Sidney Crosby

Sochi notes: Is an extra game such a bad thing?

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SOCHI, Russia — You may recall Team Canada didn’t exactly come flying out of the gates in 2010 either. A mere shootout win over Switzerland and a loss to the United States in the preliminary round meant the Olympic hosts would have to play Germany in the qualification playoffs, instead of advancing directly to the quarterfinals. You know how it ended — Roberto Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur and Canada won four straight, including the gold-medal game.

Sure, it would be nice to get the rest. Yes, there’s always the risk of injury. And of course there’s always the possibility you could, you know, lose. But there’s something to be said for the additional time a qualification game provides to come together as a team.

“Now we suddenly have some video on our own guys,” coach Mike Babcock said Thursday after Canada’s 3-1 victory over Norway. “We can talk about our team game.

“Once you trust each other and you trust your structure, your skill comes out because you’re in the right spots and playing fast. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. Don’t get me wrong. But we can be way better. We understand that, and we’re confident that we’re going to be.”

Canada. Russia. United States. Sweden. Finland. Czech Republic. At least two of those sides will have to play in the qualification playoffs. If it happens to your side, try not to fret; it’s not necessarily the worst thing, and may in fact be a good thing.

—- Per the Olympic News Service, this was Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov after his team’s 5-2 win over Slovenia: “We passed too much today, we needed to shoot much more. The fancy passing is nice to watch, but shooting brings results.”

Babcock could’ve said the same thing after Canada’s 3-1 win over Norway. (Jonathan Toews did.)

I think we’ll see a more basic approach from the Canadians tonight versus Austria, and Sidney Crosby is one player to watch in this regard. For all the fancy passes he completed last night, the results weren’t there.

—- Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press sums up the Red Wings’ concerns following Henrik Zetterberg’s withdrawal from the Olympics with a back issue: “The Wings can ill afford to be without Zetterberg, their captain and best all-around player. They are coming out of the Olympic break, in less than two weeks, clinging to the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Pavel Datsyuk is also hurting, playing on an inflamed knee, but [general manager Ken Holland] said he has heard nothing new on Datsyuk.”

And remember that Johan Franzen (concussion) is out until further notice as well.

The focus is on the Olympics now, but the Wings’ injuries mean opportunity for Columbus, Ottawa, Washington, Carolina and New Jersey when the NHL gets back to business.

—- Here was commissioner Gary Bettman, almost two decades ago, before NHLers were set to make their Olympic debut in Nagano: ”We’re going to get exposure like the world has never seen for hockey. This is about 120-plus of the world’s elite hockey players playing for pride and playing for their countries. It will give us a tournament of high magnitude. It will be quite compelling.”

And here was deputy commissioner Bill Daly, earlier this week on an ESPN.com podcast, on the prospect of continued Olympic participation: “We’re in a different place now, 20 years later than we were 20 years ago. And that adds to the equation as well. Where is the National Hockey League today on the global landscape, on the North American landscape? Do we need the Olympics to help raise the visibility of hockey, and professional hockey, throughout the world? And I’m not sure the answer is yes.”

Keep that in mind.

Related: If NHLers want ongoing Olympic participation, they need to speak up

Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

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For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles:

Blues blaze through Devils, even in New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Brad Hunt #77, Robby Fabbri #15 and Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Fabri's first period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.

On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.

It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.

This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.

That’s impressive stuff.

This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:

The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”

Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jake Allen, either.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Update: The Wild were able to shake off that goal, ultimately beating the Oilers 3-2 via a shootout.