Jason Brough

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Strome returns to Isles lineup, says team needs ‘wake-up call’

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Ryan Strome will be back in the Islanders’ tonight against Pittsburgh.

The 23-year-old forward wasn’t very happy about being a healthy scratch the past two games, and it sounds like his frustrations have been heard by head coach Jack Capuano.

“We’ve had some good talks over the last few days,” Capuano said, per the New York Post. “He’s been real good. He knows where his game needs to be. He’s one of those guys, for me, he cares so much. He wants to play better. He knows that he can. Just want to continue to have communication with him. What can we do better to continue to try to help him?”

Strome is a key player for the Isles. He has the talent to contribute on offense, and his 50-point season in 2014-15 proved he can do it at the NHL level. But with just two goals and four assists in 19 games this season, he knows he need to kick it up a notch.

In fact, per the Post, Strome believes the “whole team needs a wake-up call.”

He’s not wrong.

The Isles (7-10-4) enter tonight’s action seven points back of a wild-card spot, and that’s a huge hole at this point in the schedule. If they don’t start making up some ground, their playoff hopes could be all but over come Christmas time.

These next two weeks could be tough, however…

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Yikes

It’s pretty tight in the Pacific Division

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The Vancouver Canucks lost nine straight games from Oct. 22 to Nov. 7, including eight straight losses in regulation.

Yet the Canucks — who haven’t exactly caught fire since that losing streak, going a respectable 6-3-1 in 10 games — woke up this morning just five points out of first place in the Pacific Division.

In any other division, they’d be at least 11 points back of first.

Here’s how things look after last night’s action, which included victories for the Canucks, Ducks, and Sharks:

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The Edmonton Oilers were the division leaders 24 hours ago, but their 4-2 loss to Toronto cost them two spots in the standings.

Based on goal-differential, it would appear to be a four-team race for the three automatic playoff spots. And that may, indeed, be how it goes. The Sharks are the defending conference champs; the Kings are getting healthier and starting to roll; the Ducks have no shortage of talent; and the Oilers, well, the Oilers have Connor McDavid.

But as long as the Canucks and Flames — and okay fine, the Coyotes too — can stay within striking distance of third place, there remains the possibility that one of them goes on a run and makes things interesting down the stretch.

We saw in 2014-15 what happened when the Kings let the Flames stick around. Most believed the Kings would find a way in the end, but they didn’t, becoming the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs since the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes.

Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

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It’s been almost a year since the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen.

At the time, the trade seemed to open a huge hole at center ice, one that Jackets fans hoped might be filled by Auston Matthews.

But, of course, the Jackets didn’t get Matthews. They ended up with the third overall draft pick, using it to select Pierre-Luc Dubois, a player who believes he can be a “first-line center in the NHL,” but was sent back to junior at the start of the current season.

And so many felt it would be another year of struggles for the Jackets. Until they had a legitimate No. 1 center, it was going to be tough. Sure, the young defense would develop, and perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky could keep them in most of their games. But as a whole, hopes for 2016-17 were pretty low.

Enter Alexander Wennberg, the Jackets’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The 22-year-old is surpassing all expectations in 2016-17. Playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno, Wennberg has piled up 20 points in 21 games, including 15 assists.

“He has the vision, he can make plays,” Saad told the Columbus Dispatch recently. “Once he has the puck on his stick, he’s deadly with it.”

Last Friday against Tampa Bay, Wennberg won a puck battle in the corner, then fed Saad in front for the game-winning goal:

Wennberg’s play-making has also helped the Blue Jackets become the NHL’s most deadly team with the man advantage. While rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has deservedly earned much of the credit for the Jackets’ power play, it’s Wennberg’s nine PP assists that lead the team.

       Read more: Werenski learning the rigors of an NHL schedule

Where did all this come from?

Well, head coach John Tortorella started giving Wennberg more ice time about a year ago, not too long after he took over from Todd Richards.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said in January, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

It remains to be seen if Wennberg can maintain his points pace. He may cool off a touch, or maybe even more than a touch. But as of today, he’s keeping some pretty impressive company among NHL centers:

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Wennberg scored his fifth goal of the season last night; it turned out to be the game-winner in a 5-1 domination of the Lightning.

The Jackets now have just one regulation loss in their last nine. In their last five games (2-1-2), they’ve outshot their opponents by a combined margin of 189 to 125.

Their next game is Thursday in Colorado, where the Avalanche better bring a lot more intensity, because this Columbus team might be for real.

Related: Don’t tell Torts, but the Jackets’ Corsi has been really good lately

Rangers remain NHL’s most valuable team, according to Forbes

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The New York Rangers have widened the gap atop the annual list of the NHL’s most valuable teams.

According to Forbes, the Rangers’ franchise value has risen four percent in the last year to $1.25 billion. Meanwhile, the NHL’s second-most valuable team, the Montreal Canadiens, fell five percent to $1.12 billion, and the third-most valuable, the Toronto Maple Leafs, fell four percent to $1.1 billion. The Chicago Blackhawks ($925M) and Boston Bruins ($800M) rounded out the top five.

In terms of percentage gains, the Florida Panthers made the biggest jump; their franchise value rose 25 percent to $235 million, thanks in large part to help from Broward County.

The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, fell the most — six percent, to $700 million — as they missed the playoffs for the second time in three years and attendance declined.

The NHL’s least valuable team is the Carolina Hurricanes, at an estimated $230 million.

Last year’s rankings: Rangers surpass the Leafs, become NHL’s most valuable franchise

Boudreau left fuming after Wild blow 2-0 lead in Vancouver

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The Minnesota Wild were playing well, and they had a 2-0 lead in the second period.

But all it took was a careless interference penalty by Matt Dumba and the Vancouver Canucks had life again. The Canucks would score on the power play, then tie the game after another Wild penalty. Minnesota would go on to lose, 5-4, not even getting a point out of a game it once led by two goals.

Per the StarTribune, an irritated head coach, Bruce Boudreau, told reporters that the Wild “don’t have any right to play like that. We’re not leading the league by 20 points or anything like that.”

He’s right. The Wild finished the month of November with a record of 5-6-2, and an overall record of 11-8-3. They’re still in a playoff spot, but Nashville is on their heels for third place in the Central Division, and they wouldn’t have far to fall out of a wild-card spot.

Darcy Kuemper made a rare start against the Canucks and fell victim to some tough bounces, shoddy defending and adept tips. Vancouver’s winning goal was a crazy one, with Troy Stecher‘s point shot going way wide, before it hit Sven Baertschi‘s skate and ricocheted in.

Expect Devan Dubnyk to start Friday in Calgary and Sunday in Edmonton. The Wild finish their road trip Wednesday in Toronto. Dubnyk will probably start that one too, barring anything unexpected.

But whenever Kuemper (2-2-1, .897) gets the nod again, a bounce-back would be reassuring, from both him and his teammates. Dubnyk can’t win them all for the Wild, and he can’t play them all either.