<span class="vcard">James O'Brien</span>

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL on NBCSN: Lightning seek sweep vs. Hurricanes

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Carolina Hurricanes host the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

At a quick glance, Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes should be a layup for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They’re the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning won three straight games heading into the All-Star break. Even with Tyler Johnson’s lower-body injury labeling him as a game-time decision, the Bolts go into this contest boasting a ton of talent.

The margins are smaller once you look a little closer, though.

Yes, the Lightning won both games against the Hurricanes so far, but each win was by a 2-1 score. Tampa Bay boasts frail leads in the conference (the New York Islanders trail by one standings point with two games in hand) and its division (Detroit is only behind by one point with a game in hand; Montreal is three away with three games in hand).

The Lightning still seem to shake out as one of the East’s elite (see their +29 goal differential, among other factors), yet that closer examination still speaks to the notion that they have some work to do.

The most obvious area of improvement is their work on the road. They’ve quietly struggled away from Tampa Bay, going 11-10-3. Every other current East playoff team grades better that the Lightning (some much, others just a bit) until you get to eighth-place Boston with a nearly identical 10-9-3 road mark.

If the Bolts want to take that next step from promising, rising team to genuine contenders, they need to become more proficient without home cooking.

The Hurricanes stand as a sturdier test than their 16-25-5 record suggests, too.

Carolina is on a two-game winning streak and is 6-2-1 in nine January contests. With the Staal brothers, Jeff Skinner and All-Star Justin Faulk, there’s enough talent there to make the Hurricanes a spoiler threat as the seasons last two-plus months wind down.

At the moment, it seems like it might be Anton Khudobin vs. Ben Bishop in net, but stay tuned for goalie nods to find out for sure.

Barry Trotz is determined to save Foley the Tiger

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Barry Trotz is now the coach of the Washington Capitals, yet it’s clear that he still has a huge soft spot for some of the biggest predators.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline passes along a great story from the All-Star break: Trotz spent Saturday at the Columbus Zoo and left with a goal to save Foley the Tiger from what might be an unpleasant move to Kansas. (See more at the bottom of this post.)

It sounds like he might even try to get Ohio State coach Urban Meyer involved in the cause.

Seriously, Trotz sounds like he’ll stand his ground on this one:

The Washington Post points out that this isn’t the first time Trotz took up the cause of a big cat since becoming the head coach of the Capitals, as he showed interest in a lion as well.

In case you’re wondering, this is what Foley looks like:

It seems like Foley is already something of a big-cat-celebrity, so we’ll see if that’s enough to sidetrack such a move. If nothing else, it’s another example of Trotz sporting a heart of gold below what seems like an occasionally gruff demeanor.

Update: Here’s a little more background on the situation regarding possibly moving the tiger.

So perhaps Foley doesn’t need saving … but hey, Trotz’s heart is in the right place, at least.

PHT Morning Skate: It’s not all bad for Mike Richards

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Gauging how recent estimations may impact the always-relevant salary cap concerns for the Chicago Blackhawks. (CSNChicago.com)

The value of versatility in players like Dustin Byfuglien. (Boston Globe)

Is a slap shot the best way to deal with a loose tooth? *Grabs mouth* (Puck Daddy)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $20,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Tuesday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Tuesday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The late, great Jean Believeau scored his first NHL goal on this day back in 1951. A great find from the Montreal Gazette’s Dave Stubbs:

Hey, the 2015 All-Star break wasn’t all bad for Mike Richards, as he seemingly got engaged:

KHL president: Russia focuses on World Championships, not World Cup in 2016

2014 Paralympic Winter Games - Previews: Day 0
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The NHL wasn’t the only noteworthy hockey league hosting its All-Star Game this past weekend, as the KHL also collected its best (who weren’t on vacation) for a friendly exhibition.

League president Dmitry Chernyshenko held a press conference heading into that event on Sunday, providing some interesting insight into how the KHL (and in a way, Russian hockey) feels about developments in North America.

For one thing, Chernyshenko believes it would be great to stage a game between the winner of the KHL’s Gagarin Cup and the Stanley Cup, although he acknowledges that “there are still several obstacles in the way: technical difficulties and the different season schedules.”

Perhaps the most interesting revelation came when he seemed to boost the World Hockey Championships’ image above that of the renewed World Cup of Hockey, at least as far as 2016 is concerned.

“For Russians, the main event of 2016 will be the World Championships, which we’ll be hosting, and where we’ll need to show the same spirit of national unity as during the Olympic Games. We will always devise the season schedule with the interests of the national team in mind, so if the guys in charge of Team Russia decide that we should compete in the World Cup, we will re-arrange the schedule.” 

As you can see from that last point, it’s not as if the KHL is shutting the door on adjusting to the World Cup if needed, though.

Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk seemed especially amenable to the idea, stating that “it’s a worthy tournament, where everything is getting better and I’m really looking forward to it.”

KHL players are encouraged to participate in the event, so it might be a treat for hockey fans who miss seeing skilled players like Kovalchuk against NHL-caliber talent. We’ll see if the KHL ends up sending such talented athletes to the World Cup in 2016, however, especially with another tournament presenting potential competition.

‘Crippling and potentially historic’ blizzard threatens cancellations Tuesday

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A looming blizzard that the Associated Press describes as “crippling and potentially historic” could threaten game cancellations on Tuesday.

Specifically, the New York Post points to the New York Islanders hosting the New York Rangers as a game facing a particular threat from the massive proportions of snowfall:

The blizzard-level forecasts, however, have the NHL and both clubs monitoring whether a postponement might be necessary. The league waited until the afternoon of Nov. 20 before postponing the Rangers’ match the next day in snow-covered Buffalo to Feb. 20, jamming a sixth back-to-back set into a grueling second-half slate.

A potential makeup date has not been announced, but it would make the most sense simply to play the game on Wednesday. Both teams are idle with home games scheduled on Thursday night.

Perhaps the weather may also have an impact on the plans of the Philadelphia Flyers (hosting the Arizona Coyotes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (facing the Winnipeg Jets at home)? The Penguins seem to be in good spirits about a contest taking place as of this morning:

Here’s more about the impact beyond New York and New Jersey, according to the AP:

Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said.

The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.

Also, a sheer tragedy:

Either way, that Rangers – Islanders game certainly seems like it would be under the greatest threat of being canceled, even if the NHL’s been pretty resilient when it comes to avoiding weather-related schedule changes. When you hear quotes like these from the AP, you can’t help but feel like it might be the best idea in this case, though:

“This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference in a Manhattan.

Under normal circumstances, one would not expect the NHL to make the call until tomorrow, but this does not sound like a normal storm, so we’ll see.

Hey, at least some are having fun with all of this though:

Not very nice.