Jason Brough

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With Matthews in town, a ‘pretty special’ night awaits in Arizona

There’s something quite different about tonight’s Arizona Coyotes’ game in Glendale.

There’s actually some hype.

That’s because Scottsdale native Auston Matthews, the first overall draft pick in 2016, is in town for his first-ever visit with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s always a nice treat to come home,” Matthews said, per the Toronto Star. “I’ll have pretty much my whole family (at Friday’s game), so it’ll be nice. I know I talked to my coach, who coached me in midget and bantam and stuff, and he said they had to cancel practice. Nobody wanted to go to practice (Friday) because we’re going in there playing.”

The Leafs played last night in Denver, where they smoked the hopeless Avalanche, 6-0, and Matthews notched his 16th goal. As of this morning, there were still tickets available for tonight’s game, but it’s expected to be a larger crowd than the average one at Gila River Arena (12,648 so far this season).

Matthews’ dad, Brian, is looking forward to it.

“The fact he’s now going to be stepping on that ice and actually playing knowing 15, 16 years ago he was the one sitting on my knee watching,” he told the Arizona Republic, “it’s going to be pretty special.”

Matthews has already faced the Coyotes once. He scored a goal against them Dec. 15 in Toronto, but it was ex-Leaf Peter Holland who got the last laugh, notching the shootout winner for Arizona.

Related: A plan comes together: Leafs take Matthews first overall

‘That’s a dirty hit, for sure’ — Canucks want NHL to act after Perreault injures Hansen

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The Vancouver Canucks had a very bad night against the Winnipeg Jets.

Not only did they lose, 4-1, Thursday at Rogers Arena, they got burned for two goals by Nikolaj Ehlers, an “amazing kid” they could’ve drafted in 2014.

On top of that, they lost top-line winger Jannik Hansen to injury, just six games into his return from a previous injury that cost him 16 games.

Hansen will have an MRI today after getting kneed in the second period by Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault, who was, indeed, penalized for kneeing.

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“Jannik didn’t like it,” captain Henrik Sedin told The Province newspaper afterwards. “He felt it was knee on knee. … He tried it out and he took one or two strides and it buckled.”

Sedin added, “It took at least a couple of seconds before Perreault came. That’s a dirty hit, for sure. That’s something we can’t have in this league. We’ll see what the league does.”

Update: The league won’t do anything.

Hansen reportedly said the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked, but he won’t be traveling to tonight’s game in Calgary. His absence could open the door for Anton Rodin, who’s been recalled from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

Rodin has yet to make his Canucks debut, after tweaking his knee in the preseason. If he plays tonight, it would mark the end of a lengthy road to the NHL. Now 26, Rodin was Vancouver’s second-round draft pick all the way back in 2009.

Related: Rodin making a good second impression with Canucks

Surprising Senators win fourth straight, head into break ‘on a high note’

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) The Ottawa Senators are looking forward to their upcoming break despite playing some of their best hockey of the season.

Mike Hoffman scored a power-play goal at 4:03 of overtime as the Senators beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on Thursday night for their second four-game win streak of the season.

Hoffman’s one-timer on a pass from Dion Phaneuf beat John Gibson in the Anaheim goal after Andrew Cogliano took a high-sticking minor at 3:23 of the extra period.

“We wanted to finish on a high note and there’s not much of a better way to go into the Christmas break than with four wins in a row. Everyone worked hard and it’s going to be a nice couple of days,” Hoffman said.

Ryan Dzingel scored in regulation for the Senators (20-11-3), who got 24 saves from Mike Condon.

Jakob Silfverberg had the goal for Anaheim (17-12-6) and Gibson made 16 saves, but didn’t face a single shot in the second half of the third period and just the one in overtime that beat him.

“I think for the first 30 minutes we played great and then after that we kind of let them back in the game. We stopped playing the way that made us successful and they took over the game,” Senators captain Erik Karlsson said.

“We stuck to it though and we battled all the way through 64 minutes. It’s a well-deserved Christmas break for everybody in here and everybody is excited about it.”

With the score tied 1-1 early in the third, the Senators were put in a tough situation when Bobby Ryan took a four-minute minor for high sticking, giving the league’s second-ranked power play and extended opportunity.

Other than when things got hectic around the Ottawa net in the final 20 seconds of the power play, the Senators really didn’t allow the Ducks to create any sustained pressure.

“We could have scored on the power play and that would have been the difference in the game. We had a full four-minute power play that we didn’t really generate enough with and it didn’t give us any momentum,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

“We still stayed with our game plan and that’s more of the type of hockey that it’s going to take to have success on the road, and we know that.”

The Ducks wrapped up their six-game, 10-day road trip 2-3-1, which included a 6-1 loss in Montreal Tuesday.

