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WJC updates: Etem apologizes to Buffalo, Kassian faces suspension

We focus mainly on the NHL here at PHT (hence Pro Hockey Talk), but there are a lot of potential professional hockey players appearing in the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships, so let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories.

(Note: The United States-Slovakia game is taking place on the U.S. version of NHL Network right now, by the way.)

  • While the Canadian team clobbered the Czech Republic by a score of 7-2 today, one member of that team won’t be celebrating. Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian nailed Petr Senkerik while the Czech forward had his head down, forcing him to be taken off the ice on a stretcher. Kassian received a penalty for a hit to the head and should be suspended for one game, pending a possible appeal. (Source: WGR 550.)

To his credit, Etem’s self-defense is semi-plausible. The young forward explained that he was talking more about Buffalo in the context of its current weather conditions keeping people from going out, rather than a uniform slam on Buffalo itself. Here’s how he tried to backpedal, via John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

“I think it’s a great host city, and I’m definitely happy to be here,” Etem said after the morning skate. “I think it was interpreted in many different ways. My point to get across was not to put down a great host city like this. I know a lot of people put in time and effort to make this thing possible. For me, it’s the middle of winter. People aren’t out. It’s really cold outside. Like I said, the point for me was not to put down Buffalo.

“It’s a poorly written Tweet by me. I meant bad conditions. I came from Medicine Hat, from a Midwestern city, it was warm out, then I come here and not a lot of people are out, like I said. It’s expected. It’s the middle of winter. I was here three, four years ago. I won a national championship here, and that was in springtime. That was an energetic city. I know what it’s like to be here when everyone is out and about. That was the point.

“It’s a great, historic town for sports, and I realize that. Like I said, it’s a poorly written Tweet by me, and I’m sorry for the confusion. I just kind of want to move on.”

Despite winning record, Rangers ‘very aware’ they must be better

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers leaves the ice following a 5-0 defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers may be winning, but their head coach, Alain Vigneault, knows they need to be better.

Hmmm…this feels familiar for some reason.

Oh right, that’s because it was the same story last season, when the Rangers got off to a great start before tailing off then fizzling out in the playoffs.

The Rangers head into tonight’s game in Brooklyn with a record of 17-8-1. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad — in five of their last six games, they’ve been held to 25 shots or fewer. On the season, their score-adjusted Corsi has fallen to 26th in the league.

“We’re very aware and very conscious of the areas we need to be better at,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “We’re playing a team that’s playing real solid hockey.”

Indeed, the Islanders are 3-0-1 in their last four, including wins over Pittsburgh and Washington.

To be fair to the Rangers, they’ve been without Mika Zibanejad for the past seven games, and he was a big part of their early success. Tonight, they’ll also be without Michael Grabner, who’s gone back to Austria for his grandmother’s funeral.

     Read more: The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line

But the Rangers aren’t looking to make excuses. They’re looking instead to get back on track.

“It’s definitely a five-man thing for us and communication and just getting on the same page again,” forward Jimmy Vesey said, per the Daily News. “It’s definitely something we need to get back to, and I think that’s kind of like the recipe for being a good team down the line and in the playoffs.”

After waiving Enroth, Toronto signs Ramo to AHL deal

Tampa Bay Lightning v Calgary Flames
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Kari Ramo took another step in his return to the NHL on Tuesday, signing a PTO with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

The deal, first reported by TSN, comes one day after Toronto placed backup netminder Jhonas Enroth on waivers.

“Obviously, wasn’t going good enough,” head coach Mike Babcock said of the decision to waive Enroth, per TSN. “We’re just in a situation where we’re making a change.”

(Enroth cleared today, FYI.)

As for Ramo, he’s an interesting figure. The 30-year-old suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Calgary this past February and, at the time of the injury, led all Flames netminders in starts, with 33.

Prior to that, he’d rebounded from a poor start to the year — which included Calgary waiving him — and, in January, then-head coach Bob Hartley called Ramo “probably one of the hottest goalies in the league.”

So it’s easy to see why Toronto would be interested.

Of course, Ramo is coming off a major knee injury and has basically been shelved for 10 months. He’s been practicing with the Leafs, but this ATO with the Marlies will give him a chance to test the knee in a game situation, and knock off some of the rust that’s surely accumulated.

Ramo is believed to be close to receiving medical clearance for a return to action.

Justin Schultz is having a pretty good season

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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It was Justin Schultz‘s kind of game last night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins beat the Senators, 8-5, in a fun, back-and-forth affair.

Schultz was in on a pair of Pittsburgh goals, scoring one and assisting on another. The 26-year-old defenseman now has three goals and eight assists in 26 games. And on a good team that can put him in a position to succeed, he’s a plus-13.

Schultz, of course, joined the Penguins last season in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. He won a Stanley Cup in June, then re-signed for one year and $1.4 million in July.

     Read more: Justin Schultz quietly making big impact on Penguins power play

“He deserves a lot of credit for the effort, the commitment level he’s shown,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Friday, per the Post-Gazette.

Sullivan too deserves credit, for playing Schultz to his strengths and bringing out the best in an imperfect player. An offensive defenseman, Schultz is not being asked to do much of the heavy lifting defensively. He starts a lot of shifts in the attacking zone, and he doesn’t play very often against the opposition’s best.

Last night, Schultz displayed his offensive instincts and abilities, jumping up in the rush to take a pass from Evgeni Malkin, then burying it for the go-ahead goal.

Schultz ended up logging 19:54 of ice time, including 16:20 at even strength, the most among Penguins d-men.

On eve of California trip, ‘Canes get discouraging news on Staal

Jordan Staal
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When Carolina put Jordan Staal on IR with a concussion eight days ago, many wondered how the club would react to losing such a versatile performer.

Those same people will have to wonder a little longer.

The ‘Canes, who have gone 1-2-1 in their first four games without Staal, are unlikely to get him back for at least another three — on Tuesday, head coach Bill Peters said Staal was unlikely to travel with the team for its upcoming road trip through California.

Also, there’s this:

It’s a profound loss, to say the least. The 28-year-old has a pretty big role in Carolina, and is the club’s top defensive center. He averages a healthy 18:29 TOI per game, and is one of the club’s best faceoff men, winning draws at a 60 percent clip.

Last year, Staal scored 20 goals for the first time since being acquired by the ‘Canes. He was off to a modest offensive start this year, with five goals and nine points through 21 contests.

Having a big-bodied center like Staal is usually vital for these California trips. The ‘Canes will have to deal with the likes of Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and San Jose’s Joe Thornton.

With Staal out, Teuvo Teravainen has picked up the slack at center. He played a healthy 18:21 in Sunday’s OT win over the Lightning.