Vancouver Canucks v Florida Panthers

Dineen says Versteeg “needs to play a higher level of hockey”

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Things aren’t going as well for the Florida Panthers as they were through the first three months of the season. The Southeast Division leading Panthers have been slumping and they only have a single win since the calendar flipped to 2012. The frustration came to a head when head coach Kevin Dineen sent a strong message to Kris Versteeg when he benched the top-line winger for extended periods during the third period against the Penguins on Friday night.

First thing is first: Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann have been nothing short of amazing for the Panthers this season. For those looking for a reason for the Panthers shockingly strong start, look no further than the trio that has formed on of the best lines in the entire NHL.

Spearheading the line has been the comeback of Kris Versteeg. He’s leading the team with 17 goals and 39 points as he looks to rediscover the form that made him a Calder Trophy finalist in 2009. But lately, his head coach has seen his play starting to slip.

Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel asked Dineen about his decision to limit Versteeg’s ice-time on Friday night. “I think that was a pretty strong reflection of what my feelings were on his play and that’s not a one-game snapshot,” Dineen said. “I don’t do that based on one game. I think there’s been a stretch of games where he … is such an important leadership role for this team, [he] needs to play a higher level of hockey.”

The message? Great start Kris… but there’s still three more months to play.

Versteeg still thinks the line is getting chances and it’s only a matter of time before things turn around for the trio. “We still feel we’ve had a ton of chances. I don’t know how many posts and nets we’ve missed in the last 3-4 games. If one of those go in, it could change the whole dynamic of the confidence for our team and line, especially.”

Dineen’s allocation of ice-time is the best way to express his displeasure with Versteeg’s recent play. We’ll see on Monday night against the Bruins if the message was received.

Goalie nods: Reimer returns to Toronto, but he won’t start and the Leafs (reportedly) won’t recognize him

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer reacts during a break in the first period of Toronto's NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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James Reimer was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2006, made his NHL debut four years later and, all told, spent six seasons wearing the blue-and-white, playing in over 200 games.

And tonight, he might get the spotlight on him for a couple seconds.

Reimer will back up Roberto Luongo when the Panthers visit Toronto, and it sounds like he’ll do so with minimal fanfare.

Per the Sun, the Leafs are “unlikely to officially recognize Remier” during the game, opting instead to “put the in-house camera on him for a few moments.”

(Now feels like a good time to mention Edmonton had a video tribute for Nail Yakupov.)

Reimer — dealt to San Jose at the deadline before joining the Panthers this offseason — has only played twice this year, making 25 saves in a shootout loss to Tampa in his debut, then allowing three goals on 22 shots in a loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

And while he’s likely to receive little attention this evening, Reimer did play to a large media contingent on Wednesday, and had a pretty good quip about Auston Matthews taking his old No. 34 (“that’s brutal… I can’t believe he did that.”)

His former teammates, meanwhile, recalled a guy that battled hard and provided some good memories — specifically, backstopping the Leafs to the playoffs in 2013.

That, of course, led to a not-so-good memory:

For the Leafs, Frederik Andersen starts in goal.


Devan Dubnyk starts again as the Wild visit Buffalo. The Sabres will counter with Anders Nilsson, who continues to play with Robin Lehner (illness) sidelined.

Louis Domingue, who was called out by his head coach recently, goes back in goal for the Coyotes after Justin Peters started last game. He’ll go up against Steve Mason, who starts for Philly.

Jaroslav Halak returns to the Isles net after Thomas Greiss started the last two games. Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to go for the Pens.

— Tantalizing matchup in Montreal as Ben Bishop at the Bolts take on Carey Price and the Canadiens.

Petr Mrazek and the red-hot Red Wings — winners of five straight — look for No. 6 in St. Louis. Jake Allen is the likely starter for the Blues.

— It’s Antti Niemi versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Stars and Jets play in the second of a home-and-home series.

— Nashville used both Pekka Rinne and Marek Mazanec in last night’s 6-1 blowout loss to San Jose, so no word yet on who goes tonight in Los Angeles. The Kings will continue to ride Peter Budaj.

Sergei Bobrovsky, he of the .929 save percentage, gets the start for Columbus. He’ll be up against Martin Jones in the Sharks goal.

