Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: On the maturation of Josh Ho-Sang

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie discusses the kind of deals the Vegas Golden Knights will be pursuing ahead of the expansion draft.

— Speaking of the expansion draft, don’t blame the NHL for keeping each team’s protected list private. Blame the general managers instead, writes Greg Wyshynski: “These are the general managers thinking they’re doing right by their players. Trying not to hurt feelings. Trying not to open certain guys up for social media finger pointing. And, obviously, they’re trying to keep the lists away from fan scrutiny so their own decisions aren’t ridiculed.” (Yahoo Sports)

— Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News remembers the first time he saw Josh Ho-Sang play. And given Ho-Sang did “something really stupid” on that occasion, it’s fair to say the 21-year-old Islanders prospect needed some time to mature. Ho-Sang scored his first NHL goal Tuesday against the Oilers. (The Hockey News)

— Did you know Beau Bennett can play the piano? Devils coach John Hynes didn’t, until Bennett sat down at a piano in a hotel lobby in Minnesota. “He was fantastic,” Hynes said. “I don’t remember what he played, but I do remember it was pretty good.” (New York Times)

— A list of five guys who could be gunning for revenge against their former teams in the playoffs. Claude Julien is one of them. And yes, a Canadiens-Bruins series would be absolutely riveting. As it stands right now, a second-round meeting is definitely possible. (Sportsnet)

— An Irish hurler (it’s a sport) did an exchange with the Vancouver Canucks, then went home and said he was shocked at the NHL’s drinking culture. Though his claims have been called into question, we do wonder if “calling a change-up” will become part of the hockey lexicon from now on. (Irish Times)

Enjoy the games!

Kings’ Pearson in line for a hefty raise

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With 22 goals this season, Tanner Pearson has already broken his previous career mark of 15.

And given he’s a pending restricted free agent, it should be an interesting contract negotiation with the Los Angeles Kings, whenever the two sides get down to talking.

Among Kings, only Jeff Carter has more goals (30) than Pearson does. Tyler Toffoli, with 12 goals in 46 games, is third on the team, and he needs a new contract, too.

For now, Pearson says he’s focused on helping the Kings make the playoffs.

“That matters the most right now,” the 24-year-old said, per LA Kings Insider.

But looking ahead to the summer, GM Dean Lombardi may have to shed salary in order to get Pearson and Toffoli locked up. It certainly doesn’t help that veteran wingers Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik are taking up more than $10 million in cap space combined.

With the expansion draft looming, and with so many teams looking for help on the back end, Lombardi could always explore trading Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez to free up cap space.

Granted, then the Kings would have to replace one of those veteran defensemen, and that’s always a risk. But they’ve got some young guys in the system who could possibly fill the void.

Regardless of what Lombardi decides, it’s going to be a fascinating summer in Los Angeles — especially if the Kings miss the playoffs.

Neuvirth gets the call in big game against Leafs

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The Philadelphia Flyers are going back to Michal Neuvirth.

Not because Steve Mason has struggled. In fact, Mason has been excellent of late.

But tonight in Toronto, against one of the teams the Flyers are fighting for the final playoff spot in the East, it’s simply Neuvirth’s turn.

“The schedule dictates it,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “Mase has been real good. He’s done a great job for us and Neuvy has to do the same thing for us tonight. You look at the schedule right now, one guy is not going to be able to run the table. It’s a good night for Neuvy to go in and do a job for his teammates.”

Neuvirth hasn’t played in almost two weeks. His last start, on Feb. 25, he allowed four goals on 29 shots in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh. On the season, he’s 10-9-1 with a lowly .887 save percentage.

The Flyers next game after tonight’s is Saturday in Boston.

Struggling Morgan Rielly goes under the microscope in Toronto

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Morgan Rielly is an important part of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ future. The fifth overall pick in 2012, he was drafted to be a top-pairing defenseman, and maybe even that elusive kind of No. 1 d-man that every Stanley Cup-winning team seems to have.

