The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without their best defenseman tonight against the Rangers, and possibly for a few more games after that. Morgan Rielly is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after crashing into the boards Tuesday against Buffalo.
With Rielly out, Jake Gardiner will step into the top-pairing role with Nikita Zaitsev. It’s a big responsibility for the 26-year-old Gardiner. The Leafs are right in the thick of the playoff race, and they don’t want to lose ground.
“You’re playing against the best guys every shift,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “The best guys tend to be harder on the defensemen, so you just have to handle it. Jake has become a way better defender and can move the puck, so he does not spend a whole lot of time in his zone. We will see how it goes here today, but Zaitsev is a good player to play with too and it should be a good pair for us.”
Gardiner has spent most of the season on Toronto’s second pair alongside Connor Carrick, who will now skate with Frank Corrado. The other pairing will stay the same: Roman Polak with Matt Hunwick.
Rielly’s injury also presents an opportunity for Corrado to prove he belongs in the lineup. The 23-year-old has been limited to just one game with the Leafs this season; he was recently down in the AHL on a conditioning assignment.
Read more: Frustrated Corrado sounds off
“I think he went down there and tried to work real hard and be a real good pro, which I think is real important when you’re a veteran guy and you play with those kids,” Babcock said of Corrado, per Maple Leafs Hot Stove. “That’s positive, and now he gets his opportunity here.”
The Vancouver Canucks have called up defenseman Jordan Subban from the AHL.
Subban, the youngest brother of Nashville’s P.K. Subban, has nine goals and 13 assists in 34 games for the Utica Comets this season. The 21-year-old is not very big, and he’s had to work on his defensive play, but as his statistics suggest, he does have good offensive abilities.
It remains to be seen if Subban will actually play for the Canucks, who host Florida tomorrow and then hit the road for a three-game road trip starting Sunday in Chicago. Vancouver also announced today that d-man Andrey Pedan has been reassigned to the AHL. Pedan’s 30-days waivers exemption was set to expire today; hence, that move.
Subban is unlikely to get into the lineup unless Troy Stecher is unable to play. Stecher has reportedly been battling the flu and only logged 11:50 of ice time in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Nashville.
The Canucks have three defensemen on injured reserve: Erik Gudbranson, Ben Hutton, and Philip Larsen.
Related: Jordan Subban has ‘a great opportunity’ to prove himself to Canucks
Darryl Sutter wants more from his “top guys.”
In the wake of last night’s 3-2 loss to the Sharks, the Kings’ head coach was no doubt referring to the likes of Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, each of whom has just four goals this season.
Though Gaborik did manage to score last night, Kopitar didn’t. The captain has just one goal in his last 16 games. And for $10 million a season, it’s not enough to be good defensively.
“You need those top guys to make a difference,” said Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “You’re going to be in one-goal games, lots of ‘em. How many have we had this year? I mean, how many times? I bet I’ve already pulled the goalie more times ever than I have ever, so that means you’re one goal down. It means that you need your top guys to make a difference there.”
Jeff Carter (23 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals this season. And with no Tyler Toffoli, it’s even more important that Kopitar and Gaborik start chipping in more regularly.
Gaborik’s produced lately, with three goals in his last six games. That needs to continue, and Kopitar needs to find his scoring touch.
The Kings (22-19-4) kick off a five-game road trip Saturday in Brooklyn. After 45 games, they’re barely hanging on to a wild-card spot, with Vancouver, Nashville, Dallas, and Winnipeg all within striking distance.
It’s worth noting that only four teams have fewer regulation victories than the Kings have (12). If not for their 9-1 record in overtime, they might really be in trouble.
Seth Griffith is on waivers again.
The 24-year-old forward has only managed five assists in 21 games for the Florida Panthers since being claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs had claimed Griffith off waivers from Boston at the beginning of the season.
A prolific scorer at the AHL level (he had 77 points in 57 games for Providence last season), Griffith has just six goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games.
Griffith has been a healthy scratch the past three games for the Panthers.
Aleksander Barkov was only supposed to miss 2-3 weeks with a then-undisclosed injury.
That timeline was provided almost three weeks ago, and Barkov still isn’t back playing for the Florida Panthers.
Today, interim coach Tom Rowe provided an update, and it wasn’t good news. Rowe told reporters on a conference call that there’s no timeline for Barkov’s return. He then dropped an even bigger bomb, admitting there’s concern that both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau could have season-ending injuries.
The Panthers are still hopeful that Huberdeau will be back by early March. The 23-year-old hasn’t played at all this season after suffering a skate laceration in the preseason. His original timeline was 3-4 months.
The Panthers’ frustrating season continued last night in Edmonton, where they lost 4-3 in overtime on a Connor McDavid goal with 2.6 seconds remaining. Though they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, the closest two teams they’re chasing, Toronto and Ottawa, each have five games in hand.
It’s estimated that Florida (20-18-9) will need to go in the neighborhood of 20-10-5 down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. And that will obviously be a lot tougher to accomplish without two of the team’s best forwards — if, indeed, Barkov and Huberdeau are sidelined for much, or even all, of the remaining schedule.