Boston Bruins

It begins: Five storylines to watch for in tonight’s NHL season openers

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Drop the puck already. Since the middle of June, fans have been itching to get hockey back and now it’s here. Just like the end of last season, the new season starts off with the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in action. They won’t be facing each other, but for the Bruins it’s their last taste of Stanley Cup glory as their banner goes up at TD Garden in Boston against the Flyers. Montreal starts their season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and Vancouver hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With those three games to look forward to tonight, there are five stories to eyeball as the night goes on.

1. Bruins’ quest to repeat starts against Flyers team ready to prove themselves

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 and the Bruins would like to end that streak. They’ll do so with essentially the same team they had last season only swapping out Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi for Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Joe Corvo. Getting to start against their playoff nemeses from the last two seasons, Philadelphia, makes for a nice juxtaposition. With Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas getting a chance to carry the team once again, Boston should give Philly enough nightmares from last season to last a while.

The Flyers come into this season without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and with Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and first round pick Sean Couturier. GM Paul Holmgren’s chemistry experiment to get the Flyers  back to the Cup finals begins in earnest against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Expect fireworks of all kinds.

2. Jaromir Jagr aims for a milestone in his first NHL game since 2008

With one point tonight Jaromir Jagr would hit 1,600 points for his career. After being away from the NHL since the end of the 2008 season playing in the KHL, Jagr’s hoping to be the guy that leads the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. With such a storied legacy, however, he’s got numerous statistical targets within reach this season. If Jagr was a selfish player he might be satisfied with just getting his point and be done. So far he’s saying all the right things about wanting to win it all for the Flyers. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up all year.

3. Max Pacioretty and Matt Lombardi return to action after different awful concussions

When we last saw Max Pacioretty in a regular season game he was being carted off the ice on a stretcher after being run into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara in March. The last time we saw Matt Lombardi on the ice was nearly a year ago for the Nashville Predators after getting knocked out of the second game of the year with a concussion. Tonight in Toronto, they’ll both be back in action going against each other after grueling recovery from their injuries. Here’s to hoping they both have incident-free seasons for their teams.

4. The Evgeni Malkin MVP campaign begins tonight?

After how well Evgeni Malkin looked in preseason, the question of whether he can bounce back from knee surgery and turn into an offensive dynamo all over again starts tonight against the Canucks. Malkin looked like the guy that we saw during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009 during the preseason. He was fast, made unbelievable moves, and dominated shifts while controlling the puck. With Sidney Crosby still out of action, if that Malkin shows up in the regular season we could pay witness to a very special season from the Russian superstar.

5. Oh yeah… The Canucks still play hockey

Hey, remember the Vancouver Canucks? They won the Presidents’ Trophy last year and were supposed to roll through to the Stanley Cup. They nearly pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling Boston Bruins. The Canucks’ quest to get back to the finals and come away with the hardware (and hopefully without burning down the city) starts at home. Fortunately for them they won’t have to deal with Sidney Crosby tonight.

Unfortunately, the Penguins are still a very good team and they’ll have Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup. For Vancouver, they’ll have to see what life is like without Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and how things change with Marco Sturm and Cody Hodgson. Still, the Canucks bring a boatload of talent to the ice and they’ll be serious threats again out of the West. Here’s to hoping the memories of their last game in Rogers Arena haven’t stuck in their mind or else Roberto Luongo will start freaking out.

With just one win in six, there’s ‘lots of concern’ for Kings

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 26, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After last night’s 1-0 loss to the Ducks, the Kings found themselves sitting two points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Not a comfortable place to be with just 24 games left in the season — and now, the Kings are feeling that lack of comfort in the dressing room.

“Oh yeah, lots of concern,” Doughty said when asked about the atmosphere, per LA Kings Insider. “We’re still fully confident that we can turn it on now and get back in to that playoff spot that we want to be in but the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be.

“Right now we’re losing points and other teams are winning games that aren’t playing against us. Yeah, we need to get on track immediately.”

One of the teams Doughty alluded to is the surging Jets, who moved a point ahead of L.A. with a win over Ottawa last night. The Kings still have four games in hand on Winnipeg, but the advantage won’t matter without some positive results.

Following a 1-0 OT win over Philly on Feb. 4, the Kings had a 27-21-4 record, good for 58 points and sole possession of the first wild card spot.

Since then, they’ve gone 1-5-0.

The Kings have lost in all sorts of ways, too. There were consecutive 5-0 blowouts to the Caps and Bolts. Things have since tightened up — including a 3-2 loss to Florida on Saturday, and last night’s aforementioned defeat to Anaheim — but the end results have all been the same.

Losses.

Given there’s been so many different types of defeats, it’s not surprising many different targets have been criticized. Head coach Darryl Sutter pinned last Thursday’s 5-3 defeat to Arizona on goalie Peter Budaj, and Sutter alluded to the struggling defensive pair of Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin (who were split up) after Sunday’s game.

