Riding the Zamboni – Saturday, January 1st

It’s now happened enough times to become a trend: with the beginning of each calendar year, we are treated to hockey that will be tough to surpass. Obviously, there’s been a formidable Winter Classic each of those years, but when you add the World Junior Championships, you really cannot go wrong for two amazing weeks.

Of course, some of the bigger fireworks-inducing moments overshadow the “normal” games, so we wanted make sure last night’s other six NHL contests don’t fall by the wayside altogether. Let’s summarize how 12 other teams begin 2011 on the ice.

Buffalo 7, Boston 6 (SO)

When you see a game set to feature the Sabres and Bruins, the expectation is for a low scoring affair. That wasn’t to be on a Saturday evening that might leave all the netminders involved with NYE-sque hangovers.  Seven of the game’s 12 “real” goals were scored in a manic first period in which the Bruins earned a 4-3 lead. Both Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas allowed three goals for the Bruins while Ryan Miller was in net for all of Buffalo’s allowed scores.

Drew Stafford scored a hat trick which included the game-tying goal plus a shootout goal, Jason Pominville had two goals and two assists and plenty of other players padded their stats on a shocking scoring Saturday.

Carolina 6, New Jersey 3

It’s painful to admit this – although some might say it’s a long time coming – but things have devolved so much for Martin Brodeur that you have to wonder about his future. The future Hall of Famer allowed three goals on seven shots before being pulled in favor of Johan Hedberg after only eight minutes of action. Tuomo Ruutu (one goal, three assists), Jeff Skinner (two goals) and Sergei Samsonov (two goals) were the greatest beneficiaries of this miserable evening by the Devils.

Toronto 5, Ottawa 1

Speaking of miserable moments, things are growing awfully dire for the Senators right now. They’re now on a three-game losing streak, must find a way without Jason Spezza and perhaps worst yet, lost to their hated neighbors from Toronto. Tyler Bozak (two goals) and the rest of the Leafs charged off to a 5-0 lead before Sergei Gonchar scored a meaningless power-play goal in the third period.

Tampa Bay 2, NY Rangers 1 (OT)

Dwayne Rolowhat,son? Cedrick Desjardins probably won’t get a serious look with the Lightning until next season (or later), but he’s made the most of his brief glance with two wins in his first two games. He made 34 saves and almost shut out the Rangers before allowing a Marian Gaborik in the waning seconds of the third period, but Nate Thompson quickly ended the game in overtime to keep the Bolts ahead of the Capitals in the Southeast Division.

The Lightning are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

San Jose 1, Los Angeles 0

Antti Niemi avenged a 4-0 loss on Monday, December 27th by pitching a 29-save shutout against the Sharks’ hated in-state rivals. It’s too early to say that Niemi (and San Jose overall) have “figured things out” but they’re aware enough of the situation in front of them to slide into fourth in the West.

Calgary 2, Edmonton 1

While they’re still a few more wins away from really being in the Western Conference playoff picture, the Flames are heating up in the Jay Feaster Era. Calgary’s on a four-game winning streak overall, which is pretty good considering they hadn’t won more than two games in a row all season before now. They beat the Oilers by pounding Nikolai Khabibulin with 30 shots and giving Miikka Kiprusoff a pretty easy night (16 out of 17 saves).

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.