Around the Rink – Life after the Winter Classic edition

It’s reasonable to say that there won’t be a day in 2011 in which more people were hungover worldwide (except maybe March 9th, July 5th, May 6th or December 26th*). Yet in the puck world, the huge shadow created by the annual Winter Classic game leaves a hockey hangover itself.

But much like a hard worker fighting down a plate full of eggs shortly after hugging porcelain, the show must go on. Let’s take a look at today’s games, which include some unusual start times, which are all Eastern Standard Time (ET).

* – Get it, because those are the mornings after Mardi Gras, the Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo and Christmas? Perhaps this is an observation that only can come from someone who lives in the Southwest, by for my money, Cinco de Mayo is possibly the most underrated holiday around.

1:00 pm

Atlanta @ Montreal

It’s a match between two unexpectedly successful teams who rode some hot streaks by two unexpectedly successful goalies (Ondrej Pavelec and Carey Price respectively) who are now starting to slip back to the pack. The Thrashers are in seventh place with a 3-4-3 mark in their last 10 while the Habs are in eighth place in the East with a 3-7-0 mark in their last 10. Maybe one of these teams can start the new year off right with a solid win?

5:00 pm

Philadelphia @ Detroit

These two teams are coping with the injuries of (arguably?) their best players, with Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk out for quite some time. Each club also faces a slightly more challenging road going forward than they experienced to start off 2010-11, so building momentum could start this afternoon.

NY Rangers @ Florida

Both of these teams are admirably scrappy, only the Rangers are producing the kind of work that gives them a great chance of making the playoffs. Don’t sleep on the Panthers altogether, though.

6:00 pm

Columbus @ Nashville

Put this matchup high on the list of games that aren’t likely to headline the next Winter Classic. I cannot help but yawn just thinking about it. (Did that make you yawn? Sorry.)

Phoenix @ Minnesota

Then again, at least the prior game would feature Rick Nash and (restricted free agent contract permitting) Shea Weber. This match wouldn’t even have that going for it.

Dallas @ St. Louis

The Blues might be on the quietest hot streak in the NHL, as they’re on a five game winning streak and have the chance to go five for five in their homestand by beating the slumping Stars tonight. Give St. Louis plenty of credit for muscling through a ton of injury worries, although they’re not out of the woods just yet despite moving into fifth in the West.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Anaheim

This is an important game because a Blackhawks regulation win would boot Chicago back into the top eight and probably knock the Ducks out. I write probably because the middle quarter of the West is so clogged and convoluted that its better just to watch the action and report afterward instead of attempting to make sense of it from a day-to-day perspective.

Vancouver @ Colorado

I made a big deal out of how high-scoring the Avalanche offense is (131 goals), but the problem is that they allow almost as many tallies as they score (123 allowed). The Canucks are almost as productive (125 goals in two less games played) but also boast the least goals allowed of any Western Conference team with 91. Could it be that Vancouver is the best out West?

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy