Jason Brough

Vancouver Canucks right wing Jannik Hansen (36) celebrates his goal past Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) with teammate Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat (53) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

Returns of Hansen, Tanev have been key for Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks could not afford to have another injury-filled season. They just aren’t deep enough to lose key players for extended periods.

And yet, another injury-filled season is exactly what they’ve had. According to the website Man-Games Lost, Vancouver’s been the NHL’s fifth-most impacted team by injuries to their skaters, after Winnipeg, Detroit, Buffalo, and Boston.

The Canucks have only just started to get healthy again. First-line winger Jannik Hansen returned Dec. 11 after missing 16 games with a fractured rib. Top-pairing defenseman Chris Tanev returned Dec. 16; he’s missed 23 games in all with an ankle injury.

In a related story, with last night’s 4-1 win over Winnipeg, the Canucks improved to 2-0-1 in the three games that both Hansen and Tanev have been back. The former has three goals in those three games; the latter is plus-3 with two assists.

“Jannik brings a lot of speed to our line and gives us a lot more room to work down low and off the rush,” said Henrik Sedin, per the Canadian Press. “He’s done a great job since he’s been back.”

The Canucks still have injuries. Defensemen Alex Edler, Erik Gudbranson and Philip Larsen are all out with various ailments. Up front, winger Derek Dorsett is done for the season after undergoing neck surgery.

But Edler (broken finger) should be back shortly after the Christmas break, and that should provide a boost similar in strength to the returns of Hansen and Tanev. They may also, finally, get forward Anton Rodin into the lineup. He’s yet to play for them due to a lingering knee injury, but he’s been down in the AHL on a conditioning stint, and the reviews have been good.

The Canucks (14-16-3) could use all the boosts they can get. They’re currently four points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. While that doesn’t sound like much of a deficit, with all the three-point games in the NHL, it’s a considerable amount of ground to make up.

In fact, according to the website Sports Club Stats, the Canucks will need to go in the neighborhood of 26-17-6 in their remaining games to get into the playoffs.

Is that likely to happen? No, probably not.

But if they can avoid further injuries, it’s at least in the realm of possible.

Related: The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

Schneider’s surprising struggles have sunk the Devils

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What has happened to Cory Schneider?

It was another rough performance last night for the Devils’ starting goalie. Schneider allowed five goals on 32 shots in a 5-1 loss to Nashville. His save percentage is now .904 for the season, better than only two regular starters in the entire league, Kari Lehtonen (.894) and Petr Mrazek (.899).

The season actually started as expected for Schneider, whose career save percentage of .923 is second to only Tuukka Rask‘s .924 among active goalies with at least 100 starts. In October, Schneider finished with a .941 save percentage, right up there with the league leaders. 

But right from the start of November, things started to go south. He finished the month with an .893 save rate. So far in December, it’s at .881.

“My reads and my instincts that I feel are right haven’t been right on some shots,” Schneider told reporters after last night’s loss, per NorthJersey.com.

With seven straight losses, the Devils, who started so surprisingly well, have seen their record fall to 12-13-7. And stuck in the Metropolitan Division, they sit 10 points back of a playoff spot.

“We know what our identity needs to be to sustain success. We’ve won a few games, 5-4, 4-3, chasing teams down from behind, but that’s not the recipe we want to live by every game,” Schneider said earlier this month, per NJ.com. “We know, I know, I have to tighten things up. I have to make one more save a game.”

The Devils host Philadelphia tomorrow.

Pre-game reading: On Seth Jones, who oddly enough lives in Ryan Johansen’s old pad

— Up top, relive the Blue Jackets’ overtime victory Sunday in Vancouver. The Canucks came oh-so-close to ending the Jackets’ winning streak, but moments after Ben Hutton hit the post, Seth Jones made it nine in a row for the NHL’s biggest surprise.

— Speaking of Jones, did you know he lives where Ryan Johansen used to live? Yep, in a downtown Columbus condo that’s owned by Cam Atkinson. “The irony of renting the apartment that used to belong to the player for whom he was traded last season in one of the league’s blockbuster deals is not lost on Jones. It’s simply another reminder of how much more complicated and interconnected life has become for the young star.” (ESPN)

— The News & Observer digs into what went wrong last night at PNC Arena in Carolina, where the Hurricanes-Red Wings game had to be postponed after the ice-chilling system broke down. “It’s very concerning. The question now is what do we do next? There will be due diligence to see what happened. We will diagnose it and then put a priority on making sure it doesn’t happen again. We’ve got to get it fixed. This is the area’s arena. This can’t happen again.” (News & Observer)

