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.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.