Los Angeles Kings v Phoenix Coyotes

Around the rink – Monday, January 3rd

With just five games going on tonight, the NHL schedule is a bit light. That’s OK because it’ll let us peek in a bit more occasionally on Team USA vs. Team Canada in the World Junior Championships semifinals at 7:30. If you’re more into the NHL though, there’s a couple games that pop off the list tonight that are worth keeping an eye on. All times are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Boston @ Toronto

These two teams do still hate each other and the Bruins are still loving the fact that the Leafs are near the bottom of the NHL as they’ll get Toronto’s top pick in the 2011 draft thanks to the Phil Kessel deal. All is not all rosy in Boston though as the Bruins erratic play has some fans calling for coach Claude Julien to be removed. Toronto, meanwhile, is still living high off the beating they handed out to Ottawa on Saturday night. If Toronto can get one over on Boston in this one it could help make the calls for Julien’s removal to be a bit louder.

Florida @ Carolina

The Hurricanes look to make it four in a row as they face the Panthers. Florida is flying high after Tomas Vokoun’s shutout win over the Rangers yesterday. They’ll need to keep that momentum going as they’ll have to deal with Cam Ward tonight. That’s not an easy task, especially this season as Ward has been All-Star-like in his play. Considering the team’s inconsistency, it’s pretty remarkable.

7:30 p.m.

Team Canada @ Team USA

It’s the semifinals of the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY. It’s a rematch of last year’s gold medal game and the one and only time these two get to face each other. The winner of this game moves on to the gold medal game to face either Sweden or Russia. The difference between this year and last year is that the United States go into this game as the favorites. Regardless of those standings, these two teams are #1A and #1B in the world at hockey at this level. Expect this to be a heated game with Canada having the advantage of the crowd as Canadians eat this tournament up like candy.

9:00 p.m.

NY Islanders @ Calgary

Can the Islanders keep it going in Calgary? The Isles have been downright great of late but now they’ll need to do it with Rick DiPietro getting the majority of starts. DiPietro isn’t a bad goalie, you’re just worrying about when his next injury is coming. John Tavares’ great play of late has also carried the team. Calgary, meanwhile has a four game win streak of their own they’re looking to continue, one where goaltending is carrying them. Over those four games they’ve given up just seven goals. Could this game actually turn out to be fun?

Chicago @ Los Angeles

A big game with an early start in L.A. for the Kings and they’ll have their hands full with a Chicago lineup that gets to welcome Jonathan Toews back to action after missing a couple games with a shoulder injury. Both teams roll into this game with three game losing streaks with some ugly losses mixed in for both of them. With Toews back, that could mean problems for the Kings.

10:30 p.m.

Vancouver @ San Jose

This too should make for a fun game and with the Canucks and their fans going ga-ga over having the top record in the NHL, this game screams out for a humbling defeat for Vancouver. I don’t say that out of spite, I say that after looking through the Canucks franchise history of fortune. Seriously though, the Canucks are playing some all-round solid hockey. Getting inspired performance out of Jeff Tambellini and with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler playing better, smarter hockey the Canucks look to be a nightmare to deal with. For the inconsistent Sharks, that doesn’t bode very well, even at home.

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.