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.

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


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

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

Getty Images
2 Comments

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Are Penguins making the right call with Sprong demotion?

Getty
3 Comments

After being a healthy scratch for two games and seemingly being in the doghouse since at least Jan. 17, Daniel Sprong is headed back to the AHL.

To some degree, the move was made because it seems like Bryan Rust is getting ready to return to the mix after being sidelined since Dec. 27. Still, it’s a frustrating development for those who believe in Sprong’s potential as the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

All of the 20-year-old’s points came in one game, as Sprong scored two goals and one assist against the Islanders on Jan. 5. He went without a point in his other seven appearances in the NHL this season, with six coming during his latest stint.

Sprong was in the double digits in ice time each night until the Penguins’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17, when he was glued to the bench from the second period on. Considering his lack of production in general, it’s understandable that head coach Mike Sullivan is more reactive to mistakes.

Certain details make the move more debatable, though.

For those who believe that Ryan Reaves‘ role is antiquated, it must be frustrating to see Sprong get demoted. Reaves has been averaging less than seven minutes per game (6:41) despite taking a spot in the lineup for 49 contests. Pittsburgh is in a life-or-death battle for a playoff spot, and many believe that his presence (and the first rounder they gave up to acquire him) is a waste for the Penguins.

The Pens also seem like they’re taking a questionable all-or-nothing approach with Sprong.

Sprong’s most common even-strength linemates (by far) were Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon, via Natural Stat Trick. Maybe Sprong isn’t quite the right fit for Crosby at this point in his career, but there has to be at least a chance that he could provide more punch for the Penguins’ lineup than someone like Reaves lower in the lineup?

His possession stats have been solid in a small sample size and he hasn’t been shy, firing just less than three shots on goal per game (22 SOG in eight games). Couldn’t the Penguins find room for Rust and Sprong?

These are questions at least some Penguins media members and fans are asking right now, but the bottom line is that the team clearly believes that Reaves is a difference-maker. If Sprong is going to rank as one as well, it sounds like he’ll need to earn his next chance first.

We’ll see how the Sprong-less Penguins fare against the Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty important game on Tuesday. In other Penguins news, Matt Murray was overwhelmed by the support he received from his team and teammates following his father’s death.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.