— Five questions with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who doesn’t pretend it’s been easy to handle his team’s goaltending situation. “Well it’s without question a challenge, but I would guess that most coaching staffs in the league would like to have that challenge. We have two very capable guys (Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray). We have two No. 1 goaltenders who have shown through their bodies of work that they’re legit No. 1 NHL goaltenders. We’ve tried to keep them both involved, but do it in a way that gives our team the best chance to win night in and night out.” (NHL.com)

— Ducks center Ryan Kesler, a former Selke Trophy winner, is regularly tasked with shutting down the NHL’s most dangerous forwards. Here’s what he tries to do against Connor McDavid: “You’ve just got to stay close to him. He’s so dynamic, he’s so explosive — you got to be above him all the time. He’s going to get his chances, but that’s when the whole line comes into effect. Just got to try and stay above him and be hard on him, make him hate playing against you. Stay close to him and really make that neutral zone tough because that’s where he generates most of his offense, and on the rush.” (TSN)

— USA Today makes 10 predictions for 2017, including this one: “New York Rangers will trade Derek Stepan for help on defense. Stepan has a no-trade clause that kicks in next season. Several teams are looking for skillful centers. The Rangers have depth up front.” The Blueshirts also have to re-sign Mika Zibanejad, a pending RFA. And with the development of Kevin Hayes, trading Stepan does seem more plausible now than in the past. But they’d have to think long and hard before they pulled the trigger on any deal, because Stepan is still a very valuable member of their team. (USA Today)

Enjoy the games!


Colin Miller has ‘played some of his best hockey’ lately

He took a pass at the blue line, faked a shot, and got past the Kings’ Andy Andreoff. A quick shot was tipped home by Jimmy Hayes, the only goal the Boston Bruins would need in Sunday’s 1-0 victory.

It was the kind of play the B’s had been hoping Colin Miller would provide consistently this season. The 24-year-old defenseman is starting to make a real impact, and head coach Claude Julien has noticed.

“I think Colin Miller has played some of his best hockey in the last couple of games,” Julien said, per CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty. “We hope that’s a sign of things to come.”

Miller, acquired from Los Angeles in the Milan Lucic trade, now has two goals and three assists in 24 games. He’s still a minus-4, but his possession stats are encouraging, among the highest on the team.

“He’s assertive, he’s moving the puck, he’s skating the puck well,” Julien added, per the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “He’s got a good shot so it’s just a matter of making sure that he builds on that and continues to develop in that area.”

The Bruins, of course, never did acquire that “transitional” defenseman they were hoping to get this past offseason. A right shot, Miller has put up big numbers in the AHL, but has yet to establish himself as an everyday NHLer. That may be changing now, though. With John-Michael Liles sidelined due to a concussion, Miller’s getting his chance, and he’s making the most of it.

Bobrovsky gets a rare night off, McElhinney to start versus Kings

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 03:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 and Curtis McElhinney #31 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrate their 2-0 shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on April 3, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For just the fourth time all season, Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Los Angeles tonight.

The Jackets have ridden Sergei Bobrovsky for most of their nine-game winning streak. McElhinney (1-0-2, .930) got the nod Dec. 3 in a 3-2 shootout win over Arizona. But he’s been watching from the bench ever since.

Bobrovsky’s workload is always a popular topic given his history of groin injuries. So far this season, he’s 19-5-2 with a .932 save percentage, one of the biggest reasons for his team’s success.

“Bob is our No. 1 goalie and we’re going to monitor the situation very close . . . to make sure we don’t overload him or overwork him,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch in late November. “But he’s going to play most of our games no matter who our backup is.”

Here’s more, from a New York Times story on the surprising Jackets:

 “Bobrovsky has a chip on his shoulder,” (head coach John) Tortorella said. “He’s probably one of the hardest, most concentrated players I’ve ever seen. I had a goalie in New York, (Henrik) Lundqvist, very similar. He’s been the backbone of our team. I’m proud of him, because that was hard for him last year. He was either hurt or he was average, and he knew it.”

Known for his lightning-fast reflexes, Bobrovsky has been plagued by groin injuries in his career. But this year, he changed some workout habits and lost about 17 pounds of lean muscle in the off-season.

Columbus hosts Los Angeles tonight, Pittsburgh Thursday, and Montreal Friday before entering the Christmas break. Bobrovsky will likely start against both the Penguins and Canadiens. He’s already played five times on consecutive days this season. Earlier this month, he started a game in Detroit, then started the next night in Columbus, and won them both.

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