Around the rink – Saturday, February 5th

1:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Boston
For once, these two teams might have a game where Joe Thornton isn’t the focus of everything. Instead, you’ve got a pair of teams that are on fire of late. The Sharks have fallen into a nice groove and gotten back into the West playoff race while the Bruins are looking to keep a good thing going after flogging Dallas on Thursday night. The Sharks are going to have to hope Joe Pavelski’s return to the scoresheet can continue if they hope to beat the stingy Bruins. Pavelski’s importance to the Sharks has been obvious in how his struggles have also coincided with the team fighting to win games. Boston will be without Daniel Paille after he was suspended for four games following his awful blindside hit to the head of Dallas’ Ray Sawada.

2:00 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Montreal
The Rangers need a turnaround after dropping their last three games. Henrik Lundqvist was hard on himself after a disappointing loss to New Jersey on Thursday, expect him to be much better against the Habs. Montreal has won two in a row and they need to so they can keep up with the Bruins in the race for the Northeast Division. Consistency has escaped the Habs of late as stringing together wins for more than a couple games at a time has been tough lately.

3:00 p.m.

Anaheim @ Colorado
The Avs could use a break and they get one in the form of Jonas Hiller sitting this one out with fatigue. Colorado’s slipped back in the standings and their ability to play smart, consistent hockey has seemingly disappeared. Not a good sign for a young team. The Ducks meanwhile are looking to bounce back from a sound beating at the hands of San Jose on Thursday night. With Hiller not playing, the defense will need to tighten up while Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry do what they can to keep the offense rolling.

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Buffalo
Buffalo seeks to stay relevant against a hot Leafs team. The Sabres are going to have to be better than they were against Pittsburgh last night in blowing a 2-0 lead before falling 3-2 to the Penguins. Doing it against a Leafs team that’s rallying behind surprise goalie favorite James Reimer may prove tough to do. While it’s a home game for the Sabres, visiting Leafs fans tend to make it seem like a road game for Buffalo with the way Leafs faithful take over HSBC Arena.

Ottawa @ NY Islanders
Well, if there’s something to look forward to at all in this one it’s that Jason Spezza should be suiting up for Ottawa. It’ll be his first game since December 26th and in that span since he’s been out the Senators have lost 14 out of 15 games including their last eight in a row.. Yikes. Speaking of yikes, the Islanders are going without Rick DiPietro in goal for the next 4-6 weeks after getting his face wrecked by Brent Johnson in their fight on Wednesday night. Look for Kevin Poulin to get the start for New York in what figures to be a game only best served for the fans of each team.

Dallas @ Philadelphia
Dallas is smarting after the beating they took against Boston on Thursday night and taking on the Flyers doesn’t figure to make life any easier. The Flyers have won three of their last four games and still sit on top of the Eastern Conference. Dallas, meanwhile, has lost four of their last five.

Atlanta @ Carolina
Eighth place in the East is on the line and for Carolina it’s a huge opportunity to perhaps put the scare into Atlanta that their playoff spot they’ve been hanging onto all year long is not their right. An emphatic win by the Hurricanes could motivate Thrashers GM Rick Dudley into making a trade. Meanwhile the Thrashers have lost 9 of their last 11 games going 2-6-3 in that span.

Edmonton @ Columbus
Columbus seeks to keep a good thing going after shutting out Detroit last night 3-0. For the Jackets they’re not out of the playoff race in the West as every team except one is still in striking distance. The one team that isn’t is Edmonton. The Oilers had a valiant effort to try and come back against the Blues last night but fell short. Edmonton has lost 17 of their last 20 games and are riding a three game skid now. They’re playing for personal pride and looking to spoil everyone else’s season. Doing that to the Blue Jackets might seem especially cruel but it’s the sort of game that the young Oilers could use to snap out of things. Edmonton did beat the Jackets in their last meeting in December 6-3.

8:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Nashville
Jimmy Howard hopes to shake off a bit of a tough loss to Columbus last night but the Wings offense could certainly use a boost. There’s an outside chance of Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom rejoining the lineup for this game and having to deal with a tough Nashville team means they could use all the help possible. The streaky Preds come into this one on a four-game losing skid and their offense has all but disappeared in those games. The key for the Preds? Score more than three goals. In three of their last four losses they’ve lost either 3-1 or 3-2 (one loss coming in a shootout).

Minnesota @ Phoenix
Can the Wild keep it going? Minnesota is hot winning six of their last seven games while the Coyotes are cold losers of six of their last eight games. Lately, the Coyotes are getting outscored badly having given up 21 goals in their last five games (1-4-0 in those games). In Minnesota’s wins, they’ve been the definition of stingy having given up just six goals in their six wins including three shutouts. That doesn’t really bode too well for Phoenix on paper.

10:00 p.m.

Los Angeles @ Calgary
Calgary has won six straight and in heading back home to take on the streaky Kings, they’ve got a chance to catch up to Anaheim and San Jose who sit tied for fifth in the Western playoff race. Of course, L.A. is right there with them as well the catch being the Kings haven’t been on a tear quite as noticeable. The Kings, though, have won three of their last four and getting wins at the start of their 10-game road trip helps out. With things as tight as they are in the West, games like these make a huge difference over the long haul. Seems silly to say that now in early February but at the end of the season it’ll make a difference between finishing sixth, seventh, or eighth and being in the pits of the West.

Penguins announce they will accept White House invite

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One day after the NBA champion Golden State Warriors announced that they would use their trip to Washington this season to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion in lieu of a White House visit, the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins issued a statement announcing they have accepted an invite to visit the White House again this year.

The Statement from the Penguins reads as follows.

“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

This comes on the same weekend that players across professional sports, from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, have been speaking out and taking part in unprecedented protests against racial inequality and comments from the President that players that do not stand for the National Anthem should be fired.

During the early Sunday NFL game in London several players from the Baltimore Ravens took a knee during the National Anthem, while Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood and locked arms with his players. Those protests are expected to continue throughout the day.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have chosen to not participate in the National Anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears, instead choosing to remain in the locker room.

Detroit’s new arena hosts Red Wings game for the 1st time

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Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard crouched in net and gazed up at the largest videoboard in the NHL.

“I caught myself a couple of times, especially in the first and halfway through the third, watching on the big screen,” Howard said. “I got to remind myself that there’s actually a game going on in front of me.”

Little Caesars Arena made its debut as a sports venue as the Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins 5-1 Saturday night.

And even the Bruins came away impressed.

“I don’t think there’s another arena that can compare to it,” Boston goaltender Zane McIntyre said.

That was the goal.

Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Chris Ilitch went on a mission to build the world’s finest arena. He traveled all over North America to borrow ideas from other arenas and stadiums. Ilitch also drew on experiences from trips to Europe to create an experience in, around and outside the building that is truly unique.

“To be state of the art, you have to know the state of the industry to truly be innovative,” Ilitch said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. “We want people to come and be amazed.”

So far, so good.

Kelly Mulley, a 25-year-old fan, made the trek from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to make the first preseason game without missing the birth of his daughter.

“Her due date was too close to the date of the first regular season game in a couple weeks,” Mulley said before pulling up his right sleeve to show the Red Wings’ winged wheel tattooed on the inside of his right biceps. “This place is a definite upgrade from Joe Louis Arena. It reminds me of the Bell Centre in Montreal because of how on top of the ice the fans seem to be and with the organist.”

The Red Wings said goodbye in April their former home, known as The Joe , where they raised four of the franchise’s 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters. The team and red-clad fans in the stands will be excited about Little Caesars Arena for a while, but the feel-good vibe will fade if the team doesn’t win.

Detroit failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, ending the NHL’s third longest postseason streak in league history.

“One of the guys on the team said there are no excuses not to win,” Olympia Entertainment President Tom Wilson said. “It’s a dream come true for players in terms of facilities.”

Kirk Malty agreed.

The former Red Wings player, who works for the organization as a pro scout, said the size of the dressing room is only one of the many upgrades.

“Not to be rude or mean, but it’s like the players are going from living in the back of a truck to moving into a mansion,” Maltby said.

The Pistons, who are moving downtown from The Palace of Auburn Hills in the suburbs, will take the court in the same space Oct. 4 against Charlotte in an exhibition game. Bob Seger’s concert on Saturday night was the arena’s final scheduled event.

“It was a very bold move for Tom Gores to move his team from his own arena,” Ilitch told The AP during an exclusive tour last month. “He has tremendous vision and knew he could take it up a notch and make a bigger impact on the community. This isn’t just an arena. What we’ve created is very, very special.”

 

Ekman-Larsson suffers lower-body injury vs. Sharks, will be re-evaluated today

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The Arizona Coyotes lost to the San Jose Sharks in preseason action Saturday. What will matter more is the status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

According to reports, Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury during overtime and had to be helped off the ice.

“He will get re-evaluated tomorrow — lower body,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, per Arizona Sports. “See what happens tomorrow. I don’t think he will practice tomorrow.”

At 26 years of age, Ekman-Larsson is a huge piece of a rebuilding Coyotes team and, based on previous comments from general manager John Chayka, is expected to be heavily relied upon on the blue line this season.

It’s also expected that he will be named the new Coyotes captain, taking over the leadership role from Shane Doan.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.