Carter Hutton, Dan Hamhuis

Powerless power play continues to hinder Canucks

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Back in 2010-11, when the Vancouver Canucks were the NHL’s most dangerous team with the man advantage, Christian Ehrhoff finished the season with 22 power-play assists, tied for seventh among league defensemen.

Now, let’s be clear right off the bat, Ehrhoff’s departure to Buffalo the following summer isn’t the only reason Vancouver’s power play has since tumbled all the way to 25th in the NHL — the Sabres are even worse with the man advantage — but it’s worth passing along what Daniel Sedin told the Globe and Mail Wednesday, one day before the Canucks’ power play went a demoralizing 0-for-5 in a 2-1 home loss to Nashville.

“Christian was a pretty key guy,” said Sedin. “He could really move the puck, across the blue line and open up things.”

Granted, Sedin also said the lack of Ehrhoff “shouldn’t be a big issue” given the Canucks have point men like Alex Edler and Jason Garrison, both of whom have put up good special-teams numbers in the past. (Which makes it all the more perplexing that Vancouver’s coaching staff insists on trotting out Dan Hamhuis time and time again. Hamhuis is best known for his defensive work. In 127:30 of power-play time this season, he has a whopping two assists.)

It should also be noted that the number of assists a defenseman racks up on the power play is directly related to the ability of his teammates to finish chances, and clearly the Canucks have issues in that department. Per Extra Skater, Vancouver’s power-play shooting percentage is just 8.4 percent, higher than only one team’s, the Florida Panthers (7.4%), and less than half of the NHL-leading Blues’ (17.7%).

But for general manager Mike Gillis, it begs some big questions about his team’s personnel, from the forwards to the blue line. Does he need to explore trading one of his four core defensemen — Edler, Hamhuis, Garrison and Kevin Bieksa (all of whom have no-trade clauses, of course) — for help in other areas? After all, Chris Tanev and Ryan Stanton have shown they belong in the NHL, and young Frank Corrado could be ready for full-time action next season.

And this…this really isn’t working:

Goalie nods: Habs start Montoya for first time in over two weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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And for the eighth game, Carey rested.

Tonight in St. Louis, Al Montoya will be in goal when the Habs take on the Blues at Scottrade. The decision will end Carey Price‘s streak of consecutive starts at seven, and give Montoya his first nod since allowing three goals on 18 shots in a loss to Carolina on Nov. 18.

Since then, it’s been all Price, all the time.

The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner closed out November in style — finishing the month with a .944 save percentage — but could definitely use a break, especially after a wild game on Sunday in which he beat the Kings, 5-4, in a shootout.

It’ll be really interesting to see how Montoya does tonight.

He was infamously left in for every goal during a 10-0 destruction in Columbus on Nov. 4, and things haven’t been the same since. The journeyman was terrific going into that Columbus game (3-0-1, .955 save percentage, one shutout), but has found it difficult to reclaim that form, and has lost each of his last two starts.

For the Blues, Jake Allen goes tonight.

Elsewhere…

Cam Talbot, coming off a 33-save win in OT against the Ducks on Sunday, goes for the Oilers in Buffalo. The Sabres are going with Anders Nilsson after Robin Lehner started the last two.

— Vancouver’s turning to Jacob Markstrom after Ryan Miller started each of the last three games. The Canucks will face a familiar foe in ex-Vancouver netminder Cory Schneider, who starts for the Devils.

— Tonight’s Battle of New York will see Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers take on Jaroslav Halak and the Isles.

James Reimer gives Roberto Luongo the night off in Philly (or, he’s expected to, given Luongo played last night). The Flyers are going with Steve Mason, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week.

Semyon Varlamov will look to snap a three-game losing streak when the Avs visit Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going with Pekka Rinne.

Petr Mrazek, who has played well since Jimmy Howard went down to injury (posting a .935 save percentage), will start in Winnipeg. The Jets counter with Connor Hellebuyck, who beat the Red Wings earlier this season on the strength of a 30-save effort.

— It’s Mike Smith versus Scott Darling as the Coyotes take on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

— Calgary will keep rolling with Chad Johnson when it takes on the Stars in Dallas tonight. Lindy Ruff has confirmed that Kari Lehtonen, fresh off his first shutout of the year on Saturday against the Avs, will be back in goal.

McDavid, Crosby, Price and Kane lead All-Star voting through first week

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Voting for the 2017 NHL All-Star game has been underway for more than a week now, and on Tuesday afternoon the league announced the early leaders from each division.

The game, which will take place in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, will feature the same format as last year’s game with the four divisions taking part in a 3-on-3 tournament.

Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, is the top vote-getter in the Pacific Division, while Sidney Crosby, currently the NHL’s leading goal scorer, is leading the Metropolitan Division.

Montreal’s Carey Price and Chicago’s Patrick Kane, the past two MVP winners, are leading the Atlantic and Central divisions respectively.

Unlike last season when John Scott dominated the voting, there are no surprise players in the early results. The league put new voting guidelines in place this season and limited voting only to players that are on an active NHL roster.

Here are is an early look at the top-five vote getters from each division.

Montreal (Price and Shea Weber), Pittsburgh (Crosby and Phil Kessel), and San Jose (Brent Burns and Joe Thornton) are the three teams that currently have two players in the top five of their division.

Atlantic
1. Carey Price, Montreal
2. Jaromir Jagr, Florida
3. Shea Weber, Montreal
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo
5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston

Central
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago
2. P.K. Subban, Nashville
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

Metropolitan
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
3. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh
4. John Tavares, NY Islanders
5. Taylor Hall, New Jersey

Pacific
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton
2. Brent Burns, San Jose
3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
5. Joe Thornton, San Jose

James Neal could return to Predators lineup tonight

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  James Neal #18 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the third period at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators lineup could be getting a big lift on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche with the possible return of winger James Neal.

Neal, who has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday for the team’s morning skate and has been activated from injured reserve according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

The original diagnosis for Neal was to be sidelined on a week to week basis, but it appears he is on the verge of making a return to the lineup after just 10 days.

If he returns on Tuesday he is expected to skate on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, according to the team.

Prior to the injury Neal had been on quite a scoring tear for the Predators with 10 goals and four assists over a 13-game stretch. It was during that stretch that the Predators had started to turn their season around after a slow start and were quickly climbing the Western Conference standings. They were then hit by a series of injuries that took both Neal and Ryan Ellis out of the lineup. Since Nov. 25 the Predators have now lost three out of their past four and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind Winnipeg for the second playoff spot (the Predators, though, still have four games in hand).

Neal’s 10 goals are still tops on the team. Nobody else has scored more than seven.

Scheifele injury not long-term, but he’ll miss his third straight game tonight

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
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Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s No. 1 center and the NHL’s eighth-leading scorer with 26 points through 26 games, will miss his third contest in a row this evening when the Jets host the Red Wings at the MTS Centre.

But fear not, Jets fans. Scheifele won’t be out much longer.

“He’s getting better,” head coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday, per the Jets’ Twitter account. “He skated this morning and felt incrementally stronger each day. This is not a long-term injury.”

Scheifele, 23, hasn’t played since a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on Dec. 1. His absence is, quite obviously, a big one — in addition to the offensive production, Scheifele averaged over 20 minutes per night and led the team in faceoffs taken.

He’d also developed terrific chemistry with rookie sniper Patrik Laine, who sits second in the NHL in goals right now with 16.

To their credit, the Jets have done well without Scheifele in the lineup. They beat the Blues 3-2 in OT on Saturday, then followed that up with a 2-1 win in Chicago on Sunday.