Panthers-Predators double-header among four games to open the preseason

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All of a sudden, the signs keep piling up that hockey season is nearing. Most of the restricted free agent holdouts caved (or wore down their respective teams), NHL 12 came out last week and training camps are opening up. In that process, the first round of “Team X/Player A hopes to redeem himself” stories have been printed and various prospects hope to make big impressions in camp.

Of course, none of those great signs can top the beauty of two NHL teams going toe-to-toe. The NHL preseason begins today with four games, including a double-header between the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators. Those teams will play a game at 3 pm ET and then one at 7:30 pm ET; it’s not expected that any players will appear in both contests.

Along with that duo of Panthers-Predators squabbles, there are two 7 pm ET games: the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs. Senators-Leafs will be featured on NHL Network and the Maple Leafs’ Web site. Here’s a few things that will be on display today. (For a deeper look, click here.)

  • We’ll see the first two exhibition games of Panthers coach Kevin Dineen’s career.
  • Today will provide a little teaser for the new-look Sabres and Panthers.
  • The Battle of Ontario begins – at least if you count preseason games as a piece of that rivalry.
  • A wide variety of prospects hope to impress, from Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdau in Florida to the Senators’ 2011 first round pick Mika Zibanejad and Nazem Kadri for the Leafs.

It should be a nice sneak preview of hockey as the “real” games rapidly approach. We’ll certainly keep our eyes open for standout/disappointing performances, injury news and other bits that crop up from those four contests today at PHT.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.