Joe Corvo, Rob Niedermayer, Cam Ward

Around the Rink – Thursday, March 3rd

There are 11 games on today’s Thursday schedule, so let’s get to it. All start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Buffalo @ Carolina

There’s no reason to try to mask it; this is a huge contest for both teams. The Sabres trail the Hurricanes by only two points and hold two games in hand, but this match could swing the momentum for one of these teams. Each franchise has some positivity going lately, with Cory Stillman reigniting his old success with the Canes and Buffalo on a 3-0-1 run with new owner Terry Pegula.

Ottawa @ Atlanta

The Thrashers haven’t been winning much lately, but they don’t really have an excuse if they drop this one against the lowly Senators. Their chances seem to keep dwindling every week, so the pressure’s on Atlanta.

Tampa Bay @ Boston

The Lightning finished an epic homestand last week while the Bruins just finished up their best road trip since the 70s this week. They’re both division leaders who are facing some tough competition from their second place opponents. With the Lightning known for their explosive offense  and aversion to fighting and the Bruins for their smothering defense and physicality, this should be an interesting contrast.

Toronto @ Philadelphia

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter which team has more on the line. At least when it comes to the dominant Flyers. Meanwhile, the Leafs play against Kris Versteeg, who didn’t even make it a full season as a member of Toronto before being traded.

St. Louis @ Washington

In an ideal world, this would be the Capitals’ re-match against Jaroslav Halak. Instead, Halak is injured and St. Louis is in shambles, so instead it’s a game Washington has little excuse to lose.

Minnesota @ NY Rangers

It’s unclear if Marian Gaborik will be fit to play against the team he once was rarely fit to play for tonight, but it’s a big game either way, with both clubs on two-game losing streaks.

7:30 pm

Montreal @ Florida

With a strange March schedule coming up, the Panthers need to win these types of games if they hope to make the playoffs. Conversely, the Habs need to win these types of games to win the Northeast Division.

9:00 pm

Columbus @ Edmonton

It might look like the Blue Jackets are in bad shape, but with a couple games in hand over the bubble teams, they might be closer than it seems. If they win, that is.

10:00 pm

Nashville @ Vancouver

Much like the Maple Leafs visiting Philadelphia, the Predators go into Vancouver with desperation on their side against the best team in their conference. Will that make enough of a difference?

10:30 pm

Detroit @ San Jose

The Sharks have won seven games in a row and 12 of their last 14 games. The Red Wings defeated San Jose at the Shark Tank three times in a row, so it won’t come easily.

Phoenix @ Los Angeles

The Coyotes have lost four games in a row while Los Angeles will welcome Dustin Penner to the fold for his first contest as a member of the Kings. Anze Kopitar won two of their first three games during a six-game homestand, but matches like these will determine if it was really a success.

Stamkos resumes skating, but still no date for return

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pleasant sight for the Bolts this week, as captain Steve Stamkos returned to the ice.

Stamkos, who has been out since undergoing major knee surgery in mid-November, took to the ice ahead of the team skate this morning, per the Times. He did stickhandling, shooting and fired some one-timers with assistant coach Brad Lauer but, according to GM Steve Yzerman, there’s still no set date for Stamkos’ return.

The 27-year-old was initially put on a 4-6 month timetable. If Stamkos’ recovery is closer to the four month estimate, there’s a chance he returns this season. If it’s closer to six, he could be done for the year.

Tampa Bay has struggled without Stamkos in the lineup, going just 16-18-7 since he got hurt. The team has experience a bit of an upswing lately, however, and head into tonight’s action just six points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Julien: ‘My job’ is to make Galchenyuk better

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) The Montreal Canadiens skated hard, battled and worked, and that’s just how new coach Claude Julien wants the practices to be.

Julien finally got to put the Canadiens through a full workout with no distractions on Monday. It was aimed mostly at convincing his struggling team that tighter defense will lead to more scoring chances on attack.

“He wanted it to be 40 minutes of high pace, high intensity, so when it comes to game time it’s second nature,” said defenseman Jeff Petry.

Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien last week, will be seeking his first victory since returning to Montreal when the Canadiens face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night.

His debut saw the club fall 3-1 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

He had only one practice with the team before his first game and it was something of a circus, with fans jammed into the viewing areas at the team’s suburban training center and two all-sports TV stations covering the event live.

Another practice Sunday at the Bell Centre was a promotional event in front of 10,000 shrieking kids.

It added to the challenge for Julien to put into effect the changes he hopes will snap the Canadiens out of a 1-6-1 slump in which they have scored only 10 goals, four of them by captain Max Pacioretty and another two from his linemate Alexander Radulov.

Julien wants his team to spend less time in its own zone and more time harrying opposition goaltenders. That starts with getting the puck more quickly on defense and holding onto it longer in the opponent’s end.

“What we want to try to do, and what we did today, is to try to be better defensively for goals against and chances against,” he said. “But more than that, if we’re better defensively we can (get) the puck quickly.

