Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders

TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend


Saturday: Calgary at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

You know it’s a banner weekend when a Flames game tops the TGIF list. The Penguins are obviously the reason to watch this matinee. They’ve only lost once in their last 12, and that was the one they blew in Boston. On Thursday, Pittsburgh beat Minnesota, 5-2, with a lineup that was missing Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, and Beau Bennett. Aaaaaaand cue the Calder Trophy buzz for 19-year-old Olli Maatta. (Misguided as it may be, considering he won’t be getting so much ice time once the Pens get healthy.)

Saturday: Colorado at Los Angeles (4 p.m. ET)

Per LA Kings Insider, I really liked this Darryl Sutter quote on how goalie Martin Jones could possibly go undrafted: “I think there are lots of guys that do that. You know what, basically not everybody gets to see everybody, and a lot of times when they see these guys, [it’s] the third game they’ve played in three nights. It’s very different, right? Kids are traveling on the bus for 14 hours. You might not see ‘em. You see him one night, and he has a rough night. The next night he’s great, and you know what? There’s a lot more luck in it than anything.”

Note: Jones played for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen from 2006-10. Meaning he was playing junior hockey in the Saddledome for pretty much the entire time Sutter was the general manager of the Flames.

Saturday: Detroit at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Their first meeting of the season, and their last before the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Both sides have been struggling of late. The Wings won their first in seven last night, barely beating Calgary, 3-2 in overtime. The Leafs, meanwhile, have just three regulation wins in their last 23 games. Yes, injuries have been a factor for both teams. And the Wings’ record would look a lot better without that 0-for-6 mark in the shootout. But the standings care not for excuses, legitimate or not.

PS — get a load of Detroit’s schedule post-Winter Classic:



Saturday: New Jersey at Washington (7 p.m. ET)

Per Extra Skater, here are the top eight teams in the NHL in terms of Corsi (five on five, score close):


One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong…

How can the Devils be such a good possession team (say the stats) and have such a mediocre record? Because it was the same story last season when they missed the playoffs. One theory says the Devils shoot the puck whenever they possibly can, a tendency that, theoretically, would make the data a less effective proxy for possession. (Quite possibly the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written.) Another theory is a much simpler one: the Devils haven’t received very good goaltending compared to the rest of the league (something I wrote about earlier in the week.) Other potential theories include not being very good shooters, surrendering too many prime scoring opportunities, and being downright unlucky. (Coach Pete DeBoer subscribed to the latter theory last year.)

Saturday: Dallas at San Jose (10:30 p.m ET)

In terms of entertainment value, the Stars have to be right up near the top of the NHL. I mean, this goal they scored last night versus the Canucks…

…was a nice goal. Unfortunately, only 15,644 were in the building to see it. Maybe once the Cowboys are put out of their misery, the hockey team will get some attention in Big D.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.