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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.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins
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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance

Jackets not expected to sign Quebec league prospect Pelletier

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Julien Pelletier meets his team after being drafted #107 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Julien Pelletier, the QMJHL Sherbrooke forward taken in the fourth round of the ’14 draft, is unlikely to receive an entry-level contract from the Blue Jackets, per the Columbus Dispatch.

The move would mean Pelletier could re-enter this year’s draft. The Blue Jackets have until Wednesday to decide if they want to sign him, or trade his rights to another team.

Taken five spots ahead of Viktor Arvidsson — who’s become a nice young player for Nashville — Pelletier had a solid season in Sherbrooke, finishing second on the team in goals (with 27).

This year, he was in training camp with the Jackets but sent home early.

Per the Dispatch, the Jackets are also unlikely to sign another ’14 draftee — Olivier Leblanc, who was taken in the seventh round.

‘Invigorated’ Hitch signs for one final year in St. Louis

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Ken Hitchcock is taking one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.

The club announced today a one-year contract extension for the 64-year-old head coach. Hitchcock then confirmed during a press conference that 2016-17 will be his final year. He plans to retire from coaching once it’s over.

“I just feel like I’ve got this really good year in me,” Hitchcock said. “This season has invigorated me like no season before.”

The Blues, of course, made it all the way to the Western Conference Final this year. The previous four postseasons under Hitchcock, they made it to the second round once, then lost three straight times in the first round.

“This group of players, their dynamic has changed, and it’s really exciting right now,” he said.

There will be at least one change to the coaching staff. GM Doug Armstrong said today that associate coach Brad Shaw will not be back. The rest of the staff has been offered one-year extensions to match Hitchcock’s.

Now that the decision has been made on the head coach, Armstrong can turn his full attention to the roster. Getting Jaden Schwartz, a pending restricted free agent, signed to a long-term deal will be his initial focus.

As for the captain, pending unrestricted free agent David Backes, there’s interest in bringing him back, but the numbers have to make sense. Forwards Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall are also UFAs.

On the back end, Kevin Shattenkirk is probably the biggest wild card. He can become unrestricted next summer, and there has been speculation he could be traded this summer. But as of right now, Armstrong expects him to be back.

Armstrong also said there’s a chance Vladimir Sobotka could return to the Blues next season. Sobotka has spent the last two years in the KHL.

However the roster looks next season, it will be interesting to see what Hitchcock can get out of it. The Blues got over a big hump in 2016, but they only got halfway to winning it all.

One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s this:

Related: Parayko’s ‘memorable’ season has extended into the playoffs

NHL explains no suspension for Marleau, says he didn’t ‘pick’ Rust’s head

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PITTSBURGH — Shortly after reports surfaced that San Jose’s Patrick Marleau wouldn’t face supplemental discipline for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a series of tweets explaining their decision.

Following last night’s game, Marleau said he didn’t think he’d be suspended for the hit, explaining that he “kind of let [Rust] skate into me.”

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

Marleau’s assessment was in direct contrast with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

As for Rust, Sullivan listed him as day-to-day with an upper-body injury following the contest. The hit knocked Rust out of last night’s game, and the Penguins haven’t began their off-day practice yet.

More to follow…