James O'Brien

Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant, center, talks to the players in the third period of an NHL hockey preseason game against the Dallas Stars in Sunrise, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. The Stars won 4-3 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Report: Panthers will sign Gerard Gallant to an extension, too

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It’s not official, but it sounds like the Florida Panthers signed head coach Gerard Gallant to a two-year contract extension, or they’re very close to doing so.

That’s the news from George Richards of the Miami Herald, who reports that an official announcement is expected to come sometime on Saturday.

In a way, it’s as if the Panthers are locking up their core … only it’s in the front office, not on the roster.

The Panthers already announced an extension for GM Dale Tallon and a new title (associate GM) for Tom Rowe. Again, the Gallant news comes from Richards rather than being official.

With their seven-game winning streak intact, this certainly seems timely for the franchise. The Panthers continue to make steady progress for the most part, with what appears to be a clear plan – and rare stability – after years of mismanagement.

Gerard faces challenges ahead in getting Florida into the playoffs, ideally with at least a round of home-ice advantage (which they’d achieve if the postseason began today).

Tallon must overcome hurdles of his own, most precisely in locking up the young stars he’s amassed, especially rising assets like Aleksander Barkov (who needs an extension of his own).

Oilers are getting healthier, including McDavid, Yakupov

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Things are looking better for the Edmonton Oilers health-wise … except maybe for Oscar Klefbom.

Let’s get to the good news, though.

Two key forwards resumed skating on Friday: Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov.

McDavid seemed pretty happy with how things went two months after he broke his collarbone in a freak bit of bad luck. You can see full video of his comments above.

“It’s good to feel normal again and be out there with them,” McDavid said. “Today was a little bit of a lighter practice, they were getting ready for tomorrow’s game but it was still a lot of fun to be out there.”

He pointed out that, with an upper-body injury, McDavid can keep his legs fresh, which could be good news regarding 2015’s No. 1 pick hitting the ground running whenever he returns.

(The team only really said that he’s on schedule, which isn’t super-useful since previous updates were a little opaque.)

Speaking of portions of a body being injured, that Klefbom update, which is troubling while also being vaguely amusing:

The issue being not-short-term: not funny. Calling him injured in both his upper and lower-body: kinda funny.

Anyway, with the Oilers hitting a lull after showing some serious signs of improvement, it’s heartening that two of their No. 1 overall picks are that much closer to returning to the lineup.

Sharks ride strong finish to win vs. Flyers

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The San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers don’t meet that often, but the two teams lived up to rivalry night with a bitter affair. Call it a mean-spirited version of quality over quantity.

Maybe those bad feelings powered the Sharks in the end; after falling behind 2-1 early in the third period, the Sharks stormed back with three unanswered goals to win the game 4-2.

Joe Pavelski was the ultimate difference-maker on Wednesday, scoring the game-winning goal and the insurance dagger. His captain’s “C” may also be short for “clutch.”

Here’s his game-winner:

Another plus for San Jose: Logan Couture didn’t just return from his latest injury issues, he also contributed to the win with two assists.

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Again, there was plenty of nastiness to go around in this one.

Chris VandeVelde stood out by giving and receiving some of the biggest hits of that contest:

The Flyers might feel beat up as a group right now, as they’ve lost the first two games of their tough road trip through California with matching 4-2 losses (they wrap it up against the Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday).

That’s not to say it’s all about news for Philly, though, as Claude Giroux may feel rejuvenated by breaking his five-game pointless streak with a goal.

So that’s a plus … and there’s also the perk of not having to visit the Sharks in San Jose again this season.

Rangers end road rut by edging Lightning

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For the first time since Nov. 21, the New York Rangers managed to win a game on the road.

Let’s face it, things have been bumpy for more than a month at home or away; the Rangers have gone 6-10-2 since that 5-4 overtime win against the Florida Panthers.

This was the sort of win the Rangers wanted to see, though: a hard-working performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning, one with a smaller margin of error than the score might indicate.

(Two Rangers goals came with an empty Lightning net in that 5-2 victory.)

The Rangers seemed pleased with their collective efforts.

The Lightning now look like the team with greater struggles, as they’ve struggled to really take advantage of a six-game homestand.

They’re currently 2-2-1 with one game left on this string of contests in Tampa Bay. If the Lightning fall short of the playoffs, they’ll kick themselves for dropping games like these.

Capitals gains: Ninth straight win leaves Washington on top of NHL

Washington Capitals right wing Justin Williams (14) celebrates his goal with teammates Marcus Johansson (90), Karl Alzner (27), and  Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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When you put together a streak of nine consecutive wins – remarkably, all in regulation – it usually involves taking games in multiple ways.

The Washington Capitals have enjoyed some absolutely stellar work from Braden Holtby during this stretch, but their 5-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres had a different feel to it.

For one thing, it was a brutally physical affair at times.

Beyond that, the Capitals found themselves heading into the third period fighting a deficit thanks to Buffalo’s 2-1 lead.

That clearly didn’t matter much, as Alex Ovechkin and especially Evgeny Kuznetsov could not be contained in the final frame, leading the charge back to a 5-2 win with plays like these:

( … Hey, whatever works, right?)

With this latest victory, the Capitals stand atop not just the East standings – where they hold healthy margins – but also the NHL.

They’ve managed to outpace the Stars in more ways than one, as Washington has played two fewer games so far this season.

Will the Capitals remain the cream of the crop when it matters the most? That remains to be seen, but just about every sign points to this team being the NHL’s best heading into 2016.