Winnepeg Jets v Columbus BlueJackets

So simple: Wisniewski returns and Blue Jackets finally win

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After a historically bad start, the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to shoot the cannon enough times against the Red Wings to earn their first win of the season. You read that right. The Blue Jackets beat the Red Wings by a 4-1 score. If you saw that coming and live in Las Vegas, you could have paid your mortgage for the next year (Disclaimer: PHT does not condone “gaming” in any way).

Here are the facts: the Blue Jackets started the season 0-7-1. It was such a bad start that it sparked a heartfelt letter from Jackets’ GM Scott Howson. James Wisniewski returned from the Shanahammer imposed suspension to start the season, rookies started scoring, and Columbus beat the vaunted Detroit Red Wings (even if it was against Ty Conklin). Clearly, the Wiz is worth every cent of his ridiculous $33 million contract, right? Too soon?

The good news is that just about every player on the Jackets had the best game of their season. Ryan Johansen and John Moore scored the first goals of their promising careers; while Steve Mason figured out how to stop pucks on a consistent basis. Which brings us to the keys for the Blue Jackets over the next 73 games: find some consistent scoring and make sure Mason makes saves. It sounds easy, but it took them a few weeks to figure it out.

The win vaults the Blue Jackets into striking distance from the 14th seed in the Western Conference. Calgary Flames: you’re officially on notice.

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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.

 

 

Vanek likes Detroit, but knows he could be traded

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Thomas Vanek knows the deal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs. He has a respectable 12 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, and his cap hit is just $2.6 million.

Obviously, there’s going to be trade speculation as the March 1 deadline approaches.

“I like it here,” Vanek said of playing in Detroit, per NHL.com. “I enjoy my time here. I like the guys. My family likes it here. So obviously I’m hoping to put a good streak here together to get ourselves back in the picture so I can be here. But obviously I understand the business side of it. … If I’m moving, I’m getting pretty good at that too.”

The Red Wings are Vanek’s fifth NHL team. He’s been traded twice in his career, both times in 2013-14 when he went from the Sabres to the Islanders and then to the Canadiens.

What the Wings could get for Vanek remains to be seen. The 32-year-old has 20 goals in 63 career playoff games; however, he’s also faced intense criticism during a handful of his postseason performances.

Six points back of third place in the Atlantic, Detroit has not yet given up on extending its lengthy playoff streak. The Wings are coming off two big wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal. They host Boston tonight (on NBCSN).

Patrick tops midseason draft rankings

KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings during the first period on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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Prized prospect Nolan Patrick hasn’t played much this year — missing 35 games for WHL Brandon with an upper-body injury — but his draft stock remains sky high.

On Wednesday, NHL Central Scouting released its midseason rankings and named Patrick its top draft-eligible skater for the 2017 Draft.

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Patrick aims to be the first player drafted No. 1 overall out of the WHL since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011 by EDM) and just the third in the past 22 seasons (also Chris Phillips in 1996 by OTT).

Patrick has recorded more than a point per game this season (6-7—13 in 8 GP) despite missing significant time with an injury. In 2015-16, he was named MVP of the WHL Playoffs after helping Brandon win its first championship in 20 years. From a hockey family, his father, Steve Patrick, played 250 games with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1980-86, while his uncle James Patrick skated in 1,280 career regular-season NHL games.

Joining Patrick atop the midseason rankings are:

— Swiss center Nico Hischier, who’s been on fire for QMHJL Halifax and wowed onlookers with his effort at the recently-completed World Juniors.

— Gabriel Vilardi, a center for OHL Windsor who has 34 points through 26 games this season.

— Owen Tippett, the OHL Mississauga winger that’s of no relation to Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, but is the first cousin of Tampa Bay prospect Mitchell Stephens.

— Casey Mittelstadt, who plies his trade for Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota and, prior to that, Green Bay of the USHL.

In terms of international skaters, Russian forward Klim Kostin (Dynamo Moscow) and Sweden’s Elias Pettersson (Sundsvall) are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked skaters, respectively.

NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Bruins vs. Red Wings; Sharks vs. Kings

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks for a shot against the Detroit Red Wings during the third period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Red Wings 5-2.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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We’ll have a full night of hockey on NBCSN, and it starts at 8:00 p.m. ET when the Detroit Red Wings host the Boston Bruins. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

The Boston Bruins currently sit in the second place in the Atlantic Division, but that doesn’t mean their satisfied with their game right now. Actually, it might be the exact opposite of satisfied.

On Monday, the Bruins were shelled 4-0 at the Garden by the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders.

The performance was so bad that head coach Claude Julien decided to cancel Tuesday’s practice so his players could rest and watch film.

“I still believe in this group; never have not believed in this group,” said Julien, per the Boston Herald. “Having said that, I understand there’s work to be done, and there’s challenges ahead. I said that last week . . . we’re trying to build on certain things here, but it’s a challenge. And we knew that from the get-go. We accept it. We accept the challenges in front of us. It doesn’t mean we accept the things that happened (Monday), but we still have to accept that there’s work to be done and we keep doing our work.”

If the playoffs started today, sure, the Bruins would have home ice advantage, but the playoffs don’t start today and Toronto and Ottawa are both just one point behind Boston and they each have five (yes, five) games in hand. The Flyers and Hurricanes, who are currently outside of the playoff picture, are just one and two points behind the Bruins.

Boston can’t afford to take anyone for granted.

The Red Wings are coming off a 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, but they haven’t been very good this season.

If they don’t turn this thing around quickly, they’ll see their long playoff streak snapped at 25 seasons. Detroit is currently six points back of both the final Wild Card spot in the East and third place in the Atlantic Division.

Now would be as good a time as ever to go on a long winning streak, which they haven’t done since they won six straight in October.

“You don’t want to be on that team that doesn’t make (the playoffs),” said Henrik Zetterberg, per MLive.com. “We want to have a chance and we still have a chance, but we have to play the right away. We have good enough players that we can still make it, but we can’t get too carried away. It’s two wins and we haven’t had two wins (in a row) since October and that says a lot.”

After the Bruins-Red Wings game, NBCSN’s hockey coverage will continue in Los Angeles, where the Sharks will take on the Kings. You can watch that game online by clicking here.

After getting steamrolled, 4-0, by the Blues on Saturday night, the Sharks responded with a big 5-2 win over the Jets on Monday.

Finding the back of the net with regularity has been an issue for the Sharks, which is a little surprising when you see the offensive firepower they have on their roster. But if the San Jose makes a move between now and the deadline, it’ll likely be to add a forward that can score goals (they probably aren’t the only ones looking for that).

Only three teams have allowed less than the 102 goals San Jose has given up this season, but their 117 goals for currently ranks 20th in the NHL.

One way they’ll likely boost their offensive output is by getting Tomas Hertl back from injury. Hertl’s been out since Nov. 19 because of a knee injury. The 23-year-old scored 21 goals for the Sharks last season.

Like the Sharks, the Kings also do a good job of keeping the puck out of the net, but they’re struggling to create offense.

Los Angeles has given up just eight more goals than San Jose in 2016-17, but the issue is that they’ve also scored five less goals than the Sharks, which puts them in 24th place in that category.

The poster boy for offensive struggles is Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who’s managed to find the back of the net just four times in 38 games this season.

Kopitar missed Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Lightning because of an illness, but he told LAKingsInsider.com that he was starting to feel good about his offensive game before getting sick.

“I expect the very highest of myself, so yeah it’s not the best feeling when you look at numbers, just because of my personal expectation,” said Kopitar. Whatever the outside world thinks it’s not weighing on me as much as I do on my own, but like I said, I think things have been going in the right direction now and hopefully I can sustain it.”

On a positive note, the Kings have been terrific at home this season. They currently own a 14-7-1 record at Staples Center, which bodes well for their chances in tonight’s game.