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.

Replacing Beauchemin with Bieksa hasn’t worked out so great for Anaheim

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Are the Anaheim Ducks missing Francois Beauchemin more than they thought they might?

It’s a question we’ve been hearing more and more lately, as the Ducks’ goal-scoring woes of October have been replaced by defensive issues in November.

Anaheim is 3-4-2 in its last nine games. The Ducks have allowed 27 goals in regulation during that stretch — that’s three per game on average — plus two more in a pair of overtime losses.

In a related story, per the O.C. Register, here’s what coach Bruce Boudreau said the other day about offseason acquisition Kevin Bieksa:

“He’s a veteran guy that has to fight his way out of this. We count on him to not make mistakes. We will go as far as guys like him take us.”

Bieksa, 34, is minus-7 in his last four games combined. True, he’s forced to play a lot of hard minutes against good players. But then, that’s exactly what he was brought in to do. The Ducks even gave him a two-year, $8 million extension, locking him up through 2017-18.

Now consider what Boudreau said during last year’s playoff run, about the guy Bieksa was brought in to replace:

“He’s the voice. Everybody else is so young. [He] is the voice back there.”

And Beauchemin was more than just a talker. He led the Ducks in ice time. He had nine assists in 16 playoff games. Bottom line: he was a big part of a team that fell one win shy of making the Stanley Cup Final.

Beauchemin, of course, signed a three-year deal with Colorado on July 1, for a cap hit of $4.5 million. So far, he’s been as advertised for the Avs. The 35-year-old has two goals and 10 assists. He gets the most ice time on the team, an average of 23:33.

Looking back, Anaheim GM Bob Murray never did want to lose Beauchemin. The Ducks just weren’t prepared to offer what the Avs did.

“Beauch’ has been a pretty good warrior for us,” Murray said in June. “He has a one-time chance for free agency and maybe somebody will give him $5 million.… I couldn’t do that.”

One has to wonder now if Murray wishes he’d found a way.

The Ducks host the Blackhawks tonight on NBCSN.

Devils sign veteran Kennedy to one-year, $600K deal

Tyler Kennedy, Lee Stempniak
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A second forward has converted a PTO with New Jersey into a shiny new contract.

Tyler Kennedy, who’s on his second professional tryout with the club, has agreed to a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level, the Devils announced on Friday.

Kennedy, 29, first caught on with the Devils in the preseason, only to be released in early October. He then rejoined the club on a second PTO in mid-November, and earned himself a deal from GM Ray Shero (previously, the two were together in the Pittsburgh organization).

A former 20-goal scorer with the Pens, Kennedy fell on hard times last year. It began in San Jose — where he never fit in Todd McLellan’s plans — and ended on Long Island, where he sat for over half of the Isles’ opening-round playoff loss to the Caps.

As for where he’ll fit in the Devils lineup?

Kennedy said he’s ready to play tonight — the Devils take on Montreal — and it’s possible Stefan Matteau could be scratched, allowing Kennedy to stpe into a bottom-six forward role.

As for how the Devils will free a roster spot — Jiri Tlusty remains on IR with a shoulder issue, while David Schlemko could be away from the club for a bit, as his wife is due to give birth.

Rangers park Boyle, Stalberg in press box for Thanksgiving Showdown

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven
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I’m not going to make the “it really is Black Friday for Dan Boyle and Viktor Stalberg” joke, but had to recognize it as a semi-viable lede.

So that’s out of the way.

Now, onto the business at hand — per the New York Daily News, Boyle and Stalberg will be scratched today when the Rangers take on the Bruins in the annual Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m. ET, NBC). Dylan McIlrath will draw in on defense for Boyle, while Emerson Etem will take Stalberg’s spot up front.

It’s not really surprising Alain Vigneault made some lineup changes.

The Blueshirts’ last outing was arguably their worst of the season — a 5-1 home loss to the Canadiens, a game in which Boyle finished minus-2 and Stalberg played the least among all Rangers skaters, with just 11:20 TOI.

More: Dan Boyle isn’t thrilled with all these healthy scratches

What’s more, McIlrath hasn’t played in nearly two weeks (Nov. 15, versus Toronto). It’s been even longer for Etem — he’s been out of the lineup since a win over the Blues on Nov. 12.

Related: Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC

Goal-starved Flyers recall AHL Phantoms leading scorer Cousins

Nazem Kadri

Desperate for offense, Philly made a fairly noteworthy move on Friday — Nick Cousins has been brought up from the minors.

Cousins, 22, has been a solid scorer at the AHL level in each of the last two seasons. He led Lehigh Valley with 56 points in 64 games in ’14-15 and, this year, has 18 through 15 — putting him in a tie for seventh in league scoring.

The former OHL Sault Ste. Marie standout does have some NHL experience, having played 11 games for the Flyers last season. He averaged just under nine minutes per game over that span, and failed to register a point.

Looking ahead, Cousins could make his season debut today, when Philly hosts the Preds. Right now it’s unclear where he’d fit in the lineup.

To make room for Cousins on the roster, the Flyers sent Taylor Leier down to the Phantoms.