WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Lee Stempniak #22 and Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on March 10, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Stempniak getting results with Crosby, Kunitz

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Pittsburgh went all out during the 2013 trade deadline, getting forwards Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Jussi Jokinen as well as defenseman Douglas Murray. That wasn’t enough to earn the Penguins the Stanley Cup though and with the team close to the cap ceiling, they took a subtler approach this time.

They recently acquired Lee Stempniak for a third round pick and while that was a minor move compared to other team’s dealings, it might prove to be just what the Penguins needed.

Pittsburgh has been interested in acquiring a right winger to pair up with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz since Pascal Dupuis suffered a season-ending knee injury and so far Stempniak has filled that void. He had three assists in Pittsburgh’s back-to-back victories against Washington.

“It’s gone pretty well,” Stempniak told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The three of us on the bench just have an open dialogue on what each other is thinking.

“Part of if for me is trying not to force the puck to Sid too much. I think the first couple of games I’d get it and try and throw it to him. He’s covered sometimes. He’s a great player, but it’s not always the right play to give it to him.”

Pittsburgh is playing for the Eastern Conference title, but with 17 games left, the Penguins have already essentially secured the Metropolitan Division. That makes this final month more about getting ready for the playoffs than anything else. In Stempniak’s case, it’s an opportunity to get comfortable with the team.

He’s not likely going to be headline-worthy most nights, but if he can compliment Crosby, then Pittsburgh will be very happy with how it did at the deadline.

Panthers happy to be home after what ‘felt like a one month trip’

Gerard Gallant, former Florida Panthers head coach, gets into a cab after being relieved of his duties following an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
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When the Panthers headed out on the road 12 days ago, they’d won three of their last four games and Gerard Gallant was the head coach.

How things change.

Gallant was fired, quite infamously, after the first of six away games (a 3-2 loss in Carolina). The club proceeded to lose four of its next five, but did a decent job of securing some points with a shootout defeat in Chicago, and back-to-back OT losses in Boston and Philadelphia.

Now, the Panthers are just glad to be back home.

“It felt like a one month trip,” Jussi Jokinen said, per the Miami Herald. “I think it will be nice to go home and spend [Wednesday] with the family, and get our thoughts away from hockey. That will probably be good for all of us.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean things are going to get easier.

The Panthers host the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins tonight, a team that’s won three straight and absolutely torched the scoreboard while doing so. Pittsburgh scored a whopping 19 goals over that span and, quite incredibly, only one came on the power play.

So there’s that to deal with. What’s more, Florida will be without Jonathan Marchessault tonight, while Keith Yandle is a game-time decision.

After the Pens game, Florida hosts Vancouver before heading back onto the road for a three-game swing through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado.

Wings get good news on injury front as Athanasiou, Marchenko ready to return

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15:  Andreas Athanasiou #72 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Detroit has won two straight, and could have two key players back for Friday’s home date with Columbus.

Speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou, who’s missed the last 12 games with a knee injury, has been activated from IR and is ready to go for tomorrow, while d-man Alexey Marchenko — out since Nov. 20 with a shoulder ailment — will either return to face the Jackets, or on Sunday against Philly.

It’s great news for a Red Wings team that’s been hit hard with injuries. Darren Helm, Tyler Bertuzzi, Brendan Smith and Justin Abdelkader were already missing due to various ailments.

Athanasiou, one of the fastest players on the team, was off to a pretty solid start before getting knocked by Canucks d-man Nikita Tryamkin on Nov. 10. He had four goals and five points in 13 games, and was averaging 12:06 TOI per night.

Marchenko, one of the club’s key penalty killers, was averaging over 18 minutes per game prior to getting hurt.

Both returns come at a key time for the club. Detroit currently sits four points back of Philly for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference — with a game in hand — and now has a big home stretch coming up. The Wings will play their next five at Joe Louis against the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Coyotes, Kings and Ducks.

Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Head Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (C) looks on from the bench during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

“For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

     Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.

Ducks waive Garbutt, a regular lineup fixture

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Ryan Garbutt #16 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck ahead of Jarred Tinordi #28 of the Arizona Coyotes during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Bit of a surprising move out of Anaheim today — gritty forward Ryan Garbutt has been placed on waivers.

Garbutt, 31, had appeared in all 27 games for the Ducks this year, scoring two goals and three points while averaging 9:10 TOI per night. He was one of just 10 players on the roster to dress for every contest this season, though his minutes had decreased lately — he hasn’t cracked the 10-minute mark since Nov. 6, and received two of his lowest totals in recent games — 5:31 in a win over the Sharks on Nov. 26, and 5:50 in a win over Vancouver on Dec. 1.

Last year, Anaheim acquired Garbutt in a midseason deal from Chicago. He performed well for the Ducks, scoring five goals and eight points in 37 games, and scored a goal in the club’s opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

Garbutt is a polarizing player. Over a two-year span from 2014-15, he was one of the league’s most reckless players and found himself in a slew of disciplinary problems. He has gone a while without running afoul of the Department of Player Safety, though, so perhaps he heeded calls to change his game.

Parting with Garbutt could be part of the youth movement that’s at play in Anaheim. Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, is just one of the rookie forwards who’ve played for the Ducks this season. Joseph Cramarossa is another. Nick Ritchie isn’t a rookie, but he’s still on his entry-level deal.

Garbutt is in the last of a three-year, $5.4 million deal with a $1.8M average annual cap hit. Given his experience and style of play, it’s possible he could be scooped off waivers.