Around the Rink – Tuesday, December 28th

Let’s take a look at tonight’s nine games. As usual, all start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Atlanta @ Pittsburgh

While the Penguins have a tenuous grasp on the top spot in the Atlantic Division (and thus, the East’s No. 1 seed), the Thrashers are in danger of slipping to the eighth spot in the conference. Last time these two teams met, the Pens ended Ondrej Pavelec and the Thrashers’ big winning streak. Could a win against Pittsburgh start a new one for Atlanta?

Montreal @ Washington

It’s tough to deny the notion that the Northeast Division is the NHL’s weakest so far this season. For proof, just look at how much is at stake between the Bruins and Habs; the second place team – Montreal – is now in eighth place in the East. The Capitals are in better shape, but will face a tough road to best the Lightning for the Southeast title themselves.

Carolina @ Toronto

With the Hurricanes on a three game losing streak, only four points separates them from the Maple Leafs right now. Unfortunately for both teams, there is no “prize” for winning their race as both clubs are outside the playoff picture right now.

7:30 pm

Boston @ Tampa Bay

It’s too early to know for sure, but these two teams might just be squabbling for the second seed as the season progresses. Of course, they would require division leads to do so, but at the moment they’re at the top of theirs. Each squad presents a contrast in styles, as Steve Stamkos leads the attacking Lightning lineup while the Bruins present a stifling defense. Which approach will succeed tonight?

8:00 pm

Dallas @ Nashville

Both of these teams are on two-game losing streaks, but the Stars still lead the Pacific while the Predators are currently the West’s ninth seed. Every game in the West seems important right now and this is no different.

Chicago @ St. Louis

As opposed to the Stars-Predators game, these two teams are on winning streaks. The Blues will host the Blackhawks for the third game of a five contest homestand in this one – but unluckily for them – Patrick Kane is likely to be one of their guests.

9:00 pm

Buffalo @ Edmonton

Buffalo and Edmonton feature two likable hockey teams, even if their host cities haven’t exactly earned rave reviews. Has Emerson Etem ever been to Edmonton, I must ask?

Anaheim @ Phoenix

The Ducks might have a one-point lead over the Coyotes, but they needed five more games to get there. Phoenix has reason to feel optimistic about its future, with six more contests set to take place at home than on the road.

10:00 pm

Philadelphia @ Vancouver

Tonight’s schedule is full of treats, with Boston-Tampa Bay, Montreal-Washington and Atlanta-Pittsburgh joining this game as elite skirmishes. These teams don’t see each other too often, but doesn’t Ryan Kesler seem like he would fit right in as a Flyers center? Should be a fun one to watch, as the Flyers begin a rugged road trip, with nine of their next 10 games coming away from Philly.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.