Around the rink – February 25; Kovalev debuts for Pittsburgh, Caps and Rangers face off

7:00 p.m.

Washington @ NY Rangers

New York gets Ruslan Fedotenko back in the lineup tonight while Mike Green appears to still be out. Nicklas Backstrom will also play as he’s got a broken tip of his thumb. The Caps have won two in a row while the Rangers are hoping their shootout win over Carolina is the stepping stone they need to pull away from the gathering mob at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race. The Caps need a win to keep pace with the Lightning in the Southeast.

Pittsburgh @ Carolina

Welcome back Alex Kovalev. Kovalev will make his re-debut with the Penguins tonight, his first game with Pittsburgh since the 2002-2003 season. After acquiring the Russian star from Ottawa, the Penguins are showing that they’re going to keep trying with or without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. The bigger problem immediately for Pittsburgh will be playing without Brooks Orpik for the next month. For Carolina a win, any win, would be huge for them as they’re caught in a mosh in the eighth spot in the East with Buffalo, Toronto, and Atlanta all right there waiting for them to fall. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost three in a row. With the injuries mounting it’s getting tougher to keep up with Philadelphia for the Penguins.

Phoenix @ Columbus

The Coyotes look to rebound from their 8-3 humbling at the hands of Tampa Bay with a game against the reinvigorated Blue Jackets in Columbus. Columbus has won seven of their last nine and are just four points out of the cluster of five teams vying for the last four spots in the West. Phoenix is locked into a battle with the Sharks for control of the Pacific Division and the only way for them to keep at it is to keep winning as the Sharks seem set to keep doing the same.

7:30 p.m.

New Jersey @ Tampa Bay

If Tampa Bay wants to prove something to themselves, beating the red hot Devils would be a good way to go about it. The Devils have beaten Tampa Bay in 12 of their last 13 games in Tampa. Such things are always startling to read but after the Lightning humbled Phoenix who had been playing great hockey up to that point, it’s tough to deny the Lightning the shot at getting off the schneid. The Devils coincidentally come into their game with Tampa Bay also on an eight game win streak, similar to the one Phoenix had before their date in Tampa. For the Lightning, this game marks the final one of their 12-game home stand. During that record stretch, the Lightning are 6-3-2.

Ottawa @ Buffalo

Buffalo is just three points behind Carolina for eighth and they’ve got the Maple Leafs catching up to them fast. A win over lowly Ottawa would be huge for the Sabres. Doing it against a re-motivated Craig Anderson might prove to be the hard part. Ottawa has won two in a row with Anderson’s help so perhaps the doormat Sens are gone for now. We’ll see how badly Buffalo wants back in the playoff race with how they handle the Senators.

Florida @ Atlanta

Is this the last stand of the Florida Panthers as we know them? With tonight’s game against Atlanta and Sunday’s against New Jersey, whether or not we’ll see the likes of David Booth, Stephen Weiss, or Tomas Vokoun after the weekend is through is up in the air with the trade deadline on the way on Monday afternoon. Atlanta hopes they can just get a win, period, as they’ve slipped further back in the race for the playoffs in the East.

9:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Calgary

A pair of teams that have been playing well of late square off. The Sharks have taken control of the Pacific Division by a point over Phoenix but they’ll be without Dan Boyle tonight. Boyle’s a difference maker on the blue line for them and how that effects Antti Niemi in goal will be curious to see. After a tough loss to Boston on Tuesday, getting back on top of things for Calgary would be huge. To do it against a rival like San Jose would make it sweeter.

St. Louis @ Edmonton

Times are tough for St. Louis right now. They’re virtually on the edge of being out of the playoff discussion and after three straight losses, including last night’s to Vancouver, things aren’t getting any easier. Sure they’re playing harder but without wins they’re going nowhere fast. Dealing with the NHL’s worst team in Edmonton should be the elixir they’re looking for to fix things up but Edmonton is hot winners of four of their last five games. If you’re afraid of giant goalies, be afraid. St. Louis will start 6’8″ Ben Bishop while Edmonton counters with 6’6″ Devan Dubnyk.

10:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ Anaheim

Dan Ellis will make his first start as a  Duck tonight as the Wild look to put their tough loss to the Kings last night behind them. Minnesota sits in a logjam for sixth place in the West while the Ducks look to get back into the mix themselves after getting hammered in their last four games by a combined 24-12 score all while going 0-4-0 in that span. The Wild could help their own cause by stringing some wins together rather than alternating wins and losses.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).

Predators tab Roman Josi as new captain, call him ‘our Roger Federer’

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The Nashville Predators boasted some appealing options to take the torch from Mike Fisher as captain, but really there was only one obvious name: Roman Josi.

Josi officially became the team’s eighth captain on Tuesday. Ryan Ellis appears to be second-in-command as “associate” captain, while they seem interested in spreading the leadership wealth around otherwise:

As captain, Josi will see an increased role on the Predators leadership team, which will also see some new appointments. Defenseman Ryan Ellis has been named as the team’s associate captain, while Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will all serve as alternate captains. In addition, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban and Nick Bonino have all taken positions within the leadership group.

If that’s not a sign that the team is taking this seriously – kind of amusingly so – consider that Ellis and Josi “interviewed” for the position and Peter Laviolette evoked military structures in discussing the decision, as sports teams love to do.

Josi seemed flattered when GM David Poile described him as “our Roger Federer,” a fellow Swiss sports star.

At face value, that’s great, especially since it breaks through the near-corporate-speak that saddles announcements like these.

That said, it’s funny to compare the leader in a team sport to a tennis player, among the most individualistic athletes in all of sport. There aren’t many moments of teamwork beyond doubles and rare events like the Davis Cup.

Overall, it’s another strong decision by the Predators. It’s merely fun to tease them a bit about the cornier aspects.

Awful injury news for Blues’ Bouwmeester, Sanford

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Hockey’s training camps and exhibition games share a lot of similarities, big-picture wise, with other sports.

As much as they’re all about evaluating players trying to make rosters and rule tweaks heading into each season, the “winners” of a pre-season may just be the teams that make it out without any significant injuries. The St. Louis Blues aren’t one of those winners.

The team announced unsettling injury updates for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Zach Sanford on Tuesday.

Sanford is expected to miss five-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. That virtually wipes out an important season for a guy who was still trying to stake his claim to a full-time roster spot.

Bouwmeester’s situation is probably more troubling, potentially, as he’s already a key defenseman for the Blues (averaging more than 22 minutes last season, which was a slight decrease from recent work). The team announced that Bouwmeester suffered a fractured ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

As tormenting as day-to-day updates can be, “check back in three weeks” makes for even greater anxiety.

It does open up some opportunities for other players in the Blues organization, for whatever that’s worth.

This news comes shortly after the Ottawa Senators announced that Colin White will miss multiple weeks with a broken wrist.

You almost wonder if we’ll start to see fewer practice updates like these:

Senators’ prospect Colin White out 6-8 weeks with broken wrist

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Bad news for the Ottawa Senators today.

The club announced Tuesday that prospect center Colin White is out six to eight weeks with a broken left wrist.

The Senators selected White 21st overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. After two years at Boston College, he signed his entry-level deal in April and appeared in two regular season games for Ottawa. He also appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game, though he only saw 2:39 of ice time.

That’s certainly disappointing for White, who could’ve had a shot to make the big club out of training camp. One of the question marks for Ottawa had been the status of fellow center Derick Brassard, who had offseason shoulder surgery with a recovery timeline of four to five months.

“I come here and worry about myself, do the right things on and off the ice, take care of my body. If I’m playing well and taking care of my game, I’ll fight for a spot,” White told the Ottawa Citizen prior to training camp.