Around the rink – March 8; Habs-Bruins, Sabres-Pens highlight busy night

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh

Playoff position jockeying begins in earnest as the Sabres can jump to seventh in the East with a win over the Penguins. Meanwhile, a Penguins win paired with a Flyers regulation loss puts them in a tie with Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division. And some people say regular season hockey doesn’t have any bite to it. Silly people. Making life tougher for the Sabres is they’ll be without Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta tonight. Mark Parrish and Luke Adam get the call from the minors to help out. We’re figuring the Penguins won’t really miss dealing with Kaleta.

Ottawa @ New Jersey

Seems almost unfair that the Devils get to try and continue their winning ways against a Senators team decimated by injuries. Hey, at least they’ve got Craig Anderson in goal which means it’ll probably just be another 2-1 game. The Devils are just seven points out of eighth place and going up against the NHL’s worst team figures to be a good way to keep the good times rolling.

Toronto @ NY Islanders

The Leafs would like to keep up with the slumping Jones’ at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race and finding a way to beat the much improved Islanders would go a long way towards that. Having these two teams playing better hockey late in the season makes us nostalgic for the early part of the 2000s when these teams would play some legendary-ish games in the spring. Having some nostalgia break out on the ice tonight would make us feel at home. The Leafs are four points back of Carolina for the eighth spot in the East.

Edmonton @ Philadelphia

All right so the Flyers have lost four in a row and they’ve got what would appear to be an easy game with one of the NHL’s worst teams in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup finals from the 1980s these are not. Of course, the Oilers are winners of seven of their last ten games. We’re not going to call this a trap game, but we’re thinking that if Peter Laviolette’s reasoning for the Flyers recent slump is just a matter of fatigue, then things should return to normal for Philly.

7:30 p.m.

Boston @ Montreal

When last we left these two teams, they were putting on the foil in Boston in a big, old fashioned way in an 8-6 Bruins win featuring line brawls all over the place all night long. If we see more of that tonight in Montreal, we’d be surprised. We don’t think the Habs will be seeking revenge with their fists but would rather try to narrow the gap in the standings between themselves and the Bruins. Montreal trails Boston by five points and if they want to win the division wins are more important than payback. A Boston win and a Philly loss in regulation moves the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Chicago @ Florida

Panthers GM Dale Tallon gets to meet up with his former team in Sunrise tonight. With how hot the Blackhawks have been of late, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have a tough time dealing with the trade reduced Panthers, especially with a motivated Michal Frolik looking to beat his former team. Chicago could pull within four points of Detroit for the Central Division lead with a win.

8:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Minnesota

If the Wild are hoping to get in the mix for the playoffs, beating a downtrodden Avalanche team would go a long way towards that. Andrew Brunette may be out with illness and Guillaume Latendresse might suit up tonight. So much intrigue for the Wild! As for the Avs, they’ve lost 17 of their last 19 games including their last five. That’s stunningly awful. No pressure here Minnesota, but if you want to be taken serious as a potential playoff team you’d better beat the Avs.

9:00 p.m.

Vancouver @ Phoenix

A game with some bite to it out West as the Canucks look to keep flexing their muscles on the rest of the conference. After winning against L.A. and Anaheim the Canucks appear to have turned things around after going mild for a stretch just winning and losing on alternating nights. Phoenix may have turned around their fortunes with their comeback win in the shootout over Detroit on Saturday night. They had lost five in a row up until that point. The Coyotes could use a rally for a few different reasons and knocking off the front running Canucks would be another feather in their cap.

10:30 p.m.

Nashville @ San Jose

San Jose continues to be on fire while the Predators have slipped up of late. The Sharks did lose their last time out against Dallas, but they’d won eight in a row prior to that. Nashville’s lost six of their last eight and have fallen out of the top eight for the playoffs for the moment. They need to get consistent again and getting their offense together would go a long way toward that. Meanwhile, San Jose has a three point lead on the resurgent Stars in the Pacific Division. Keeping distance on them should be a priority for the Sharks.

Duchene trade talks quiet, but Avs will ‘listen to offers’

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To little surprise, not much is going on in the trade market. Just ask Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers did just that, and Sakic revealed that he would still consider trading the likes of Matt Duchene … although he didn’t mention him by name.

