Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals

TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend


Saturday: Pittsburgh at Montreal (7 p.m. ET)

Question: Has Marc-Andre Fleury played himself back into contention for a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic squad? After 19 games, he’s 13-6-0 with a .924 save percentage. On Wednesday, he shut out Washington, 4-0. At this point, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo are considered the top two contenders for the starting job. As for the third spot? That’s up for debate. Corey Crawford won the Stanley Cup, but he isn’t playing that great these days. Mike Smith is playing OK, but his big-game experience is lacking. Martin Brodeur is playing well, but his time in the international spotlight is likely over. Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer, Josh Harding, and Braden Holtby all have excellent numbers; however, like Smith, what they lack is experience. Fleury has struggled badly in recent postseasons and, as result, wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s summer camp (Crawford, Holtby, Luongo, Price, Smith got the call). At the very least, he deserves credit for putting himself back in the conversation.

Saturday: New York Islanders at Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET)

The Flyers get a great chance to build on their current 5-0-1 streak when they host the disappointing Isles, who’ve lost six of their last eight in regulation and sit tied with Columbus for last place in the Metropolitan. On Tuesday, New York out-shot the Leafs, 37-24, and lost, 5-2. Goalie Kevin Poulin did have a handful of decent games earlier this month, but he’s struggled in recent outings. We know, we harp on the Isles’ goaltending all the time. But this team isn’t good enough to get away with poor, or even average, play from its netminders. We only harp because we care.

Saturday: Dallas at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

If not for Henrik Lundqvist, the Stars would’ve won their fourth straight Thursday versus the Rangers. Instead, they lost, 3-2, while outshooting New York, 43-37. Though Dallas has been doing a lot of good things lately, the power play continues to be a concern. It currently ranks 27th in the NHL, at 12.0 percent. In a very related story, Sergei Gonchar has just four PP assists in 21 games. Did Stars GM Jim Nill overestimate how much Gonchar had left in the tank when the Stars signed the 39-year-old to a two-year, $10 million deal?

Saturday: Chicago at Vancouver (10 p.m. ET)

The last time the Blackhawks visited Rogers Arena, on April 22, the Canucks came away with a 3-1 victory and optimism abounded. One of the local newspapers called it Vancouver’s “best game in ages.” Daniel Sedin said: “If we play like we did today, I think we’re good.” The Canucks then lost the last two games of the regular season and got swept by San Jose in the playoffs.

Saturday: Colorado at Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET)

At least one handsome hockey blog wondered if the Avs were headed for a reality check after they lost three in a row by a combined score of 13-5. Instead, they beat the defending champions, 5-1, and got a 4-3 overtime win at Jobing.com Arena, where the Coyotes had been 9-0-1. Goalie Semyon Varlamov was named first star in both victories, as the Avs were out-shot by a combined margin of 81-53. Chances are good they’ll get out-shot again by the Kings, who have the second-best shot differential in the NHL, behind only Chicago.

Bruins list Chara on IR, for now

Zdeno Chara
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Those who feel as though the Boston Bruins may rebound – John Tortorella, maybe? – likely rest some of their optimism on the back of a healthy Zdeno Chara.

It’s possible that he’s merely limping into what may otherwise be a healthy 2015-16 season, but it’s definitely looking like a slow start thanks to a lower-body injury.

The latest sign of a bumpy beginning came on Monday, as several onlookers (including CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty) pointed out that Chara was listed on injured reserve.

As Haggerty notes, that move is retroactive to Sept. 24, so his status really just opens up options for the Bruins.

Still … it’s a little unsettling, isn’t it?

The Bruins likely realize that they need to transition away from their generational behemoth, but last season provided a stark suggestion that may not be ready yet. Trading Dougie Hamilton and losing Dennis Seidenberg to injury only make them more dependent on the towering 38-year-old.

This isn’t really something to panic about, yet it might leave a few extra seats open on the Bruins’ bandwagon.

Kassian suspended without pay, placed in Stage 2 of Substance Abuse Program

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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Zack Kassian may have avoided major injuries stemming from his Sunday car accident, but it likely sent the signal that he may need help.

The response: he was placed in Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA on Monday.

According to the league’s release, Kassian “will be suspended without pay until cleared for on-ice competition by the program administrators.”

Speaking of being suspended without pay, here’s a key detail:

The 24-year-old ended up with a broken nose and broken foot from that accident. The 2015-16 season was set to be his first campaign in the Montreal Canadiens organization after a tumultuous time with the Vancouver Canucks.

Kassian spoke of becoming more mature heading to Montreal, but the Canadiens were critical of his actions, wondering how many wake-up calls someone can get.

In case you’re wondering about the difference between stage one and two: