Nick Leddy, Corey Crawford, Dustin Jeffrey

Hockey Day Preview: Penguins, Blackhawks hope to play like champions today

The two most recent Stanley Cup champions square off during their only game of the season as the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 champs) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009 winners) for Hockey Day in America’s closing game at 3:30 pm ET.

Fans can be forgiven if they wonder: are these teams really the Penguins and Blackhawks?

Injuries, trades and exhaustion have beaten down both teams, leaving each squad to wonder when – if ever – they’ll look like their old selves again.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain sidelined with significant injuries for the Penguins, who must lean on an attacking defense and scrappers such as defensive center Jordan Staal to manufacture offense. Pittsburgh’s status as an Eastern Conference playoff team seems relatively safe as they sit in fourth place, but their chances of wrestling the Atlantic Division crown from the Philadelphia Flyers are dim at best.

While this win would be a great boost for the struggling Penguins, the pressure is really on the wobbling Blackhawks. Salary cap-related trades forced Chicago to allow Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to increase their profiles with the Atlanta Thrashers and also caused GM Stan Bowman to move useful depth winger Kris Versteeg. Of course, the Hawks also parted with their goalie duo of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet for cap-related reasons too. If that wasn’t enough, Chicago might not have their Cup-winning coach behind the bench either, as Joel Quenneville was just released from the hospital yesterday.

The Hawks are currently locked in an 11th-place tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Western Conference’s convoluted playoff bubble. Their position isn’t as bad as it sounds since they’re only four points out of a spot in the top eight, but the defending champs will need to scratch and claw every week to make it into the postseason after cruising in last season. These are the kind of games they absolutely need to win if they want to accomplish that goal.

While both teams are far from full strength, the bright side for hockey fans is that each team has plenty to play for. There’s also still plenty of talent on the ice, as Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang were all-stars for Pittsburgh while the Blackhawks boast high-end talent such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.

Both teams will need their remaining stars to step up if they want to come within a breath of their previous heights.

For more on this game, take a gander at the Associated Press preview.

Limping Sabres could give Burgdoerfer, 27, his NHL debut

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Fans of the Buffalo Sabres pose for the camera as they cheer during the game against the Winnipeg Jets at First Niagara Center on November 26, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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After losing the services of Dmitry Kulikov (back), Zach Bogosian (knee), Josh Gorges (broken foot) and Taylor Fedun (undisclosed), Buffalo was in desperate need of depth on the back end.

So, on Monday, the club set about fixing that by recalling Erik Burgdoerfer from AHL Rochester.

Burgdoerfer, 27, is a pretty good story. Undrafted out of R.P.I, he spent parts of five seasons in the East Coast league before becoming an AHL regular in ’14. He spent two years in Hershey before catching on with the Sabres this past July, signing a one-year, two-way deal and then starting the season with the Amerks.

Through 22 games this year, Burgdoerfer has seven points and 24 PIM.

Buffalo takes on the Caps tonight and while Burgdoerfer’s debut could be a neat narrative, it doesn’t take the sting away from another injury wave that’s swept over the club. The Sabres project to roll a six-man defensive unit of Burgdoerfer, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Brendan Guhle, Cody Franson and Justin Falk tonight, which is pretty thin.

And this is a Sabres club, don’t forget, that’s already lost forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane for significant lengths of time this season.

Surging Flames putting early struggles behind them

Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan, right, celebrates with Johnny Gaudreau after a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL game in Calgary, Alberta, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Back in October, they had a new coach, a new system, and a new goalie that wasn’t stopping the puck.

But it’s a different story today for the Calgary Flames. They’re one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and they just blasted the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 8-3.

Of course, the big story yesterday was that Johnny Gaudreau was back. He returned from injury ahead of schedule, then scored just 2:09 into last night’s game.

But the Flames were already on a roll without Johnny Hockey, thanks in large part to the goalie who was supposed to be the backup, Chad Johnson, and also to a system that seems to have become more comfortable to play.

“It’s just experience,” said Johnson, per the Flames’ website. “New group. New systems. I said from Day One we were going to have some struggles the first month.”

   Read more: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows

Credit to new coach Glen Gulutzan for getting his charges to believe. They started 5-9-1 in their first 15. They’re now 13-13-2, just barely out of a playoff spot after three straight home wins.

“You don’t get too many games in the NHL where you can breathe,” Gulutzan told reporters after last night’s blowout victory. “When it was 6-1 at the end of the second when you’re like, ‘OK. As long as we play good and solid … we can breathe a little bit.’ It was nice. I thought eight-different goal scorers is good for the whole morale. Good for the whole group.”

Randy Carlyle left Jonathan Bernier in for 8 goals, but he had a very good reason

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Earlier this season, the Montreal Canadiens dropped a 10-0 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Habs head coach Michel Therrien left Al Montoya in for all 10 goals against.

His refusal to pull Montoya made waves around the hockey world. The topic sparked a debate about unwritten rules in hockey.

On Sunday, it seemed as though the Ducks would reignite that debate, as they left Jonathan Bernier in the game for all eight goals in an 8-3 loss to the Calgary Flames.

But in his post-game press conference, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle explained why he decided against putting John Gibson in the net.

Here’s an excerpt from the OC Register:

The situation might have called for Carlyle to pull (Bernier) but Gibson, who played Saturday in Edmonton, was suffering from stomach flu and diarrhea. Had Gibson been in condition to play, Carlyle said he would have pulled Bernier after the fourth Calgary goal.

“We kind of left him hanging high and dry,” Carlyle said. “We wouldn’t normally have never done that to him. In these situations, you can’t put people that are sick into the net. You’ve got to think big picture. Big picture is this game we couldn’t change (the score).”

Well, that sounds like a pretty good reason not to put the backup goalie in.

If you haven’t seen all eight goals the Ducks gave up tonight, here they are:

The Ducks have two days off before they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. Gibson should be fine by then.

PHT Morning Skate: Are the Oilers handling Jesse Puljujarvi correctly?

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–The Oilers decided to keep Jesse Puljujarvi on their roster this season, but is that the right decision? He’s been a healthy scratch in three straight games, and even though he’s burned the first year of his entry-level contract, there’s still reasons to send him down to the AHL or Europe. (Edmonton Journal)

–The NHL season is almost two months old, but there are still some players that aren’t producing as much as we expected. The Hockey News looks at five players that aren’t living up to expectations right now. (The Hockey News)

–When we think of this year’s top rookies, we think of guys like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner, but Carolina’s Sebastian Aho tends to fly under the radar. “He’s got a lot of skill, and he’s pretty smart and shifty. It’s not easy to come into this league and play well, and I think he’s done a pretty good job. Coming in and being able to handle the NHL at that age is impressive,” ‘Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said of Aho. (Sports Illustrated)

–Canadiens forwards Michael McCarron and Artturi Lehkonen go head-to-head in a “cookie race”. The first player to get a cookie from their forehead to their mouth (without using their hands) wins. (Top)

–You probably don’t think of Alabama-Huntsville as a hockey factory, but they’ve produced an NHLer and their program is improving. “Not too many people can believe the route that I took, but I wouldn’t change it. I hope that anything that I’ve been doing at this level is helping out that program,” said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot. (New York Times)

–On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1991 Stanley Cup victory. It was a big deal. Unfortunately, Jaromir Jagr couldn’t attend the event, but he had a pretty good reason. (NHL)