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Considering that it’s mid-August, it’s not too surprising that little is happening. One can imagine that several GMs are more interested in finding drinks with umbrellas in them than trying to land Duchene, at least since the Avalanche don’t seem interested in giving him up without some serious haggling.

(And, really, the Avs would be wise to pump up Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog‘s respective trade values, anyway.)

That Denver Post story features a semi-update on Nikita Zadorov. Sakic told Chambers that the two sides agreed that a two-year deal would be best, but the “numbers” aren’t there yet. He didn’t tip his hand about how big the gap was. For what it’s worth, Sakic didn’t sound too worried about the lure of the 2018 Winter Olympics swaying Zadorov to head overseas.

While a lot of the activity circles around what hasn’t happened, the Avalanche did realize that Will Butcher officially won’t sign with them, while Colorado added a college free agent (and former Maple Leafs prospect) Dominic Toninato to their own mix.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem like something big is brewing regarding Duchene and other prominent Avs, but at least Sakic isn’t slamming the door shut on such a possibility.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

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Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.

Sidney Crosby at 30

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Much like with Lebron James, Sidney Crosby is at the point in his career where the question is no longer “Will he be one of the all-time greats?” After back-to-back Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe wins, the discussion is shifting to where he ranks among the best of all-time.

And, like, with Lebron, there are a number of factors – including era, which is probably an even tougher nut to crack in hockey – that can twist and turn the debate.

Mere moments after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as champs, Mike Sullivan made the case for number 87’s greatness.

” … You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win,” Sullivan said. “And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.”

It’s mind-blowing to consider the very real possibility that Crosby will be viewed as the best player to skate for the Penguins, edging Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, and even Mario Lemieux.

It’s also mind-blowing that he just turned 30 on Aug. 7.

When it comes to the Mario vs. Sid debate that may eventually pick up steam, Crosby has some advantages. He matched “The Magnificent One” by getting those back-to-back titles and playoff MVP nods, while he already has three Stanley Cup rings to Lemieux’s two (and four Stanley Cup Final appearances to two).

Crosby already has an iconic moment to his name. Along with Paul Henderson’s goal and “Gretzky to Lemieux,” Crosby’s golden goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics will endear him to Canadian hockey fans for ages.

This list of accolades is honestly dizzying:

But, again, things get tougher when you try to really drill down to Crosby vs. The Greats. Most obviously since he’s far from done right now.

Circling back to the debate that might divide Penguins fans in particular, Crosby might also edge Lemieux if you correct for our modern era, which is so tough on scoring. NHL.com’s Rob Vollman explains Crosby’s place among the most impressive runs before 30:

From this perspective, Crosby is no longer in a block of a dozen players but in more select company. He ranks third at age 30 with an era-adjusted 998 points (377 goals, 622 assists), well ahead of Lemieux, who is in fourth with 899 points (365 goals, 534 assists). Gretzky is in first with 1,479 points (495 goals, 984 assists) in 896 games, followed by Jagr with 1,018 points (414 goals, 604 assists) in 858 games. (Adding to the distinction of being in the top four with Gretzky, Jagr and Lemieux: Those are the only three players to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer in the 21 seasons from 1980-81 to 2000-01.)  

Interesting. (This quick document has a bit more to chew on.)

Vollman also makes the point that even the all-timers tend to stop locking down the biggest awards once they turn 30. There’s an obvious barrier in Connor McDavid (just check the Hart Trophy odds) and possibly some other bright young players, so for all we know, most of our peak memories of Crosby may already be in the past.

That said, much like Lemieux, injuries have limited some of the stats Crosby’s been able to put up.

Crosby’s concussion history could conceivably prompt him to retire agonizingly early, but what if he instead gets better luck? We’ve seen cases, such as Patrice Bergeron, in which such issues become less of a concern over time. For all we know, Crosby might defy expectations and actually play until he’s 40.

(Hey, he already emulates Jaromir Jagr in being an inanely good puck protector.)

It’s been a special run already for Crosby, who’s already a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s about padding that resume.

Though, to Crosby’s credit, it’s still probably all about winning.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.