Phil Kessel

Tonight on Versus: Maple Leafs and Avalanche look to stay hot

If you looked at the standings this morning and caught a glimpse of who was leading the Northeast and Northwest Divisions, you might be caught off guard. There you’d see tonight’s combatants on Versus in the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. ET). All right, sure, it’s early in the year and things get wacky – that’s fine but there’s a lot to like in what both teams are doing right off the bat.

The Leafs are seeing Phil Kessel take control as an offensive dynamo and making people think that he might not get picked last at the All-Star Game if he keeps up his torrid play (eight points in three games including five goals). We’re sure the jokes about Leafs fans planning the parade have been beaten into the ground already, but this time around their hot start doesn’t have the players thinking too big.

source: Getty ImagesJames Reimer’s play in goal also has the Leafs faithful thinking positively as he’s picked up where he left off last season when he took the starting job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Curiously enough, Giguere will be in goal for Colorado tonight hoping to cool off the Leafs. Money on the board, anyone? Giguere won’t be the only guy with money on the board as Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles gets his first crack at his old team as well.

If you want to keep an eye out on anyone on Colorado, 18 year-old rookie Gabriel Landeskog is about as good as it gets. Landeskog has been playing on the third line and looking like a first liner while doing it. Getting the second overall pick in the draft usually means good things. Having a former third overall pick in Matt Duchene (2009) and former first overall pick in Erik Johnson (2006) can make it easier to get turned around too.

New York, New York: Rangers snap slump, Isles win second straight

Oscar Lindberg
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It was a good night in NYC.

In Manhattan, the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the ‘Canes at MSG and, while that was going on, the Isles won their second straight with a victory over the Avs in Brooklyn.

Nice little Monday, that.

Let’s begin with the Rangers.

Heading into tonight’s action in arguably their worst slump of the season, the Blueshirts got goals from Mats Zuccarello, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard to edge the ‘Canes. While it was hardly an oil painting — New York was out-shot 36-22 — the club will gladly take the win, and the positives that came with it.

Like the power play, that went 2-for-4 on the night with Zuccarello’s and Lindberg’s tallies. And the fact the club was able to withstand the loss of d-man Kevin Klein, who exited early in the first period — despite missing a steadying presence that plays over 21 minutes per night, the Rangers’ remaining five d-men (Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Marc Staal) all played at least 20 minutes save Yandle, who clocked in at 19:43.

The Rangers also got a solid outing from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 33 saves on 36 shots. Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Chris Terry scored for Carolina.

Now, over to Barclays.

The Isles overcame Blake Comeau‘s game-opening tally in the first to win 5-3, thanks to a three-goal barrage in the final period.

Head coach Jack Capuano will no doubt be pleased with the balanced scoring across the board, as five different Isles found the back of the net: Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas and Mikhal Grabovski, with Cizikas’ goal proving to be the eventual game-winner.

The win was also sweet given it came with backup netminder Thomas Greiss in goal. The victory pushed him to an impressive 7-3-2 on the year, putting him in the conversation among the NHL’s top second-string goalies.

For the Avs, tonight’s loss will sting. It was another unremarkable outing from Semyon Varlamov (four goals on 27 shots, an .852 save percentage) and a forgettable night for three of Colorado’s best players. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene combined to go pointless on the night, with a minus-8 rating.

And yes, I just referenced plus-minus.

Rangers’ Klein exits with muscle strain, won’t return

Kevin Klein

The New York Rangers lost versatile d-man Kevin Klein early in the first period of their game against Carolina and, shortly after, announced he was done for the night.

Klein played just 2:22 before leaving with a muscle strain. The injury forced the Blueshirts to use just five defensemen for the remainder of the evening — Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Dan Girardi.

While it’s unclear how the injury occurred or how significant it is, Klein’s absence could be costly if it’s long-term. The 30-year-old was having a good year, with six points in 24 games, and saw his ice time go up to 21:03 per game from 18:29 last year.

If Klein is out moving forward, it would present an opportunity for Dylan McIlrath to take up a bigger role on the New York defense.


‘It was a scary incident’: Colaiacovo returns to Sabres practice after dented trachea

Carlo Colaiacovo
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Carlo Colaiacovo‘s remarkably quick recovery from what appeared to be a serious injury continued on Monday, as he returned to practice roughly 48 hours after suffering a dented trachea.

Colaicovo, who was hospitalized after taking a Viktor Arvidsson cross-check to the throat on Saturday, skated with his Buffalo teammates on Monday in advance of tomorrow’s game against Detroit.

“I feel good,” Colaiacovo said, per the Sabres’ website. “Obviously it was a scary incident and at the time it was pretty painful but it is what it is.

“Right now, it’s not really stopping me from doing much.”

Though he said he’s still feeling pain in and around his throat, Colaiacovo is eligible to return to the Sabres’ lineup tomorrow.

The 32-year-old, who has appeared in 15 games this season, would no doubt like to play tomorrow. It’d put him up against the same Detroit team that employed him during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, only to buy out his contract at the end of the year.

Couture (fractured fibula) continues skating with Sharks, says return is on schedule

Logan Couture
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Some good news at Sharks practice today — Logan Couture continued to skate with teammates, just one week after returning to the ice from a broken leg suffered on Oct. 17.

What’s more, Couture says he’s on schedule to meet the 4-6 week timetable for return.

“[I’m] where I thought I would be at this point in time,” Couture said, per CSN Bay Area.

While the 26-year-old wouldn’t put an exact date on his return, it’s clear both he and the Sharks are anxious for him to get back in the lineup — especially with the club surging, and Couture having only played in three regular-season contests this year.

Looking ahead, there are some dates worth circling on the ol’ calendar.

The Sharks have a relatively light week. After beating Calgary 5-2 on Saturday, they play just once in five days — Tuesday’s home tilt against the Penguins — before a weekend back-to-back set against the Ducks on Friday and Lightning on Saturday.

The Ducks game is in Anaheim, but the following night’s contest against the Bolts is at the friendly confines of SAP. So that could be a potential date to watch for — but it is worth noting Couture said he’s still hesitant about getting into game action until his first step is back.

“Until then, I’m not going to force my way out there and put myself in a bad spot,” he explained.