Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, January 6th

Buffalo 3 – San Jose 0

Some nights we’re reminded why Ryan Miller is one of the best goalies in the NHL. Tonight he stopped all 36 shots he faced en route to a 3-0 Sabres win over the Sharks. The Sharks have been decidedly average so far this year, but tonight they pulled out all the stops to try and beat the Sabres only to be turned away at every turn. Luke Adam, Jochen Hecht, and Thomas Vanek each scored for Buffalo to make the lead insurmountable. The win gives Buffalo victories in three of their last four games. For San Jose, it’s their second loss in a row.

Montreal 2 – Pittsburgh 1 (F/SO)

On a night where the big news turns out to be Sidney Crosby being diagnosed with a concussion, the Canadiens were able to take advantage of a Pens lineup that was without Crosby, Matt Cooke, and had Brent Johnson in goal. Johnson did well enough to keep his team in the game but he couldn’t stop Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot had Montreal’s lone goal in regulation and scored their game-winner in the shootout on a rather Peter Forsberg-like move. Arron Asham had Pittsburgh’s lone goal in regulation as Carey Price saved 31 shots in the win. Johnson stopped 22 in the tough loss. The Pens have now dropped four of their last six games.

Philadelphia 4 – New Jersey 2

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s Johan Hedberg or Martin Brodeur in goal for New Jersey these days and tonight it was Hedberg taking the loss once again. Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell each had two goals in leading the Flyers over New Jersey. New Jersey went into tonight’s game having dropped a drama bomb having captain Jamie Langenbrunner out of the lineup as a healthy scratch and speculation about him being traded dominating the evening. The mess in New Jersey is out of hand and the Flyers were more than happy to take advantage of the aimless Devils.

Nashville 5 – Los Angeles 2

The suddenly sliding Kings keep on falling back in the standings dropping their fifth straight game. Making tonight a bit more painful was the fact the Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead before folding things up. Patric Hornqvist scored two goals, Marek Svatos scored his first goal since returning from Russia while Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn each had a goal and two assists each. Jonathan Bernier wasn’t able to contain the Predators attack tonight to the tune of 23 saves. Anders Lindback stopped 28 shots for Nashville in the win.

Minnesota 3 – Boston 1

While the Bruins won’t admit to it, a bad call against Shawn Thornton that turned into a Martin Havlat power play goal got in their heads early in this one. Steven Kampfer was able to tie the game up at 1-1 minutes after that, but the Bruins played a bit off all night. In the third period, the Wild capitalized getting a go-ahead goal from Cal Clutterbuck and an empty netter from Mikko Koivu to ice the game. Tuukka Rask played strong for Boston but was out-dueled by Jose Theodore. Theodore stopped 35 shots compared to Rask’s 31 on the way to the victory. For Boston, it’s their first non-shootout loss since December 20th, but third loss in four games. Meanwhile, the Wild have quietly won three in a row much in thanks to Theodore’s solid play.

Phoenix 2 – Colorado 0

It wasn’t supposed to be Jason LaBarbera’s start tonight, but he made the most of his emergency start in goal pitching a 24-save shutout over the high-scoring Avalanche. Taylor Pyatt made it stick with two goals including an empty netter as the Coyotes got out of last place in the Pacific Division thanks to the win and the Kings loss. For Colorado, it was a sloppy loss and one they’ll need to forget about if they’re looking to get back on the winning side. Losses are becoming a bit too common lately for the Avs as they’ve lost six of their last eight games with their wins coming in overtime and a shootout.

Toronto 6 – St. Louis 5 (F/SO)

The Leafs looked strong tonight getting out to a 5-2 lead at one point and chasing Jaroslav Halak from the game.  But as things go with Toronto of late, they allowed the Blues to score three in a row from Brad Winchester, Eric Brewer, and Matt D’Agostini to send the game into overtime. As the teams went to the shootout, it was Mikhail Grabovsky dazzling the fans with his shootout goal and Tyler Bozak sealing the deal with his shootout winner to get Jonas Gustavsson the win.

Edmonton 2 – NY Islanders 1

It certainly wasn’t the highlight game of the night by any means for Isles starter Nate Lawson giving up two goals on the first three shots he saw, but fellow rookie goalie Kevin Poulin relieved him and at least kept the Isles in the game. As it turned out, Gilbert Brule and Dustin Penner’s goals would be all the Oilers would need to give Devan Dubnyk the win for Edmonton. Dubnyk, unlike Lawson, was able to stop 30 shots on his way to the win. Poulin stopped all 19 shots he saw in relief. Blake Comeau’s second period goal was all the offense the Isles would muster against fellow cellar dwellers in the NHL.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski