Around the rink – February 11th; Bruins and Sharks look to keep rolling

7:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Boston

Detroit’s offense has been struggling of late and they’ve had a hard time keeping opponents off the board. Let’s just say this doesn’t bode well for their matchup with the Bruins. The Bruins are coming off an eight-goal explosion against Montreal in which they bullied and pushed around the Habs. Doing the same sort of physical thing with Detroit might backfire though. Call it the “sleeping giant” syndrome.

San Jose @ New Jersey

San Jose’s seven game road trip is going over quite well. The Sharks are 4-0-0 so far on the trip including two shutouts by Antti Niemi. In all the Sharks are on a five game win streak and going up against a re-motivated and feisty Devils squad coming off an OT win against Toronto might provide the Sharks with the test they’re not looking forward to facing. New Jersey is riding a three-game win streak of their own.

Pittsburgh @ NY Islanders

Forgive us if we’re not overly excited by this match up. A pair of teams coming off gutsy wins last night square off in an event that features nearly more AHL talent than NHL talent. It’s all a part of the game but it’s bizarre to see the Islanders come into the game with more talent at forward than the Penguins. Of course, with the Pens being plenty healthy on defense and in goal, they’re still working with the advantage in that they can keep the Islanders off the board.

Colorado @ Columbus

Forsberg watch is officially on for this game as it’s believed that Peter Forsberg will be making the road trip with the Avalanche and either playing tonight against Columbus or against Nashville in their next game. With the Avs struggling badly of late and the Jackets playing better, getting Forsberg into the game to give the team the spark they need to get things back to how they were.

7:30 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Atlanta

These two teams go into this one stumbling more often than not. The Rangers roll into Atlanta on a five-game losing streak while the Thrashers are nursing a four-game skid of their own. The Rangers losing came at a bad time as they appeared to be ready to throw themselves into the mix with the better teams in the East. For the Thrashers, their fall from grace has been a bit drawn out and has seen them fall out of the top eight in the East. Both teams could use an emphatic win, but the truth is any kind of win will do them good.

8:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ St. Louis

After not playing each other at all yet this season, the Wild and Blues will face off in the front end of a home-and-home series tonight. The Wild are playing great of late while the Blues are still dealing with inconsistency. Considering they’re now starting to get healthy again in St. Louis, seeing some line chemistry issues isn’t too surprising. Once guys get themselves figured out and provided Jaroslav Halak can have his play rebound, the Blues can get right back into it for the playoffs in the West. Minnesota has won four of their last five and seven of their last nine going into this one and trail Calgary by two points in the division.

8:30 p.m.

Chicago @ Dallas

Two desperate teams for a win dropping the puck in Dallas tonight. Dallas is trying to hang on to dear life for their top spot in the Pacific Division while the Blackhawks are frustrated at their lack of consistent play and lack of wins too. Chicago comes into this one off a win against Edmonton but they’re just 2-2-0 so far on their six game road trip. Dallas comes into this one losers of six of their last eight games and four in a row. Getting better goaltending would go a long way for the Stars right about now as both Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft have been letdowns during the current losing streak.

9:00 p.m.

Anaheim @ Calgary

Francois Beauchemin is set to make his Ducks re-debut in Calgary as the Ducks hope to hold off the streaking Flames. Seeing how the Ducks play on defense with Beauchemin in the lineup is worth watching because if that part of their game improves, they’re shaping up to be a very dangerous team come playoff time. Calgary’s rise in the West continues on and for them, taking care of the Ducks would show that things in the West are indeed as tight as they appear to be. Getting continued great play from Miikka Kiprusoff doesn’t hurt matters either.

Report: Panthers to hire Jack Capuano as associate coach

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Former Islanders head coach Jack Capuano has been waiting to get behind the bench of another NHL team and it sounds like he’s about to get his wish.

According to TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger, Capuano is on the verge of becoming an associate coach with the Florida Panthers. The official announcement is supposed to be made sometime today.

He becomes new head coach Bob Boughner’s first big hire on the Panthers coaching staff.

Capuano had spoken to the Golden Knights about their head coaching vacancy before they hired Gerard Gallant and earlier this week there was talk of him joining the Sabres as an assistant to Phil Housley.

The 50-year-old was fired by the Islanders in January after he led them to a 17-17-8 record. During his seven seasons behind the bench with the Isles, he had a 227-192-64 record. They made the playoffs three times during his tenure.

Golden Knights might just be best expansion team in NHL history

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has repeatedly said he wants to win the Stanley Cup within the first six years of his new team’s existence.

After Vegas came away with a jackpot from the expansion draft, Foley’s franchise goalie is even bolder.

“Let’s do it earlier,” Marc-Andre Fleury said Thursday. “Why wait six years? I don’t know where I’ll be in six years. Right away our goal has to be to get good, to improve and to go out there.”

Vegas shouldn’t start blocking off the Strip for the parade just yet, but Sin City’s new team is holding a remarkable hand after general manager George McPhee’s 37-player haul from the expansion draft and several subsequent trades.

Nashville general manager David Poile is among many hockey observers who think the Golden Knights have the ingredients for the most competitive expansion team in league history. From Fleury on out, Vegas already has a solid NHL roster with a sturdy blue line and four lines of capable forwards.

What they don’t have is the game-changing playmakers and goal-scorers that separate decent teams from great ones, but they’ve got a plan for that, too: Vegas will add even more top-shelf talent Friday in the draft in Chicago, where McPhee holds three first-round picks, including the sixth overall.

The players who have already arrived in Vegas realize that although they’re starting over, they aren’t starting from scratch.

“They put a great group together,” said forward Reid Duke, who became the Golden Knights’ first player when he signed as a free agent in March. “You never really know what to expect, but they made some big splashes. Got a lot of good players, a lot of good picks. It’s nice to see that they are not only building for right now, but the future, too. They’ve got some smart guys up there, and they know exactly what they are doing.”

McPhee continued his moves Thursday, swinging two trades to add draft picks in place of claimed players who might not have made the Golden Knights’ roster. Vegas shipped defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a seventh-round pick next year to Carolina for Pittsburgh’s second-round pick this year, and then traded David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

After Foley paid $500 million to the league as an expansion fee, the Golden Knights were given favorable franchise-building terms explicitly designed to give them a better chance to be competitive more quickly than the new teams of the previous 25 years.

Instead of forcing Vegas fans to watch several years of plodding franchise-building, the NHL wants the Golden Knights to be decent from the start.

Can they be the best expansion team ever? It’s quite possible.

The NHL added nine franchises between 1991 and 2001, and no team did better than the Florida Panthers, who went 33-34-17 and racked up an expansion team-record 83 points in the 1993-94 season. The NHL still had ties in 1994, so teams didn’t pick up extra points through shootout wins.

All but four teams in the Western Conference recorded more than 83 points last season. An 84-point season would have put the Golden Knights in sixth place in an eight-team Pacific Division last season, ahead of Arizona and Vancouver.

The Golden Knights aren’t ready to make any predictions yet, but once they get together in Vegas for the first time under coach Gerard Gallant, they’ll start to figure out just how good they can be.

That transition to the desert will be easier for some Golden Knights: Deryk Engelland has lived in Las Vegas in the offseason for a decade.

“We’ll get our numbers out there for guys to reach out if they need anything, if it’s a place to crash, to see outside the Strip and come look for places (to live) or whatnot,” Engelland said. “Definitely ready for that part of it.”

The milestones will keep coming for the Golden Knights throughout the summer while they build toward the first game in franchise history in Dallas on Oct. 6, followed by their home debut Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

Vegas’ first player development camp starts Tuesday.

“It’s a different situation for everybody in here to come into a team where there is no team,” said defenseman Jason Garrison, claimed from Tampa Bay. “It’s the first team. You just want to establish a friendship and a culture right away, and it starts right now and leads into training camp and continues forward to the first game.”

 

PHT Morning Skate: Who should be drafted first overall?

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–Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, who should be drafted first overall in tonight’s NHL Entry Draft? Different general managers talk about the top two prospects up for grabs. (Top)

–Speaking of the draft, Rotoworld’s Michael Finewax put together his second and final mock draft of the off-season. In this version, Hischier is New Jersey’s pick at first overall, while the Flyers ended up with Patrick. (Rotoworld)

–Klim Kostin is an intriguing draft-eligible prospects in the draft, but there’s a lot of question marks surrounding his stock. The big Russian suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a good chunk of time. “His physical talent is elite; protects the puck as well as anybody. His scoring got better as the (Ivan Hlinka) tournament went on. Reminds me of Nichushkin.” (The Hockey News)

–The NHL released their regular season schedule on Thursday and The Score looks at seven matchups that need to keep an eye on in 2017-18. Sidney Crosby faces Connor McDavid on Oct. 24, the Habs and Sens play an outdoor game on Dec. 16 and the Golden Knights play their home opener on Oct. 10. (The Score)

–The Golden Knights will continue to tweak their roster before the start of the regular season, but Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire looks at how Vegas stacks up against the rest of the NHL. By the looks of this article, it looks like they’re gonna struggle for a while. (Sportsnet)

–Even though they’ll probably struggle in their first season, the Golden Knights benefited from pretty favorable expansion draft rules and regulations compared to other teams that went through this same process. “This time (the NHL) got it right. They did it fair. Las Vegas is clearly going to have a very competitive club. All of that is to say maybe the league and the owners should have been a little fairer to past expansion teams.” (TSN.ca)

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

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CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap