Mikael Backlund

Paging Matthew Stajan? Calgary’s Mikael Backlund out six weeks with broken finger

In a perfect world for the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla would play until he’s 100 years-old and not miss a beat. They’d also like to have a healthy crew of centers so that all their lines would at least have pivots they can bank on. Instead, Calgary heads into the season with Brendan Morrison hurting and now they’ve got another problem to sweat out with young center Mikael Backlund being put out of action for six weeks thanks to a broken finger.

Without Morrison and Backlund, the bulk of the offensive burden at center falls on Olli Jokinen. At least for Calgary, Jokinen found his touch again last season. As for who else they’ll look to fill things out up the middle, there’s a rather uninspiring list of candidates to choose from as Vicki Hall of the Calgary Herald makes note of.

As a rookie, Backlund registered 10 goals and 25 points last season with the Flames. His absence leaves the NHL club awfully thin up the middle with Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan and Roman Horak the only natural centres.

David Moss can move inside from the wing, if necessary. Brendan Morrison, 36, is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.

Jokinen we know about already. Horak is a youngster who made a name for himself in camp and is getting a shot to prove himself. David Moss is generally better off on the right wing than at center.

That leaves Matthew Stajan as the guy needing to step up and help the team out in their time of need. Stajan is one of many Maple Leafs castoffs in Calgary and while vets like Morrison and Jokinen have reignited their games in Calgary, Stajan hasn’t exactly grabbed the opportunity by the reins.

Pressed for comment about the unachieving centreman — who had a couple of nice moments in pre-season games — Flames coach Brent Sutter offered a lukewarm appraisal.

“He’s got to continue to get better,” Sutter said of the 27-year-old who represents a $3.5 million cap bite. “He had an OK camp, OK exhibition (games). Staje has been fine.”

“So Staje has to push to get in that mix,” said Sutter, “and that’s where it’s at. He’s had a decent camp. It hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s played OK.”

If Sutter had lightly praised Stajan any more he might’ve fallen asleep doing it. Stajan isn’t the ideal replacement when you’ve got two guys down that could/would be higher on the depth chart for center. Times are tough in the meantime though and Stajan will need to be the guy to keep the Flames from starting off poorly.

If you’re hoping for a miracle, however, don’t hold your breath. In Stajan’s 103 games as a Flame he has nine goals and 38 assists. In other words Flames fans, you’re hoping for speedy recoveries for both Morrison and Backlund.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.