Calgary Flames v Toronto Maple Leafs

Around the rink – Monday, January 17th

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America and that means we’ll get some afternoon hockey to soak in on our day off from work. Here’s today’s rundown of games with all times being Eastern.

1:00 p.m.

Carolina @ Boston

It’s the front end of a home-and-home series between these two and the Hurricanes come in winners of four of their last five. Don’t look now but Carolina is just seven points behind Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division and one point behind Atlanta for the eighth spot in the East. All-Stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward are most responsible for the Hurricanes rise in the standings but dealing with the Bruins won’t be east. The B’s are coming off a tough loss on Saturday to Pittsburgh and will be itchy for redemption.

New Jersey @ NY Islanders

All right, so every game on the schedule isn’t a gem but the Islanders with Rick DiPietro back in goal are a much better team than they are without him. DiPietro is on a four-game win streak that had a five-game injury layoff in there to break things up after beating Buffalo on Saturday. For the Isles winning four in a row at all is outstanding regardless of the stretch of time. The Devils are looking to shake off a disappointing overtime loss to Florida on Saturday. These are the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference and as it is, the Isles are still eight points in front of New Jersey.

4:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Phoenix

San Jose snapped their losing skid on Saturday but beating divisional foe Phoenix would be a heck of a way to get into a groove. The good news for the Sharks is that their big guns all woke up against St. Louis with Dany Heatley getting two goals and Patrick Marleau helping out. Beating Phoenix will be a bit more difficult, however, as they come into the game winners of four in a row and scoring nearly five goals per game during that stretch. If the Sharks goaltending doesn’t tighten it up or the offense doesn’t return again, it could be back to the basement time for San Jose.

7:30 p.m.

Calgary @ Montreal

The Flames head into Montreal winners of two in a row after beating the Leafs in a lackluster shootout 2-1 on Saturday. The good news for Calgary is that both Henrik Karlsson and Miikka Kiprusoff did a good job of keeping opponents off the board in those two wins. The bad news is that their offense wasn’t really clicking and now they’ll have to deal with Carey Price. The Habs have won four of their last five and are fourth in the league in goals allowed. Times might be tough for the Flames tonight.

Atlanta @ Florida

Atlanta could sure use a win in this one. They’ve lost four in a row and nine of their last 12 games. What’s causing the problems? Poor defense and goaltending. Over those 12 games, the Thrashers have given up an average of 4.25 goals per game. It’s tough to keep up with anyone when you’re giving up that many goals per game and the consistent wear Ondrej Pavelec has had to take playing the majority of those games is showing. Sadly for him, Chris Mason is banged up and getting a break now might not be in the cards. Meanwhile, the Panthers are playing tough winning three in a row. The goaltending situation there is a bit different as it’s Scott Clemmensen getting it done of late instead of Tomas Vokoun. The Panthers will take the wins how they can get them as they’re seven points behind Atlanta in the Southeast.

8:30 p.m.

Los Angeles @ Dallas

The Kings will have to do without Wayne Simmonds who’s out with a knee injury suffered against Edmonton on Saturday night and having to deal with a Stars team that plays rugged won’t help matters. The Stars, despite everyone’s predictions, continue to rule the roost in the Pacific Division and they come into this one winners of three in a row and preventing goals all the way giving up just three goals in those three games. If the Kings are serious about getting back into the playoff hunt, knocking off Dallas would be a solid way to send that message that they’re not about to go away anytime soon.

Rangers mostly dodge a bullet: Nash only expected to miss a week

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers moves the puck along the boards during the second period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.

At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.

It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.

The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:

(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)

Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.

“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!

Goal-starved ‘Canes need to get to the net

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Toby Enstrom #39 and Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets follow the puck as Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes screens Hellebuyck during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The statistics say the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the top puck-possession teams in hockey.

But unlike most teams who fare well in the Corsi and Fenwick departments, the ‘Canes still lose more games than they win.

In the past, much of the blame for their struggles has been piled on Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, the two goalies. But Ward has actually been much better this season. The veteran netminder has a .924 save percentage over his 19 starts. He just hasn’t received much in the way of goal support, which explains his modest 9-7-4 record.

In fact, in Ward’s last five starts, he’s allowed just eight goals combined. The ‘Canes only won one of those games, a 1-0 overtime triumph Sunday against Tampa Bay.

   Read more: The curious case of the Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina (10-10-5) starts a three-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim.

“Our focus is on scoring,” coach Bill Peters said, per NHL.com. “It’s the ability to get on the board. I’d love to get on the board early. … It’s about the urgency to score, what you have to do to score. I want to see more guys in the blue paint. I want to see guys making it harder on the goaltender. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

It remains to be seen if they have the personnel to score more dirty goals. At the moment, they’re without Jordan Staal (concussion), and that’s a significant loss. Up front, the ‘Canes just aren’t a very heavy team. Their top point-producers are speedy and skilled — Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskSebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen — but Staal is the biggest and most physical of the bunch.

“To generate more offense and score more goals, we’ve got to be able to work our way inside and make it tough on them,” said defenseman Justin Faulk.

However they do it, they need to find a way. Because the ‘Canes have been slipping in the standings. They’re now six points back of a wild-card spot, tied with the Islanders and Leafs for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

Via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, here are the 10 goalies who have received the least amount of goal support this season:

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