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.

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

Getty Images
2 Comments

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Are Penguins making the right call with Sprong demotion?

Getty
3 Comments

After being a healthy scratch for two games and seemingly being in the doghouse since at least Jan. 17, Daniel Sprong is headed back to the AHL.

To some degree, the move was made because it seems like Bryan Rust is getting ready to return to the mix after being sidelined since Dec. 27. Still, it’s a frustrating development for those who believe in Sprong’s potential as the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

All of the 20-year-old’s points came in one game, as Sprong scored two goals and one assist against the Islanders on Jan. 5. He went without a point in his other seven appearances in the NHL this season, with six coming during his latest stint.

Sprong was in the double digits in ice time each night until the Penguins’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17, when he was glued to the bench from the second period on. Considering his lack of production in general, it’s understandable that head coach Mike Sullivan is more reactive to mistakes.

Certain details make the move more debatable, though.

For those who believe that Ryan Reaves‘ role is antiquated, it must be frustrating to see Sprong get demoted. Reaves has been averaging less than seven minutes per game (6:41) despite taking a spot in the lineup for 49 contests. Pittsburgh is in a life-or-death battle for a playoff spot, and many believe that his presence (and the first rounder they gave up to acquire him) is a waste for the Penguins.

The Pens also seem like they’re taking a questionable all-or-nothing approach with Sprong.

Sprong’s most common even-strength linemates (by far) were Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon, via Natural Stat Trick. Maybe Sprong isn’t quite the right fit for Crosby at this point in his career, but there has to be at least a chance that he could provide more punch for the Penguins’ lineup than someone like Reaves lower in the lineup?

His possession stats have been solid in a small sample size and he hasn’t been shy, firing just less than three shots on goal per game (22 SOG in eight games). Couldn’t the Penguins find room for Rust and Sprong?

These are questions at least some Penguins media members and fans are asking right now, but the bottom line is that the team clearly believes that Reaves is a difference-maker. If Sprong is going to rank as one as well, it sounds like he’ll need to earn his next chance first.

We’ll see how the Sprong-less Penguins fare against the Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty important game on Tuesday. In other Penguins news, Matt Murray was overwhelmed by the support he received from his team and teammates following his father’s death.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.