Jason Brough

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Bobrovsky has been excellent (and busy) for the Blue Jackets

John Tortorella is famous for riding his best players and giving them a ton of ice time.

Or maybe the word is infamous.

Regardless, Tortorella is doing it again. The Columbus head coach has given goalie Sergei Bobrovsky all seven starts this season, including three in four nights last week at Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim.

So far, Bobrovksy has responded well to the challenge. He earned a 35-save shutout in Friday’s 4-0 victory over the Ducks, improving his save percentage to a very impressive .940. He also had a shutout last Saturday in Dallas.

“(Bobrovsky’s) been solid right on through,” Tortorella said, per the club’s website. “That’s what we talked about in the third period, let’s play for him a little bit here and try to help because he’s bailed us out along the way.”

The Jackets had almost a week off after their first two games, so Bobrovsky was well-rested before the team hit the road. Even now, he’s only 11th in total time on ice among NHL goalies.

Still, it will be interesting to see how much work Curtis McElhinney gets as the season progresses. McElhinney went 2-7-3 with an .890 save percentage last season, so Tortorella’s reluctance to play his backup is understandable. Certainly, one could argue that sending Bobrovsky out there game after game gives the Jackets their best chance at making the playoffs.

But then, it could also be argued that playing Bobrovsky too much increases the risk of injury and/or fatigue. And when young Joonas Korpisalo returns from his groin injury, which should be soon, that may be another reason to give Bobrovsky a break.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Tortorella intends to give Bobrovsky 58-60 starts this season. But knowing Tortorella, if Bobrovsky stays healthy and keeps playing well, that number could easily be higher when all’s said and done.

“I’m not going to worry about what other people do with their goalies,” the coach said. “Bob is in great shape. He wants to play.”

The Jackets’ next game is tomorrow at home to Dallas. After that, they play back-to-back Friday and Saturday, at home to Montreal and on the road in St. Louis.

From bad to worse: Stars say Hemsky will miss 5-6 months after surgery

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The Dallas Stars are off to a frustrating, injury-riddled start. They’re 3-4-1 after eight games, and this morning they announced that winger Ales Hemsky would miss most, if not all, of the regular season after having hip surgery.

“Ales underwent surgery this morning to repair a labral tear in his hip,” said GM Jim Nill. “The injury was sustained while he was participating in the World Cup of Hockey. He will be out of the lineup for five to six months as he recovers and rehabilitates.”

Hemsky had 13 goals and 26 assists in 75 games last season. The 33-year-old did play one game for the Stars this season, logging 15:32 last Saturday against Columbus. But clearly he didn’t feel right in his return.

Five months from now, it will be the last day of March. The Stars play their final regular-season game on Apr. 8, meaning there’s no guarantee that Hemsky will be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Related: More bad news in Dallas: Mattias Janmark (knee surgery) out 5-6 months

Stecher’s play about the only positive during Canucks’ slump

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After four straight wins to start the season, things have turned decidedly sour for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks dropped their fifth straight on Saturday, falling 5-2 to Washington. They’ve only scored four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses, and now they’re facing a six-game road trip that starts Wednesday in Montreal, where the Habs have yet to lose.

In fact, about the only thing that’s made Canucks fan happy the past few games has been the play of rookie Troy Stecher. The 22-year-old defenseman was called up last week to replace injured Chris Tanev. He made his NHL debut Tuesday against Ottawa, logging 21:42 on Vancouver’s top pairing with Alex Edler. Against the Caps, he played 22:35 and ended up leading all skaters with five shots.

An offensive defenseman, Stecher has already learned that simply getting the puck on net can be a challenge in today’s NHL, where shooting lanes are only open for an instant.

“The first night I think I had four blocked shots, so I watched some tape and realized how committed guys are to blocking shots,” Stecher told PHT. “Previously, I was able to walk the line and stickhandle. Here, it’s one fake and you have to get it off pretty quick.”

Stecher was not drafted. He was signed as a college free agent out of the University of North Dakota, where he won a national championship last season on a team that included Canucks first-rounder Brock Boeser. An undersized defenseman, he says he models his game after Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon.

Suffice to say, it’s a big jump from college hockey to the NHL, let alone college hockey to skating against the likes of Connor McDavid, which Stecher did Friday, and Alex Ovechkin, which came Saturday.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “It’s better this than babying it in. I’ll find my way. I’m going to make mistakes, and I know that. Ultimately, it’s going to make me a better player in the long run.”

The Canucks have a long road to travel before they’re contenders again. They don’t have a replacement for first-line center Henrik Sedin, and that’s going to be a major challenge for management going forward. But with Stecher, 22, Ben Hutton, 23, Erik Gudbranson, 24, as well as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft, 18-year-old Olli Juolevi, the future of the defense looks considerably brighter now than it did a year ago.

It remains to be seen if Stecher will remain with the Canucks when Tanev is able to return to the lineup. Vancouver will have nine defensemen then, so unless Nikita Tryamkin is willing to accept an AHL assignment, or unless Philip Larsen, Alex Biega or Luca Sbisa are placed on waivers, it’s possible Stecher could be sent back to Utica.

Related: ‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to

Disappointing Predators know they need to ‘pull it together’

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To be fair to the Nashville Predators, they’ve had a tough schedule. Only three home games, against Chicago, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. The rest on the road, in some tough places to play.

Still, their start has been a disappointing one, because the Preds expected to be among the NHL’s elite. Eight games in, they only have two wins, with a goal differential of minus-9, tied for worst in the league.

On Saturday, they dropped a 4-1 decision in San Jose, a game they trailed 3-o just 3:04 into the second period.

“We’ve got to find a way to come out in these games and score the first goal,” head coach Peter Laviolette said, per The Tennessean. “Get a lead and try and build off it from there as opposed to always trying to chase the game from behind or never having that comfort of being up a goal. … Falling into those holes like that, it’s not helping.”

Ryan Johansen isn’t helping much either. The 24-year-old center had three assists in the Preds’ first game, but just one in the next seven. He has no goals and has yet to register a point at even strength. In fact, he hasn’t even been on the ice for a Nashville goal at five-on-five!

Filip Forsberg doesn’t have a goal either, and James Neal has but one.

Meanwhile, the top pairing of P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are minus-7 and minus-6, respectively, with the possession stats to match.

And then there’s Pekka Rinne, who’s 1-4-1 with a .906 save percentage. Not helping.

On the bright side, their schedule begins to ease up soon. They play at Colorado tomorrow and at Arizona Thursday, before returning home to face Carolina, Ottawa, St. Louis, and Anaheim.

“We’ve gone through this before,” said veteran center Mike Fisher. “It’s how you come out of it, how you learn, how you become a team. We’re going to do that, look back in a few weeks and we’ll pull it together.”

They’d better hope so, because this franchise has never entered a season with so much optimism. Maybe that even played a role in the slow start. After all, the Preds wouldn’t be the first team to read their own press clippings, then receive a rude awakening.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.