“I want us to play with the puck, not without it. I’m looking for puck possession time. It’s not necessarily about analytics, it’s that if we have the puck more, our chances are much better of winning.”

It’s a formula that worked for most of the 10 seasons Julien spent with the Boston Bruins before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy two weeks ago.

Boston won a Stanley Cup and reached another final during his time there, although they fell short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

The Canadiens started the season 13-1-1 and maintained a decent record despite a run of injuries through December and January, but they’ve hit a wall of late.

That prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire fifth-year coach Therrien and bring in Julien, whose first NHL coaching job was with the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006.

There is much that needs fixing. The Canadiens have got no goals and not even many scoring chances or sustained offensive zone pressure from their second, third or fourth lines in the past eight games.

They’ve also been lax defensively and at times had spotty goaltending, although Carey Price was sharp against the Jets.

“We’ve got enough skill here, (the offense) will come back,” said Julien. “I’m not worried about it.

“We have enough players on this team that can score goals, but we’ve got to start in the right place and that’s when we get the puck back quickly. It remains to be seen, but that’s my belief.”

What he hasn’t had enough time for yet is to work on line combinations.

Mostly, he has used the units Therrien had in place. He moved Alex Galchenyuk to center on the first line to start against Winnipeg, but had Phillip Danault back in that spot by the third period.

Now Galchenyuk is back to the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

“I know he’s a very talented player; my job is to make him better,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “Now I want to work with him on the little aspects of the game that will make him even better.”

The slump has narrowed the Canadiens’ lead in the Atlantic Division to only two points ahead of Ottawa, which has two games in hand.

“It’s what happens when you don’t win games,” said Gallagher. “Everyone else in the league seems to be winning except for us and they’re gaining ground.

“If we get back to playing winning hockey, playing our style and doing all the little things Claude and his staff are trying to get across, then we’ll be where we want to be.”

With Marner out again Maple Leafs recall Frederik Gauthier from AHL

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs cuts in for a scoring attempt on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be without prized rookie Mitch Marner on Tuesday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets.

The officially placed him on injured reserve Tuesday morning retroactive to Feb. 15. He suffered an upper body injury that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he took an awkward fall into the boards and has not played since.

With Marner placed on IR, the Maple Leafs made a corresponding roster move to recall forward Frederik Gauthier from the the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Gauthier, a first-round draft pick (No. 21 overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2013, has spent most of this season with the Marlies where he has one goal and five assists in 26 games. He has also played 18 games for the big club, scoring two goals and an assist. He last played for the Maple Leafs on Jan. 31. He was skating on the team’s fourth line between Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov at the morning skate.

With 48 points in 56 games Marner is still the second leading scorer on the Maple Leafs, just one point behind No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. Even though he is out tonight he will still be eligible to return on Thursday night when the team takes on the New York Rangers. Toronto has briefly fallen out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, sitting one point behind both the Florida Panthers (third spot in Atlantic Division) and Boston Bruins (second wild card spot).

NHL on NBCSN: Wild look to go into their bye week with a win against ‘Hawks

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 15: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild battle for position in front of the net
at the United Center on January 15, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Like most teams, the Blackhawks found out just how tough it was to win your first game back from the bye week, as they dropped a 3-1 decision to Edmonton on Saturday.

But they were able to put that loss behind them the following night by taking down an improved Sabres team, 5-1.

Coming into tonight’s game, Chicago trails Minnesota by seven points in the race for top spot in the Central Division (the Wild have a game in hand). So this is obviously a crucial matchup for both teams.

“They’ve had an amazing run. Give them credit,” ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of the Wild, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we played pretty well last time and we’re going to have to be even better going into this game. … Hopefully we can try to close the gap.”

That “last time” Quenneville is referring to came on Feb. 8, when his team won a 4-3 decision in Minnesota thanks to an overtime goal by captain Jonathan Toews (he also had two assists in that one).

Toews has finally found his offensive game, as he’s recorded 15 points in his last 11 contests, which puts him at 37 points in 50 games.

Including that win in Minnesota, Chicago has rattled off six consecutive victories away from the United Center, but the Wild are no slouches at home.

Tonight’s game will be the seventh of an eight-game homestand that has seen them go 4-1-1 so far. As was mentioned before, the OT defeat came to the ‘Hawks, while their only loss in regulation was a 1-0 decision against Anaheim.

One of the reasons the Wild have been able to maintain their strong play is because of their ability to get offensive production from multiple lines. But of all the lines they’ve assembled, none has been better than the trio of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, who have combined for 43 goals, 110 points and a plus-84 rating since being put together on Nov. 25.

“We feed off each other pretty well,” Zucker said, per the StarTribune. “And I think we make sure we hold each other accountable when we have a bad shift, a bad play or a bad game. Whatever it is, we make sure we know what we did wrong, and we fix it.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild come out for tonight’s game. As bad as some teams have been coming out of the bye week, there are a few others that have also been equally terrible in the game before the time off. With such a condensed schedule, it’s normal that a few players could already have their sights set on their upcoming vacation time.

This should be a good one!