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Deaths of Boogaard, Rypien prompt NHL to examine its support programs

The hockey world was shaken by Monday’s news of Rick Rypien’s death at age 27, which came about two months after Derek Boogaard’s untimely death at 28. Many reacted to Rypien’s death with great sadness, from teammates to fans and even former opponents. Yet there was also sizable contingent of people looking for someone beyond Rypien to blame, with several onlookers casting that gaze at the way the NHL handles players dealing with personal issues.

I believe that it is unfair to cast blame on the league and its teams, especially since the deaths of Rypien and Boogaard were both such personal and complicated matters. Sadly, that’s the way society often reacts to tragedies that are difficult to accept: by finding the easiest target to blame.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to claim that the league’s support program ranks among the best in sports, he admitted that the league and its players association will examine its substance abuse and behavioral health program after those two sad, high-profile deaths.

“My guess is we’ll talk at the appropriate time with the players’ association, making sure that we’re comfortable with all of the mechanisms and programs we have in place, which are extensive,” Bettman told The Canadian Press at the league’s research and development camp on Wednesday. “I don’t think any sports league does more than we do but maybe there’s more, as we focus on it, that we need to focus on. I know it’s always hard for people to accept, but sports is a microcosm of society in general.

“And life isn’t always easy.”

Union executive and former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider echoed Bettman’s sentiments.

While referring to the NHL-NHLPA support program as “very strong,” union executive Mathieu Schneider indicated that he shares Bettman’s desire to look closely at ways it might be improved.

“I think there certainly has to be some work done in addressing issues,” said Schneider, the NHLPA’s special adviser to executive director Don Fehr. “If anything could have been done that would have helped those players, if anything can be done to help future players, we certainly need to do it.”

The Canadian Press article states that the league and NHLPA try to limit the amount of details revealed about the program to protect those who undergo treatment, but Schneider said that players are aware of the services made available. Those services include access to counselors and a 24-hour help line.

Both Boogaard and Rypien tried to get help. One of the saddest details about Boogaard’s death was that it reportedly came the day after he left treatment. Rypien took a leave of absence on two occasions – most recently in November 2010 – to try to deal with his personal issues.

To some, that might be proof that the system isn’t working, but it’s also clear that attempts were made to help both players work out their issues. Let’s not forget that the program seemed to benefit Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo, although anyone familiar with these situations will acknowledge that battling personal demons is often a gradual process with ups and downs.

One thing Schneider brought up is a crucial factor for anyone dealing with depression and other issues: communication. That’s an area that Schneider believes players could work on.

“Maybe it would have been better had Rick been able to lean on some teammates and guys there for support,” said Schneider. “But those type of things have always been kind of taboo. You just don’t talk about it.”

Again, these are complicated situations that don’t always have obvious resolutions. That being said, it’s good to hear that the league and its players association will discuss ways to improve the process. It would be wrong to say that the NHL doesn’t care about helping its players, but there’s always room for improvement.

Patrick tops midseason draft rankings

KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings during the first period on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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Prized prospect Nolan Patrick hasn’t played much this year — missing 35 games for WHL Brandon with an upper-body injury — but his draft stock remains sky high.

On Wednesday, NHL Central Scouting released its midseason rankings and named Patrick its top draft-eligible skater for the 2017 Draft.

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Patrick aims to be the first player drafted No. 1 overall out of the WHL since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011 by EDM) and just the third in the past 22 seasons (also Chris Phillips in 1996 by OTT).

Patrick has recorded more than a point per game this season (6-7—13 in 8 GP) despite missing significant time with an injury. In 2015-16, he was named MVP of the WHL Playoffs after helping Brandon win its first championship in 20 years. From a hockey family, his father, Steve Patrick, played 250 games with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1980-86, while his uncle James Patrick skated in 1,280 career regular-season NHL games.

Joining Patrick atop the midseason rankings are:

— Swiss center Nico Hischier, who’s been on fire for QMHJL Halifax and wowed onlookers with his effort at the recently-completed World Juniors.

— Gabriel Vilardi, a center for OHL Windsor who has 34 points through 26 games this season.

— Owen Tippett, the OHL Mississauga winger that’s of no relation to Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, but is the first cousin of Tampa Bay prospect Mitchell Stephens.

