Jason Brough

Alec Martinez, Logan Couture

Couture back for Sharks, who’ve had a tough December

Logan Couture will be back in the Sharks’ lineup tonight versus the Flyers.

It’ll be just his sixth game of the season.

To recap, the 26-year-old played the first three games, then broke his fibula in practice. He returned Dec. 8 after missing 23 games, only to suffer a trauma in his right leg the very next day. He missed another seven games, bringing his total missed to 30.

The Sharks have not had a great December. They’re 3-7-2 in the month, 17-16-2 on the season.

San Jose kicked off its five-game home stand Monday with a 6-3 loss to Colorado.

Couture is expected to center a line with Joel Ward and Patrick Marleau.

Canucks ownership not veering from plan to remain ‘competitive’

Francesco Aquilini

In Buffalo, they prepared the fans for “suffering.”

In Arizona, they used the same word: “suffering.”

In Toronto, the word was “pain.”

In Calgary, it took a while, but the Flames finally admitted, “We are rebuilding.”

And, of course, we all know the path the Edmonton Oilers have taken. It’s netted them four first overall draft picks.

The Vancouver Canucks, in contrast, have taken a different approach to building what they hope is one day a Stanley Cup contender.

“We want to draft and develop well, but we want our young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment, so they learn the right way to play.”

That’s how GM Jim Benning put it in April. And that’s how he continues to put it today, despite Vancouver’s modest 14-15-9 record and the consensus that they are nowhere close to Cup contenders.

It’s also — and this is the important part — what Canucks ownership wants.

“They understand where we’re at,” Benning told The Province yesterday. “They’ve been supportive but they want to be competitive. I understand that.”

You’ll recall back in May of 2014 when the newly hired Benning called the Canucks “a team we can turn around in a hurry.”

That belief no doubt helped get Benning the job.

(A similar pitch may have helped John Tortorella get his short-lived job with the Canucks, though the Aquilinis vehemently denied through their lawyers that they were the driving force behind that ill-fated hiring.)

The big question in Vancouver is whether ownership’s pursuit of playoff revenue every year is folly. Because while the Canucks do have some good, young players, they don’t have a Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Or, to put it another way, they don’t have a future Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin, the twins having been drafted with the second and third overall picks in 1999.

All this is why the Canucks will be interesting to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Despite their modest record, they could still make the playoffs. Nobody’s out of it yet in the Pacific Division.

So, let’s say the Canucks are still in the race come Feb. 29. Will they keep pending unrestricted free agents like Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis? If healthy, those two could be worth a second-round draft pick each, if not more.

Of course, if healthy, Vrbata and Hamhuis could also help the Canucks make the playoffs, which the club maintains is the objective.

“Going into it, I knew what the job entailed,” Benning told The Province. “We needed to inject some youth and build up our prospect pool but we’re trying to be competitive and bring these kids up in a winning environment. Sometimes that’s a tough job.”

Others might call it something else.

Trying to have your cake, and eat it too.

Winter Classic forecast is mainly sunny

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 28 : Workers prepare the field for the 2016 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on December 28, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The home of the New England Patriots is just about ready for outdoor hockey.

This morning, the NHL tweeted the above picture of Gillette Stadium, host venue for Friday’s Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

There are also games scheduled for Thursday at Gillette. At 2 p.m. ET, the first-ever Outdoor Women’s Classic will be played between the Boston Pride (NWHL) and Les Canadiennes (CWHL). That will be followed at 3:30 p.m. by the Winter Classic Alumni Game (on NBCSN).

While there have been reports that ice conditions may cause the NHL to cancel Thursday’s games, the ice was apparently hard enough for the Bruins to hold their family skate this morning.

As for the weather forecast, assuming the ice isn’t too soft, it looks like the only thing that could be an issue is the glare of the sun.


Devils sign goalie Blackwood to entry-level contract

MacKenzie Blackwood

The New Jersey Devils have signed goalie Mackenzie Blackwood to a three-year entry-level contract, the club announced today.

Blackwood, 19, is currently the starting goalie for Canada at the World Juniors. He was suspended for the first two games of the tournament, due to a stick-swinging incident while playing for his junior club, the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

Blackwood was selected 42nd overall by the Devils in 2015. He was the second goalie taken in the draft, after Washington chose Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall.

With Cory Schneider, 29, under contract through 2021-22, it’ll be interesting to see how the Devils bring Blackwood along. Whether he eventually supplants Schneider, or his long-term future is with another organization, remains to be seen.

Of course, no decision will have to be made anytime soon. Blackwood has yet to play a game at any professional level.

Streaking Panthers tout record-breaking December

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29: Aleksander Barkov #16 is congratulated by Brian Campbell #51 and Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Florida Panthers after he scored his second goal of the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the BB&T Center on December 29, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Canadiens 3-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The Florida Panthers went 11-3-0 in December. According to the club, it was the “highest win and point totals for any month in franchise history.”

From the press release:

Florida’s goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya backstopped the Panthers to their 11 wins. Luongo registered a 8-3-0 record, .929 save percentage, 1.80 goals against average and one shutout in 11 games played, while also recording a season-high six-game win streak. Montoya recorded a 3-0-0 record, .950 save percentage, 0.98 goals against average and only three goals against in three games played. The Panthers ranked fourth in the NHL this month for least goals allowed (25).

Forward Aleksander Barkov recorded 13 points (5-8-13) in 14 games to lead the Panthers, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, forward Reilly Smith and Barkov each scored a team-leading five goals, while Jonathan Huberdeau led the team with nine assists.

Florida beat the Canadiens, 3-1, last night in Sunrise. The Panthers’ seventh straight win gave them sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.

They can make it eight straight Saturday at home versus the Rangers.

Related: Panthers have all the makings of a future Stanley Cup contender