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

Matt Calvert, Dennis Seidenberg

Report: Bruins’ Soderberg won’t face discipline for hit on Blue Jackets’ Calvert


Boston Bruins forward Carl Soderberg won’t face a fine or suspension for his check on Matt Calvert of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports.

The hit occurred during the second period of the Blue Jackets’ eventual 3-1 win against the Bruins on Saturday:

The check didn’t draw a penalty, yet Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards wasn’t happy about it, deeming the blow a “shot right to the head.”

Calvert (pictured) bounced back from that hit to score the game-winner and an empty-net goal in the third period. Here’s a video of the clincher:

Calvert, 25, has dealt with some injury issues this season (basically fitting in with the rest of the Blue Jackets), so we’ll keep an eye out to see if anything lingers from the hit.

NHL on NBC: Rangers try to gain on Penguins in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

NBC continues its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center at 12:30 pm ET today. In addition to NBC, you can also watch the game online.

There has already been some hockey on NBC this season, but the Sunday docket really begins in earnest today as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers.

It should be an intriguing one to kick things off, too.

The Penguins and Rangers are vying for the Metropolitan Division crown along with the New York Islanders (currently on top) and the Washington Capitals. While Pittsburgh currently holds a four-point edge on New York, the Rangers have a game in hand, so the gap could narrow or widen depending upon how Sunday afternoon’s contest shakes out.

The Rangers aren’t just the hotter of the two teams, they’re flat-out one of the hottest teams in the NHL.

They’ve won 14 of their last 17 games while being strong against the Penguins (2-0-1 this season) and really cleaning up against the division in general (12-3-1 vs. Metro teams).

After a tough first month, Henrik Lundqvist has been the clearest driving force of this turnaround, as he’s resumed his annual Vezina-caliber work. The Rangers boast a nice array of offensive pieces, with Rick Nash’s strong season and Martin St. Louis’ steady production standing out. (Though Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan are key contributors in their own right.)

The Penguins haven’t been so strong against the Metro, going 6-7-3 in the division so far this season. They’ll bring an interesting look into this game, as Sidney Crosby hopes to continue building chemistry with David Perron. It’s interesting to note that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are currently tied for the team lead with 50 points.

It all shapes up to be a test for two teams who hope to be key figures in their division and in the Eastern Conference in general.

Kessel: Leafs ‘can’t go through stretches like this’

Phil Kessel; Peter Horachek

The San Jose Sharks handed the Toronto Maple Leafs their third straight loss and fifth consecutive road defeat on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty as San Jose generated a 3-1 edge and fired 42 shots on goal to Toronto’s 25.

Honestly, the Maple Leafs’ recent numbers are ugly any way you slice it.

  • They have just three wins since Dec. 18 (3-11-0).
  • Toronto has lost six of seven since 2015 rolled around.
  • The Buds have only won once in four games under interim head coach Peter Horachek.
  • Their offense has really gone dry, scoring a single goal in a three-game road trip through California (the tab in those three losses: nine goals for opponents, one for Toronto).

Is it luck?

There was some positive buzz surrounding the Maple Leafs when Horachek first took over. From a big picture standpoint, some of that may stand, at least for those who cringed at Randy Carlyle’s system.

Losing games tends to sour such optimism, however, as Phil Kessel noted to TSN.

“In this league you can’t go through stretches like this,” Kessel said. “Obviously it’s disappointing here. I think we’re playing decent hockey, but we’re just not winning any games.”

It’s bad enough that Kessel is throwing around terms like “slay the dragon.”

Pattern continues

The team is generally saying all the right things, yet as much as they talk about gripping sticks too tightly and needing more bounces, Toronto may just lack the makeup to get things done.

In the last three games, they’ve generated 25, 28 and 19 shots on goal. It’s no secret that they allow more pucks on their net than they, averaging 29 shots on goal per night while giving up 33.5.

