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Riding the Zamboni – Saturday, January 15th (early edition)

For a recap of the early afternoon tilt between the Penguins and Bruins, click here. We’ll provide summaries of Edmonton-Los Angeles and St. Louis-San Jose later on.

Florida 3, New Jersey 2 (OT)

The Devils have done a great job of boosting the confidence of other teams this season. Need to break a slump? Take a trip to Newark. The latest example: the Panthers sport the league’s worst power play, yet Florida generated two of their three goals on the man advantage to beat New Jersey.

Calgary 2, Toronto 1

Miikka Kiprusoff was perfect until there was only 13 seconds left in this game, allowing a game-tying Mikhail Grabovski goal while Toronto was on the power play. Yet considering the fact that the Maple Leafs out-shot the Flames 18-4 in that period, breaking even was quite the breakthrough. Both Kipper and J.S. Giguere stopped 32 out of 33 shots in this game, but the Finnish Flame was slightly better in the shootout.

NY Islanders 5, Buffalo 3

This one was a sight for Garth Snow’s sore eyes: John Tavares provided a natural hat trick while Rick DiPietro set aside 40 out of 43 shots to give the Islanders a win against the Sabres.

Carolina 6, Tampa Bay 4

The Hurricanes now find themselves only one point behind the eighth-seed Thrashers with three games in hand thanks in large part to a 7-1-2 run in their last 10 games. The Lightning are still first in the Southeast, but have lost four of six.

All of a sudden Eric Staal (one goal, two assists) and Erik Cole (three assists) are starting to look like a combo that took the NHL by storm in the first season after the lockout.

Montreal 3, NY Rangers 2

The Habs rode a lightning quick three goal in three minutes outburst to beat the Rangers, as tall forward Brian Boyle and spritely scorer Mats Zuccarello scored the game’s first and last goals.

Henrik Lundqvist earned 38 saves in defeat, but Rangers coach John Tortorella was most impressed by the emotion he showed when he punched forward Max Pacioretty, which earned the Swedish goalie a roughing penalty. Meanwhile Carey Price won, stopping 31 out of 33 shots.

Detroit 6, Columbus 5 (OT)

The Red Wings earned an overtime win in Detroit one night after losing in a shootout in Columbus. Every win will be a blessing as they face the tough reality of their injury situations. Rick Nash was impressive in defeat, scoring one goal and adding two assists.

Dallas 6, Atlanta 1

Kari Lehtonen watched his old team take quite a beating in this one, earning the win with a 29-save performance. Trevor Daley and James Neal scored two goals in the game as the Stars power play went three for five.

Nashville 3, Chicago 2 (SO)

While it won’t completely heal the wounds of that came from their collapse against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, it must have felt great for the Predators to come back after falling behind 2-0 in this game.

Phoenix 6, Anaheim 2

Ray Whitney reached the 900-point plateau while the Coyotes won their fourth game in a row, bumping their last 10 games total to an outstanding 7-1-2 mark. That leaves Phoenix in fourth place in the West while the Ducks are stuck in eighth. Whitney crossed that threshold with an impressive two goal, one assist night.

Devils sign star French d-man Auvitu

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 05:  Rapahel Herburger (R) of Austria and Yohann Auvitu (L) of France battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Austria and France at o2 Arena on May 5, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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New Jersey has won the Yohann Auvitu sweepstakes.

On Friday, the Devils announced they’ve signed Auvitu to a one-year, two-way, entry-level contract for the upcoming campaign. The 26-year-old Frenchman had previously garnered widespread NHL interest, largely due to a ’15-16 campaign in which he won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga — an award that’s previously gone to the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brian Rafalski.

Auvitu had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games, then six goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

There were only three French-born players were in the NHL this season: Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Detroit’s Xavier Ouellet, and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel. It’ll be interesting to see if Auvitu can make it a quartet. He recently played alongside Bellemare for France at the Worlds, scoring three points in seven games.

Dethroned? Kings reportedly strip Brown of captaincy (Updated)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Dustin Brown
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Dustin Brown, who captained the Los Angeles Kings to the only two Stanley Cups in franchise history, has been relieved of his leadership duties, per TSN.

