Cam Tucker

Getty

Sebastian Aho is quietly putting together a strong rookie season in Carolina

When it comes to the Calder Trophy for the league’s outstanding rookie, three players — Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews — have separated themselves from the pack.

You can throw in some dark horse possibilities for a late-season charge like William Nylander and Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who is not only having a productive first year but he also averages more than 21 minutes of ice time per game.

And then there is Sebastian Aho.

Selected in the second round, 35th overall, of the 2015 draft, Aho seems to have quietly moved into fifth in rookie scoring with 31 points in 51 games, and third in goal scoring among rookies with 16 goals. Only Matthews and Laine, tied with each other at 23 goals, have more.

It’s easy to suggest that based on the market Aho plays in and the fact he’s not a top-five pick — or not even a first-round pick — he might not garner the same attention or hype that others in his freshman class will get. But after a slow start — at least in terms of individual goal totals, going his first 13 games without scoring — the 19-year-old Finnish forward has lived up to the potential that Hurricanes management saw in him when they penciled him into the lineup for this season.

He’s been Carolina’s most productive player over the last two months, with a team-best 13 goals and 20 points since the beginning of December.

“I think the one guy that has really come on is Sebastian Aho,” said Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. “He’s really starting to find his stride in the league, he’s extremely competitive, extremely smart and extremely talented. I think it’s a real bright future for our organization with a player like that.”

One of his most recent accomplishments was a hat trick against Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Bigger picture: Aho is part of a Hurricanes team that has a substantial amount of promising young talent and is among the better teams when it comes to puck possession. A difficult start may have set Carolina back early in the season, but the Hurricanes have fought their way back into the playoff fight, now four points back of Philly for a wild card spot, and with two games in hand.

Aho may be a very, very long shot for rookie of the year.

But after a slow start for the team and individual, the Hurricanes now have a 31.1 per cent chance of making the playoffs, and Aho has been a major reason why they’re in contention.

‘You feel like you almost break your leg’ — Leafs’ Rielly tweaked injured ankle vs. Bruins

Getty

Fresh off a thrilling victory on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to make it back-to-back wins when they face the New York Islanders on Monday.

The Maple Leafs hope to have Morgan Rielly in the lineup.

For now, according to Mark Masters of TSN, it looks like Rielly is expected to play in Brooklyn despite dealing with the affects of a high-ankle sprain that forced the 22-year-old defenseman from the lineup for six games last month.

Rielly was hurt again during last night’s game in Boston, briefly leaving for the locker room before eventually returning.

“His conditioning is good,” said coach Mike Babcock. “He tweaked his ankle and that’s going to happen probably for the next — those high ankle sprains, you’re going to tweak it over and over again.

“I’ve had them before. You feel like you almost break your leg. That’s how bad it hurts and yet he seemed to be OK. He’s going to have to push through of them but obviously he’s an important guy for us.”

Rielly finished last night’s game with just over 22 minutes of ice time.

Meanwhile, defenseman Frank Corrado, who has played only twice for the Maple Leafs this season, has cleared waivers and is now headed to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, the organization announced Sunday.

Mrazek was magnificent, as Red Wings shut out the Predators

Getty
5 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Petr Mrazek was ready for everything the Nashville Predators threw at him Saturday night – and they had plenty to offer.

Mrazek made 42 saves, Mike Green scored in the first period and the Detroit Red Wings beat the Predators 1-0 on Saturday night.

“I thought right from the onset, I looked at Petr and thought, `That’s the Petr I know,”‘ Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “When he’s got tons of confidence, he looks big in the net. I thought he was excellent tonight right from the get-go.”

Pekka Rinne made 18 saves for Nashville, which has lost two of three.

“A lot of quality looks tonight and a lot of good chances for us,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “We have to give their goalie some credit, he played well. We had a lot of looks and opportunities. I thought both of the goalies played well. Pekka played well, too.”

Mrazek is 5-0-0 in his career against Nashville. He made nine saves in the first, 16 in the second and 17 in the third to record his first shutout of the season and 10th of his career. He has been the goaltender of record in both of Detroit’s wins over the Predators this season. The first came in Detroit on Oct. 21, when several Predators could not finish the game due to a bout of food poisoning.

Late in the third, Mrazek stopped five Nashville shots in the span of 1:10. His best save of the sequence came on Roman Josi‘s slap shot from the point with Colin Wilson parked just outside of Mrazek’s crease with 2:02 remaining.

Green scored with 1:30 left in the opening period. From below the goal line to the left of the Nashville net, Henrik Zetterberg sent a pass to Green in the high slot, and he beat Rinne from there with a wrist shot high to the glove side.

Zetterberg, along with linemates Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha, cycled the puck in the Nashville zone prior to Green’s goal.

“Z did a good job of just spotting it to an area,” Green said. “But it started with all three of them putting pressure on the D men and turning pucks over and it causes confusion and we get opportunities.”

Zetterberg extended his points streak to three games. He has five points over those three games.

Green’s goal came less than two minutes after Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson hit the crossbar with a backhand from 12 feet away from the Detroit net.

The Lightning didn’t ‘wilt’ against the Ducks

Getty

The Bolts didn’t make it easy on themselves Saturday.

Sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, a shocking position for this club to find itself in after back-to-back lengthy playoff runs, the Lightning had a lead on the Anaheim Ducks only to give it up before finally prevailing for a 3-2 shootout victory.

Brian Boyle scored the winning goal in the four-round shootout.

Following a loss to the Senators earlier this week, Lightning coach Jon Cooper spoke at length about the state his players might be in, calling their struggles “uncharted territory” and that when a team so accustomed to success now struggles to win games, it can be a test.

Needing wins to remain in the 2017 playoff picture, Tampa Bay held a distinct edge in play versus the Ducks, and that includes after giving up the tying goal from Ryan Getzlaf in the third period.

It’s a win. It’s something perhaps the Lightning can build off, if they are to climb the standings and back into the playoff race.

“What I didn’t like is the fact we gave up the lead,” said Cooper, per the Tampa Bay Times.

“But the big thing for us, maybe in recent games we may have wilted then. But we kept creating chances. We went into overtime and I don’t think we gave up a shot (the Lightning didn’t). That was the difference tonight. Even when adversity struck, they said, ‘Okay, enough.'”

Crosby and the Penguins set Blues back with another loss

Getty
2 Comments

After winning their first game in the aftermath of Ken Hitchcock losing his job and Mike Yeo taking over as head coach, the St. Louis Blues took a step back Saturday.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins is a challenge for the best teams in the league. The Blues, looking to build off Thursday’s impressive win over Toronto, had a brutal first period — they were outshot 12-4 — and the team with Sidney Crosby as its star was happy to exploit that.

In the end, St. Louis lost 4-1, remaining two points out of a wild card spot.

Crosby opened the scoring with a beautiful goal, lifting a backhander top corner while down on one knee, for career point No. 995.

Crosby finished the night with three points. He’s up to 30 goals on the season and 997 points for his career. It’s certainly possible he reaches 1,000 career points when the Penguins host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

The Penguins were without Carl Hagelin for most of the game after taking a high hit. Coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin suffered an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated.

Back to the Blues for now.

While Jake Allen has endured his struggles of late, it’s hard to fault this loss on him. He stopped 27 of 30 shots, but the Blues were only able to test Marc-Andre Fleury with 23 shots at the other end.

“For whatever reason, we weren’t aggressive enough,” said Yeo.

The bad news didn’t end there. St. Louis forward Robby Fabbri was hurt in the first period after getting hit along the boards.

He didn’t return to the game after suffering a lower-body injury, and Yeo didn’t have an update on Fabbri after the game.