“We ran out of gas and we didn’t have any life. We had a 2-1 hockey game (in Montreal) going into the third and they exploded and got four in the third on us. I didn’t want that to happen (again) so I feel real good about our performance. We didn’t get the extra point but we’ll move on.”

The teams produced just 11 shots on goal through a scoreless first period, with the only real scoring chance coming late when Jean Gabriel Pageau redirected a shot just wide of the Anaheim goal.

Both teams got on the board in the second period, with the Senators scoring early to take a 1-0 lead before the Ducks scored very late to tie the game.

Dzingel took a pass from Kyle Turris and beat Gibson with a shot just under the crossbar from the left hash mark at 1:02.

The Ducks thought they tied it with just over minute to play, but the goal by Nick Ritchie was immediately waved off as Corey Perry had backed into Condon in the crease.

Perry redeemed himself a minute later when his no-look, through-the-legs pass landed right on the stick of Silfverberg, who scored a power-play goal with 10 seconds to play in the period.

Shots on goal through the first 40 minutes favored Anaheim by a low 14-12 count.

 

‘He’s an amazing kid’ — Ehlers buries the Canucks with two great goals

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With all the attention Patrik Laine gets in Winnipeg, it can be easy to overlook another budding star on the Jets.

But it wasn’t easy to overlook Nikolaj Ehlers last night in Vancouver. Though Laine did score his 19th of the season, it was Ehlers who tallied the winner early in the third period, making a great defensive play to intercept a Henrik Sedin pass, then racing down the ice to beat Ryan Miller with a perfect shot.

Later in the third, the 20-year-old winger added an insurance marker, leading the Jets to an eventual 4-1 win over the Canucks.

Ehlers now has nine goals and 20 assists in 36 games. For comparison’s sake, his 29 points are one more than Jamie Benn, Ryan Kesler, Brad Marchand, and Ryan Getzlaf each have.

“You know what? On chance generation, Nicky’s probably led our hockey team,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “He’s just been in alone so many times and he hasn’t got any breaks around the net. He’s still generated points. He just hasn’t put the puck past the ‘tender.”

“He’s an amazing kid,” Laine said of his Danish linemate, the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft. “I haven’t seen a guy who can skate like that. He has really good hands, and like everybody saw, he can also score.”

Ehlers really showed off those good hands on his second goal. The Jets were on the power play, and they worked it down low. He took a pass to the left of Miller, darted out front and roofed it for a 3-1 lead.

“I tried to put it backdoor to Patrik first, but he didn’t want to score,” Ehlers deadpanned to reporters. “So I knew that the D was going to cheat a little bit…and just did it myself.”

With the win, the Jets entered their Christmas break with a 16-17-3 record. Though they struggled for much of November and December, they’ve managed to win three of their last four, putting them within a point of the final wild-card spot in the West.

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Pre-game reading: Apparently, Jaromir Jagr would like to buy Nick Bjugstad a monkey

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones debate who should be given the credit for the Blue Jackets’ surprising success.

— He may not be a kid anymore, but Jaromir Jagr hasn’t lost his sense of fun. “He keeps telling me he is going to buy two monkeys, one for me and one for him,” said Florida teammate Nick Bjugstad. “I keep trying to tell him it’s illegal to own a monkey, or something. I don’t know what we’d do when we go on the road.” To which Jagr responded: “You know how on Christmas morning, some people get a ring at the doorbell and there’s a big package with a bow on the top? There’s going to be a monkey inside for Bjuggy. It’s going to be awesome.” Dear Santa: Please let Jagr be serious about this. (TSN)

— Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is always a must-read. This week, it includes the following tidbit: “One team we haven’t heard much from is Pittsburgh, but I think that will change. The Penguins are a legit threat to repeat and, at some point, GM Jim Rutherford is going to try and add. Remember his history. He prefers not to wait until the deadline.” Rutherford did a great job last season, adding the likes of Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz. He doesn’t have a ton of cap space to work with, but it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to address a blue line that lost Ben Lovejoy to free agency. (Sportsnet)

— An interesting quote from Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “Stats are something that everyone looks at, but we don’t have egos on this team, myself included. If we’re expected to play a role or hone in on playing some good defense, we’re willing to do that.” In a totally unrelated story, P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators don’t visit Montreal until Mar. 2. But the two teams play in Nashville soon, on Jan. 3. (ESPN)

— We wrote earlier today about William Nylander and the trade rumors that have surrounded him in Toronto. But the most likely trade chip for GM Lou Lamoriello to play is James van Riemsdyk, a pending unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018 who may be hard for the Maple Leafs to re-sign. (TSN)

Dustin Byfuglien had a tough game Tuesday in Vancouver, where one of his point shots was blocked and went the other way for a Canucks goal. Big Buff leads all NHL skaters in average ice time (27:36), but is he the No. 1 defenseman that can deliver the Jets to the promised land?  That’s the question Winnipeg Sun writer Ted Wyman tries to answer. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!