Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara

Five NHL on NBC weekends we’re already geeked out for this season

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After getting plenty of time to look over the national TV schedule and taking a look at what we’ll have on future weekends on NBC, there’s a few days that stand out for us even before training camp has started. With the host of featured events that will be going on throughout the season, that helps make things easier to narrow down.

That said, we’re going to keep ourselves limited to just five games that we’ve got our interest piqued by the most.

1. November 25 – Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings, 1 p.m. ET

It’s the first of what is going to be an annual game on Black Friday. You spent the morning chasing bargains at the stores the day after Thanksgiving and you’ve still got a fantastic turkey hangover. What’s better to relax after a morning of fighting the crowds than settling in to watch the first NBC game of the year? Making it all the better is that it’s an original six match-up featuring the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at home against the Detroit Red Wings.

You’ll get anything and everything you could ask for in one game. Great goaltending? Sure, Tim Thomas is the man in Boston. Tremendous offensive firepower? Yup, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will be hoping to beat Thomas. Added to that, you’ll see two of the league’s best defensemen in Boston’s Zdeno Chara and 41 year-old future Hall Of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit. Since you’ll be hurting for great sports to watch on Black Friday, getting this game as your afternoon headliner makes the day even better.

2. January 2 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers, 1 p.m. ET

Right now it’s inauspiciously listed as a regular afternoon game in Philadelphia, but at some point in the near future it’ll be announced as the 2012 Winter Classic from Citizens Bank Park in Philly. If you haven’t been thrilled by past Winter Classic games… What’s the matter with you? This time around, the Flyers get to host the event after playing in the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston. They’ll get to show off this summer’s pickups in Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Brayden Schenn to go along with Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux.

Having the Rangers make their first appearance in the Winter Classic means getting this summer’s top free agent pickup Brad Richards into the mix. Having him paired up with Marian Gaborik as well as Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky with superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist in goal the Rangers have plenty of star power of their own. Perhaps the only other thing we’re anticipating more than the Winter Classic between these two rivals themselves is HBO’s 24/7 featuring both teams. Bryzgalov and his wild statements in Philly compared to Sean Avery and John Tortorella in New York? Sold.

3. January 22 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals or Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins, 3 p.m. ET

Which side of drama would you like with your mid-January afternoon tilt? When last we saw the Penguins and Capitals on NBC in January, it was the 2011 Winter Classic from Heinz Field. That’s also the last time we saw Sidney Crosby on the main stage in a nationally televised game. We can only hope that we’ll get to highlight a Crosby-Alex Ovechkin matchup in this one.

If that’s not the sort of story line you’re interested in, how about a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference playoff sweep between the Flyers and Bruins? Two seasons ago the Flyers came back from down 3-0 in their series with the Bruins to win in seven games. The Bruins would use that crushing defeat to motivate them to humiliate the Flyers in a 4-0 sweep last season on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. With the Flyers being differently loaded and the Bruins still running a bruising team with Tim Thomas in goal out there, it’s easy to say it’ll be a rough and tumble game.

4. February 19 – Hockey Day In America

Hockey Day In America is once again going to be a huge day. With a broadcast doubleheader featuring three regional games to kick off the afternoon (San Jose-Detroit, Pittsburgh-Buffalo, St. Louis-Chicago) followed up by a national broadcast featuring the Bruins going to Minnesota to take on Dany Heatley and the Wild it’ll make for a huge day of events.

While the Wild and Bruins get the main game that afternoon, seeing new rivalries like Sharks-Wings and Penguins-Sabres sharing the day along with an old school rivalry like Blues-Blackhawks gives us the kind of warm fuzzies you need on a mid-February day. With that much hockey to be watched in a day there’s no way you can lose.

