Around the rink – Sunday, January 23rd

It’s a day loaded with afternoon action across the NHL and while our attention will be focused on Chicago today, there’s a few other fun matchups to keep an eye on across the league today. If you’re not keeping an eye on the NFL playoffs today, fear not, hockey’s got your back if you want the distraction. All times are Eastern.

12:30 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Chicago

It’s the NBC Game of the Week and it’s a battle between teams that have virtually changed roles from where they were last year. Last season, Chicago was the juggernaut in the West while Philly was fighting for a playoff spot. This year, Philly rules the roost in the East while the Blackhawks are in a dogfight in the West. The comparisons go on from there, but make no mistake, the Hawks are still dangerous with All-Stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp. Dealing with Chris Pronger once again should be enough to give some of the returning Blackhawks from last year puck-stealing nightmares.

Despite Philly’s loss yesterday, they’re a hot team having won four of their last five and eight of their last ten. Chicago comes in after a solid win over Detroit yesterday and winners of five of their last six much in part due to the play of previously unknown goalie Corey Crawford. A team of stars being led by an unknown goalie, you say? I bet Philly knows that storyline pretty well.

3:00 p.m.

Florida @ New Jersey

The Devils are on a three-game win streak and now that coach Jacques Lemaire has gotten through to the players the Devils are turning back into that annoying team that battles hard for a full game and doesn’t give an inch. Sounds like fun to play against right? The Panthers are hoping the Devils will be a bit worn out from dealing with the Flyers yesterday afternoon. The Panthers would also like to avoid going to overtime or the shootout. Their last four games have been decided in either of those and they’re 1-0-3 in those four games.

Buffalo @ NY Islanders

Three games in four days for Buffalo with two of them on the road. It’s a most unkind schedule but it might be the sort of thing that leads to seeing Patrick Lalime getting a rare start today. I say rare because he hasn’t started a game since November 20 against Tampa Bay. After Miller was pulled from his start on Friday night against the Islanders, don’t be surprised to see him get a break against them today. The Islanders might not mind seeing an overworked Miller once again as they were able to beat the Sabres in Buffalo 5-2 on Friday night.

5:00 p.m.

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay kicks off the beginning of an incredible 12-game homestand against divisional foes from Atlanta. The Thrashers have to start getting their act together in their hopes of landing a playoff spot. After a tough shootout loss to the Rangers last night, having to deal with the Lightning in short order doesn’t sound appealing. Steve Stamkos comes into the game on fire with six goals and three assists in his last five games and the Lightning winners of three straight, all in the shootout. Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost six of their last seven games. With Carolina and Buffalo both playing better of late, the race for the final playoff spots in the East are getting more interesting.

8:00 p.m.

Nashville @ Edmonton

Just who the struggling Oilers wanted to see come to town – a Predators team that’s been playing great of late. The Preds are winners of eight of their last ten games while the Oilers are incredibly losers of 13 of their last 15 games. As if the Oilers needed to be further handicapped, playing without Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle of late has just made times tougher on them. Dealing with a Predators team that thrives on frustrating and stifling opposing offenses could make this a very long night for Edmonton.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?

Goalie nods: Jones makes Sharks debut against ex-Kings mates

Martin Jones
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News and notes from around the crease…

Jones goes for San Jose

Martin Jones, acquired by the Sharks this summer, will make his first regular-season start for the club tonight against his old team — the Los Angeles Kings.

Jones, 25, spent the last two years in L.A. as Jonathan Quick‘s understudy. He was flipped to Boston at the NHL Entry Draft, then shipped to San Jose. Sharks GM Doug Wilson wasted little time locking Jones in — signing him to a three-year, $9 million extension — and Jones wasted little time locking up the No. 1 gig, putting together a stellar preseason.

For the Kings, Quick will get the start in goal.

Markstrom out for Vancouver

Jacob Markstrom wasn’t scheduled to start for the Canucks tonight — No. 1 Ryan Miller is getting the call — but the Swedish ‘tender won’t even dress when his club takes on the Flames in Calgary.

Markstrom suffered a lower-body injury at practice this week and is being held out of tonight’s action. In his place, the Canucks called up AHL netminder Richard Bachman, who’ll serve as Miller’s backup.

For the Flames, Karri Ramo is the opening-night starter.


Habs at Leafs: Carey Price vs. Jonathan Bernier

Rangers at ‘Hawks: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Corey Crawford