Sean Avery

Around the rink: Friday, January 7th

I’ll be honest here, there’s not a lot going on with tonight’s schedule that reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and demands that you watch it. There is one game though that gives off the “circus side show” vibe and that goes down in Dallas as Sean Avery makes his less-than triumphant return to Texas with the New York Rangers. After Avery claimed 100% responsibility for screwing things up with Dallas, we’re suspecting that he’ll get welcomed very poorly back to town. All times listed are Eastern.

7:30 p.m.

Toronto @ Atlanta

The Leafs will have to tighten things up a bit defensively to deal with what should be a grumpy Atlanta team. While the Leafs got a great game out of Phil Kessel last night, getting that kind of output every night would help make them more of a pain to deal with. As for Atlanta, Dustin Byfuglien continues to be their most reliable player on offense. Getting better work from their forwards would do wonder for the Thrashers who are right in the mix of things in the Southeast Division.

Carolina @ Florida

The Hurricanes will have redemption on their minds against the Panthers. These two faced off on Monday night and the Panthers were able to escape with a win in overtime. If Carolina wants to get serious about getting in the playoffs, knocking off divisional foes like Florida will be the key to that. Of course, solving Tomas Vokoun sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

8:30 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Dallas

Sean Avery makes his return to Dallas where his signing there managed to splinter the locker room and caused the team to essentially have a mutiny until he was gone. Now that he’s back in New York the distractions are gone (for the most part) but if you’re a betting person, I’d say there’s even money out there on someone from Dallas looking to make themselves famous for going after Avery. On the other side of things, hey there’s a game to be played and one the Stars could stand to get a win out of to distance themselves from the rest of their division. The Rangers are hoping that Kari Lehtonen can have a relapse to help their offense get jump started and get a winning streak started.

Ottawa @ Chicago

Ottawa rolls into town with nothing but bad feelings surrounding everyone, especially coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray. Things aren’t going well there but getting a win over the Blackhawks would go a long way towards helping keep the psyche up in Ottawa. Chicago, meanwhile, has dropped four of their last five games and have to be looking at Ottawa as a must-win game to prove to themselves that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Desperate times often lead to spirited games. Let’s hope that’s the case tonight at United Center.

9:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Calgary

Detroit’s five game road trip got off to a good start in Edmonton with a win, but dealing with the Flames in Calgary is never an easy feat. With the Flames having lost two games in a row and eager to get off the skids this sets up like a trap game for the Wings, especially with a game against Vancouver tomorrow night. One curious thought is how Mike Babcock will handle goaltending duties. Will Jimmy Howard get both games or will we see Chris Osgood get his second straight start against Edmonton or a shot at Vancouver? We shall see.

10:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Vancouver

The Oilers are doing their best to hang tough as a lowly team in the West and getting a win over the Islanders last night helps their confidence. Taking on the streaking Canucks, however, is a completely different brand of monster. The Canucks have won seven in a row and their confidence is soaring. To say this game doesn’t bode well for Edmonton would be completely correct. Perhaps their one saving grace might be that the Canucks could be looking past them and ahead to Detroit tomorrow night.

Columbus @ Anaheim

The Blue Jackets’ four game road trip has not been kind to them so far. They’re 0-2-0 and dealing with an Anaheim team that plays them very hard doesn’t look so good for them to break their slide. The Ducks are winners of three of their last four but dropped their last game to a hot Nashville team. With both of these teams running as streaky as anyone can, it’ll be interesting to see which version of each team shows up tomorrow night.

With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Sullivan stands behind Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

(The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

“If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

“He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”

‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

“They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

But the Sharks kept him in check.

His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded:

 

 

The Russians say they’re in ‘negotiations’ with the NHL to get Voynov into the World Cup

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Yesterday in Pittsburgh, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that Slava Voynov was still suspended and, because of that, would not be allowed to play in the upcoming World Cup.

Bettman also said that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation had been told as much.

However, it seems the Russians — who last week added Voynov to their World Cup roster — still haven’t given up on trying to get the 26-year-old defensemen into the tournament.

From Russian News Agency TASS:

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation is holding negotiations with the organizers of the World Cup – the NHL – concerning the issue of national team’s defender Vyacheslav Voynov,” the RHF’s press service told TASS on Tuesday adding that besides the Russian and US sides the negotiations also involve Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation hopes that the organizers of the international competition will make a positive decision on the issue and the defender will be allowed to be included in the roster of the Russian national team,” the RHF added.

Known in the United States as Slava Voynov he played in the past for NHL’s Los Angeles Kings before the North American Hockey League suspended him over domestic violence charges and the player returned last autumn back home, where he is currently playing for the national team and KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg club.

Time will tell if the Russians can convince the NHL to change its stance. They could sure use Voynov, given the relative weakness of their defense. But Bettman did not sound yesterday like he was open to a negotiation.

The Russians, for the record, have maintained that it’s not the NHL’s decision to make.

So perhaps that’s the big question here — who has the final say on the matter? Officially, the World Cup “is a joint effort of the NHLPA and the NHL, in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation.”

It’s just not entirely clear how that bit of boilerplate applies to the Voynov situation.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance