Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Ranking the NHL’s best, young cores

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— Up top, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg made quite the impassioned plea after an “embarrassing” home loss to Arizona. But it didn’t do much good, as Detroit has lost two of three since. The Wings play tonight at Florida before starting their Christmas break.

— TSN’s Frank Seravalli took on a neat task, ranking all 30 NHL teams by their four core players under the age of 24. The Edmonton Oilers, with no playoff appearances since 2006, rank first, with a core of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi and Oscar Klefbom. The Los Angeles Kings, with two Stanley Cup victories in the last five seasons, are last, with a core of Adrian Kempe, Kale Clague, Erik Cernak, and Jacob Moverare. (TSN)

— NHL.com’s goalie guru, Kevin Woodley, asked a bunch of netminders which of their counterparts’ skills they’d like to receive for Christmas. For example, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk would take Carey Price‘s skating. “Price pushes and stops and he’s set like he’s floating out there.” Carolina’s Eddie Lack, meanwhile, would love to have Dubnyk’s puck-tracking ability. “He’s been the best goalie in the league, he’s really playing great and his biggest strengths are his tracking and patience.” (NHL.com)

— Speaking of Dubnyk and Price, Pierre LeBrun reached out to a few NHL general managers and asked them which goalie was leading the Vezina Trophy race. Said one GM: “Price, Bobrovsky, Dubnyk. I would say it’s Price’s trophy to lose.” Another also said Price. But another said Dubnyk, so don’t count anybody out yet. The Vezina Trophy is voted on by the 30 NHL GMs, so those opinions aren’t for nothing. (ESPN.com)

— Should the Washington Capitals be worried about Alex Ovechkin‘s production? “Ovechkin is averaging 3.94 shots per game this season, compared to 5.04 a season ago, and while he leads the Washington Capitals with 14 goals, that’s three fewer than he had through 31 games last season. If he maintains his current pace, he could finish with one of the least productive seasons of his high-scoring career.” (Washington Post)

— If the NHL bails on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, would it even be allowed to send players to Beijing’s Games in 2022? That’s a pretty good question, because as commissioner Gary Bettman concedes, “China’s a very big country. There seems to be a growing interest in hockey, partly I suppose because they’re hosting the Olympics in 2022. I think there’s a great opportunity to grow the game there.” (Postmedia)

Enjoy the games!

Jackets sign prolific Russian scorer (and meteor survivor) Vitaly Abramov

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The Columbus Blue Jackets, coming off that big win over the Penguins, today announced they’ve signed Russian winger Vitaly Abramov to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Abramov, 18, was the Jackets’ third-round draft pick (65th overall) in 2016.

A smaller forward, listed at just 5-9 and 172 pounds — which likely hurt his draft stock — Abramov currently plays for the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. In 32 games this season, he has 23 goals and 22 assists. For comparison’s sake, his 45 points are 12 more than the second-leading scorer on his team.

From DobberProspects.com:

A dynamic offensive player who possesses excellent vision and offensive creativity. Has a wide array of moves, dekes and toe-drags with explosive acceleration and a high-end top gear.

And here’s another interesting tidbit, courtesy the Columbus Dispatch:

Vitaly Abramov will never forget all the broken glass and sense of panic that gripped his school.

The affable Russian winger knows how fortunate he was a giant fireball streaking across the morning sky on Feb, 15, 2013 didn’t enter the Earth’s atmosphere on a slightly different trajectory. His hometown of Chelyabinsk survived a spectacular meteor explosion which injured 1,500 people.  It packed an estimated energy release 20 times more potent than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, according to various reports.

“It was terrible and I was scared,” Abramov said. “I saw it from the window . . . For the rest of my life I will remember it.”

According to Wikipedia, the explosion from the meteor “created panic among local residents, and about 1,500 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical treatment.” But fortunately, nobody was killed.

“I was in school and all the windows in my class crashed,” Abramov told NHL.com. “All windows in the city was gone. … It was like big panic because it was something none of us had ever seen. But after that it was fine when everyone said it was a meteorite and we’re still alive.”

Related: Draft-day shocker: Blue Jackets take Dubois over Puljujarvi

With Matthews in town, a ‘pretty special’ night awaits in Arizona

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There’s something quite different about tonight’s Arizona Coyotes’ game in Glendale.

There’s actually some hype.

That’s because Scottsdale native Auston Matthews, the first overall draft pick in 2016, is in town for his first-ever visit with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s always a nice treat to come home,” Matthews said, per the Toronto Star. “I’ll have pretty much my whole family (at Friday’s game), so it’ll be nice. I know I talked to my coach, who coached me in midget and bantam and stuff, and he said they had to cancel practice. Nobody wanted to go to practice (Friday) because we’re going in there playing.”

The Leafs played last night in Denver, where they smoked the hopeless Avalanche, 6-0, and Matthews notched his 16th goal. As of this morning, there were still tickets available for tonight’s game, but it’s expected to be a larger crowd than the average one at Gila River Arena (12,648 so far this season).

