Around the rink – Saturday, January 15th

1:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh @ Boston

No Sidney Crosby for Pittsburgh this afternoon and that might sting a bit more dealing with a Boston team that’s coming off an inspiring win over Philadelphia and winners of three straight as is. Pittsburgh has been playing a tougher brand of hockey this year and a meeting with the bruising Bruins sets up for a rough game. The Bruins got their three game win streak started on Monday by beating the Pens at CONSOL in comeback fashion. No doubt that the Pens would like a bit of payback for that.

7:00 p.m.

Calgary @ Toronto

We know it’s Hockey Night In Canada, but this one’s set up to be a bit of a letdown. The Flames are playing the second of back-to-back road games and the Leafs are coming home after a five-game road trip and a 5-1 loss to Phoenix. The Leafs will get Jean-Sebastian Giguere back to their lineup but that might be the worst news of all as the recently sent down James Reimer has been the guy responsible for the Leafs recent four-game win streak. What might help out the Leafs is facing a slumping Miikka Kiprusoff for Calgary.

NY Rangers @ Montreal

The Rangers are coming off a big win over Vancouver and would like nothing more than to put one over on the Habs, who they lost to earlier this week. Montreal is coming off a bad loss to Pittsburgh but have been playing solid of late. Taking the Rangers down on home ice would be a good way to get back on the horse. Both teams could use a shot in the arm offensively as they’ve been routinely scoring three or fewer goals.

Buffalo @ NY Islanders

If the Sabres are serious about getting back into the playoff hunt, beating the Islanders has to be seen as a must. Getting Thomas Vanek back out on the ice and boosting the offense will help but getting a big night from Ryan Miller would be better. He’s been playing a little better of late, but to say he might be a bit hungover from how busy he was last year with the regular season, Olympics, and playoffs might be true. For the Islanders they’ll be looking to snap a three-game losing skid. This is the first of three meetings between these two teams over the next eight days.

Tampa Bay @ Carolina

For the Lightning’s sake, we’re hoping they’ve put their stink bomb of a game against New Jersey last night out of their mind. Facing off with a tough Carolina team might not make for the best follow up game for Tampa Bay. Carolina’s won three of their last four but are coming off a tough loss to Buffalo on Thursday. Tampa Bay is hanging on to a perilous lead in the Southeast division and getting a win tonight would put some space between themselves and Washington.

New Jersey @ Florida

The Devils have won two in a row with both wins coming against the Lightning. Weird, we know but they’ll hope their good fortune can continue against the other team in Florida. The Panthers are on a two-game win streak with wins coming against the Caps and Predators but with different goalies earning the wins in each. Will Scott Clemmensen get the nod against his former team, and second straight start, to keep the good mojo going? It might happen. The Devils will have to prove they can score goals against teams other than the Lightning for now.

Columbus @ Detroit

We’re hoping the healthy skaters for Detroit were wrapped in newspaper and Styrofoam on the flight from Columbus back to Detroit overnight lest they get anyone else injured before the back end of their home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets. They’ll be without Jimmy Howard tonight for sure meaning that Joey MacDonald or rookie Thomas McCollum will get the nod in goal. The Jackets, meanwhile, want to keep the good times rolling after snapping their five-game losing skid last night. Perhaps playing each night for charity might not be the worst idea.

8:00 p.m.

Chicago @ Nashville

All of a sudden, this game becomes a pretty intriguing one on tonight’s schedule. With both teams playing great of late, Corey Crawford having two straight shutouts, and the Wings being loaded with injury problems, the Central Division battle got way more interesting. If the Predators can solve Crawford, they’ll be in business. Keeping the Hawks off the board might be the perplexing battle for Nashville as it’s been their role players doing the dirty work of late.

Atlanta @ Dallas

It doesn’t get any easier for the Thrashers. After a tough loss to Philly last night, they head to Dallas to take on the first place Stars where former #1 draft pick goalie Kari Lehtonen awaits to show the Thrashers what they gave up on. The Thrashers are having a rough go of late and dealing with a feisty Stars attack won’t help matters any.

Anaheim @ Phoenix

OK raise your hand if you thought this game would be a battle for second place in the Pacific Division in mid January. That’s right, no hands raised at all. It is a battle for second and both teams are playing some pretty tough hockey. The Ducks have the streaking Bobby Ryan leading the way for them along with the disturbingly steady Corey Perry. Both teams are hoping to keep up with the Stars in the division. Our hope for this one is that Twitter superstar Paul Bissonette gets a chance to drop the gloves once again with mustachioed fan favorite George Parros.

10:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Los Angeles

The Oilers were able to make fans in San Jose push the panic button on Thursday night beating the Sharks. Beating the Kings tonight might cause the same thing to happen in L.A. with the Kings having lost seven of their last eight games and fans getting impatient with both coach Terry Murray and GM Dean Lombardi seemingly not doing much to help the team improve. You feel like a shakeup is coming in L.A. and a loss to the Oilers might put things into motion.

10:30 p.m.

St. Louis @ San Jose

The Blues are coming off a strong win over the Kings while the Sharks are plummeting in the Pacific losers of six in a row and playing ugly hockey on top of it all. For a team that was at the top of the Western Conference last year, this downturn is stunning. For the Blues, they want to keep the positives going as their win over L.A. was their first in six games. If they can kick a Sharks team while it’s down, they’ll be able to go back home with their heads held high while keeping pace in the Central Division.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

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Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

***

When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?