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Pluses and minuses of tonight’s preseason action

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Four games and just six teams taking part in action today as the NHL preseason began including a split-squad doubleheader between Nashville and Florida. What do they think this is, spring training for baseball? Here’s some stuff we’re taking away from today’s games. Don’t worry, we’ll officially fire up the hype machine on any of the rookies that shine next week.

Game 1: Nashville 5 – Florida 3

Game 2: Florida 4 – Nashville 3

Pluses: 2011 first round pick Jonathan Huberdeau shined in Game 2 scoring a goal and adding an assist. The Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov is already calling out for Huberdeau to make life hard on the Panthers should they want to send him back to juniors.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has the team working with a lot more jump and aggressiveness in camp. If he can liven things up with the Panthers, they could be entertaining to watch for the first time in a while.

The Predators defense competition got it’s first salvo fired with Teemu Laakso scoring for the Preds.

Minuses: Relying on tweets and recaps for a preseason game is a bit of an inconvenience so we’ll hold off on being too critical of anyone just yet.

Buffalo 3 – Carolina 1

Pluses: Seeing Nathan Gerbe do his thing once again to start off the preseason is great for Buffalo. Being a pest, tipping shots, and buzzing the net are what makes him so good for the Sabres.

Paul Gaustad doing some work offensively is nice to see for Buffalo as well. Should Tyler Ennis or Ville Leino not work out well at center on the Sabres second line, Gaustad could get slotted in there to stabilize things. He’s not offensive in nature, but doing dirty work around the net is his thing. Getting  a goal and an assist helps show off a little something extra.

Brandon Sutter scoring for Carolina is what they’ll hope to see a lot more of in the regular season from him as he should set up as the Hurricanes’ second line center.

Minuses: It’s not a minus so much as it’s a sign of it being a preseason game. Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta’s scoring line on the night: A goal and  two assists. If this were a regular season game, we’d have to set off some alarms.

Toronto 4 – Ottawa 2

Pluses: Leafs center Tyler Bozak scoring two goals is great to see for the Leafs. It’s a bit unsure what Bozak will be doing this year or what line he could end up on, but a couple of goals helps make a good starting argument that he should get more time on a scoring line. To do that, however, he’d likely have to switch to wing and really impress coach Ron Wilson. Bozak’s work with Colby Armstrong and Nazem Kadri has the Leafs faithful impressed.

Senators rookie defenseman Jared Cowen looked more like a man than a kid tonight. Cowen scored both Sens goals, played a physical game, and even fought Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Not a bad way to show the team you can hang at the NHL level.

Leafs rookie Jake Gardiner played a strong game and looked fast. He could make things uncomfortable for Wilson in making choices on the blue line.

Guy who secretly played really well for Ottawa in the loss? Former Blue Jackets first round pick Nikita Filatov. We’ll see if he keeps it up all camp and into the season.

Minuses: Judging by one preseason game that didn’t feature many of the regulars is bad to do, but boy is Ottawa going to be bad this year. Their top line tonight with Peter Regin centering Filatov and Bobby Butler could be their starting second line this year. Yikes.

Milan Michalek went down after appearing to be hit by a puck. He left the ice holding his knee however. After all the time he’s missed with a myriad of injuries, another one would be a miserable and foreboding start to the Sens season.

Cowen played solid tonight for Ottawa, but him jumping Dion Phaneuf after Phaneuf laid a clean hit on Sens player Tim Conboy was just dumb. No need for a fight there and Cowen was rightfully assessed an instigator penalty for doing so. Hopefully the handing out of the instigator in situations like that will happen every time fights like these break out.

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.