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.

Jeff Skinner has some advice for Grayson Allen

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 01:  Jeff Skinner #53 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 1, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Hurricanes defeated the Devils 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a time that Carolina forward Jeff Skinner — now at the ripe ol’ age of 24 — was an emotional, hyper-competitive young buck earning himself a reputation across the NHL.

OK, not really.

But Skinner was suspended once, back in 2012, for kicking then-Blues forward Scott Nichol.

Given the nature of the suspension — look, you just don’t see a lot of kicking infractions — and the fact Skinner had been warned the day prior for slew-footing Dmitry Orlov, there was a bit of history.

And in Carolina, if you’ve got a history with tripping-related offenses, you’re probably going to be asked about Grayson Allen.

From the News & Observer:

Allen, after twice tripping players in ACC games last season and receiving a reprimand from the league, said before this season that he had learned a hard lesson. He said the incidents were embarrassing for him, his family and the school.

Then, it happened again. In a Dec. 22 game in Greensboro, Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana as Santa Ana attempted to drive the baseline, kicking out his right leg. [Duke University head coach Mike] Krzyzewski suspended Allen for one game.

Skinner’s suspension in 2012 is his only one. He’s now 24, a veteran player.

“Experience helps because you’ve seen situations and you put yourself in better spots and you’re able to react to situations better,” Skinner said.

Skinner realizes the scrutiny is intense, especially for star players. There’s always that spotlight, especially in the ACC.

“I know one thing, UNC, Duke and N.C. State basketball gets a lot of media attention,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of pressure on those guys at a young age.”

The genesis of Skinner’s advice was “learn from your mistakes,” and “the more you experience, the better you’ll react to things.” And in that regard, he’s probably a guy worth listening to — he broke into the NHL at 18 and now, even though he’s only 24, is veteran of seven seasons and nearly 500 games played. Discipline hasn’t been much of a problem since the aforementioned Nichol and Orlov incidents.

He has, however, been whistled for two tripping penalties this season. Guess some habits die hard.

Biggest takeaway from all this, though, could be that Skinner’s in the midst of a career campaign. With 35 points through 43 games he’s on pace for a personal high of 65, which would be the most he’s scored since his rookie year.

There’s something off about the St. Louis Blues

Ottawa Senators' Mike Hoffman, second from left, celebrates after the Senators scored a goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in St. Louis. The Senators won 6-4. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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The St. Louis Blues had another hiccup last night, falling 6-4 at home to Ottawa. They only mustered 23 shots on Sens goalie Mike Condon — and that’s been a theme in their past seven games. In fact, the Blues haven’t registered more than 26 shots since beating Chicago in the Winter Classic.

It was a particularly disappointing effort against the Senators. St. Louis had just returned from a California road trip, which started with a bad loss in Los Angeles but finished with encouraging wins in San Jose and Anaheim.

“We just didn’t manage the puck very well on the boards,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We weren’t as determined and as effort-based on the boards as were the two games previous.”

The Blues’ record now sits at a modest 23-17-5. For a team that only lost 24 times in regulation last season, it’s been a fairly significant fall-off. It’s also fair to say the departures of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott have been felt.

Slightly more than halfway through the schedule, St. Louis is by no means guaranteed a playoff spot. Nashville, with a game in hand, is lurking just three points back for third place in the Central. And if the Blues are caught by the Preds, they’ll have to fend off Los Angeles, Calgary, Vancouver, and perhaps Dallas or Winnipeg for one of the two wild-card spots.

It would be easy to just blame the goaltending. But while it’s true that neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton have been very good, the Blues have not been the dominant possession team they’ve shown they can be. In their last 20 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 20th in the league. Now compare that to their last 20 games of last season, when they ranked third.

“I’d like to see us take control of the game a little bit more,” said forward Alex Steen, who’s been with the Blues long enough to know what a good performance looks and feels like.

Looking ahead, the Blues get a big test Thursday at home to Washington, then hit the road for three games in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota.

A better performance against the Caps would go a long way. But only if it’s followed up with another and another.

Bottom line: it’s time for the Blues to get back to playing the way they can. If they still can.

So much fallout from that wild Rangers-Stars game

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17:  Stephen Johns #28 of the Dallas Stars checks Pavel Buchnevich #89 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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For two teams that don’t have much history or play each other often, Dallas and New York had quite the monumental affair on Monday.

To recap:

• The two teams combined for 13 goals, and the Stars scored seven times in the first 40 minutes. The Rangers were booed while leaving the ice in the second period.

Cody Eakin, who last month served a four-game suspension for a huge hit on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was forced to answer for his antics by fighting Chris Kreider early in the second period. Today, Kreider was fined for hitting Eakin in the head with his own helmet.

• Speaking of Lundqvist, he was torched for seven goals on 27 shots,. He’s now allowed 12 goals on 49 shots in his last four periods played… and 20 goals on 113 shots in his last four games. He looks and sounds rattled, to put it mildly.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level. It’s not good enough.”

• Rangers forward Jesper Fast, who two games ago was rocked by Montreal’s Andrew Shaw, only played 6:31 last night and has now been ruled out for the next 7-10 days with an upper-body injury.

• Dallas d-man Johnny Oduya only played 8:31 and re-aggravated a lower-body injury that sidelined him earlier this season. The Stars have already ruled him out for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — the Stars and Rangers won’t meet again this season.

Well, unless it’s in the Stanley Cup Final.

Kreider fined for hitting Eakin with helmet during fight

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Rangers forward Chris Kreider has been fined $5,000 for hitting Dallas’ Cody Eakin with his own helmet during a fight on Tuesday night, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.

The incident came nearly one month after Eakin was suspended four games for hitting Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a mid-December tilt in Dallas.

There was no retribution at the time — Eakin was kicked out of the game — but many figured the Stars forward would have to atone for his earlier indiscretion… and that’s exactly what happened at the 1:52 mark of the second period.

Kreider didn’t face any additional in-game punishment for his fight, aside from the standard five-minute major penalty. It’s possible the officials didn’t see the helmet swing, or perhaps it was so brief the zebras opted against calling it.

Whatever the case, it’s probably worth noting that Darcy Tucker was ejected from a game in 2005 for a similar act — hitting Cam Janssen in the head with his own helmet during a scrap — and, like Kreider, was fined after the fact, but not suspended.