Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

Horcoff looks to lead young Oilers… to the playoffs?

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Are the Oilers going to be one of the elite teams this season? Looking at the roster as currently constructed, probably not. But wins, losses, and playoff berths aren’t necessarily what the 2011-12 season is all about in Edmonton. Ask most hockey people and this season is all about growth. It’s about the young players growing into their NHL roles as they realize their unlimited potential; it’s about the collection of young players growing together as they try to form an identity as a team. Neither of those come over night—and no team in the NHL can be considered a contender without both: players playing together and maximizing their potential. That’s what this season is all about.

Take a quick look at the Edmonton Oilers forwards. Names like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have fanatics in Oil Country daring to dream about the future for the first time in decades. Some people have been as presumptuous as to mentions names like Messier, Kurri, Anderson, and even Gretzky. They have a lot of potential—but let’s take this rebuild one step at a time.

With all of that youth and inexperience comes growing pains.

For this season, there’s a forward on the roster who may be more important than all the blue-chip prospects Central Scouting can drool over: captain Shawn Horcoff. Just like the team as a whole, the numbers Horcoff puts on the scoreboard will be secondary to the work that he does in practice and in the locker room.  The Oilers captains knows it would be nice stay healthy and play in some meaningful games at the end of this coming season:

“In my case, I’ve endured two of the hardest years of my career. I’d like to think that’s behind me now. A realistic goal for us is making the playoffs. At the very least, we have to be playing meaningful games in the second half of the season, especially down the stretch.

“Look at Pittsburgh. They had three high, high drafts (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby; the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 selections in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively) and it wasn’t until the fourth year where they made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We’re just two drafts in and it’s still early.

“The first step is making the playoffs and taking it to the next level.”

A subtle correction: the first step is becoming competitive on a nightly basis. They’ll need to learn to push back when things go south; they’ll need to learn how to limit a potential losing streak to two or three games and not seven or eight. Horcoff is a guy who has been around for a while and knows what it takes to be an NHLer on and off the ice. He’ll be instrumental if the Oilers are to start fulfilling their promise this season.

People forget that it was only five years ago when the Oilers were within a single game of their sixth Stanley Cup. For the first time, the franchise has committed itself to a complete rebuild—a rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The next step is for all of the assembled prospects to learn to take the next step together as a team. If Horcoff has it his way, he’ll take care of that part this upcoming season.

Anisimov out six to eight weeks after undergoing ‘successful’ wrist surgery

Chicago Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov tries to handle a rebound from Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Artem Anisimov on Tuesday underwent successful surgery on his injured right wrist, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.

“We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks,” said team physician Dr. Michael Terry in a statement.

The news comes eight days after the Blackhawks were ousted in the first round, eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in last summer’s blockbuster deal for Brandon Saad, the 27-year-old Anisimov enjoyed the second 20-goal season of his career and fell just two points shy of his previous career best of 44 when he was with the New York Rangers.

He played the bulk of this season on a line with two highly skilled players in Patrick Kane, the league-leader in points with 106, and Artemi Panarin, named as a Calder Trophy finalist on Monday.

Prior to his surgery, Anisimov was named to Russia’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, although the recovery schedule should allow plenty of time for Anisimov to be physically ready for the tournament when it begins in September.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who won’t be champs in 2016

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

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The Pittsburgh Penguins may hold a 2-1 series lead over the rival Washington Capitals, but they will be without defenseman Kris Letang for a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday.

Perhaps for the Capitals, the absence of Letang — suspended one game for a high, late hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3 — on the Penguins blue line can provide an opportunity to help swing the series back in their favor heading to Washington and home ice in Game 5.

“He’s the backbone of their defense,” Capitals blue liner Karl Alzner told CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“He goes back for pucks and gets them out of his zone with a pass or a flip. He transitions the puck and logs key minutes on their PP.”

In addition to seven points in eight games this post-season, which puts him into a tie for third among defensemen in the playoffs, Letang is also among the leaders in ice time, averaging 29:13 per game.

So yes, that’s a significant loss at this juncture of the series, even if for one game.

The Penguins were already without Olli Maatta for Game 3. He was injured on that late, high hit from Brooks Orpik. That forced Derrick Pouliot into the lineup for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Justin Schultz, who the Penguins acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, figures to be next in line for Pittsburgh with Letang out.

Schultz entered the league with plenty of hype surrounding him, billed as a dynamic offensive defenseman. But nothing seemed to pan out for him in Edmonton, there were growing concerns about his play in his own end, and his time there ended with a trade prior to the deadline.

This could mean added minutes, too, for Trevor Daley, who played 22:20 in Game 3.

Between Pouliot and Schultz, they have a combined two games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.