Jason Brough

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Oilers sign second-round pick Benson, who may have been a steal

If Tyler Benson had been healthy last season, there’s a good chance he would’ve been a first-round draft pick.

But he wasn’t healthy. Far from it. Thanks to surgery in September to remove a cyst near his tailbone, and then an inflamed pubic bone, he ended up playing just 30 games for the Vancouver Giants.

And so his draft stock fell, and he was eventually taken 32nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers.

We only mention this because the Oilers announced today that they’d signed Benson, an Edmonton native, to a three-year, entry-level contract. The 18-year-old forward is currently enjoying a much healthier season in the WHL. He has 40 points (10G, 30A) in 31 games for the Giants.

Benson admitted in June that it was frustrating being hurt in his draft year.

“I would have liked to see how things would have went,” he told The Province newspaper. “It would have been fun to prove myself out there.”

But getting selected by his hometown team wasn’t such a bad consolation prize.

“Definitely kind of makes it worth it,” Benson said, per NHL.com. “Pretty special moment for me to put on this jersey and I’m pretty happy.”

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    Coyotes lose all five games of ’embarrassing’ homestand

    The Arizona Coyotes lost all five games of their homestand, and boy did they beat themselves up about it.

    “Having a five-game homestand and not even getting a point is just embarrassing and not acceptable,” winger Anthony Duclair told reporters after last night’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers. “It’s got to stop.”

    It was actually the Coyotes sixth straight loss overall. They’re now 11-20-5 on the season, with any hope of making the playoffs all but officially gone.

    It has not helped that one of Arizona’s most dangerous players, Max Domi (hand), has not played since Dec. 8. And the loss of veteran forward Brad Richardson (broken leg) in mid-November also hurt.

    But discipline is one thing that can be controlled, and the Coyotes put themselves shorthanded seven times against the Rangers, who scored four times on the power play.

    “The leadership’s gotta be better,” veteran center Martin Hanzal said, per The Arizona Republic. “It starts with myself. For example, tonight I took two stupid penalties and it cost us the game. So the leadership’s gotta be better.”

    Only the Winnipeg Jets (32) have surrendered more power-play goals than the Coyotes (31) have this season.

    Granted, when a team has possession of the puck as little as the Coyotes do, it’s bound to run into penalty trouble. Arizona is dead last in score-adjusted Corsi. They managed just 21 shots last night, compared to the Rangers’ 32.

    Now twelve points back of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Coyotes would need to go in the neighborhood of 28-12-6 to give themselves a shot at making the playoffs.

    Given that’s extremely unlikely to happen, their last 46 games could be a serious slog.

    Perhaps getting on the road will help. They open a three-game trip Saturday in Calgary, followed by visits to Vancouver and Anaheim.

    Related: The Coyotes are worth watching… for potential trades

    ‘We’ve got to realize the moment’

    AP

    The Nashville Predators felt they played a good game last night against Chicago. But in a familiar refrain for this season’s Preds, it wasn’t good enough to win.

    “It wasn’t for lack of effort or chances,” captain Mike Fisher said after the 3-2 loss, per The Tennessean. “We’ve just got to execute better when the game’s on the line.”

    The Preds outshot the Blackhawks by a wide margin, 38-23. But they couldn’t protect a 2-1 lead in the third period. Goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane gave the visitors the win, while the Preds’ record fell to 4-6-3 in December.

    It hasn’t helped that P.K. Subban has now missed six games with a lingering upper-body injury. But then, even when the dynamic defenseman was healthy, the Preds were still having their issues. They are among the league leaders in score-adjusted Corsi, usually a good sign. But Pekka Rinne‘s .875 save percentage on the month tells a tale. The veteran goaltender hasn’t been good enough, and the defensive play in front of him hasn’t either.

    Kane’s winner last night came off a 3-2 for the Blackhawks.

    Though Rinne would’ve liked to come up with a save, surrendering an odd-man rush at that stage of the game — just over five minutes left, the score tied — was not on the goalie.

    “I was surprised the defenseman didn’t pinch there and the next thing I knew, our bench was yelling, ‘3-on-2’ and then ‘4-on-2,'” Kane told reporters. “Their D kind of backed in, so I thought with a couple of guys driving the net I could take a shot there.”

    Read more: For Pekka Rinne, a great November, followed by a dismal December 

    Now three points back of a wild-card spot, the Preds (15-14-6) are right back at it tonight with another key divisional game, this one in St. Louis.

    “We’ve got to realize the moment,” said forward Filip Forsberg, who’s on pace to score just 16 goals after potting 33 last season. “We still have half the season left, but you can’t just push the reset button after New Year’s and win the last 40. It’s not going to happen like that. We’ve got to get a little more urgent and obviously string some wins together.”

    Stars win third straight to move into wild-card spot

    AP

    DALLAS (AP) Tyler Seguin feels like the Dallas Stars have been getting better for some time. They finally have a streak that shows that.

    Seguin had two goals and an assist and the Stars beat the lowly Colorado Avalanche 4-2 on Thursday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

    “Definitely, it’s something that we’ve been needing, and obviously not enough yet,” Seguin said. “We’re making strides. It’s about playing all together. Got over the hump of two wins in a row. Got three, and want to keep going.”

    After being the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season, the Stars are nearly halfway through this season — and moved up into eighth place with their latest win.

    “Winning’s a lot of fun, so we’re going to try and keep this going,” said Jamie Benn, their captain who had three assists.

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    Seguin’s 12th goal of the season, a one-timer from the middle of the left circle on a pass from Benn, put the Stars up 2-0 in the first period. He added his 13th into an empty net in the closing seconds.

    Seguin and Benn assisted on Jamie Oleksiak‘s wrister from the right circle for a 3-1 lead early in the second period, right after Benn had a shot ricochet off the crossbar.

    The Stars are 4-0-1 their last five games, and have won five of seven.

    “We’ve played pretty sound hockey for a good period of time,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’re getting more and more guys on the scoreboard, getting our key guys, our big guys are scoring.”

    Colorado has won only three of its last 17 games, and has the NHL’s worst record at 12-22-1.

    “We just got to keep going, keep digging in and try to win some hockey games,” coach Jared Bednar said.

    Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 13 of 14 shots before coming out of the game with 15 minutes left because of NHL concussion protocol after being barreled over by Jarome Iginla. Lehtonen was back on the bench before end of the game and Ruff said he was OK.

    Antti Niemi took over in net, and about 2 1/2 minutes later gave up Mikhail Grigorenko‘s goal off a rebound that got the Avs within a goal.

    Calvin Pickard started in goal for Colorado had 30 saves while Semyon Varlamov missed another game because of a groin injury.

    Matt Duchene got his 400th career point late in the first period when he scored his 13th goal of the season. The net was open with Lehtonen out of position after another shot slipped under his pads. But Duchene was then shoved from behind by Radek Faksa and fell backward on the ice after his face hit the crossbar.

    Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft by Colorado, became only the second member of that draft class to reach 400 NHL points. The other is New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who was the first overall pick that year and reached 400 points late in the 2014-15 season.

    “I didn’t really think about it much. It’s obviously nice to get there and get that out of the way,” Duchene said. “It’s something that maybe I’ll enjoy later on in the year or after the season’s over, but it’s never really anytime to celebrate when you lose a game.”

     

    Pre-game reading: On Daniel Alfredsson, who used to love him some Pop-Tarts

    — Up top, rumor has it that Bruins head coach Claude Julien is on the hot seat, but Darren Dreger is hearing otherwise. Boston, to be sure, is enduring a frustrating season, but the team’s underlying stats are actually quite encouraging. That being said, if the B’s miss the playoffs again, Julien could be out.

    — The Ottawa Senators will raise Daniel Alfredsson’s No. 11 to the rafters tonight at Canadian Tire Centre. TSN’s James Duthie remembers the first time he met Alfredsson, all the way back in 1995, when the guy they call “Alfie” was an NHL rookie. “Television being television, we needed to get video of the kid doing something — anything — a rookie on his own in a new country would have to do. So we went to the grocery store in the adjacent building to shoot Alfredsson loading his cart with the nutritional necessities of a young hockey player. Those included: Pop-Tarts and, err, well that was actually it. Just a lot of Pop-Tarts.” (TSN)

    Artemi Panarin on his two-year extension with the Chicago Blackhawks: “Chicago gave me a chance to play at the very high level. I like everything about the team and the environment here. You can’t earn all the money in the world.” Granted, the ‘Hawks are still in a cap crunch, but Panarin’s extension at least buys them some time to shed salary. Maybe they can unload Marcus Kruger on Vegas, which will need to get to the cap floor somehow. The real key for the ‘Hawks will be for their rookies to keep improving. So far this season, they’ve been too reliant on their stars for scoring. And when its comes to the playoffs, it’s a lot easier to stop a two-line team than a three- or four-line team. (Chicago Tribune)

    — Speaking of four-line teams, here’s a good, analytical piece on the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a guy with 14 goals, Sam Gagner, on their fourth line. “Columbus has kept Gagner down as the 11th-most used forward on the team at even strength, limiting his defensive exposure by having him play against weaker competition for shorter stretches of time. However, when the team goes on the power play, he’s been called upon far more frequently, seeing his usage spike all of the way up to third.” (Sportsnet)

    — A story about a memorabilia collector in Toronto whose “1,000-square-foot basement, in a stately three-story home in the Forest Hill neighborhood, houses what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of Toronto Maple Leafs artifacts.” In said basement, “one will find more than 2,000 pieces, including game-worn sweaters from as far back as the 1930s, but also photographs, pucks, sticks, contracts, documents and the original door to the dressing room at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, signed in blue ink by about 60 former Leafs.” (New York Times)

    — For the first time in a long time, there are no Newfoundlanders playing regularly in the NHL. And you know what? That’s really too bad. “Look, if you make the NHL from Ontario or Quebec or B.C., it is just not the same impact as a kid from Newfoundland and Labrador making it, because everybody from Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter if they like hockey or not, will follow that kid.” The good news? A couple of kids from St. John’s were drafted in June, one by the Blackhawks, another by the Blues. (National Post)

    Enjoy the games!