PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 24: Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 24, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers, Rangers battle as divisional race tightens


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden at 7:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

As we move past the midway point of 2013-14, the Metropolitan Division is heating up. While they were something as a joke early on, the recent rise of the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and New York Rangers has redefined the playoff race in significant ways.

For starters, the division’s collective success has put the Wild Card, once dominated by the Atlantic Division, back in play. More importantly, just nine points separates the eighth place Islanders and second place Flyers, which raises the stakes of divisional battles like tonight’s.

The Rangers and Flyers are a perfect example of how tight the Metropolitan has become. The Flyers have just a one point lead on New York and are simultaneously tied with the Washington Capitals in terms of points, but are behind based on games played, so a win has the potential to vault either team to second place.

Although both of these squads got off to sluggish offensive starts this season, this has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. The Flyers and Rangers have each scored at least three goals in four straight contests. It will be worth keeping an eye on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek and the Rangers’ Brad Richards in particular as they represent the hottest forwards this match has to offer.

Tonight’s contest will also feature Dan Carcillo, who spent parts of three campaigns with Philadelphia. After that he went to Chicago and then Los Angeles, but this will be his first match against the Flyers as a member of a divisional rival, so you can be expected to play with an edge.

He won’t be alone in that as these are two of the more physical teams in the NHL and they’re both at an important juncture.

Philadelphia doesn’t want to give up its hard earned momentum with a second consecutive loss after its 6-3 defeat at the hands of Tampa Bay yesterday. Meanwhile, the Rangers have struggled at home this season and will have a hard time making the playoffs if they don’t remedy that. They will play six of their next seven games at home, including tonight’s match.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.