Jason Brough

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!

Five team stats you may find interesting

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Plus-27 — That’s the Penguins’ goal differential in the third period, the best goal differential of any team in any period. Pittsburgh has scored 46 times in the third frame, while allowing just 19 goals against. Other notables: Minnesota is plus-18 in the second period and Columbus is plus-15 in the first. Montreal and Chicago have also had strong third periods, going plus-18 and plus-15, respectively.

Read more: Torts downplays significance of tonight’s Jackets-Penguins game

Minus-25 — That’s the Winnipeg Jets’ goal differential in the second period, the worst goal differential of any team in any period. The middle frame tripped them up again Tuesday in Vancouver, where they entered with a 1-0 lead and came out tied. They would eventually lose, 4-1. Winnipeg is plus-10 in the first and third periods combined. One other notable: Colorado is minus-20 in the first and minus-13 in the third. But hey, they’re only minus-3 in the second, a relative success.

14 — Rangers victories when they’ve been outshot by their opponent. No team has won more in that scenario, which says two things about the Blueshirts. First, they’ve had some very good goaltending performances from both Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta. And second, they’re converting on a high percentage of their shots (an NHL-best 11.2 percent, in fact). It is also somewhat worrying, given their score-adjusted Corsi is down there with the league’s bottom-feeders. But with a record of 23-11-1, they’ve at least given themselves a nice playoff cushion if they do happen to regress.

Minus-3 — The goal differential of the Carolina Hurricanes while shorthanded — which is, frankly, amazing. The ‘Canes have only surrendered seven goals on the PK all season, and they’ve scored four times shorthanded. Compare that to Winnipeg, which has a minus-26 goal differential while shorthanded. Yep, not to pick on the Jets, but they continue to hurt themselves with penalties under head coach Paul Maurice. Since 2013-14, they’ve been burned a whopping 196 times while shorthanded. Only the Coyotes (216) have given up more PPGs over that time frame.

47.4 — The faceoff winning percentage of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the second worst rate in the league after Winnipeg (46.9). Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche are at 53.2, the second best after Anaheim (56.2). What does this mean? It means it’s always nice to be a good faceoff team, because obviously it is. However, it’s not an absolute prerequisite for winning. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013 with a faceoff percentage of just 46.8 in the playoffs. The ‘Hawks are only at 48.2 percent this season, and they lead the overall standings with a 22-9-4 record.

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7 — Overtime losses for the Dallas Stars, who really can’t afford so many. The Stars have just one victory in sudden death this season. They have yet to go to a shootout. “(If) you’re scoring in overtime, you’re confident, you believe a little bit more,” defenseman Dan Hamhuis told reporters after Tuesday’s 3-2 OT loss to St. Louis. “You don’t want to say it, but it certainly affects guys out there when we haven’t had a great record so far.”

 

Nylander bumped down to fourth line after costly turnover versus Ducks

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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

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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

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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.