Author: Jason Brough

Garret Sparks ; Dion Phaneuf ; Roman Polak; James van Riemsdyk

Goalie nods: Sparks meets Hellebuyck, with perfect records on the line

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OK, they’ve only played one game each. But still, undefeated is undefeated. And how else are we going to hype a Leafs-Jets game in Winnipeg? We gotta Don King this thing up a bit.

Garret Sparks, of course, shut out the Oilers on Monday. It was the first time a Maple Leafs netminder had ever registered a shutout in his NHL debut.

Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck also won his NHL debut, though he had the audacity to allow a goal in a 3-1 win over Minnesota on Friday.

Tonight’s game is sponsored by Tecate.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers. Jaroslav Halak for the Isles.

Tuukka Rask likely for the Bruins. Anders Nilsson for the Oilers.

Ben Bishop likely for the Lightning. John Gibson for the Ducks.

Brandon Sutter has sports-hernia surgery, out 4-6 weeks

Brandon Sutter, Patrick Sharp
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Well, put it this way — any chance the Vancouver Canucks were going to send Jared McCann to the World Juniors just flew out the window.

The Canucks announced this morning that center Brandon Sutter underwent surgery yesterday to repair a sports hernia.

“Following a period of treatment and evaluation our medical team determined that the best course of action for Brandon was to perform this procedure,” said GM Jim Benning. “The surgery was successful and we expect a full recovery.”

Sutter is expected to miss 4-6 weeks to recover. He hasn’t played since Nov. 10. The Canucks have gone 2-5-3 without him, and they’ve given up 11 power-play goals in those 10 games.

Suffice to say, Sutter’s absence will be an ongoing challenge for Vancouver’s young centers. McCann is only 19; Bo Horvat is just 20.

Related: ‘You’ve got to remember, Bo’s 20’

The Red Wings sure go to overtime a lot

Justin Abdelkader
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The Red Wings have played some close games lately.

And that’s putting it mildly.

In their last eight games, the Wings have gone to overtime seven times. The only one that finished in regulation during that stretch was a 3-2 win over the Kings.

Last night, Detroit won 5-4 in a shootout over Buffalo. Justin Abdelkader scored with less than seven minutes remaining to send it to extra time — the 10th time this season that the Wings have needed it.

“It’s nice to win one in overtime,” said Abdelkader, per CBS Detroit. “A few too many games in overtime of late, but we’ll take the points.”

Last night’s victory improved the Wings’ record to 13-8-4, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

If there’s reason for concern — or, at the very least motivation to play better — it’s that they’ve only won seven times in regulation all season. Only six teams have fewer regulation wins than that, and none of those six are in a playoff position. Montreal has the most regulation wins with 17.

But hey, wins are wins. They’re all worth two points.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver…

Leafs send Bernier to AHL on conditioning loan

Jonathan Bernier
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Jonathan Bernier has been assigned to the AHL on a conditioning loan. The struggling Maple Leafs goalie will now have a couple of weeks to find his game with the Marlies.

Bernier has yet to win this season in the NHL. He’s 0-8-1 with an .888 save percentage. He had to agree to the conditioning assignment.

“I was not going to play soon here so I think it’s good to go back down and try to find my game there,” Bernier told reporters.

The Marlies play Friday in Rochester then return to Toronto for games Saturday and Sunday versus Manitoba.

Meanwhile, James Reimer is expected to return from his injury and start tomorrow in Minnesota.

Rookie Garret Sparks will get the assignment tonight in Winnipeg. On Monday, Sparks became the first Leafs netminder in franchise history to post a shutout in his NHL debut.

Related: Another brief post on the unpredictable nature of goaltending

Jack Edwards says the Bruins’ blue line ‘is in a crisis right now’

Zdeno Chara
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Bruins broadcaster Jack Edwards is like a lot of Bruins fans.

No, not because he really wants the Bruins to win. Well, not only that. But also because he’s worried what will happen when the Zdeno Chara era comes to a close in Boston.

“Chara is still an immense presence, especially in his own zone, but he’s going to be 39 [in March],” Edwards told Sportsnet in a lengthy interview. “He’s still an alpha dog, and he can carry this team for stretches, and maybe significant stretches – though we haven’t seen it since his PCL injury. Maybe he can for two or three years, but there’s no heir apparent.

“The D core is in a crisis right now as far as a mid- to long-term outlook. There’s no alpha dog on the way. Colin Miller is not going to be an alpha dog. He’ll be a top-four defenseman, no doubt, but right now he doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to turn into Duncan Keith.”

And, of course, the Bruins don’t have Dougie Hamilton anymore. He was supposed to be the “heir apparent,” but it didn’t work out that way.

Anyway, it’s a good interview. Give it a read if you’ve got the time.

The Bruins did draft a defenseman with one of their three first-round picks in June. Jakub Zboril went 13th overall. This season, he has a modest nine points in 20 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs. Boston also selected defensemen Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon 37th and 52nd overall, respectively.

But for now, those three are just prospects. They may pan out, they may not.

Remember, it’s a high bar for defensemen in Boston. The B’s have boasted the Norris Trophy winner 14 times since Bobby Orr won his first in 1967-68.

Edwards knows that. That’s why he’s calling it a “crisis” right now.

And he’s absolutely right.