Pre-game reading: Apparently, Jaromir Jagr would like to buy Nick Bjugstad a monkey

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones debate who should be given the credit for the Blue Jackets’ surprising success.

— He may not be a kid anymore, but Jaromir Jagr hasn’t lost his sense of fun. “He keeps telling me he is going to buy two monkeys, one for me and one for him,” said Florida teammate Nick Bjugstad. “I keep trying to tell him it’s illegal to own a monkey, or something. I don’t know what we’d do when we go on the road.” To which Jagr responded: “You know how on Christmas morning, some people get a ring at the doorbell and there’s a big package with a bow on the top? There’s going to be a monkey inside for Bjuggy. It’s going to be awesome.” Dear Santa: Please let Jagr be serious about this. (TSN)

— Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is always a must-read. This week, it includes the following tidbit: “One team we haven’t heard much from is Pittsburgh, but I think that will change. The Penguins are a legit threat to repeat and, at some point, GM Jim Rutherford is going to try and add. Remember his history. He prefers not to wait until the deadline.” Rutherford did a great job last season, adding the likes of Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz. He doesn’t have a ton of cap space to work with, but it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to address a blue line that lost Ben Lovejoy to free agency. (Sportsnet)

— An interesting quote from Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “Stats are something that everyone looks at, but we don’t have egos on this team, myself included. If we’re expected to play a role or hone in on playing some good defense, we’re willing to do that.” In a totally unrelated story, P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators don’t visit Montreal until Mar. 2. But the two teams play in Nashville soon, on Jan. 3. (ESPN)

— We wrote earlier today about William Nylander and the trade rumors that have surrounded him in Toronto. But the most likely trade chip for GM Lou Lamoriello to play is James van Riemsdyk, a pending unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018 who may be hard for the Maple Leafs to re-sign. (TSN)

Dustin Byfuglien had a tough game Tuesday in Vancouver, where one of his point shots was blocked and went the other way for a Canucks goal. Big Buff leads all NHL skaters in average ice time (27:36), but is he the No. 1 defenseman that can deliver the Jets to the promised land?  That’s the question Winnipeg Sun writer Ted Wyman tries to answer. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Video: Leafs’ Carrick delivers thunderous hit on Blue Jackets’ Anderson

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Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs have motivation to win their Wednesday game, but the Maple Leafs need it more.

So far, it shows, too.

The Maple Leafs have raced off to a 2-0 lead, with Auston Matthews scoring his 33rd goal of the season. If generating such offense didn’t highlight the urgency, Connor Carrick‘s huge hit on Josh Anderson makes a compelling argument. Witness that big impact in the video above.

There was also another high-impact moment when Nick Foligno went crashing into the boards:

Ouch, Blues consider Paul Stastny out week-to-week

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The St. Louis Blues announced that Paul Stastny is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during last night’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, head coach Mike Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious.

There are only about three weeks left in the regular season, so it’s tough to tell if “week-to-week” would mean that the Blues will be without Stastny for any playoff time.

With Stastny out for an expended period of time and other injuries affecting Blues forwards, it sounds like Nail Yakupov gets another chance to prove himself:

Stastny generated 18 goals and 40 points in 66 games so far this season. He has played more of a defensive role this season (46.2 offensive zone start percentage after being closer to 50 earlier in his Blues days) and has been impressive in the dot, winning 53.8 of his faceoffs.

WATCH LIVE: Islanders at Rangers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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A night after a feisty matcuhup with the Devils, the Rangers host an even bigger rival in the Islanders at Madison Square Garden for Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN.

As nasty as Tuesday’s contest got at times, this one means more.

While the Rangers seem pretty safely seated as the East’s first wild card, the Islanders stand three points behind the Maple Leafs for the final spot in the conference. They’ve seen other bubble teams stumble, so this is their chance to close in on Toronto in what might be a shrinking field of contenders.

Spiting the Islanders might just give the Rangers a little extra life on back-to-back nights … especially since their fans would probably let them have it if they sleepwalk through this one.

It should be a fun, physical and dramatic one on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: ‘Trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me’

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The Pioneer Press caught up with former Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding, who quietly retired from professional hockey two-and-a-half years ago. That decision came after Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and made a stirring comeback with the Wild, capturing the 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as a result.

In the piece, Harding talks about his final game, one in which he left an AHL game against Charlotte in an ambulance due to severe dehydration. That proved an eye-opener, one that all but cemented the need for him to hang up his skates.

More:

Sara Harding took one look at her gaunt husband on FaceTime [following the game in Charlotte] and immediately bought a one-way plane ticket from Minneapolis, not knowing when she would return — or if she would be coming back alone.

“She was really scared,” Harding recalled Tuesday. “That was the final dagger. It started hitting me that I still have a family and life to live here. People that I love and that love me, I saw how scared they were and how much it affected them. I knew it was time to put up the pads.

 “The doctors all told me if I kept doing this to my body, trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me.”

Harding, who has attended a few Wild games since retirement, is currently working as a goalie coach at a local Minnesota high school.

— “I think there’s only three teams left in the NHL that don’t have a downtown arena, and we’re one of them and it’s tragic that we don’t. I bought the team out of bankruptcy and that’s where the arena was, and that’s what I bought. But we need to move things downtown, if it’s Ottawa it’s got to be downtown.”

That’s Sens owner Eugene Melnyk (per the Citizen) talking about Ottawa’s proposed new arena. He’s hopeful negotiations with the National Capital Commission on the development of Lebreton Flats will be completed before the end of the year, at which point construction can begin on what he promises will be a “gorgeous” complex.

— The latest development in the U.S. women’s looming boycott of the 2017 World Hockey Championships: USA Hockey has postponed a pre-tourney training camp, and an exhibition game against Finland. The organization is still hopeful it can hold a camp just prior to the start of the worlds, which will begin on Mar. 31 in Plymouth, MI. (Yahoo)