St. Louis 2 – Nashville 0

Jaroslav Halak was the show tonight for the Blues. Halak’s 32-save shutout coupled with David Backes’ two goals were all the Blues would need to turn back the streaking Predators. For Halak it’s his fourth shutout of the season and it vaulted St. Louis into third place in the Central Division.

Detroit 4 – Minnesota 1

Henrik Zetterberg helped lead the Wings past an offensively inept Wild team by scoring a goal and adding an assist. Jimmy Howard had an easy night on his way to his 19th win of the year saving just 16 shots. Kris Draper scored his first goal of the year as the Wings helped control the Wild and break their three-game win streak.

Phoenix 1 – Dallas 0

Jason LaBarbera had himself a night. The usual Coyotes backup goalie has been getting starts thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov’s absence and tonight he made 30 saves on the way to earning his first shutout of the season. Kyle Turris’ rebound goal in the second period was the only one of the game and LaBarbera’s acrobatic effort made it stand up. Kari Lehtonen saved 24 shots in the loss.

Vancouver 3 – Edmonton 2

Kevin Bieksa’s goal with 24 seconds left in the third put Vancouver over the top and completed their comeback over Edmonton. Cory Scheneider held strong in goal for the Canucks making 19 saves as they rallied around him to play a better defensive game. Nikolai Khabibulin made 30 saves for Edmonton in the tough loss. Edmonton did have a 2-0 lead at one point in the second period until Jeff Tambellini’s late goal in the second changed the momentum the rest of the way and the Canucks took advantage.

Los Angeles 4 – Anaheim 1

The Kings exploded for four goals in the second period to seize control of the game over their crosstown rivals. Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist for Los Angeles while Jonathan Bernier made 18 saves to earn the win. Marco Sturm earned his first point as a King getting an assist on Anze Kopitar’s 15th goal of the year. Jonas Hiller was pulled after giving up all four goals in the second, finishing the game with 19 saves. Curtis McElhinney closed it out stopping all seven shots he faced.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.