Peter Mueller gets back into action in training camp

The Colorado Avalanche’s disastrous 2010-11 season was ravaged by injuries, with a team-record 474 man games lost to various ailments. Once-resurgent forward Peter Mueller might be the neatest embodiment of a bruised, bandaged and disappointing campaign; the former Coyotes first round pick didn’t play a single game in 10-11 after dealing with post-concussion syndrome.

It’s not very reasonable to project that his 15-game, 20 point 09-10 debut with the Avalanche is what Colorado could expect in the future. Observing the fate of Wojtek Wolski – the player whom Mueller was traded for – is a strong argument against putting too much weight into a small sample size of success.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Avalanche hope that Mueller can come back healthy next season, though. Mueller suffered from two concussions in a discouragingly small window of time as Rob Blake ended his 09-10 run on April 9, 2010 with a big hit and then Mueller aggravated that injury again almost a year ago in a Sept. 22 preseason game.

Many wondered just how long Mueller would be sidelined, but the left winger made his return to hockey action as Avs training camp began this weekend. After adding some weight and adjusting his equipment with the help of concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu during the off-season, Mueller expressed optimism as he took and delivered his first few hits in almost a year.

“I took a couple hits and I gave some hits, and I didn’t really feel anything,” Mueller said later. “I’m extremely happy with today. It’s another step in recovering.”

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“It’s right there,” Mueller said of his health. “Every time I get out there it’s getting better and better every day. Everybody has been great for my comeback and I’m very happy with that.”

Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco discussed Mueller’s rehab process and how much he might be able to help the team’s mediocre power play from the point.

“Obviously missing the season last year, the big question mark coming into this year is, how is he going to feel?” Sacco said. “With Peter, we’re looking to see improvement each day. His conditioning, that will take a little bit of time, getting used to the game, getting used to the speed of the game again. I thought he was fine out there.”

As well as he played when healthy following the trade from Phoenix, Mueller gave the Avalanche a potent weapon from the point on power plays, and he was sorely missed there last season.

“He’s a right-handed shot and when we had him for the short period of time before he was injured, he was very deadly there,” Sacco said. “He was a big part of the power play. I’m hoping we can work four other guys around with Peter and have a very productive power play. Not only on the power play but five-on-five too, but that’s a special area for him because of his ability to shoot the puck and get it off quick.”

If his initial linemates (Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk) are any indication, Mueller could return to the Avalanche lineup in a large role. Of course, the concussion rehab process can be an uneven one, so it’s too early to assume he’ll be able to do so. It’s just one of several situations that could either way for an Avalanche team that wants to put an ugly 10-11 behind them.

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.