Erik Cole, Marc-Andre Fleury

Early Ride on the Zamboni – Friday, February 25th

It’s a busy Friday in the NHL, with nine games overall. To make the results more digestible, we thought it might be wise to break up the recaps into two time frame-specific chunks. Here are summaries of the first six games, then.

Carolina 4, Pittsburgh 1

In a nostalgia-tinged reunion match between Cory Stillman (back with the Canes) and Alexei Kovalev (returning to the Penguins), Stillman’s team came out well ahead. Erik Cole seemed to benefit from the reunion of the Eric Staal-Stillman-Cole line, as he scored a goal and an assist in the game. Meanwhile Kovalev (zero points and two obstruction-type penalties) and Marc-Andre Fleury (pulled halfway through the game) had nights they’d prefer to forget.

NY Rangers 6, Washington 0

Speaking of nights they would like to forget, the Capitals had yet another against the Rangers. Erik Christensen scored two goals and two assists while Henrik Lundqvist pitched a 35-save shutout to embarrass Washington once again (they also beat the Caps 7-0 in a game documented beautifully by HBO in its 24/7 series).

There was at least one regrettable moment for the Rangers, though, as Derek Stepan elbowed Mike Green in a play that might get some attention from the league’s disciplinarians. We’ll keep you updated on that situation either later tonight or sometime tomorrow.

Columbus 5, Phoenix 3

Maybe that Matt Calvert kid is something to special? He earned a recent Goal of the Night award and took over this game between playoff contenders, scoring a hat trick and an assist to help the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes. Columbus is absolutely getting hot right now; they’ve won three straight, five of six and earned at least one point in nine of their last 10 games. The Jackets are now at 68 points, two behind the ridiculous logjam for sixth through 11th place in the West.

Buffalo 4, Ottawa 2

The Senators already seem like a more competent team with Craig Anderson in net, but stopping 35 out of 38 shots wasn’t good enough to earn Ottawa a win against desperate Buffalo tonight. Ryan Miller ended up getting the victory (and an assist) in the game, making 29 saves. This win allows the Sabres to stay three points behind the Hurricanes for eighth place in the East.

Tampa Bay 2, New Jersey 1

Tonight was a bad night for the Devils. It’s bad enough that New Jersey lost a tight game with the Lightning, but every other active Eastern bubble team gained at least a point on them (even Atlanta and Florida went to a shootout, twisting the knife a little deeper). Tampa Bay more or less won the game in less than a minute, as Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne scored rapid fire goals in the beginning of the second period. Mark Fayne scored for the Devils in the third, but it was not meant to be, wasting a 28-for-30 performance by Johan Hedberg.

Florida 2, Atlanta 1 (SO)

It’s hard to imagine the Panthers making a big run for the playoffs (after all, they seem to fall just-short every season), so this seems more like a blow to Atlanta’s fading playoff hopes that a boost to Florida’s flimsy postseason dreams. You really never know the way this season is going, though.

Transactions seemed to dominate this game. Newly acquired Thrashers forward Blake Wheeler scored in regulation and the shootout while trade target Tomas Vokoun made an outstanding 45 out of 46 saves and waived-yet-right-back forward Steve Bernier scored the shootout winner for the Panthers.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

The Penguins were already without defenseman Olli Maatta, who was injured on a late, high hit from Brooks Orpik, which resulted in a three-game ban for the Capitals’ veteran blue liner. With Maatta out for Game 3, the Penguins inserted Derrick Pouliot into the lineup. With Letang out for Game 4, that opens the door to the possibility of Justin Schultz entering this series.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Krug out six months, Krejci out five months after undergoing surgery

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins talks with Torey Krug #47 during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Some pretty significant health updates out of Boston on Tuesday:

— Defenseman Torey Krug will miss the next six months following right shoulder surgery.

— Center David Krejci will miss the next five months following left hip surgery.

— Winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks following left hand surgery.

Got all that?

Let’s go straight to the ramifications:

Krug

Assuming he had a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team — and given he was the fifth-highest scoring American d-man this year, you had to figure he did — that opportunity is now wiped out.

The six-month recovery window also means Krug will likely miss however many games the Bruins play in October (it was 10 this season.) That’ll prove difficult for head coach Claude Julien.

Krug’s a staple of the Boston power play and averaged 21:36 TOI per night this season. Finding someone to fill that role won’t be easy.

Krejci

Named to the Czech Republic’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup, Krejci’s participation is now (presumably) in question. Even if he’s healthy earlier than expected — say, four months, that would bring him right up to the start of September, and the World Cup runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Can’t imagine Boston would be too happy with Krejci, who just turned 30 last week, playing in this event fresh off major hip surgery.

This is also the second significant injury Krejci’s suffered in the last two years, having partially torn his MCL in 2015.

Beleskey

Figures to be back to full health in time for training camp, which has to be one of the few positives to come from today. Beleskey enjoyed a good first year in Boston during the ’15-16 campaign, finishing with 15 goals and 37 points.

It’s possible the hand injury affected him down the stretch, though. After scoring five goals and eight points in 14 games in February, Beleskey failed to produce much in March and April, and finished the year in a four-game pointless slump.

Report: Wild interested in MacLean, Carlyle for head coaching gig

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 4: Head coach Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators yells at the on ice-officials following a disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on April 4, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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With the coaching carousel now in full spin — another gig opened up today, as Bob Hartley was fired in Calgary — GMs are actively seeking permission to speak with potential candidates.

Like in Minnesota, where Chuck Fletcher is working the phones.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fletcher — who has reportedly reached out to Ducks GM Bob Murray about Bruce Boudreau — is now also looking at Boudreau’s assistant in Anaheim, Paul MacLean, along with ex-Ducks and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

More, from Mike Russo:

It’s believed on that same phone call with Murray, Fletcher asked about the status of Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean. I’ve been led to believe Fletcher has yet to receive permission to talk with MacLean. If that’s true, it likely means MacLean, the former Senators head coach, is a candidate to replace Boudreau in Anaheim. That would make sense since MacLean was Murray’s hire in the first place.

In addition, as I reported in my Boudreau piece in Saturday’s paper here, sources told me that Fletcher did plan to contact Randy Carlyle. I don’t know if that contact has been made yet with the former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Fletcher is currently in California. Logic suggests he’s getting two interviews done for the price of one, as both Boudreau and Carlyle live in southern California.

As for MacLean, he’s certainly going to be a figure worth monitoring. One has to think he’s in line to replace Boudreau in Anaheim — something predicted from the moment he was hired — but that’s assuming Murray doesn’t clean house behind the bench.