Jason Brough


Nylander bumped down to fourth line after costly turnover versus Ducks

After committing a costly turnover in Monday’s loss to Anaheim, Maple Leafs rookie William Nylander has apparently been dropped down to Toronto’s fourth line ahead of tonight’s game in Denver.

Nylander was skating this morning with Matt Martin and AHL callup Byron Froese. That’s the same trio that practiced together yesterday, causing quite the stir in Toronto.

Nylander, 20, has six goals and 14 assists in 30 games, his 20 points good for fourth among Leafs scorers. But in the third period against the Ducks, he over-handled the puck in his own end and was checked off it. Nick Ritchie scored seconds later, making it 2-1 for Anaheim. The Leafs eventually lost, 3-2.

The relationship between Nylander and head coach Mike Babcock has been under the microscope all season.

From a Toronto Star story:

If there’s a rookie Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock is tinkering with the most, it’s William Nylander.

Sometimes he’s a winger. Sometimes he’s a center. Sometimes he plays up in the lineup. Sometimes he’s on the fourth line.

There’s a message in there.

The message is this: If Nylander wants to be a top-six forward — and especially if he wants to play center — he needs to be responsible defensively.

The scrutiny of the Nylander-Babcock relationship has grown so intense that it’s led to trade speculation. The Leafs, after all, could use another defenseman or two, and a player with Nylander’s talent would certainly garner interest if he were made available.

Earlier this month, Babcock shot down the rumors, which also included James van Riemsdyk.

“We’re not looking to move those guys,” he said.

But that won’t stop the talk. The Leafs have a relative surplus of talent up front, and you can bet they won’t be trading Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner.

Torts downplays significance of tonight’s Jackets-Penguins game


Quite the matchup tonight in Columbus, where the NHL’s hottest team will host the Stanley Cup champs in a much-anticipated Metropolitan Division clash.

The Blue Jackets enter having won 10 straight, their last two in overtime and a shootout, respectively.

The Penguins, meanwhile, will again be missing two of their best defenseman, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. But that wasn’t a problem Tuesday, when they smoked the Rangers, 7-2. Pittsburgh has gone 10 straight without losing in regulation (8-0-2).

“It’s two good teams going after it,” said Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist, per Pens Inside Scoop. “They won 10 in a row and we’ve been really good here lately too.”

Read more: The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

The Blue Jackets have their own injury concerns with leading scorer Cam Atkinson spending yesterday in a walking boot after blocking a shot Tuesday against the Kings. Atkinson still may play tonight, but if he does, it remains to be seen if he’ll be limited in any way.

True to form, John Tortorella downplayed the significance of tonight’s matchup with the Pens.

“It’s another game that’s on the schedule and we are approaching it as we have all year long,” the head coach said, per the Columbus Dispatch.

But you can bet Jackets and Penguins fans won’t see it the same way. This is a game that both sides will be watching closely. It should be a fun one.

Pastrnak, Vatrano expected to return for Bruins tonight


Expect to see David Pastrnak and Frank Vatrano in the Boston Bruins’ lineup tonight in Florida against the Panthers.

Pastrnak took line rushes this morning with his regular mates, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, while Vatrano was with Austin Czarnik and Riley Nash on the third line.

Pastrnak, the Bruins’ leading goal-scorer (19), has missed two games after undergoing an elbow procedure Friday.

“I feel good. The trainers did a good job. I’m back and I feel good,” Pastrnak said yesterday, per the Bruins’ website. “It’s always tough to watch games from the top. You want to play and you don’t want to spend any time injured. I’m happy I’m back on the ice. I missed two games, it could be worse. Always can be worse, so happy I’m back.”

Vatrano was recently recalled from a conditioning stint in the AHL. He’s yet to play an NHL game this season, after the 22-year-old was forced to undergo offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot.

The Bruins (17-14-3) could certainly use a couple of goal-scorers. They’ll enter tonight’s game with the league’s 25th-ranked offense, and are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday.


DeBrincat, Brown cut from U.S. World Juniors roster


Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown, two forwards who’ve put up big numbers in the OHL, have been cut from the United States’ World Juniors roster.

A second-round draft pick of the Blackhawks, DeBrincat, 19, has 30 goals and 30 assists in 28 games for the Erie Otters. He was on the team last year and was expected to be a big part of this year’s squad.

Brown, the 11th overall pick in 2016 (Senators), has 21 points (8G, 13A) in 15 games for Windsor. The 18-year-old has been battling a wrist injury, which may have hindered his chances of making the team.

“We knew coming into the camp that decisions would be difficult and that is a testament to these quality players and the talent pool available to us in the United States,” said USA GM Jim Johannson. “There are still some decisions to be made, but as a staff we are pleased by the team’s continued chemistry and unity that head coach Bob Motzko first started back in August.”

From the USA Hockey press release:

The 24-player roster includes three returnees from the bronze medal-winning 2016 U.S. National Junior Team, including defensemen Chad Krys (Ridgefield, Conn./Boston University) and Charlie McAvoy (Long Beach, N.Y./Boston University and forward Colin White (Hanover, Mass./Boston College).

Of the original 27 camp invitees (three goalies, eight d-men, and 16 forwards), only 23 will make the cut.

Brock Boeser, a forward, has already been ruled out after undergoing wrist surgery.

Pre-game reading: On Craig Cunningham — ‘I thought he was gone’

— Up top, the NHL’s goals of the week, featuring plenty of lucky bounces and some nice moves by Tomas Tatar

— Craig Cunningham is doing a lot better these days, but for his mom, Heather, his medical emergency on Nov. 19 was a living nightmare. “I watched my son die right in front of my eyes. There was not a doubt in my mind. I thought he was gone. From the minute he hit the ice I could tell there was something not right. The waiting was awful. It was the worst. The doctors coming, going, not coming back. Every time they enter the room, you’re like, ‘Is he still here or he didn’t make it?’ It was horrifying.” Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. Though his hockey career may be over, it sounds like it will be a joyous, and thankful, holiday season for the Cunninghams. (Arizona Daily Star)

— More on Cunningham’s recovery. Here’s Coyotes coach Dave Tippett: “That’s the epitome of Cunny right there. Great to see he’s doing well. He didn’t give up on them and the people who helped him didn’t give up on him either. They said 85 minutes they kept working on his heart to try to keep him going. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.” (NHL.com)

— This past summer, Cam Fowler was surprised he wasn’t traded. Now, thanks to some advice from his dad, the Ducks defenseman is on pace for a career high in points. “I just didn’t feel like I was contributing as much offensively as I felt I was able to. When I was scouted and I first started in the league, I was known as an offensive defenseman and I had a good rookie year in terms of points, but then I was around 30-35 points and I felt like there was more there. I’m trusting myself a little more. It’s a mindset. If you see pucks go in, you start to gain confidence.” (The Hockey News)

— Two years ago today, Blackhawks equipment manager Clint Reif took his own life. Since then, his wife, Kelly, has been trying to teach their four young children that life is, for the most part, good. “It’s not something you imagine the way your life would be going. But you have to keep going. We’re still doing better than 95 percent of the people in the world and you can’t let your kids forget that. Something bad happened to us but we don’t have bad lives.” (Chicago Tribune)

— Fatima Al Ali is a member of the United Arab Emirates women’s national team, and a talented one at that, as you can see in the video below. According to the Washington Post, Fatima is being flown over to watch a Capitals game in February as part of “Hockey Is For Everyone Month,” an NHL initiative that offers children of all backgrounds the opportunity to play the game. (Washington Post)

Enjoy the games!