Jason Brough

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Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.

The Bruins are finally ‘starting to connect’ on offense

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The floodgates have opened for the Boston Bruins.

And it’s about time.

With Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Flyers, the B’s have scored 22 goals in their last six games. The offense has been a relative juggernaut compared to the first few months of the season. Brad Marchand had five points against Philadelphia, and he likes the progress the team has made.

“I think early on we had a lot of moving parts and guys in and out of the lineup. [We had] different guys that came in that we all had to get used to one another, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Marchand, per CSN New England. “It took half the year, but…I think we all realized that we have to be a desperate team. We’re starting to come together and learn each other and finally get some chemistry on the lines. All of that comes into play and again, I think we’re just starting to connect.”

The statistics suggested the goals would come. The Bruins have the highest score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but through Christmas, for whatever reason, the pucks weren’t going in.

To illustrate, Patrice Bergeron had just four goals in his first 31 games, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots. He now has five in his last 12, bringing his season total to a modest nine, as the bounces are finally starting to go his way:

To be sure, the Bruins are still in a desperate fight for a playoff spot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division, but with five more games played than both third-place Toronto and fourth-place Ottawa, winnable games like this afternoon’s against the Islanders need to be won.

“When you score a couple goals, I guess your confidence goes up a little bit,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “I think that’s what happened [with us]. So we’ve just got to make sure that we keep it going and don’t take a step back.”

Pre-game reading: On last night’s mascot violence in Minnesota

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— Up top, Scott Gomez and Mike Milbury try to digest Carey Price‘s rough night in Minnesota. With the seven goals allowed, Price’s save percentage on the season fell to .922, and his save percentage in January now sits at .877.

— Did last night’s mascot violence in Minnesota go too far? For the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc, the answer was a resounding yes. “My first thought when seeing the video — posted on the Wild’s official Twitter account that has more than 539,000 followers — was that I was glad I wasn’t in the stands with my 7-year-old son having to explain why his favorite mascot was just apparently beaten with a baseball bat.” (Chicago Tribune)

— A profile of Blue Jackets goal-scorer Cam Atkinson, whose lack of size (5-8, 182) isn’t such a problem in today’s faster NHL. “Obviously they’ll never take fighting out of (the NHL), but there’s not as much fighting. You don’t need those big fourth-line guys that all they do is fight now. You want fourth-line skilled guys too. The new age of hockey is my style and hopefully it continues.” (Canadian Press)

— There may be less fighting in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park for superstars like Connor McDavid. That’s why the Oilers added the likes of Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, and Zack Kassian to their lineup. Said one scout to ESPN: “McDavid has gained confidence, knowing he’s protected — no doubt. If someone takes a run at him, there will be an answer. You still need those guys who bump and grind and are a presence in your lineup. He knows he’s covered. He knows he can go and go about his business.” (ESPN)

— Speaking of McDavid, it’s his 20th birthday today. To celebrate, Sportsnet put together a list of the 10 highest-scoring teenagers in the NHL since 1987. To nobody’s surprise, Sidney Crosby is No. 1. “After being picked first overall in 2005, Crosby burst onto the NHL scene with a 39-goal, 102-point season… Crosby got even better in his second season, winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies with a 36-goal, 120-point season.” (Sportsnet)

— Is the “bye week” actually making players more tired? Because it was intended to do the exact opposite, argues Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. “The combination of the World Cup and the mandated bye week has compressed the schedule like no year before. … The irony is that the bye week is supposed to make the players feel more refreshed and rested, but the side effects of it have had the opposite affect. Talk about your unintended consequences.” (The Hockey News)

Enjoy the games!

Rask is good to go after taking Josi shot off jaw last night

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Feel free to start breathing again, Bruins fans — Tuukka Rask is fine.

Rask even said he’ll be ready to go tomorrow afternoon when the Bruins host the Flyers.

Boston’s starting goalie wasn’t looking too fine last night after he took a Roman Josi shot off his jaw and had to leave the game midway through the first period. The Bruins would go on to lose, 2-1, with Zane McIntyre between the pipes.

“He wasn’t well enough to come back, and we’ll see moving forward how he does,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rask after the game.

Today, Julien said this: “Tuukka is good.”

That’s a relief for the Bruins, who have the Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Lightning all on their tail for a top-3 spot in the Atlantic. Currently, the B’s are second in the division; however, they’re only one point up on third-place Ottawa, which has five games in hand, and they’re only three points up on fourth-place Florida, which has two games in hand.

 

Fixing the Avs’ defense through trades will prove tough

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The Colorado Avalanche are desperate to upgrade their defense.

They aren’t alone.

And that right there is why Joe Sakic’s got such a tough job ahead of him. Yes, he’s got some big chips to play in Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, but the price of top-4 defensemen has perhaps never been higher. And the price of young top-4 defensemen is even higher.

Case in point, the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson out of New Jersey. The Oilers don’t regret giving up Taylor Hall, what with being on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But let’s be honest here: it’s not like they added a Norris Trophy candidate. Larsson provides next to no offense. He’s averaging 20:08 of ice time. He’s been, in a word… fine.

Another young defenseman that was traded in the last little while was Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets got him from Nashville for Ryan Johansen. That deal solved a problem for both teams. The Jackets needed to upgrade their back end; the Preds desperately needed a legitimate first-line center, and they had a relative surplus of d-men to go shopping with.

There are not many teams today with a surplus of quality defensemen. The Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks come to mind, and with the expansion draft looming, they would certainly be worth calling on. So would the Vancouver Canucks, after their GM admitted that “if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.” And we’ll throw in the Flyers and Bruins, each of whom has built up a nice stable of young d-men. That being said, the Avs can pretty much forget about landing Ivan Provorov or Charlie McAvoy. Those two are the future in Philly and Boston, respectively.

Read more: Is Anaheim getting close to trading a d-man?

The problem for Sakic is the same problem that Peter Chiarelli ran into last summer. Teams know the value of defensemen. It’s high, and it’s high for a reason. In today’s NHL, if you can’t move the puck, you’re not going to win. If you can’t stop the cycle, you’re not going to win. And with all the shot-blocking that goes on, defensemen get hurt all the time. So teams always need extras.

As of right now, there are multiple teams in search of blue-line help. The Maple Leafs need help. The Red Wings need help. The Sabres need help. The Rangers could use a good, young d-man. Heck, the Oilers still need a d-man to run the power play.

Let’s assume for now that the Avalanche aren’t going to trade Tyson Barrie or Erik Johnson, arguably their best defensemen. Those two both play the right side, so it’s lefties the Avs need most. It would be great if Nikita Zadorov pans out one day, but the jury’s still out on him. One thing’s for sure is that Francois Beauchemin, 36, and Fedor Tyutin, 33, aren’t long-term answers. As for prospects, there just aren’t any blue-chippers. Why? Because the last time the Avs drafted a defenseman in the first round was 2011.

And at the end of the day, the best way to build a defense is through the draft. Just ask the Blackhawks, who got Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson that way. Trades can certainly enhance a group, but if Sakic wants to reboot the Avs the right way, and for the long run, he should be accumulating picks and scouting the likes of Miro Heiskanen, Nicolas Hague, Timothy Liljegren and Juuso Valimaki. Those are the d-men of the future. And it’s well past time for the Avs to start filling the pipeline with more than blue-chip forwards.