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Around the rink – March 5; Key battles in Philly, Boston, and Phoenix highlight busy day

All times Eastern

1:00 p.m.

Buffalo @ Philadelphia

Two teams in need of a win to get off the schneid and two teams with a long history of disliking each other immensely. I’m not sure it gets better than that for an afternoon game. Philly’s lost four of their last six and two in a row and their grip on the top spot in the East is slipping away. The Sabres are in the midst of a seven game road trip which they’re 1-0-1 on so far after beating the Rangers and losing in overtime to Carolina. Buffalo is three back of Carolina for the eighth spot in the East.

St. Louis @ NY Islanders

Two teams on the wrong side of the ledger when it comes to the playoffs. The Blues have all but slipped away completely out west while the Isles have never really been in it at all in the East. The Isles are playing better hockey of late though, something that should worry the Ben Bishop-led Blues. The Blues are losers of six of their last seven and three in a row and they’ve scored just two goals in their last three games. Not fun. The Isles are hoping to capitalize on their 4-1 win over Minnesota in their last game and get a winning streak going.

4:00 p.m.

Vancouver @ Los Angeles

Not a bad game for a matinée matchup out west. The West leading Canucks pay a visit to old friend Willie Mitchell and the Kings. L.A. are winners of four of their last five games and a win today gets them back up into a tie for fourth with Chicago. The Canucks have been kind of pedestrian lately alternating wins and losses since early February. Not going on the consistent tear they were on earlier in the season is proving to be a bit annoying for them and it’s allowed Detroit to creep up on them for the top spot in the West. If they want to get home ice throughout the playoffs, it wouldn’t hurt to snap out of it.

7:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh @ Boston

As happens all the time when these two get together, fans keep an eye on Matt Cooke but that shouldn’t even be a story in this one so much as it is Pittsburgh stumbling of late and the Bruins rolling looking to extend their winning streak to eight. During the Bruins’ run scoring on them has been very difficult. Unfortunately for the Pens scoring has been an issue for them of late too. Unlike their 2-1 OT loss to New Jersey last night, if the Penguins aren’t careful, Boston can blow them out.

Chicago @ Toronto

A few weeks ago, this would’ve been Kris Versteeg and Viktor Stalberg getting to play against each other and their former teams. Instead, only Stalberg will get a chance to stick it to the Maple Leafs as the red hot Blackhawks take on the shockingly improved Leafs. Chicago’s won seven in a row and they’ve done it by scoring heaps of goals. They’re averaging four goals per game during their win streak and Jonathan Toews has been lights out during that stretch scoring seven goals and adding five assists. That’s how you end up a captain. For Toronto, they’ll be hoping James Reimer can continue his outstanding play in goal to shut down the Hawks. Toronto is just four points behind Carolina for a playoff spot in the East.

Florida @ Atlanta

This is the game of sadness tonight. Florida’s mailed in their season already while Atlanta is in such a tailspin they’re now just one point ahead of the surging Devils for 11th place in the East. After so much hope early on for the Thrashers they’re buried in the East and essentially out of it unless they can start winning now and not stop the rest of the way. Beating a lowly Florida team would be a smart way to start that.

Montreal @ Tampa Bay

A huge game for both teams as Montreal looks to move up towards the fourth spot in the East as they’re five behind Pittsburgh for that. Tampa Bay is just one point ahead of Washington for the lead in the Southeast. For Lightning coach Guy Boucher it’s yet another great opportunity for him to show the Habs organization what they ended up losing out on. Tampa’s lost two in row, however, and their last four games have been decided by 2-1 scores (2-2-0). If you twisted our arm, we’d say we’ll see the same thing again tonight.

8:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Phoenix

Last year’s playoff rivals square off in Glendale and for Phoenix they need a win badly. The Coyotes have dropped five in a row and with a Wings team that’s playing some really good hockey of late, tonight figures to be a struggle again. The Wings are coming off a frustrating loss to Anaheim the other night in which they lost thanks to a Bobby Ryan penalty shot goal in overtime. If the Wings want to avoid frustration tonight, doing better than 1-9 on the power play the way they did against the Ducks would be a good way to do it.

10:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Colorado

No Taylor Hall to dazzle us in this game as he’s done for the year with a high ankle sprain. So what is there to watch for in this battle between the two bottom teams in the West? Uh, well… How about Matt Duchene for Colorado and Jordan Eberle for Edmonton. These young centers are at least well worth watching to see what they’ll do next. If the game goes to a shootout then you’ll have Linus Omark to thrill you there. That’s about the best we can do for you to keep you interested in this one.

10:30 p.m.

Dallas @ San Jose

After a heartbreaking loss to the Ducks last night, the Stars are rewarded with facing off against the scorching hot Sharks. San Jose is hoping to extend their win streak to nine in a row while helping keep the Stars down just the same. How the Stars respond tonight will be important to see how they bounce back psychologically as well as physically. After all, playing on back-to-back nights hurts as it is but doing so after a gut-punch of a loss provides its own test. Meanwhile, the Sharks have opened up a six point lead in the Pacific Division.

Capitals have big plans for Dmitry Orlov, but there is just one problem . . .

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Dmitry Orlov is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

A restricted free agent, the 25-year-old defenseman had eight goals and 29 points last season, while making $2.25 million in salary for the season, as per General Fanager. His previous two-year contract had an annual cap hit of $2 million. But with training camps approaching, he remains unsigned for right now.

As noted before, there is a cap crunch for the Capitals heading into the new season. Orlov is the only RFA left for the Capitals to re-sign.

From the Washington Post:

According to generalfanager.com, Washington has $3.4 million in salary cap space left, but to allow for in-season roster flexibility or a 14th forward, the Capitals have around $2.6 million to devote to re-signing Orlov.

Still, despite that fact, the Capitals coaching staff has big plans for Orlov for the upcoming season.

“I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”

Maurice: ‘Zero repercussions’ for Jets prospect Laine following offseason knee surgery

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 21: Patrik Laine #29 of Finland looks on against Russia at Ice Palace on May 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Finland defeated Russia 3-1.(Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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With NHL training camps approaching and the beginning of the World Cup of Hockey next month, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice had some good news to report.

It appears that forward Patrik Laine, the second overall selection in this year’s draft behind Auston Matthews, is progressing well from the minor knee surgery he underwent following the NHL scouting combine. That same operation kept him off the ice when the Jets held their development camp early in July.

“He was held out of (Jets) development camp for precautionary reasons, but he’s back to full training and has been for quite some time,” Maurice told NHL.com.

“There will be zero repercussions moving forward.”

Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP from earlier this spring, was named to Finland’s World Cup team. The tournament begins Sept. 17. Finland begins the competition the next day against Team North America.

After an unbelievable 2015-16 season — he was named the Finnish league’s playoff MVP and won gold for Finland at the 2016 world juniors with seven goals and 13 points in seven games — Laine now looks to make the leap to the NHL.

With his shot and skill — not to mention an entry-level deal with that carries an AAV of $3.575 million, including $2.65 million annually in performance bonuses, as per General Fanager — he’ll be given plenty of opportunities.

“Patrik is going to be able to do all those things he’s always been able to do,” Maurice continued.

“How long it takes him to do it, I don’t know, but he’s going to get a chance to play. He fits in to what we’re trying to do as a hockey team, so you’ll live with some mistakes that are youth-generated, but he’s a very special talent and I would not be surprised if he comes in and is able to finish and put up numbers.”

Capitals coaching staff remains intact, after close calls for Reirden and Lambert

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — After the best regular season in franchise history, the Washington Capitals almost lost two assistant coaches to other NHL teams.

Todd Reirden was a finalist for the Calgary Flames’ head coaching job and Lane Lambert for the Colorado Avalanche’s. The Flames hired Glen Gulutzan in June, and then after the abrupt resignation of Patrick Roy the Avalanche hired Jared Bednar last week. That left Jack Adams Award-winning coach Barry Trotz’s staff intact for another run at the Stanley Cup.