5. March 18 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET

With this day being a flex schedule, there’s two potential games to make it to NBC that afternoon and either way, we’re going to wind up winners. Either we’ll be showing off Jaromir Jagr suiting up in Flyers orange at home against his first franchise and (hopefully) Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in a battle of Eastern super powers or we’ll see the new and likely improved Washington Capitals with Tomas Vokoun joining Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the tougher Blackhawks.

While the Pens-Flyers game is sure to be oozing with drama as the teams hate each other and now have offseason heat thanks to Jagr and Maxime Talbot winding up in Philly, Caps-Hawks has enough talent out on the ice to make it look like the second All-Star Game of the year.

Making the choices easier for these two games is the fact that whichever game doesn’t end up on NBC that afternoon winds up on NBC Sports Network (currently Versus) later that night thanks to the flex scheduling arrangement.

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

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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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!

Goal-starved ‘Canes need to get to the net

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Toby Enstrom #39 and Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets follow the puck as Jordan Staal #11 of the Carolina Hurricanes screens Hellebuyck during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The statistics say the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the top puck-possession teams in hockey.

But unlike most teams who fare well in the Corsi and Fenwick departments, the ‘Canes still lose more games than they win.

In the past, much of the blame for their struggles has been piled on Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, the two goalies. But Ward has actually been much better this season. The veteran netminder has a .924 save percentage over his 19 starts. He just hasn’t received much in the way of goal support, which explains his modest 9-7-4 record.

In fact, in Ward’s last five starts, he’s allowed just eight goals combined. The ‘Canes only won one of those games, a 1-0 overtime triumph Sunday against Tampa Bay.

   Read more: The curious case of the Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina (10-10-5) starts a three-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim.

“Our focus is on scoring,” coach Bill Peters said, per NHL.com. “It’s the ability to get on the board. I’d love to get on the board early. … It’s about the urgency to score, what you have to do to score. I want to see more guys in the blue paint. I want to see guys making it harder on the goaltender. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

It remains to be seen if they have the personnel to score more dirty goals. At the moment, they’re without Jordan Staal (concussion), and that’s a significant loss. Up front, the ‘Canes just aren’t a very heavy team. Their top point-producers are speedy and skilled — Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskSebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen — but Staal is the biggest and most physical of the bunch.

“To generate more offense and score more goals, we’ve got to be able to work our way inside and make it tough on them,” said defenseman Justin Faulk.

However they do it, they need to find a way. Because the ‘Canes have been slipping in the standings. They’re now six points back of a wild-card spot, tied with the Islanders and Leafs for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

Via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, here are the 10 goalies who have received the least amount of goal support this season:

goal-support

Sens clear MacArthur for contact, a big step in concussion recovery

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 26:  Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators looks on prior to a face-off in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on April 26, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Ottawa Senators by defeating them 2-0 and move to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Some great news out of Ottawa on Wednesday — Clarke MacArthur, who’s missed the entire season while recovering from a concussion suffered in training camp, has been cleared for contact in practice, per TSN 1200.

“Every day he looks better and better,” head coach Guy Boucher said. “He looks so good out there, and he’s looked good for a while now.

“We are definitely going in the right direction. You can see it in his demeanor, you can see it on the ice. He’s doing all the difficult exercises and pushing the body to the max, and now he’s allowed to do bodychecks in practices.”

MacArthur, who missed 70 games last year to a concussion, was on the receiving end of an ugly hit from teammate Patrick Sieloff during a late September practice at training camp.

The incident made waves across the league as Bobby Ryan jumped Sieloff following the hit (Chris Neil was also seeking retribution, before the Sens removed Sieloff from practice).

When healthy, MacArthur plays a key role for the Sens. He had two pretty productive campaigns for Ottawa in ’13-14 (scoring a career-high 24 goals) and ’14-15 (36 points in just 62 games played), part of the reason why the club gave him a five-year, $23.25 million extension two summers ago.

Not long after this latest concussion, MacArthur said he had no intention of retiring. Various outlets report he’s aiming for a return to the Sens lineup in January.