Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers

Around the rink – Wednesday, January 19th

It’s a light night around the league with just three games but they’ve each got their own side stories and drama unto themselves. See, every game counts for something in the NHL, doesn’t it? That’s your feel-good moment of the day and you can just tuck that away into your pocket and save that smile for later. At least we’ve got an Original Six battle to fall back on tonight. All times are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ NY Rangers

A pair of teams butting heads on two-game losing streaks. As any promo might say, “Something’s got to give.” For the Rangers they want to put slow starts and bad efforts against Philly and Montreal behind them and jump out fast. Will we see a change in Marian Gaborik’s game after getting benched for parts of the game against the Flyers? We’re thinking he might break out against the Leafs. That’s not because the Leafs have been bad lately, just one guy’s dumb gut feeling. The Leafs are hoping Gaborik can stay quiet at least one more night so they can get back on the winning side. After a pair of lacking efforts in a row, the Leafs are hoping their anemic offense can break out against the defensively tough Rangers.

7:30 p.m.

Columbus @ Florida

Columbus’ Sunshine State tour concludes in Sunrise after a shootout loss to Tampa Bay last night. They’ll be dealing with a Panthers team that’s won three of their last four but are coming off a shootout loss to Atlanta. Perhaps both teams would like to avoid going to the skills competition to settle things then. Columbus would just like wins, period. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games. Their effort against Tampa Bay was better and continuing that against Florida would be a show of consistency the team hasn’t had since October.

9:30 p.m.

Minnesota @ Calgary

The Wild expect Niklas Backstrom to be back and ready in goal but maybe sticking with Anton Khudobin might not hurt. If it wasn’t for a dumb fight by Brad Staubitz leading to an Oilers power play goal late, the man they refer to as “Borat” would have two straight shutouts. Winning two in a row will have to suffice. The Flames come into this one losers of five of their last seven games and teetering on the edge of irrelevance in the Western Conference. Getting a win over a divisional foe at home would help stem the tide of failure.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”