Manny Malhotra

Gillis, Vigneault still worried about Malhotra

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Back in February, when the Vancouver Canucks announced that center Manny Malhotra had been placed on injured reserve and would miss the remainder of the season, some wondered if the club really did have the player’s best interests at heart.

Malhotra, of course, suffered a serious eye injury in March of 2011 when he was struck with a puck. He managed to return and play around 100 games, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was pre-injury.

The Canucks explained they were shutting him down for his own good, with general manager Mike Gillis saying, “The long term health of Manny Malhotra is of utmost importance to our organization.”

Skeptics, however, wondered if they’d done it for an additional $2.5 million in cap space. (The NHL, it should be noted, had no issue with the move, and Malhotra said he didn’t question Gillis’ sincerity.)

Fast forward to the present and Malhotra is six days removed from making his return to the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, for whom he scored the overtime winner Tuesday.

What did Gillis think of that?

“I think it’s great for Manny, but I’m still, and have been, concerned about him playing,” was Gillis’ answer today on TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver, adding he wished Malhotra all the best.

Former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, now behind the Rangers’ bench, had a similar response when asked last weekend about his former player’s comeback.

“I’ve got mixed emotions and mixed feelings about that,” said Vigneault, per NorthJersey.com. “On one hand I know that’s what he really wants to do and he’s really worked extremely hard to get another opportunity so if I think of that, I’m happy he’s getting this opportunity. But like he had a real serious injury where we felt as an organization with our medical staff he was putting himself in a tough situation on the ice. I showed him a couple of times, ‘Manny did you see this guy here?’ Most of the time he’d answer that he could feel him. In my opinion, there was a gray area there. That’s a tough one. He’s a real quality person, real quality guy. I know he wants to play. I just hope everything works out for him.”

As for Malhotra?

“I’ve always been grateful (for) every moment I’ve played in the NHL,” he told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector yesterday. “But (the injury) puts it into perspective, just how close it was to having it all be done for me.

“After everything I’ve been through, it’s special to know that there is still a (team) who believes in me.”

Then again, Malhotra admits: “My left eye is not what it was, nor will it ever be.”

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”

Report: Coyotes shut down Vitale (concussion) for the season

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Joe Vitale will not play again this season.

The Arizona Coyotes have shut Vitale down for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign due to “concussion-related issues,” according to a report from Sarah McLellan of azcentral sports on Wednesday.

Vitale, a 30-year-old veteran center, appeared in only one game for the Coyotes this season. That was back on Oct. 17, when he suffered a concussion and broken orbital bone in a fight with Kevan Miller of the Boston Bruins.