Jason Brough

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!

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    Penguins say Murray is ‘week-to-week’ with a lower-body injury

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    It’s a good thing the Pittsburgh Penguins get their bye week soon, because there’s been yet another injury to a key player.

    Coach Mike Sullivan announced today that goalie Matt Murray is “going to be week-to-week with a lower-body injury.”

    Murray had to leave last night’s game against Carolina after two periods. He was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all 19 shots he faced in the third, helping the Pens to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory.

    “I thought Marc-Andre came in and did a terrific job and made some big saves in the third period,” Sullivan told reporters. “That’s not easy to do when you’re sitting on the bench, to have the focus he had to make those timely saves.”

    The Penguins host Montreal Saturday, then don’t play again until Jan. 8 when Tampa Bay pays a visit.

    A goalie has not yet been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre to back up Fleury against the Habs, but young Tristan Jarry could potentially be rewarded with a call-up; he’s 13-5-0 with a .921 save percentage for the Baby Pens.

    In some ways, the Penguins are actually getting healthier. Defenseman Trevor Daley returned to action against the Hurricanes, logging 20:52 with an assist.

    Another d-man, Kris Letang, is getting close, though it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by Saturday, or if he’ll just wait until after the bye week to return. Letang is still on injured reserve, along with d-man Brian Dumoulin.

    Yet another d-man, Olli Maatta, has missed the last two games with an illness. No word if he’ll play Saturday, but he was skating this morning.

    Related: Dumoulin to miss 4-6 weeks after surgery for broken jaw

    The Leafs are a ‘dangerous team,’ and they’re making a run at a playoff spot

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking a healthy run at their first playoff appearance since 2013.

    The Leafs (15-12-7) rolled into Tampa Bay on a three-game winning streak, after beating the Panthers, 3-2, in a shootout last night in Sunrise.

    Toronto is now just three points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, and the Leafs have three games in hand on the Bruins.

    “The young guys are getting better and better and becoming dominant players,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told reporters yesterday. “We trust them more and have become a better hockey club.”

    Indeed, Auston MatthewsWilliam Nylander, and Mitch Marner, a.k.a. the “young guys,” were factors in beating the Panthers. Matthews scored his 17th of the season; Nylander potted his eighth, and Marner notched the shootout winner, after racking up nine shots in the actual game.

    Tonight, the Leafs will take on a Lightning squad that is fully prepared for a tough test.

    “They’re just a dangerous team,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper. “I think their win-loss record is not indicative of how they’ve played. They could have more points than they have right now.”

    Yes, they could. Especially if they were better in the shootout, instead of 1-5. In terms of score-adjusted Corsi, the Leafs are in the upper half of the NHL. And that certainly wasn’t the case prior to the arrivals of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Babcock.

    Read more: Babcock wants Leafs to be aggressive with the lead

    If they can beat the Lightning in regulation, the Leafs will move into fourth place in the Atlantic, putting even more pressure on the Bruins and Senators, not to mention the Bolts and Panthers, two teams that came into the season with high expectations.

    Don’t forget, the way things have gone in the Metropolitan Division, there may only be three playoff spots for Atlantic teams to grab. Montreal has a nice cushion at the top (for now, at least), but it’s going to be a serious scramble below.

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    Related: It’s been a frustrating season for the Boston Bruins

    Blues extend Bortuzzo through 2018-19

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    The St. Louis Blues have locked up defenseman Robert Bortuzzo through the 2018-19 season.

    The club announced today that Bortuzzo has agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension, with a reported cap hit of $1.15 million. The 27-year-old was a pending unrestricted free agent. His current cap hit is $1.05 million.

    Bortuzzo, who hasn’t played since Dec. 3 due to a lower-body injury, is a rugged stay-at-home defender who has eight goals and 19 assists in 177 career games with St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the latter of which drafted him in 2007.

    In 11 games this season, he has one goal, one assist, 26 hits, and is averaging 13:48 of ice time.

    Panthers call up Sgarbossa; Barkov won’t play tonight against Habs

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    In the wake of injuries to forwards Reilly Smith (concussion) and Aleksander Barkov (getting an MRI today), the Florida Panthers have recalled Michael Sgarbossa from their AHL squad in Springfield.

    Sgarbossa, acquired in a trade with Anaheim in November, has racked up 12 points (4G, 8A) in just 14 games for the Thunderbirds. But the 24-year-old has yet to put up significant numbers in the NHL; he had no goals and three assists in 19 games for the Ducks and Avalanche.

    Sgarbossa, like Barkov, is a center. Florida hosts Montreal tonight. Barkov is not expected to play.

    The Panthers should be a desperate team against a division rival. Coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto, Florida now sits three points back of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers are even further back of the second wild-card spot, seven points shy of Philadelphia.

    Florida can only hope that Barkov’s MRI brings good news.

    “It’s tough. He’s a great player,” coach Tom Rowe told reporters. “He’s one of the best, if not the best two-way centermen in the league for his age group, so it’s a hard one to replace.”

    Smith, meanwhile, has been placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Dec. 22. That move cleared the necessary roster spot to add Sgarbossa.

    Barkov remains on the active roster.