Brown, 31, was named the 13th captain in team history back in 2008, and has worn the “C” ever since. He’s also served as an alternate captain for Team USA’s silver medal-winning side at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

While there’s been no confirmation or report, one has to think this paves the way for Anze Kopitar to assume the club’s captaincy. Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million extension with L.A. in January, and has been Brown’s alternate captain since ’08.

While Brown achieved great things during his run as Kings captain, the tenure ended badly. He’s been largely ineffective over the last two seasons, and his lackuster play has been called out by head coach Darryl Sutter on a number of occasions (see here and here and here.)

Compounding things is Brown’s contract. Despite the fact he’s now essentially a bottom-six forward, he’s still owed a whopping $5.875M annually through 2022. That’s a lot of scratch for a guy that’s posted career-lows in goals (11) in back-to-back seasons.

Compounding that is the fact L.A. doesn’t have a ton of cap space moving forward. Brown’s hit could prevent them from re-upping with pending UFA Milan Lucic, or finding some blueline help in free agency.

Perhaps we should’ve seen the writing on the wall for Brown a couple weeks ago, when Kings GM Dean Lombardi extended Sutter’s contract.

Lombardi admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.” He also suggested there would be significant changes throughout the team, and that those changes would be difficult.

“To get this back on track,” Lombardi said, “there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

If TSN’s report holds true, the first punch has already been thrown.

Update:

For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

San Jose Sharks Name Peter Deboer Head Coach
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In Pete DeBoer’s first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went to the Stanley Cup Final with a roster that was headlined by two pretty talented players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

For DeBoer and the Devils, it never got better than that. By the time he was fired, the team had missed the playoffs two years in a row, Kovalchuk and Parise were elsewhere and the roster was looking pretty, darn barren.

Now, in his first season with San Jose, DeBoer is once again off to the final, this time with a Sharks team that’s headlined by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Why, you could almost draw the conclusion that a head coach has a much better chance to win with a roster full of talented players.

Certainly, the teams DeBoer had in Florida wouldn’t hurt that theory.

A motivated roster is nice to have as well, and DeBoer definitely had that when he took over in San Jose.

“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.

“I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re pissed off, they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

DeBoer was also the benefactor of some fine work by GM Doug Wilson, who signed veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin in free agency and got goalie Martin Jones in a trade. Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi out of Europe, a year after he did the same with Melker Karlsson. Throw in a few draft picks that have come along — youngsters like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Matt Nieto — and it’s hard to find a real weakness on the roster.

“The additions that Doug made, it just came together,” said DeBoer.

“They were coming off a down season, but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They’d been well-coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time.”

Related: DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose

Panthers expect Campbell to test free agency

Brian Campbell
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The Florida Panthers are operating on the premise that veteran d-man Brian Campbell will go unrestricted on July 1.

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

[GM Tom] Rowe said that the Panthers told Campbell and his agent they want to re-sign him but it appears Campbell, who turned 37 on Monday, will test the market first.

Campbell will be one to watch on the open market. A terrific puck-mover, he finished with six goals and 31 points for Florida last season while averaging a healthy 22:17 TOI per game.

He rarely gets hurt — Campbell hasn’t missed a game in five years — and has excellent skating ability. All of these attributes mask the fact that 1) he’s not overly physical, 2) he’s not what you’d call a “defensive defenseman,” and 3) he’s had an albatross of a contract.

Signed to a whopping eight-year, $57.1 million deal back in 2008, Campbell has been pulling down $7.14M annually, which has sort of skewed perceptions of him. His $7M+ cap hit puts him alongside the likes of P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.

But at a lesser price, Campbell might be a really good acquisition.

And what’s more, the market for transitional defensemen is already heating up.

Earlier this week, GM Don Sweeney said the Bruins would be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a puck-moving blueliner.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault conceded his club had a puck-moving problem this year, and could lose both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle off the blueline.

Finally, there are those Campbell would be up against on the open market.

It’s not an especially deep class for defensmen: Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Russell headline the list, which makes Campbell all the more valuable.