Cam Tucker

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Hjalmarsson off to difficult start with Coyotes — and now he’s hurt

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The good news for the Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller has been named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month.

Selected seventh overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller has been the only bright spot so far on a Coyotes team that finished the month of October with a single win in 13 games. Halloween is over but the latter point is a frightening factoid for the young team, which was active during the offseason in an effort to upgrade at numerous key positions heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

The bad news is that another one of those key acquisitions, 30-year-old defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, is now dealing with an injury and there doesn’t seem to be a specific timeline for when he may return to the lineup.

“He got banged up pretty good,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told Arizona Sports yesterday. “I don’t know how long he’ll be out. It’s a big loss for us.”

The Coyotes have been without goalie Antti Raanta since his last game on Oct. 12, and he’s now listed on injured reserve, meaning Arizona is currently leaning on newly acquired Scott Wedgewood and recently recalled Hunter Miska for the goaltending responsibilities, after Louis Domingue cleared waivers.

For the Coyotes, turning around their early season struggles certainly won’t be easy, especially now that they’re dealing with injuries in net and on the back end.

The transition to Arizona hasn’t been an easy one for Hjalmarsson, who previously spent 10 seasons on the back end with the Chicago Blackhawks during their rise to prominence. Through 12 games with the Coyotes, he has three assists, although in fairness he was never an overwhelming offensive dynamo in Chicago. But prior to this latest injury, he was posting a 44 per cent Corsi For rating at even strength, according to Corsica, and the analytics don’t paint a pretty picture.

From The Athletic:

It’s safe to say Chicago misses Hjalmarsson. Funny thing about that, I’m not so sure it would be all that different with him in the fold. As nightmarish as Chicago’s defenders have started, Hjalmarsson’s early 2017-18 returns have been even worse.

Among defenders that have played seven or more games (ie. regular lineup fixtures) Hjalmarsson’s average Game Score is the fifth worst mark in the entire league at -0.07 per game. Game Score works on the same scale as points per game so to have a negative score basically implies you’re doing less than nothing.

Just more frustrating news for the Coyotes, who host the Sabres on Thursday and the Hurricanes on Saturday before a difficult five-game stretch that will include back-to-back games on the road against the Capitals and Penguins.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

The Buzzer: Zibanejad leads Rangers comeback; Ehlers helps tame Wild

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Player of the night: Mika Zibanejad

Mike Zibanejad led a New York Rangers comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, just as head coach Alain Vigneault finds himself on the hot seat.

Down 4-2 at home to the Golden Knights, the Rangers came roaring back in the final 20 minutes with four unanswered goals. Zibanejad led the comeback with three points, including the winning goal.

He also adds to what has been a terrific start to his season. With three points tonight, he now has 13 points in as many games and has been one of the few bright spots on a Rangers team looking to climb the Eastern Conference standings.

Highlight of the night:

Nikolaj Ehlers showed off his patience and stickhandling skills with a beautiful move to the backhand on a short breakaway against Wild goalie Alex Stalock. The play that resulted in the breakaway though … not Matt Dumba‘s finest moment.

Factoid of the night:

A comeback win for the Rangers and a milestone victory for Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 30 of 34 shots faced against the Golden Knights.

Scores:

Winnipeg 2, Minnesota 1

New York Rangers 6, Vegas 4

Detroit 5, Arizona 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

With Vigneault on the hot seat, Rangers roar back against Golden Knights

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The New York Rangers were 20 minutes away from a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Yes, the same Golden Knights that are without goalies Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk after the most recent injury to a Vegas puck stopper. Going into the third period, the Rangers trailed 4-2 after David Perron added another historical first for the Golden Knights, scoring on the franchise’s first penalty shot.

The Rangers, however, came back in the third period for a 6-4 victory.

Sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings after a bad start to the season, head coach Alain Vigneault has been placed on the hot seat, and the prognosis from Larry Brooks of the New York Post pinpointed this game as possibly being pivotal to his immediate future behind the bench.

It looked particularly bad for the Rangers — and especially Vigneault — when the Rangers were outshot 14-9 in the first period by the expansion team that had played the night before against the Islanders. The Rangers fell behind after the first period and saw that deficit increase in the second.

Different story in the third period.

True, the Rangers were facing a team ravaged by injuries to their netminders and forced to start Maxime Lagace, who had only a single game — well, actually just over 25 minutes last night when Dansk came out of the game because of his injury — worth of NHL experience entering tonight’s contest, while Western Hockey League call-up Dylan Ferguson sat on the bench as the back-up.

Needing a comeback, New York was able to score four times in the third period. It was the youngsters that stepped to the forefront.

Pavel Buchnevich, 22, had the tying goal and helped set up the eventual winner, scored by 24-year-old Mika Zibanejad, who had three points in the third period and has been sensational for a struggling Rangers early on.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Video: Kronwall delivers vintage hit on Cousins

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Niklas Kronwall has garnered a reputation for being one of the heaviest hitters in the NHL, stepping up on opposing forwards along the boards with thunderous impact.

Age and injuries have hindered him over the past few years, but on Tuesday the 36-year-old Red Wings defenseman delivered one of those vintage Kronwall hits, catching Nick Cousins of the Arizona Coyotes with a hard but clean body check during the first period.

The Coyotes won for the first time this season on Monday, but they absorbed quite a hit on the score board from the Red Wings to open Tuesday’s game. Gustav Nyquist and Luke Glendening scored just over a minute apart early in the first period to put Detroit quickly ahead.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Report: Vadim Shipachyov opts to return to Russia

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The day after being suspended by the Vegas Golden Knights for leaving their minor league team in Chicago, a report surfaced Monday afternoon that Vadim Shipachyov is going back to Russia.

The Golden Knights made a splash in the spring by signing Shipachyov to a two-year, $9 million contract with an annual $4.5 million cap hit, bringing the productive — and certainly intriguing — KHL forward from Russia to the North American game at the age of 30.

Shipachyov appeared in three games for the Golden Knights and scored his first NHL goal in his debut against the Bruins.

But this working relationship has gone through an extended difficult stretch over the past few weeks, with the team granting Shipachyov and his representatives the opportunity to seek out a trade within the league.

Among the motivating factors for returning to Russia is likely the possibility of participating in the 2018 Olympics, in a year when NHL players will not take part. He has plenty of international experience for Russia, impressing once again at the 2017 World Championships.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.