To little surprise, this slump is being met with harsh criticism in the media … criticism that’s increasingly difficult to dismiss:

Are the Maple Leafs suffering from bad luck or are they just plain bad? That may be a matter of debate, but the bottom line is that Toronto is quickly fading from the East playoff bubble picture.

With six of their next eight games on the road, this rough stretch may very well continue, too.

Berube, Hextall may differ on best response to hit on Flyers’ Laughton

Craig Berube

During an eventual 1-0 win for the Washington Capitals, Matt Niskanen clobbered young Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton with this big hit, which looks to sideline him for at least tonight’s game:

The Flyers’ response won’t make Laughton return to action any sooner, yet the difference in opinions between GM Ron Hextall and head coach Craig Berube may have made more waves than the check itself.

Here’s how CSNPhilly.com describes the disagreement:

Interestingly, Flyers coach Craig Berube wasn’t sure if the hit was dirty and didn’t think it necessary for the team to retaliate while general manager Ron Hextall was vocal in saying the hit needed to be dealt [with] from the Flyers and while attempts were made toward that end, nothing was carried out on the ice.

Here are the two quotes in question, via NJ Advance Media:

First, Hextall’s take:

“You gotta hit him back,” Hextall said. “Hit him or (star center Nicklas) Backstrom (who fell over Laughton after the hit) … That’s how you respond these days.”

Next, Berube:

“Niskanen’s not going to drop his gloves and fight anybody, so you can’t just go and grab a guy and start punching,” Berube said. “You’re going to get a five-minute major. I don’t think it’s a very smart move personally. Yeah, if the game’s 5-0 at the time or something like that. It’s a 1-0 game. We’re trying to win the hockey game. You’ve got to be smart.”

Perhaps the two really disagree on the matter, but maybe it could boil down to semantics? After all, Berube also said that players know to “respond to it” and be physical about it, although one could make a reasonable argument that he’s more emphatic about avoiding a foolish penalty than Hextall might be. Maybe.

(Really, for all the patience Hextall has shown compared to recent Flyers general managers, you didn’t think that the once-volatile goalie would promote turning the other cheek, did you?)

If it’s truly a matter of profound and problematic disagreement, they’ll likely hash it out behind closed doors. One would assume it’s not a huge issue, really.

That said, plenty of people will be watching a little bit more closely the next time a Flyers player receives a big hit.

Report: Rangers closing in on six-year extension with Marc Staal

New York Rangers v Florida Panthers

The New York Rangers have some key free agent decisions to make after this season, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that they’re already making progress toward signing Marc Staal to a contract extension.

To be more specific, Brooks passes along word that it would be a six-year deal worth somewhere between $5.6 million per season ($33.6 million overall) or as much as $5.9 million ($35.4 million).

A well-placed source said there had been “a productive meeting” here on Wednesday between assistant general manager Jeff Gorton and Staal’s representative, Paul Krepelka.

Such figures show a little bit of progress from what was reported in September, as it was believed the Rangers were offering Dan Girardi money ($33 million) while Staal, 28, was asking for a seven-year deal worth at least $42 million overall.

(ESPN’s Craig Custance backs up Brooks’ report that a six-year extension seems to be in the works.)

Girardi currently carries the Rangers’ highest cap hit among defensemen at $5.5 million, while rising star Ryan McDonagh’s mark is $4.7 million. Even in Staal’s low-end range according to that report, he’d be the third-highest paid Rangers player (cap hit-wise) in 2015-16 behind Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Rick Nash ($7.8 million).

ESPN’s Katie Strang indicates that Staal would receive a full no-movement clause, while her colleague Pierre LeBrun gives a few more details:

Staal ranks third on the Rangers in ice time per game with 22:03 behind Girardi (23:26) and McDonagh (22:58). His possession numbers have sagged a bit since a strong turnaround in 2013-14, yet Brooks notes that the Rangers have been especially happy with Staal’s defensive work lately. He has seven points in 41 games this season.

Staal is far from the only relevant pending free agent on the team, as Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello rank as the Rangers’ most prominent UFAs while Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are the leading RFAs on the squad.