Trotz was selfishly glad to still have Reirden and Lambert on the bench, especially considering the Capitals have most of their players back and are again a Cup favorite.

“You never like to lose high-quality people and coaches, but at the same time these are guys that if they’re not replacing me, they’re replacing someone else in the league,” Trotz said Tuesday. “Both of them were right there in the end. It says a lot about them. It says a lot about our program here in Washington.”

Reirden and Lambert contributed to and benefited from the Capitals’ success last season, which ended with a second-round loss to the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Reirden comes back for 2016-17 as an associate coach after being given that promotion Monday when the team announced he’ll run training camp while Trotz is on Canada’s staff at the World Cup of Hockey.

Going through the experience of interviewing is something Reirden believes will help him and Lambert moving forward.

“We went through those situations, both of us, with different teams, but not for one second was I disappointed about coming back and being a part of this team,” Reirden said. “We’ve invested a lot in the last two years and our growth of our team in two years I think has been outstanding.”

The success so far has made Reirden and Lambert two of the more sought-after assistants in the NHL. Reirden learned just how competitive the process of earning a head job is and was able to help Lambert through his situation two months later.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a more difficult decision to make on Lambert, too, given that Joe Sakic of the Avalanche asked permission to talk to Lambert a month before the start of camp. Trotz had to come up with four or five potential replacements but agreed that Lambert should get the chance to interview.

“It might’ve been a different decision if it was the Rangers or someone else calling that you play a lot more,” Trotz said. “But for the most part I think we’ve developed a relationship with our staff that if you get an opportunity to move up, we want to give you that opportunity.”

Next year one if not both will be in the mix for vacancies and likely gone. Players understand that’s part of the business

“Todd is certainly on the horizon, I think,” Niskanen said. “He’s probably going to get a chance. Selfishly I was hoping that it waits another season, at least, and I think that’s good for our team, too.”

The future looks bright in Toronto, but no sense rushing prospect Mitch Marner

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock (R) of the Toronto Maple Leafs talks with Mitchell Marner (L) after being selected fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

What remains for Mitch Marner to accomplish in junior hockey? What’s the point of another year in the Ontario Hockey League?

Selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons with the London Knights in the OHL.

Actually, that’s understating his production. In his draft year, he scored 44 goals and 126 points in 63 regular season games. The following season, he played in six fewer games, with 39 goals and 116 points. He won a Memorial Cup in London this year and was the OHL’s playoff MVP.

That’s quite a list of accomplishments. However, it’s possible that following Maple Leafs training camp, the highly touted forward prospect could be sent back to junior. After turning 19 years old in May, he’s not yet eligible to play a season in the American Hockey League. So the options for him next season include making the NHL, getting sent back to junior or potentially playing in Europe. According to the Toronto Star, Marner doesn’t seem into the latter option.

Skill isn’t an issue.

The more pressing concerns facing Marner are size and strength. He’s listed at five-foot-eleven-inches tall and, as per the Leafs, 160 pounds. There were reports this summer Marner tipped the scales at 163 pounds.

The Maple Leafs continue through their rebuild.

Retaining the No. 1 overall pick that turned into Auston Matthews (he’s Under Pressure) is a boon for the task the Maple Leafs are currently undertaking. They also have forward William Nylander, who had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the big club last season.

Head coach Mike Babcock told TSN that Marner has a “good chance” of making the Maple Leafs roster this upcoming season. The big focus, the coach continued, isn’t so much about putting on weight, but getting stronger.

“I want to make sure I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard, and make sure I can go out there and do the things that I like to do,” Marner said earlier this summer.

The speed of today’s game has allowed for smaller players — Johnny Gaudreau, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi to name a few — to excel. This is something Marner himself has pointed out.

“The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays,” Marner told Sportsnet.

“It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”

It’s understandable for Maple Leafs fans to want to see Marner in the NHL as soon as possible.

With the talent the Maple Leafs have been adding to their system, the future looks bright. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense to rush a player of Marner’s talent into the NHL if his body isn’t physically ready for the demands.

Canada’s world junior team, which looks to reclaim gold on home ice, would certainly welcome the news.