Again, from Kings Insider:

On whether he got what he was looking for from the changes to defensive pairings:
No. We made a mistake on the goal. They had an easy turnover in the neutral zone. We moved guys around. Quite honest, we’ve got a couple defensemen that’ve had really tough times this season, so we split ‘em up tonight.

Debate plus-minus all you like, but Martinez is minus-15 this year while Muzzin’s a team-worst minus-17. And this is on a team that has a virtually even goal differential (143 for, 145 against) and routinely outshoots its opponents (averaging 30.5 shots for per game, just 25.7 allowed).

The Kings will have a chance to get back in the win column on Tuesday, when they visit Colorado to take on the lowly Avs. After that, the club has just four games left before the March 1 trade deadline.

Is Beleskey on the outs in Boston?

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a tough second season in Boston for Matt Beleskey.

Beleskey, signed to a five-year, $19 million deal two summers ago, has just two goals through 33 games this season and, on Sunday, was back in the press box as a healthy scratch for the Bruins’ 2-1 OT win over San Jose. He’d previously been parked as a spectator back in November, under then-head coach Claude Julien.

Things haven’t gotten much better under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Prior to the bye week, Cassidy played Beleskey a team-low 7:37 in a 4-0 win over Montreal, and that came after Beleskey sat as a healthy scratch against Vancouver.

As mentioned, it’s been a frustrating campaign overall, as Beleskey also missed 23 games this year with a knee injury. That obviously played a big role in the 28-year-old’s decreased production, which has to be frustrating given he scored 15 and 22 goals in each of his previous two campaigns.

Which begs the question — could he be on the move?

From the Boston Globe:

With the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline fast approaching, the 28-year-old Beleskey and his $3.8 million cap hit would be a prime for a swap, although he has a limited no-trade provision in his contract. Hired on for a five-year, $19 million deal in July 2015, he has not provided the playing edge or the offensive numbers hoped for when new GM Don Sweeney coaxed him away from the Anaheim Ducks.

Arizona could make for a prime partner in a Beleskey swap. The Coyotes likely will move Radim Vrbata, the 35-year-old Czech winger, who is on an expiring contract (with a $3.25 million cap hit). The Desert Dogs would end up with a winger under contract control for three more seasons and it would allow Beleskey, who scored 22 goals in his final season with the Ducks, a fresh start to try to rediscover his offensive input.

Under GM John Chayka, Arizona has developed a reputation as a place where unwanted contracts go to die. The Coyotes picked up the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s deal with Detroit at last year’s draft and, shortly thereafter, took on the remainder of Dave Bolland‘s contract with Florida in a trade that landed Lawson Crouse.

This trend carried over from the Don Maloney era. Maloney acquired the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract from Philadelphia at the 2015 draft.

Laine’s big week gets Jets back into playoff race

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Patrik Laine is the NHL’s first star of the week.

In four games, the Winnipeg rookie scored five goals to help the Jets to a 3-0-1 record and propel them back into the playoff race.

Laine also had three assists. With eight points total, he beat out Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

From the NHL:

[Laine] recorded his third career hat trick, including the winning goal, in a 5-2 triumph over the Dallas Stars Feb. 14. In doing so, Laine became the first player in NHL history to register three hat tricks before his 19th birthday as well as the first rookie to collect three hat tricks in one season since 1992-93. He scored again in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 16. Laine then finished the week with consecutive multi-point efforts, notching 1-1—2 in a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Feb. 18 and two assists in a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators Feb. 19. The 18-year-old Tampere, Finland, native paces rookies with 52 points in 54 games this season and also shares third place in the entire NHL – as well as the rookie lead – with 28 goals.

The Jets are now only one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot in the West; however, the Flames do hold three games in hand.

Streaking Blues get Stastny back tonight

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Paul Stastny #26 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 6, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Blues defeated the Islanders 6-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s loss to Buffalo notwithstanding, St. Louis has been on fire lately under new head coach Mike Yeo. The Blues are 7-2 in their last nine, and will get a big piece of the lineup back this evening when they host Florida at Scottrade.

Paul Statsny, who’s missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, will draw in for the first time since Feb. 9, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac.

What’s more, Stastny will be immediately reunited on the club’s top line between Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Stastny had been on fire since the dismissal of former head coach Ken Hitchcock, racking up six points over his last five games played (in which the Blues went 4-1-0).

The 31-year-old currently sits fourth on the team in assists and points, while averaging 19:25 TOI per night, so he’s clearly a big part of the St. Louis attack. And based on his form prior to getting hurt, it was clear things were clicking with Steen and Tarasenko — which should make for an exciting test tonight against the red-hot Panthers.