Let’s take a look at today’s six games. As always, we’ll use Eastern Standard Time (ET).
Detroit @ Columbus
Logical people will blame the Blue Jackets’ struggles on a top-heavy roster that relies too much on the admitted brilliance of Rick Nash and the questionable talents of Steve Mason. Yet a zanier (and more fun) person might wonder if the Red Wings’ dominance of the team during a home-and-home series crushed the fragile spirits of the Columbus kids. Either way, Detroit hopes to continue the Central Division of their kid brothers tonight.
Vancouver @ Washington
The Capitals are struggling a bit, but considering the talent on both sides of the ice, it’s not crazy to wonder if this could be a Stanley Cup finals preview. Vancouver is coming off a 1-0 loss to the Rangers, so Washington has that added advantage. Add the fact that the Caps are still pretty dominant at the Phone Booth (15-4-5) and this game could be awfully interesting.
Calgary @ Ottawa
Hey, look: it’s Struggling and Semi-Hopeless Canadian Team West visiting Struggling and Semi-Hopeless Canadian Team East. The Senators (Hopeless Canadian Team East) just broke a six game losing streak while the Flames have lost four games in a row. Try hyping this one up, ticket scalpers in Ottawa.
New Jersey @ Tampa Bay
The Devils upset the Lightning the last time these two teams met, so Tampa Bay needs to win this one. (Especially considering the fact that they might be able to widen their Southeast Division lead as second-ranked Washington faces the NHL’s best team.)
Philadelphia @ Atlanta
These two teams share some kindred threads, at least in the way they are built to be tough. The Flyers carry that Broad Street Bullies reputation while Thrashers GM Rick Dudley hopes to create a similar vision in Atlanta. Philadelphia might be a little worn out after a tough loss against Boston, but the Thrashers should get a taste of an angry team tonight. Philly doesn’t want to drop another 1-2 points while Pittsburgh plays without Sidney Crosby for who knows how long.
Colorado @ Minnesota
The difference between these two teams is almost comical; the Avs scored 144 goals so far this season while the Wild only have 108 to their credit. Minnesota head coach Todd Richards might bristle at trap talk, but this game might cast the Wild as dour and the Avalanche as young and fun if these two teams follow their trends this season. Sounds like this game will alternate between entertaining and watching grass grow, but we shall see.
The Philadelphia Flyers have had their share of good news lately. They’ve won five in a row and goalie Steve Mason has been solid in that span, being named on Monday the NHL’s first star for the week.
But it hasn’t all been positive.
Forward Matt Read is out of the lineup for at least four weeks with an upper-body injury, the Flyers announced Monday. The injury occurred during Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators.
It’s been reported the injury is an oblique muscle pull.
With Read out, the Flyers have recalled Taylor Leier from the American Hockey League.
Leier has been very productive in the minors. In 22 games this season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he has six goals and 20 points.
The topic of a possible Wild Card play-in game being added to the NHL’s playoff format isn’t new.
General managers around the league have talked about it before. The idea recently seemed to gain traction with at least the small majority, too.
Hockey insider Bob McKenzie once polled all 30 GMs to get a sense of how many would be in favor of such a thing — and 16 of those GMs were. You can count Ken Holland with the Detroit Red Wings as someone who would like to see a Wild Card play-in game.
Holland is also a baseball fan and likes the way MLB has created must-watch play-in games. In baseball, there are three division winners in each league. Those three teams qualify for the division round of the postseason. Two wild-card teams in each league square off in a one-game play-in to decide the fourth divisional qualifier on each side.
“I’m all for an extra team in each conference qualifying for the playoffs and having a wild- card play-in game,” said Holland. “It would add excitement down the stretch for many more teams fighting for the additional wild-card spot and two extra teams would be involved in the playoffs. Those play-in games would be dramatic.”
Of course, the interesting thing about that is the Red Wings have a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances on the line.
But their best days — when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg led them to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and the final the following year — are long behind them. The organization has undergone substantial change with Zetterberg getting older, the loss of Datsyuk to the KHL and Mike Babcock joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Red Wings could be in real danger of missing the post-season under its current format in 2017.
Detroit is two points out of the second Wild Card spot in the East, with New Jersey and Boston still ahead of them, although not currently in a playoff spot.
Three forwards — Brock Boeser, Alex DeBrincat, and Colin White — and two defensemen — Chad Krys and Charlie McAvoy — make up the five returnees that were named today to the preliminary roster for the 2017 U.S. National Junior Team.
Other recognizable names include first-round draft picks Luke Kunin, Clayton Keller, Logan Brown, Kieffer Bellows, Jack Roslovic, and Tage Thompson.
“This is a talented, versatile group of players that has found success across all levels of hockey,” said general manager Jim Johannson from USA Hockey. “There is depth at every position, and while we still have some difficult decisions to make, we feel each of these players can fit the style of hockey Coach Motzko (U.S. head coach Bob Motzko) first implemented at our National Junior Evaluation Camp last August.”
Click here for the full preliminary roster. D-man Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and goalie Jake Oettinger (BU) are the only ones who have yet to be drafted. Oettinger doesn’t turn 18 until later this month.
The players will attend training camp Dec. 16-20 in Buffalo, then an additional camp in Oshawa, Ontario, from Dec. 20-24.
Of the 27 camp invitees (three goalies, eight d-men, and 16 forwards), only 23 will make the cut.
USA won bronze at the 2016 World Juniors in Finland.
Related: Barzal, Strome, Patrick among invitees to Canada’s World Juniors camp
The update on the injury Alex Galchenyuk suffered during Montreal’s win in L.A. on Sunday wasn’t definitive, but it was ominous.
From the Habs:
Galchenyuk suffered a lower body injury on December 4 in Los Angeles. He went for medical testing in St. Louis earlier Monday, and will be out indefinitely.
He will be further evaluated by team doctors in Montreal on Wednesday. An update will be released later this week.
The injury occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game, when he collided with Kings center Anze Kopitar.
Galchenyuk, 22, leads the Canadiens with nine goals and 23 points in 25 games this year and is one of the club’s top faceoff men, at least in terms of draws taken. He also averages over 16 minutes per night and features prominently on the power play.
So, needless to say, this is a potentially massive loss for Montreal.
The Habs will wrap their three-game road swing in St. Louis tomorrow, and are then back in action Thursday, when they host the Devils.
If Galchenyuk is out for a significant length of time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Martin Hanzal-to-Montreal trade rumblings start up again.