Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: In today’s NHL, more defensemen are starring as teenagers

— Up top, check out the NHL’s Goals of the Week, featuring a pretty filthy toe drag by Derek Stepan.

— Remember when it was rare for a defensemen to make a big impact in the NHL without first spending a few years of developing? Yeah, not so much anymore. Teenagers like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are already stars for their teams. Aaron Ekblad is only 20, and he’s played almost 200 games for the Panthers. Sure, most d-men still need time after they’re drafted. But for the super-skilled guys, it’s a different story in today’s fast-paced NHL. (Associated Press)

— A neat story about a kid who turned his passion for hockey into a job with the Washington Capitals. “Ohashi’s journey — from obsessing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to studying psychology and mathematics at Bates to landing an internship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coaching staff for his favorite hockey team — is indeed the stuff of teenage dreams.” (Washington Post)

— Between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, which team is more likely to maintain its winning ways? TSN’s Travis Yost says it’s the Jackets. “Columbus might be getting the majority of the bounces heading their way, but it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it – they are obliterating their competition on a nightly basis and playing the vast majority of time in the offensive third.” As for the Wild, well, even if they do regress a bit, they’ve built a very nice playoff cushion. (TSN)

— Starting in the New Year, each team will get a “bye week” comprised of five days off, with no practices or games allowed. Click here for all the bye weeks. “It is a first for the league — and something the NHL Players’ Association negotiated last year as part of the new All-Star Game format. The players wanted a chance to rest their weary bones before the busy stretch run.” (ESPN)

— A list of the top 10 NHL stories of 2016. Number 1? That crazy day in June when Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, and, oh yeah, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Scroll Down For:

    Edler expected to return for Canucks, who are desperate for wins

    Getty

    Desperate for wins to get back in the playoff race, the Vancouver Canucks (14-18-3) should get a boost tonight against the Kings with the return of defenseman Alex Edler.

    “I’ve felt good the last few days,” said Edler, who’s missed 13 games with a broken finger. “I’m looking forward to returning tonight.”

    The Canucks still have injuries on the back end, most notably to Erik Gudbranson. But if Edler does return, it will mark the first time since Nov. 2 that he and Chris Tanev, Vancouver’s two best defensemen, will both be in the lineup.

    Of course, it’s not all good news on the injury front. Winger Jannik Hansen is sidelined again, and that means Jayson Megna will join the Sedin twins on the first line — quite the opportunity for a 26-year-old with just nine career NHL goals.

    “I’m super excited to skate with the Sedins,” said Megna. “I was on their line when I scored two goals in Tampa Bay.”

    The Canucks have a very important stretch ahead of them. They host the Kings tonight, the Ducks Friday, then play Saturday in Edmonton. After that, it’s three more home games against Colorado, Arizona, and Calgary.

    If they’re not back in the race by the end of that stretch, well, let’s just say things could get interesting in Vancouver. After all, the Canucks had higher expectations for themselves than most prognosticators had.

    “I like our goaltending, I like our defense now and I like our center ice,” GM Jim Benning said back in October. “I can’t wait until the season starts.”

    And yet, this season has looked a lot like last season, when injuries and a dearth of talent sunk the Canucks. Management had hoped the additions of Loui Eriksson and Gudbranson would help, but both players have under-delivered. Eriksson has just six goals in 35 games; Gubranson, when healthy, found it a struggle to make an impact in the defensive end.

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

    Rain in the forecast for Winter Classic

    Getty
    3 Comments

    Rain is in the forecast for St. Louis on Monday, Jan. 2, and that could cause issues for the Winter Classic (on NBC) at Busch Stadium.

    The Blues and Blackhawks are scheduled to start at just after 1 p.m. ET. Whether the game begins on time will depend on the amount of rain that’s falling. They can’t play if it’s heavy rain, but light showers are acceptable.

    At the very least, it doesn’t appear as if glare will cause any problems for the players (like it’s done in the past), as the forecast for Jan. 2 does not include extended periods of sun.

    From The Weather Network:

    weather

    Glare could, indeed, be an issue for the Centennial Classic, between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, on Sunday, Jan. 1, in Toronto.