— Casey Mittelstadt, who plies his trade for Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota and, prior to that, Green Bay of the USHL.

In terms of international skaters, Russian forward Klim Kostin (Dynamo Moscow) and Sweden’s Elias Pettersson (Sundsvall) are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked skaters, respectively.

NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Bruins vs. Red Wings; Sharks vs. Kings

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks for a shot against the Detroit Red Wings during the third period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Red Wings 5-2.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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We’ll have a full night of hockey on NBCSN, and it starts at 8:00 p.m. ET when the Detroit Red Wings host the Boston Bruins. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

The Boston Bruins currently sit in the second place in the Atlantic Division, but that doesn’t mean their satisfied with their game right now. Actually, it might be the exact opposite of satisfied.

On Monday, the Bruins were shelled 4-0 at the Garden by the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders.

The performance was so bad that head coach Claude Julien decided to cancel Tuesday’s practice so his players could rest and watch film.

“I still believe in this group; never have not believed in this group,” said Julien, per the Boston Herald. “Having said that, I understand there’s work to be done, and there’s challenges ahead. I said that last week . . . we’re trying to build on certain things here, but it’s a challenge. And we knew that from the get-go. We accept it. We accept the challenges in front of us. It doesn’t mean we accept the things that happened (Monday), but we still have to accept that there’s work to be done and we keep doing our work.”

If the playoffs started today, sure, the Bruins would have home ice advantage, but the playoffs don’t start today and Toronto and Ottawa are both just one point behind Boston and they each have five (yes, five) games in hand. The Flyers and Hurricanes, who are currently outside of the playoff picture, are just one and two points behind the Bruins.

Boston can’t afford to take anyone for granted.

The Red Wings are coming off a 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, but they haven’t been very good this season.

If they don’t turn this thing around quickly, they’ll see their long playoff streak snapped at 25 seasons. Detroit is currently six points back of both the final Wild Card spot in the East and third place in the Atlantic Division.

Now would be as good a time as ever to go on a long winning streak, which they haven’t done since they won six straight in October.

“You don’t want to be on that team that doesn’t make (the playoffs),” said Henrik Zetterberg, per MLive.com. “We want to have a chance and we still have a chance, but we have to play the right away. We have good enough players that we can still make it, but we can’t get too carried away. It’s two wins and we haven’t had two wins (in a row) since October and that says a lot.”

After the Bruins-Red Wings game, NBCSN’s hockey coverage will continue in Los Angeles, where the Sharks will take on the Kings. You can watch that game online by clicking here.

After getting steamrolled, 4-0, by the Blues on Saturday night, the Sharks responded with a big 5-2 win over the Jets on Monday.

Finding the back of the net with regularity has been an issue for the Sharks, which is a little surprising when you see the offensive firepower they have on their roster. But if the San Jose makes a move between now and the deadline, it’ll likely be to add a forward that can score goals (they probably aren’t the only ones looking for that).

Only three teams have allowed less than the 102 goals San Jose has given up this season, but their 117 goals for currently ranks 20th in the NHL.

One way they’ll likely boost their offensive output is by getting Tomas Hertl back from injury. Hertl’s been out since Nov. 19 because of a knee injury. The 23-year-old scored 21 goals for the Sharks last season.

Like the Sharks, the Kings also do a good job of keeping the puck out of the net, but they’re struggling to create offense.

Los Angeles has given up just eight more goals than San Jose in 2016-17, but the issue is that they’ve also scored five less goals than the Sharks, which puts them in 24th place in that category.

The poster boy for offensive struggles is Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who’s managed to find the back of the net just four times in 38 games this season.

Kopitar missed Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Lightning because of an illness, but he told LAKingsInsider.com that he was starting to feel good about his offensive game before getting sick.

“I expect the very highest of myself, so yeah it’s not the best feeling when you look at numbers, just because of my personal expectation,” said Kopitar. Whatever the outside world thinks it’s not weighing on me as much as I do on my own, but like I said, I think things have been going in the right direction now and hopefully I can sustain it.”

On a positive note, the Kings have been terrific at home this season. They currently own a 14-7-1 record at Staples Center, which bodes well for their chances in tonight’s game.

PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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–In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

–Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

–Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

–Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

–Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.