patrikeliasgetty

Devils put Elias (bad nap) on IR

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Two Saturdays ago, Patrik Elias awoke from his pregame nap with back spasms.

Twelve days later, his situation is yet to improve.

The Devils put Elias on injured reserve Thursday, and Tom Gulitti of NorthJersey.com reports the veteran Czech will miss “at least” tonight’s game vs. Philly and tomorrow’s game at Toronto with the ailment.

Elias, 37, first tweaked his back prior to a 4-3 win over Boston on Oct. 26. He gutted through the spasms to play once more — a 2-1 win over Tampa on the 29th — but then sat out New Jersey’s last two games, a 1-0 loss to Philly and a 4-0 loss to Minnesota.

(So yeah, the Devils haven’t scored a single goal since Elias left the lineup.)

The back spasms are just the latest in what’s been a tough season for Elias’ health. He missed time earlier this season to a rough bout of food poisoning and, on the year, has only appeared in 10 of New Jersey’s 14 games.

That said, he has been a solid contributor when healthy. Despite the missed time, Elias still sits tied for third in team scoring, with seven points, and was averaging close to 19 minutes per game prior to the back spasms.

The Lightning are getting healthier and ‘starting to figure things out’

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) celebrates his shootout goal against the Washington Capitals during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t played since Sunday, so they should be well-rested for tonight’s encounter with the Vancouver Canucks at Amalie Arena.

This is another important game for the Bolts, who’ve won just once in their last six. A Stanley Cup contender in the eyes of many, Tampa Bay (14-11-2) is currently two points out of a playoff spot.

While Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan remain out with injuries, the Lightning are expected to get a couple of key players back when defenseman Jason Garrison and forward Jonathan Drouin return against Vancouver.

The Bolts already feel like they’ve turned the corner, after beating Washington in a shootout Saturday and earning a point Sunday in Carolina.

“When you go through those streaks, it’s kind of like you’re going into games just waiting for something bad to happen,” forward Alex Killorn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think we’ve kind of gotten over that. You’ve got to be the instigator, got to be the aggressor and take over games.”

There’s definitely the potential for the Lightning to take over tonight’s game. The banged-up Canucks will enter without their two top defenseman, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and one of their best forwards, Jannik Hansen, among other injuries.

Saturday brings a much tougher test when the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit.

But tonight’s focus is the Canucks. The Lightning could really use the two points. They should get them. They just need to play like they can.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get back on track,” Killorn said. “We’re starting to figure things out.”

Scheifele back for Jets, who look to continue points streak

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
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Oh, those streaky Jets.

After a horrific mid-November run — which included a five-game losing streak where they were outscored 20-9 — the Jets have turned things around, going 4-1-1 in their last six while securing points in three straight.

Tonight, things get even better, as leading scorer Mark Scheifele returns from a brief time on the shelf as Winnipeg hosts the Rangers at MTS.

Scheifele, 23, hasn’t played since a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on Dec. 1. His absence was a big one — in addition to the offensive production (26 points in 26 games), Scheifele averaged over 20 minutes per night and led the team in faceoffs taken.

He’d also developed terrific chemistry with rookie sniper Patrik Laine.

To their credit, the Jets did really well without Scheifele in the lineup. They beat the Blues 3-2 in OT on Saturday, then followed that up with a 2-1 win in Chicago on Sunday. Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss against Detroit was a setback, but the club still managed to secure at least a point, which pushed them into the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Tonight, Scheifele projects to center a top line between Drew Stafford and Blake Wheeler. Laine will play on a second line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little.

The Canucks are injured, on the road, and desperate for wins

A shot by New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, not pictured, is seen before entering the net of Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom (25), of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Newark, N.J. Also seen are Devils' John Moore (2) and Canucks' Ben Hutton (27). (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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The Vancouver Canucks are in a tough spot.

Again.

After Tuesday’s loss in New Jersey, they sit five points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

They also have four games left on a very tough road trip.

Oh, and they’re down three defensemen — Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, and Philip Larsen — and three forwards — Jannik Hansen, Derek Dorsett and Anton Rodin.

But other than that, everything’s going great.

Tonight, the Canucks will take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Three more games at Florida, Washington, and Carolina await.

There is good news, though, as Larsen does not seem to be seriously injured after taking that devastating hit from Taylor Hall. The 27-year-old defenseman was medically cleared to return to Vancouver. He’ll be replaced tonight by little-used Alex Biega.

But the Canucks (11-13-2) need to find a way to stay in the playoff race, because it doesn’t get any easier once they got home, with visits from Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Winnipeg (twice). By the Christmas break, they could easily be in an even bigger hole, and that would make things very interesting indeed.

That’s because, earlier this week, GM Jim Benning told The Province newspaper that he will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, a pending unrestricted free agent who’s been among the Canucks’ best this season. A versatile forward with playoff experience, Burrows could theoretically bring a decent return at the deadline.

“Now that Jim said that, well, for me, I love my teammates, I love my team and I love this organization,” Burrows said, per the Vancouver Sun. “But at the same time, things can change quickly in this business. I’ve learned that before. I learned that last year, last summer. So for me, it’s take it one day at a time.”

Things could certainly change if the team falls short, especially after ownership committed $36 million to Loui Eriksson in free agency. The Canucks are right up against the salary cap. So far, they have refused to tear it down and rebuild, a la Toronto and Buffalo.

Which is to say, if the Canucks are out of the playoff race by the deadline, management (and ownership) may have to reconsider their stances. Because after last season’s deadline disaster, they really can’t afford another.

The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to stay in the race and play the “meaningful games in March” that they’re still aiming to play. That starts tonight in Tampa, against a team with some desperation of its own. The Lightning have just one win in their last six, so they won’t be taking their opponents lightly.

And that could be more bad news for the Canucks.

Darling, a pending UFA, ‘excited’ for starting goalie audition

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling deflects a shot during the second half of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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When most think of next summer’s potential free agent goalie class, names like Ben Bishop and Ryan Miller tend to top the list.

But there’s another pending UFA ‘tender that’s made a name for himself lately: Scott Darling.

Darling has been Chicago’s goalie of record in each of the last three games, as Corey Crawford recovers from an appendectomy. He’s fared very well, stopping 79 of 84 shots, and recorded his first shutout of the year in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Coyotes.

Needless to say, Darling is stoked about the opportunity at hand.

“I’m excited for the challenge,” he told the Chicago Tribune, when asked about his feelings on carrying a starter’s workload.

Darling is 5-2-1 on the year, with a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers to head into free agency with, and he’s got some other things going for him as well — specifically, his size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and age (turns 28 later this month).

One has to think an ideal situation for Darling would be the one Chad Johnson‘s found in Calgary. Signed this summer (a relatively modest $1.7M pact) to be Brian Elliott‘s backup, Johnson — a 30-year-old journeyman — had an opportunity to carry the No. 1 workload after Elliott got off to a horrendous start.

Now, Johnson is one of the NHL’s hottest goalies, and essentially the Flames’ starter.

As the situation in Calgary has shown, having two capable netminders is extremely important. Earlier this week, Brough highlighted five backup ‘tenders that aren’t getting the job done — suggesting there should be a healthy market for Darling’s services this summer.

Should he continue to play well, of course.