    From The Weather Network:

    weather2

    The Leafs and Wings are scheduled to start at around 3 p.m. ET (on NBC). If it’s too sunny, the game could be delayed.

    It’s been a frustrating season for the Boston Bruins

    Getty
    3 Comments

    Patrice Bergeron is still doing most of the things that have made him a three-time Selke Trophy recipient.

    He’s still playing great defense.

    He’s still winning faceoffs at a ridiculously high rate.

    He’s still playing good, solid hockey.

    But the one thing he isn’t doing is scoring, and that’s had a sizable effect on the Boston Bruins’ record, which slid to 18-15-4 after last night’s 4-3 loss in Columbus.

    In 34 games, Bergeron has just five goals and five assists. If he maintains that pace, he’ll finish the season with around 23 points — a far cry from the 68 he racked up last season, which included a career-high 32 goals.

    “When you look at the players that [aren’t scoring goals], Bergy I think he has four or five goals, he had 30-something last year,” head coach Claude Julien said earlier this month, per CSN New England. “Things are going to come around.”

    Julien has to hope so.

    And to be fair, Bergeron is still getting his shots on goal. For whatever reason, they just aren’t going in. His shooting percentage last season was 11.3. It’s currently languishing at 4.3.

    “There are lots of shots that I wouldn’t change a thing on those shots,” said Bergeron. “I’ve got to keep taking them and they’re going to go in.”

    He isn’t the only B’s forward in that predicament. Riley Nash (1.9%), Jimmy Hayes (3.8%), and Matt Beleskey (4.5%) have all struggled to convert. Last night, Nash registered four shots on Sergei Bobrovsky without beating the Blue Jackets’ goalie. The Bruins ended up outshooting Columbus, 40-22, marking the 10th time they’d lost a game in regulation despite outshooting their opponent. 

    In fact, the B’s sit dead last in the NHL with a team shooting percentage of 6.8.

    Compare that to the New York Rangers, who lead the league at 11.3 percent, and it gets easier to understand why the Rangers (24-12-1) have a better record than the B’s, despite the Rangers having far worse possession stats.

    Score-adjusted Corsi, per Puck On Net
    Bruins: 54.5 (1st)
    Rangers: 47.8 (22nd)

    Though it wasn’t applicable last night, the Bruins are also a disappointing 7-3-1 when they hold a lead after the first period.

    “It’s heartbreaking, sometimes, how hard we work, and how we’re not capable of extending leads,” Julien told reporters after Friday’s 3-2 OT loss in Carolina, where the B’s jumped out to a 2-0 lead they couldn’t protect. “You play well enough that you deserve to win, but somehow, because you’re not capable of extending your lead a little bit more, and discouraging the other team, they give them hope to come back in the game.”

    The Bruins are still in a playoff spot, but with Tampa Bay, Florida and even Toronto capable of going on a run, they aren’t comfortable by any means. The B’s have just three wins in their last 11. They play in Buffalo Thursday before their rematch with the Sabres Saturday at TD Garden.

    st

    The defending gold medalists from Finland lost a shocker to Denmark

    AP

    For the defending gold medalists from Finland, the possibility of relegation is suddenly real.

    It is still unlikely, mind you. But a shock 3-2 loss to Denmark in yesterday’s World Juniors action made Finland winless after two games, stuck at the bottom of Group A.

    And if that’s where they stay, at the bottom of Group A, they’ll have to face the bottom of Group B — Latvia or Slovakia, probably — in a best-of-three to avoid relegation.

    “We should beat Denmark or we should at least score more than two goals with those shots or something,” said Finland captain Olli Juolevi, per Postmedia. “There’s no excuses.”

    No excuses maybe. But without Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine, and Sebastian Aho, there are three good reasons why the Finns seem nowhere near as dangerous as the team that romped to gold in Helsinki a year ago. Denmark goalie Kasper Krog stopped 34 Finnish shots for the win. The Danes, meanwhile, managed just 10 shots total, but three beat Veini Vehvilainen.

    The Finns take on Sweden Thursday and Switzerland Saturday. They lost their first game of the preliminary round, 2-1, to the Czech Republic on Monday.

    st