Mike Smith

Mike Smith leads Phoenix to the top of the Pacific Division

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We bet the Tampa Bay Lightning wish they still had Mike Smith right about now. Just hours after Pittsburgh torched Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson in an 8-1 blowout to send Tampa Bay slipping further out of the playoff picture, Smith posted his 10th straight victory to give Phoenix a two-point lead in the Pacific Division race. The pressure is now on San Jose to win against Nashville Saturday night to re-establish the tie.

Phoenix got out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ray Whitney in the first period. With just 2:28 minutes left in regulation time, Shane Doan added an insurance goal. It was Doan’s 20th goal of the season, which makes this the 11th campaign that Doan has found the back of the net at least 20 times. It was also his 316th career goal with the Phoenix Coyotes/original Winnipeg Jets, putting him just seven goals shy of Keith Tkachuk for second place on the franchise list.

For Edmonton, this game marked the return of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had missed 20 of the team’s previous 22 contests due to shoulder problems. Even after all that time on the sidelines, the Oilers did not feel the need to ease him back into the lineup, as Nugent-Hopkins ended up logging 21:34 minutes. He also scored the Oilers’ lone goal, as he looks to make up lost ground in the battle for the Calder Trophy.

While Phoenix is battling for their division title, the Edmonton Oilers have no hope of making the playoffs. After the trade deadline comes and goes, the only question left will be if the Oilers can avoid finishing in last place in the NHL for the third straight season. They currently rank 29th overall, but have an 11 point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Canucks without Sutter (broken jaw), Edler (foot) for foreseeable future

Brandon Sutter
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After a good Tuesday night, the Vancouver Canucks are having a lousy Wednesday morning.

The club has just announced that center Brandon Sutter and defenseman Alex Edler have been sent home from the club’s current two-game road swing, after suffering injuries in a win over Colorado last night.

Craig Oster, Sutter’s agent, told News 1130 his client has a broken jaw after taking a puck to the face. Per TSN, Edler is undergoing “imaging” on his foot following a blocked shot, but it’s believed he’ll be out the next 2-3 weeks.

The impact of these injuries could be profound.

Vancouver hasn’t been good this year but remains in the thick of the playoff chase, sitting just four points back of the Avs for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with three games in hand.

At the same time, the Canucks also have two potentially big trade chips at the deadline in pending UFAs Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata.

Will the Sutter and Edler injuries factor into Vancouver’s future plans?

You’d have to think so.

Edler is a staple on the back end, leading all Canuck blueliners in points (20) and TOI per game (24:27). Sutter, meanwhile, was supposed to be a key piece of the club this year but has had most of his season ravaged by injury — prior to the broken jaw, he missed 33 games following sports hernia surgery.

All told, Sutter has appeared in just 20 games this year.

His is also the second major facial injury suffered by a Canuck this season — Hamhuis only recently returned from a 21-game absence after taking a puck to the face in mid-December.

Kings place Ehrhoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Christian Ehrhoff #10 of the Los Angeles Kings head for the piuck during the first period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

A veteran of almost 800 NHL games, Ehrhoff has not fit well with Los Angeles after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in August. The 33-year-old has just 11 points in 40 games and is a team-worst minus-10. Though he had two assists in last night’s 9-2 win over the Bruins, he also took a careless tripping penalty in the first period that led to a Boston goal.

In a related story, the Kings are rumored to be looking for help on the back end. In fact, they were reportedly quite interested in Dustin Byfuglien, before he re-signed with the Jets.

According to Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, 23-year-old defenseman Kevin Gravel is “on the verge of a recall” from AHL Ontario.

The Kings play Thursday in Brooklyn.

Report: Kadri’s throat-slashing gesture being reviewed by NHL

Nazem Kadri
AP
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Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.

The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.

Fix coming? Blues activate Schwartz after 49-game absence

Jaden Schwartz
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After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”

He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”

Well, help is on the way.

On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.

The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).

The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made