Matthews’ dad, Brian, is looking forward to it.

“The fact he’s now going to be stepping on that ice and actually playing knowing 15, 16 years ago he was the one sitting on my knee watching,” he told the Arizona Republic, “it’s going to be pretty special.”

Matthews has already faced the Coyotes once. He scored a goal against them Dec. 15 in Toronto, but it was ex-Leaf Peter Holland who got the last laugh, notching the shootout winner for Arizona.

Related: A plan comes together: Leafs take Matthews first overall

‘That’s a dirty hit, for sure’ — Canucks want NHL to act after Perreault injures Hansen

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The Vancouver Canucks had a very bad night against the Winnipeg Jets.

Not only did they lose, 4-1, Thursday at Rogers Arena, they got burned for two goals by Nikolaj Ehlers, an “amazing kid” they could’ve drafted in 2014.

On top of that, they lost top-line winger Jannik Hansen to injury, just six games into his return from a previous injury that cost him 16 games.

Hansen will have an MRI today after getting kneed in the second period by Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault, who was, indeed, penalized for kneeing.

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“Jannik didn’t like it,” captain Henrik Sedin told The Province newspaper afterwards. “He felt it was knee on knee. … He tried it out and he took one or two strides and it buckled.”

Sedin added, “It took at least a couple of seconds before Perreault came. That’s a dirty hit, for sure. That’s something we can’t have in this league. We’ll see what the league does.”

Update: The league won’t do anything.

Hansen reportedly said the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked, but he won’t be traveling to tonight’s game in Calgary. His absence could open the door for Anton Rodin, who’s been recalled from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

Rodin has yet to make his Canucks debut, after tweaking his knee in the preseason. If he plays tonight, it would mark the end of a lengthy road to the NHL. Now 26, Rodin was Vancouver’s second-round draft pick all the way back in 2009.

Related: Rodin making a good second impression with Canucks

Surprising Senators win fourth straight, head into break ‘on a high note’

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) The Ottawa Senators are looking forward to their upcoming break despite playing some of their best hockey of the season.

Mike Hoffman scored a power-play goal at 4:03 of overtime as the Senators beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on Thursday night for their second four-game win streak of the season.

Hoffman’s one-timer on a pass from Dion Phaneuf beat John Gibson in the Anaheim goal after Andrew Cogliano took a high-sticking minor at 3:23 of the extra period.

“We wanted to finish on a high note and there’s not much of a better way to go into the Christmas break than with four wins in a row. Everyone worked hard and it’s going to be a nice couple of days,” Hoffman said.

Ryan Dzingel scored in regulation for the Senators (20-11-3), who got 24 saves from Mike Condon.

Jakob Silfverberg had the goal for Anaheim (17-12-6) and Gibson made 16 saves, but didn’t face a single shot in the second half of the third period and just the one in overtime that beat him.

“I think for the first 30 minutes we played great and then after that we kind of let them back in the game. We stopped playing the way that made us successful and they took over the game,” Senators captain Erik Karlsson said.

“We stuck to it though and we battled all the way through 64 minutes. It’s a well-deserved Christmas break for everybody in here and everybody is excited about it.”

With the score tied 1-1 early in the third, the Senators were put in a tough situation when Bobby Ryan took a four-minute minor for high sticking, giving the league’s second-ranked power play and extended opportunity.

Other than when things got hectic around the Ottawa net in the final 20 seconds of the power play, the Senators really didn’t allow the Ducks to create any sustained pressure.

“We could have scored on the power play and that would have been the difference in the game. We had a full four-minute power play that we didn’t really generate enough with and it didn’t give us any momentum,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

“We still stayed with our game plan and that’s more of the type of hockey that it’s going to take to have success on the road, and we know that.”

The Ducks wrapped up their six-game, 10-day road trip 2-3-1, which included a 6-1 loss in Montreal Tuesday.

“We ran out of gas and we didn’t have any life. We had a 2-1 hockey game (in Montreal) going into the third and they exploded and got four in the third on us. I didn’t want that to happen (again) so I feel real good about our performance. We didn’t get the extra point but we’ll move on.”

The teams produced just 11 shots on goal through a scoreless first period, with the only real scoring chance coming late when Jean Gabriel Pageau redirected a shot just wide of the Anaheim goal.

Both teams got on the board in the second period, with the Senators scoring early to take a 1-0 lead before the Ducks scored very late to tie the game.

Dzingel took a pass from Kyle Turris and beat Gibson with a shot just under the crossbar from the left hash mark at 1:02.

The Ducks thought they tied it with just over minute to play, but the goal by Nick Ritchie was immediately waved off as Corey Perry had backed into Condon in the crease.

Perry redeemed himself a minute later when his no-look, through-the-legs pass landed right on the stick of Silfverberg, who scored a power-play goal with 10 seconds to play in the period.

Shots on goal through the first 40 minutes favored Anaheim by a low 14-12 count.