Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Niskanen, Kris Letang

NHL on NBCSN: Hurting Penguins host shorthanded Blue Jackets


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets at CONSOL Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

One thing realignment is helping to do is create new rivalries. Such could be the case between the Penguins and Blue Jackets as geography is doing its part.

Columbus and Pittsburgh are separated by less than 200 miles and now that they’re foes in the Metropolitan Division, locality is helping breed contempt. When the two face off tonight in Pittsburgh, it’ll be their third of five meetings this season.

For the Blue Jackets, things haven’t gone quite how they’ve hoped dropping the first two games in October. Now they head into tonight’s game with a few key injuries. Defenseman James Wisniewski is out of action and they’ve recalled Tim Erixon from the AHL to help fill things in.

Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert are banged up but traveling with the team and that doesn’t even dig into the long-term injuries to Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton.

Oh yeah, starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is on the shelf for a few weeks as well. That means it’s up to Curtis McElhinney to try and hold back the Penguins attack and in just a handful of games this season, he’s been strong. The Blue Jackets head into the game tonight having won two in a row, both via shutout. They’ll need more of that to deal with the Pens.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Monday at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

If there’s an upside for the Jackets it’s that the Penguins are hurting badly on their own.

Superstar Evgeni Malkin has missed the past two games with a lower body ailment. Their defense is going without Rob Scuderi (IR – broken ankle), Paul Martin (IR – broken leg) , and now Brooks Orpik following his mugging by Bruins forward Shawn Thornton.

Toss in guys like Beau Bennett, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass, and Tomas Vokoun who were already out and the Pens resemble a M.A.S.H. unit more than they do a hockey team.

Despite all the issues, they’ve won eight of their last 11 and should’ve come away with a win against the Bruins on Saturday had they not got run over in the final minutes and overtime. Apparently having Sidney Crosby at your disposal helps smooth over a lot of ills. He’ll need to stand tall to help get his team back on the winning track, especially with so many guys out of action.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.

Missing McDavid: Yakupov’s goalless drought now at 15 games

Cononor McDavid, Nail Yakupov
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When Connor McDavid went down with a broken collarbone, many expected his linemates — Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov — to be adversely affected.

But probably not this affected.

Yakupov — who, prior to McDavid getting hurt on Nov. 3, had 10 points in 12 games — has gone in the tank offensively since losing his running mate.

The Russian’s goalless drought (which, to be fair, began while McDavid was still playing) is now at 15 games, and he’s failed to score a point in seven straight — all of which is a cause for concern for head coach Todd McLellan.

From the Edmonton Journal:

When does [McLellan] say “he’s got to score a goal.”

“We’re at that point now,” the coach said.

“He’s had some great looks,” said McLellan.

There are a few issues at play here.

Chief among them is that Yakupov’s gone from skating with Pouliot and McDavid to Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks — and no offense to Letestu and Hendricks, but that’s a significant downgrade in offensive talent.

So when Yakupov does get time with the likes of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl, it’s usually on the power play — which only ratchets up the pressure to score (because who knows when the next power play will come?)

McLellan acknowledged the team needs to set up Yakupov more — “we’ll work with his linemates to help him, we’ll get him out on the power play where his strengths are,” he said — but, like any coach, stressed that the player needs to help himself out, too.

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.