Vigneault explains decision to put McIlrath on waivers

New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault runs a practice at NHL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Greenburgh N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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The New York Rangers took a gamble today, placing defenseman Dylan McIlrath on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to the AHL.

While it wouldn’t be a surprise if McIlrath gets claimed, for GM Jeff Gorton and head coach Alain Vigneault, it was a decision that couldn’t be put off any longer.

“Gorts and I and our staff had a long talk last night after the game, and we just felt that at this time, Dylan needed to play,” Vigneault said this morning. “We all appreciate him as a person, he’s done everything that has been expected of him, and more. But on our team right now, he’s our eighth defenseman, and keeping him here and not having him play and the money going against the cap…”

Vigneault added that Gorton “looked around” in search of a trade, but obviously no deal was made.

“Selfishly, I hope he clears waivers and goes to Hartford and plays,” said Vigneault. “But if somebody would pick him up and give him an opportunity, I’d be very happy for him.”

McIlrath, meanwhile, held himself accountable for the situation. The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it.

“I’m never going to blame this on the coaches,” he said, per Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “This was all about my play and not earning a spot in the lineup.”

Little (lower body) out another month, and that’s a big hole in the Jets lineup

WINNIPEG, MB - JANUARY 18: Bryan Little #18 of the Winnipeg Jets skates down the ice in third period action in an NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at the MTS Centre on January 18, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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Bryan Little hasn’t suited up for Winnipeg since the first game of the year, when he suffered a lower-body injury in a collision with Carolina forward Bryan Bickell.

Unfortunately for the Jets, he’s not expected back anytime soon.

“We’re two weeks out today, and we’re shooting for the end of November,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said on Thursday, while updating his team’s health situation.

To give an idea of how big a loss this is for the Jets, consider what Maurice had to say about Little’s absence, compared to missing unsigned d-man Jacob Trouba.

“[Trouba’s] not in the room, that has a big factor in terms of the distraction. It’s no different — well, it is different than Bryan. We’ve got a number of solid defensemen in our lineup.

“The Bryan Little injury is probably a bigger frustration than anything else, because that really changes the look.”

Little, 28, opened the year as Winnipeg’s No. 2 center, on a line with Drew Stafford and Shawn Matthias. As mentioned above, he was hurt in the first game of the season and — prior to the Bickell collision — set up the club’s first goal of the year, registering an assist on Matthias’ first-period marker.

When healthy, Little’s a productive contributor for the Jets.

He posted a career-high 64 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and a career-high 24 goals the season following. He’s also one of the club’s top faceoff men.

With Little out of the lineup, the Jets have rolled with Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry and Alex Burmistrov at center.

It’s fair to suggest Little’s absence has played a big role in Winnipeg’s slow start to the year. It has just two wins from six games, but will look to get things back on track tonight when it welcomes Dallas to the MTS Centre.

It’s still early, but Preds looking nothing like Cup contenders

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators looks on after being defeated by the Anaheim Ducks 6-1 in a game at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The acquisition of P.K. Subban, after last season’s addition of Ryan Johansen, made the Nashville Predators a trendy preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup.

Six games into their schedule, however, and the outlook doesn’t seem so rosy. Last night’s 6-1 loss in Anaheim left the Preds with a 2-4-0 record, and one frustrated head coach.

“We have to be tougher to play against, just generally speaking,” said Peter Laviolette, per “[Even-strength] play wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Specialty teams just swung the pendulum tonight in the wrong direction, the shorthanded goals and the power-play goals were too much for any team. We have to do a better job just being harder to play against, defending our goaltender and defending our end better. We gave up too many chances.”

The Ducks scored three times on the power play and twice while shorthanded. Obviously, special teams was the big factor last night.

But like Laviolette noted, the Preds weren’t great five-on-five either, and they haven’t been great in that situation all season. In fact, per Hockey Analysis, they’ve been outscored 12 to 6 in five-on-five action. It’s their power play, which has converted 10 times already, that’s kept their start from being a serious disaster.

It’s only been six games, so there’s no need to panic quite yet. But the Preds play tonight in Los Angeles and Saturday in San Jose, so it’s not going to get easier any time soon.