Pre-game reading: In today’s NHL, more defensemen are starring as teenagers

— Up top, check out the NHL’s Goals of the Week, featuring a pretty filthy toe drag by Derek Stepan.

— Remember when it was rare for a defensemen to make a big impact in the NHL without first spending a few years of developing? Yeah, not so much anymore. Teenagers like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are already stars for their teams. Aaron Ekblad is only 20, and he’s played almost 200 games for the Panthers. Sure, most d-men still need time after they’re drafted. But for the super-skilled guys, it’s a different story in today’s fast-paced NHL. (Associated Press)

— A neat story about a kid who turned his passion for hockey into a job with the Washington Capitals. “Ohashi’s journey — from obsessing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to studying psychology and mathematics at Bates to landing an internship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coaching staff for his favorite hockey team — is indeed the stuff of teenage dreams.” (Washington Post)

— Between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, which team is more likely to maintain its winning ways? TSN’s Travis Yost says it’s the Jackets. “Columbus might be getting the majority of the bounces heading their way, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it – they are obliterating their competition on a nightly basis and playing the vast majority of time in the offensive third.” As for the Wild, well, even if they do regress a bit, they’ve built a very nice playoff cushion. (TSN)

— Starting in the New Year, each team will get a “bye week” comprised of five days off, with no practices or games allowed. Click here for all the bye weeks. “It is a first for the league — and something the NHL Players’ Association negotiated last year as part of the new All-Star Game format. The players wanted a chance to rest their weary bones before the busy stretch run.” (ESPN)

— A list of the top 10 NHL stories of 2016. Number 1? That crazy day in June when Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, and, oh yeah, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

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    Auston Matthews’ 33rd goal includes a dash of comedy (Video)

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    This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

    On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

    William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

    Hnnngmgghh indeed.

    That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

    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.