Around the rink – Thursday, December 30th

With a short slate of games tonight, there’s a couple that grab our attention and one of them because there just might be some bad blood on the ice. If you’re looking for fisticuffs, Atlanta is the place to be as the Bruins come to town with ill will towards Freddy Meyer still on the mind of Milan Lucic. This one’s got enough heat on it to almost make us forget about San Jose and Chicago getting ready to dance again. Almost. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Boston @ Atlanta

Sure the Bruins beat Atlanta around last week 4-1, but they still weren’t happy about it and Milan Lucic might be hoping Freddy Meyer is back out on the ice to get some revenge. A better idea for Boston might be to just worry about beating Atlanta again. Then again, if that’s what it takes for Boston to get motivated, they’ll get right back to it. Expect some shenanigans to go down in this one now that Boston’s got a bit of their swagger back.

Columbus @ Toronto

Did the Jackets put bad times behind them after getting a shootout win over Minnesota? Beating the Leafs would go a long way towards getting back in shape and show that they’re moving past their issues. Of course, the Leafs are hoping the bad Steve Mason or Mathieu Garon shows up in goal instead. The Leafs are hoping to bounce back after a tough loss to Carolina on Tuesday. If the right Blue Jackets team shows up, they might be able to pull that off easily.

7:30 pm

Montreal @ Tampa Bay

Montreal gets to face their double-secret rivals in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay, of course, is coached by former Habs farm team coach Guy Boucher and the Habs are in need of a win badly. The Habs have lost four of their last five games and seven of their last nine and the fans in Montreal are getting antsy again. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has won six of their last eight games and are looking to bounce back after losing to Boston on Tuesday. The upside for Tampa Bay is that Vincent Lecavalier is scoring goals again. The bad news is that their goaltending hasn’t gotten any better.

8:30 pm

San Jose @ Chicago

Last year’s Western Conference finalists renew acquaintances again and the Sharks might want to give Antti Niemi the start again. Niemi was solid last time out against Chicago and after Antero Niittymaki’s lackluster effort last night, Niemi makes a lot of sense. Of course, the Blackhawks would like to catch a break health-wise as they’ll be without Jonathan Toews for two weeks with a shoulder ailment. A grumpy San Jose team won’t make for a pushover on this night.

9:30 pm

Colorado @ Edmonton

Someone’s slide will end in this one. Colorado comes in having lost three in a row while the Oilers are losers of four straight. For Edmonton, things are tougher defensively now with Ryan Whitney out for an extended period. What could help both of these teams is some better defense and goaltending as they’re both in the bottom five in goals allowed.

10:30 pm

Philadelphia @ Los Angeles

A rough couple of games for the Flyers only grows harder as they move along to L.A. After a beating of a loss against Vancouver on Tuesday and an equally poor effort against the Panthers last week, the Flyers could stand to have a breakout game. Doing that against a Kings team that doesn’t give up a lot of goals and got stomped on for six goals against last night could mean the Flyers are in for tough night. The Flyers have to keep opponents off the board because they’ve given up 11 goals in their last two games.

‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

“I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).