Now 23 years old, and with almost 300 NHL games under his belt, Rielly is indeed on the Leafs’ top pairing. However, with a minus-23 rating, there’s obvious concern about his defensive play.

Rielly has been paired all season with Nikita Zaitsev, a 25-year-old KHL veteran playing his first year in the NHL.

“We had a time early on when we were playing well defensively, playing a two-way game,” Rielly said recently, per the Toronto Star. “Then we got away from it. We got into run-and-gun. Now we have to get back to the style of hockey that’s going to make us win games over a long period of time. That’s playing defense and making sure we play well in our own end and managing the puck. Whether that’s chipping the puck out, or chipping it in rather than make plays, then that’s what it is.”

Rielly was a minus-2 in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Detroit. The Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in that one, before the Red Wings made it an interesting third period.

Afterwards, head coach Mike Babcock suggested the Leafs became too conservative with the lead.

In other words, Babcock would like to see a little more play-making in key situations, not less.

“When you’re loose and driving, you’re flying and on top of the other team and you look fast and you’re playing right,” said Babcock. “Then when you’re tight you look slow. That’s just the reality of being in the league and learning how to win and expecting to win every night and understanding what you’ve got to do to win.”

The Leafs, one point back of the Islanders for the second wild-card spot in the East, host the Flyers tonight.

After practice this morning, Babcock offered Rielly a vote of confidence.

The message?

Stop thinking. Stop worrying. Just go out and play.

 

Blackhawks getting Hjalmarsson back for stretch run

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CHICAGO (AP) Niklas Hjalmarsson loves playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn’t like watching their games very much.

The 29-year-old Hjalmarsson is skating again and is expected to return Thursday night against Anaheim, giving Chicago a boost as it tries to chase down Minnesota for the Central Division title and top spot in the Western Conference. The durable defenseman has been sidelined for four straight games with an upper-body injury after missing a total of two games in the previous three seasons. He was activated by the team Wednesday.

“It was a long time ago I missed this many games in a row,” he said. “I don’t like watching the games. When you’re not playing you kind of feel like you should be out there.”

Hjalmarsson is one of several NHL players coming back from injuries who could affect the playoff races down the stretch. Washington forward Andre Burakovsky could return this month after being sidelined by a right hand injury. Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who had knee surgery in mid-November, is skating and doing hockey drills, but the team hasn’t said whether he’ll attempt to play again this season.

Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Philadelphia forward Travis Konecny recently returned to the ice, giving their respective teams a lift as they fight for playoff positioning.

“It’s going to take some time and I’m not going to be frustrated right away when I’m not getting things going my way,” said Konecny, who had a goal and an assist in Tuesday night’s 6-3 win at Buffalo in his second game back after being sidelined by a leg injury. “But I need to slowly get back into things. It’s going to take a little bit, but it’s just good to be back on the ice.”

Overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook among Chicago’s defensemen, Hjalmarsson remains a key part of the team’s chances for a fourth Stanley Cup title since 2010. He has a career-high five goals in 60 games and ranks among the league leaders with 156 blocked shots.

Chicago (42-18-5) has won seven straight and 12 of 13, prompting Hjalmarsson to wonder aloud if there would be room for him against the Ducks. But it’s clear coach Joel Quenneville is looking forward to his return, and the rest just might help Hjalmarsson with the Blackhawks facing a busy schedule for the last part of the regular season.

“He gets beat up a little bit, but you never see him or hear him complain, and he finds a way to fight through it all,” Quenneville said. “This one kept him off the ice for a little bit, but let’s make sure that he’s more than ready to come back. But you know you always got his competitiveness down the stretch.”

Chicago also could get another Swedish defenseman back against the Ducks, with Johnny Oduya on track for a reunion with Hjalmarsson after they played together in the Blackhawks’ run to the 2015 NHL title. Oduya, who was reacquired in a trade with Dallas on Feb. 28, has been resting an ankle injury.

“The guys that played with him here when he was here the last time, I think all of us got super excited,” Hjalmarsson said of the Oduya trade. “We know what kind of guy he is and we know what type of game he brings the team.”