Stephane Auger

Canucks forward Alex Burrows and referee Stephane Auger renew acquaintances tonight on Long Island

The job of an NHL referee is generally to try and go through a game and to not be noticed at all. Sure, make your calls and whistle for penalties and point for the goals but you don’t want fans to know your name going into the game and you certainly don’t want them leafing through the game program to look up your name after a bad call. In the case of Stephane Auger, we all got to know his name really well last year thanks to Alex Burrows.

Burrows accused Auger of having a personal vendetta against him after a particularly tough Canucks game, a 3-2 loss to Nashville, in which Burrows was booked for three minor penalties, two in the third period, one of which led to the Predators go-ahead goal. In Burrows’ checkered career, this game could qualify as the low point of it all venting his frustrations in bombastic style after the game.

Tonight, Auger is set to be on the ice for a Canucks game a full year to the date since the game in question. It’s the first time he’s done a game Burrows has played in since then and if you think they haven’t taken notice of this in Vancouver, you’re greatly mistaken.

“It’s not a big deal to me, really,” Burrows said after this morning’s game-day skate at Nassau Coliseum. “It’s something I have put in the past. Tonight I am not going to approach the game differently. It’s a game where we have to get back on the winning track and I am going to do everything I can to do that.”

Burrows does not anticipate having any kind of chat with Auger before or during tonight’s game.

“I haven’t talked to one ref all year,” Burrows said. “I won’t change that.”

Burrows has been a changed guy this year. His chirping and borderline dirty has disappeared and he’s still playing good, solid, physical hockey. His goal output compared to last year is a bit down but he’s still a key contributor to the Canucks attack. That said, not everyone in Vancouver is excited to see a game with Auger prominently involved once again. Iain MacIntyre of Puckworld voices his thoughts on Auger’s work.

Regretably, it had to happen at some point. Clearly, the NHL isn’t going to fire Auger of they’d have done so last summer. So the referee is here for a while and so are the Canucks and Burrows. Still, a year without Auger was not long enough.

I’m disappointed to have Auger work the Canucks. But not because he’ll act unfairly towards Burrows, but because Auger is consisently erratic and low-grading, as revealed by the NHL’s annual decision not to schedule him for playoff games. Long before the Burrows incident, I considered Auger and Brad Meier the two most frustrating referees in the league. And lest anyone think I have a low regard for NHL officials, generally, I actually think they do a pretty good job. My favorites include Kelly Sutherland, Tim Peel and Tom Kowal, and most of the senior officials — Dave Jackson, Paul Devorski, Don van Massenhoven and Dave Jackson.

Does that mean we’ll hear cries of “Fire Auger!” at the first bad call of the night against the Islanders? Well, we might’ve heard that that from Canucks fans regardless of the referee involved. Canucks fans being as fiery as they are would be likely to yell no matter what. Still, it’ll be fascinating to see how things play out should things get out of hand at all. If the Islanders want to test their luck, stirring things up with Burrows might not be the worst idea.

Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

Trade deadline players?

Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

That schedule, though

Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

Saturday: vs. Capitals
Sunday: vs. Oilers
Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
Thursday, March 9: at Kings
Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.

‘Hawks nab Jurco in trade with Red Wings

Tomas Jurco
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The Chicago Blackhawks picked up some forward depth today, adding winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

In return, the ‘Hawks sent the Wings a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Jurco has only appeared in 16 games this season. He has no goals and no assists.

The 24-year-old was forced to undergo back surgery this past offseason.

“I could still play with it but the worst for me was sitting on the bench all the time,” Jurco said in November, per NHL.com. “Sometimes I’d have to get up and walk. Sometimes I’d stretch it. It was bad and I’ve been sitting a lot for the last couple of years on the bench. It was really tough but I’m glad it’s gone and I’m excited for a fresh start.”

A pending restricted free agent, Jurco’s cap hit is just $900,000.

In a corresponding move, the ‘Hawks assigned rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza to the AHL.

Pre-game reading: On the urgency of the Caps, who won’t ‘be the same’ next year

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— Up top, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan talks about the upcoming trade deadline. The way his team has been playing, it’s no surprise to hear he doesn’t expect to be very busy.

— The Caps are in the second year of a two-year window, and the urgency to finally win a Stanley Cup couldn’t be higher. Says MacLellan: “That doesn’t mean that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got to give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be the same.” (NHL.com)

— The Montreal Canadiens, no longer a sure bet to make the playoffs, are one of the teams eyeing Arizona center Martin Hanzal, reports Pierre LeBrun. Hanzal is a pending unrestricted free agent. The 30-year-old has 15 goals and 10 assists in 50 games this season. (TSN)

— Hockey history buffs will enjoy this story on Billy Coutu, a.k.a “Wild Beaver,” who was banned by the NHL for life after attacking a couple of referees in 1927. Coutu tried to resurrect his career in the minors, but with little success. (Sports Illustrated)

— Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz stayed hot last night with a goal and an assist against the Coyotes. “I’m making more plays off the rush, in the zone,” he says. “I’m definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that’s how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well.” (CSN Chicago)

— Tomorrow’s outdoor game in Pittsburgh is a big one for the Flyers — but not because of the spectacle of the event. To stay in the playoff race, Philadelphia badly needs the two points. “Honestly, it’s business first,” says head coach Dave Hakstol. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.” (CSN Philly)

Enjoy the games!