Around the rink – Thursday, January 13th

7:00 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Boston

Let’s get this out of the way now: No, the Boston Bruins will not be getting redemption tonight. With the Philadelphia Flyers in town we’re sure Jack Edwards will have a slew of Revolutionary War comparisons to make should the Bruins keep their winning streak alive but last year’s playoff failure against Philly is over and done with. That said, if the Bruins can’t collectively get up for this game, there’s a serious problem. The Flyers roll into Boston on a four-game win streak of their own and they’re playing great atop the Eastern Conference. This is easily the game we’re locked into tonight.

Vancouver @ NY Rangers

If the Rangers were looking for a good test for their young defense, they’ve got it. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Ryan Kesler are running wild in the Western Conference and they’re having just as much good fortune out east. One thing the Rangers won’t have to worry about is facing Roberto Luongo. Of course, facing Cory Schneider isn’t much of a treat either as he’s been outstanding as Luongo’s backup this year. The Rangers have been involved in a lot of 2-1, 3-2 games this year and there’s no reason to think this won’t be another one.

Carolina @ Buffalo

Well look at this, these two teams come in on a bit of a hot streak with the Hurricanes having won three in a row and the Sabres winners of four of their last six. While each team has their own superstar goalie, they’ve been struggling to keep opponents off the board. The Hurricanes offense is one of the better ones in the NHL with Eric Staal leading the way. If Ryan Miller can keep the Canes captain off the board, they’ll be in good shape.

Ottawa @ NY Islanders

On every schedule there’s a game that inspires little to no inspiration to watch it. This is tonight’s version of that game. Ottawa rolls into Long Island losers of six in a row and losing badly. If the Senators get thumped on by the improved Islanders and rookie goalie Kevin Poulin, this could be the end of the rope for coach Cory Clouston, GM Bryan Murray or both. Of course, we thought that after they were drubbed by the Maple Leafs two weeks ago and nothing happened so… Yeah. The Isles, meanwhile, are just hoping to keep solid play rolling. After nearly beating the Canucks the other night and winning more often than losing of late, confidence is improving on the Island.

7:30 p.m.

Nashville @ Florida

The Predators are winners of six in a row and playing some great hockey. Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback are stopping virtually everything thrown at them in goal and the offense is picking things up just enough to make it all stand. In typical Smashville fashion, the Preds are making life miserable on opponents. The Panthers have lost three of their last four, but much like Rinne, Tomas Vokoun is doing his part to keep the Panthers in games. These two will grind the game out and see what shakes loose, but if you’re a fan of great goaltending, this is the game to watch.

9:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Phoenix

Can the Leafs make it five in a row and reach .500? That’s what’s at stake tonight and while we’re pretty sure there won’t be any money waving around the locker room this time, the confidence in Toronto is soaring and thanks for a lot of that has to go to surprise goaltending sensation James Reimer. Phoenix won’t be easy to beat though as they’ve won four of their last five. We can’t help but wonder if we’ll see any “bounty” in action on behalf of former Maple Leaf and current Coyote Lee Stempniak. Someone call the NHL fun police!

10:30 p.m.

St. Louis @ Los Angeles

What do you get when you have two teams desperate for a win? You call it tonight’s Blues-Kings game. The Kings have dropped six of their last seven games and the Blues are coming of a 7-4 thumping against Anaheim last night. The Blues might be the streakiest team in the NHL as they’ve lost five in a row. This losing streak is coming off of a stretch of five straight wins. If you think you’ve got a bead on them, good luck. An ugly loss tonight by L.A. could mean GM Dean Lombardi shakes things up a bit more than just swapping guys in and out of the lineup.

Edmonton @ San Jose

Speaking of teams playing unmotivated hockey, hey it’s the San Jose Sharks! The Sharks are losers of five in a row and doing so in rather unspectacular fashion. They’re not scoring goals, they don’t look like they’re trying all that hard and the one guy who is, Logan Couture, is out of tonight’s game after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Colton Orr. If they can’t snap out of it against Edmonton, you have to wonder if there’s something GM Doug Wilson can do to improve things for a team that’s virtually the same one that finished on top of the Western Conference last year. Edmonton, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last ten. We don’t want to say this is a must win game for San Jose but…

Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

“I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

“Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

***

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.