Jason Brough

Drafted in 2009, Nick Jensen could make his NHL debut for Red Wings

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With injuries to Mike Green, Alexey Marchenko, and Brendan Smith — and with Brian Lashoff’s status also now in doubt — the Detroit Red Wings may allow defenseman Nick Jensen to make his NHL debut tonight in Carolina.

Jensen, 26, has been called up from Grand Rapids, for whom he has one goal and five assists in 27 games this season. A fifth-round pick of the Wings all the way back in 2009, Jensen has been waiting a while for his big chance. Consider: Thomas Tatar was also drafted in 2009, and he’s already played 295 games in the NHL.

From MLive, on why Jensen was recalled:

Lashoff was hit in the mouth by a puck in the morning skate and had to be helped off the ice by trainer Piet Van Zant. He appeared to be holding a towel on his mouth as he skated off to the trainer’s room.

How serious is his injury?

“I don’t have that answer,” Blashill said. “Obviously it just happened there. It was a puck to the mouth so it was fairly severe.

“But we called Nick Jensen up for a reason so if Lash can’t go Jensen will be in.”

The Red Wings got a big win Saturday over Anaheim, but they’re still five points back of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Read more: Mike Green ‘probably day-to-day’ after Ryan Kesler hit

Panarin named NHL’s first star of the week

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Chalk up another honor for Artemi Panarin to raise in contract negotiations with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Panarin was today named the NHL’s first star of the week, beating out second and third stars, Henrik Lundqvist and Eric Staal, respectively.

From the league:

Panarin paced the NHL with seven assists and 10 points in four games – all multi-point performances – to help the League-leading Blackhawks (22-8-4, 48 points) stretch their overall winning streak to five contests. He recorded assists on both goals in a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers Dec. 13. Panarin then posted consecutive three-point efforts, registering 2-1—3 in a 5-4 win over the New York Islanders Dec. 15 and 1-2—3 in a 6-4 triumph over the St. Louis Blues Dec. 17. He capped the week with another two-assist performance in a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks Dec. 18. The 25-year-old Korkino, Russia, native and reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner ranks fourth in the NHL with 14-20—34 in 34 outings this season.

Panarin is a pending restricted free agent who is reportedly asking for at least $6 million per season on a long-term deal.

For the ‘Hawks, it’s one of those good problems to have. GM Stan Bowman had hoped to get Panarin locked up over the summer, but there’s been no deal yet.

Related: It’s a double-edged sword for the ‘Hawks, as Panarin keeps piling up the points

Nothing is going right for the Colorado Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche last made the playoffs, it was their goalie, Semyon Varlamov, who helped them the most.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 save percentage during that magical 2013-14 season, and for that he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

But there’s nothing magical about the Avs (11-18-1) anymore. They’re the NHL’s worst team, four points back of the second worst, Arizona. Varlamov, meanwhile, is 6-12-0 with a .904 save percentage, and to make matters even worse, now he’s battling a sore groin.

Varlamov’s backup, Calvin Pickard, has been forced to start the last three games, all of them losses. Pickard’s record is 5-6-1 with a .903 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

“Right now it’s major breakdowns that are hurting us,” said forward Jarome Iginla, per the Denver Post. “Our goalies are playing well. It’s unfortunate we’re leaving them … with a few two-on-ones and breakaways. That’s all of us. That’s forwards covering for the D, the D making the right reads. It’s all of us in front of the goalies, and we’re not good enough in that area right now.”

Even great goaltending may not be enough to rescue these Avs, who have the NHL’s second-worst offense (2.17 goals per game), barely ahead of the Coyotes (2.16). Only two Colorado players, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, are providing much in the way of scoring. And even then, Duchene’s team-high 22 points do not crack the top 50 league leaders.

Bottom line: the Avs’ season has been a disaster.

And frankly, it was a disaster before it even started, with Patrick Roy abruptly quitting in August, forcing a frantic coaching search that ended with the hiring of Jared Bednar.

Read more: Bednar rips Avs’ lack of intensity, a familiar refrain this season

Yes, the Avs have had to deal with injuries to Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog. But then, other teams have dealt with much worse, and all of them have dealt with it better than the Avs.

So, what happens now?

To date, GM Joe Sakic has been hesitant to make any big changes.

“It’s early in the year,” he said a few weeks back. “First of all, changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. … We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be.”

At the time, Sakic noted the Avs were only two games below .500 — “a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Today, they’re seven games below .500. To make the playoffs, it’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 29-16-7 the rest of the way.

So essentially, they’re already out of it, save for a miraculous turnaround that does not in any way appear imminent.

That may soon require Sakic to move to Plan B and start selling off veterans like Iginla, or even consider dramatic changes to the core.

At the very least, this core may only have the rest of the season to show Sakic it’s worth keeping together. With attendance suffering and interest dwindling, it will be hard to sell fans more of the same if there isn’t some sign of life down the stretch.

The Avs’ next game is Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild side that’s won seven straight.

The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are the latest proof that the NHL is a young man’s game.

The Jackets won their ninth in a row Sunday in Vancouver, giving head coach John Tortorella his 500th career win. It has been a dramatic turnaround for this team that finished 2015-16 with the league’s fourth-worst record. So far this season, Columbus is 20-5-4 and boasts the NHL’s highest points percentage, the best offense, the second-best goals-against, and the best power play.

“When I came halfway through last year, things were already pretty south,” said defenseman Seth Jones, the overtime hero against the Canucks. “But this year, it definitely feels like a different atmosphere, new culture. We have an identity this year, which is something we need.”

Jones, 22, is just one of the talented youngsters on the squad. His dynamic defensive partner, Zach Werenski, is the youngest at 19. Meanwhile, Alexander Wennberg is still only 22, Boone Jenner 23, and Brandon Saad 24. Even some of the veterans aren’t that old. Brandon Dubinsky only turned 30 in April, Nick Foligno and Jack Johnson are 29, Sergei Bobrovsky is 28, and Cam Atkinson just 27.

“I think we’re a pretty good hockey team right now,” said Jones. “We can’t get too ahead of ourselves, but for years to come, we have 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds on this team that are going to be pretty special players in this league.”

It was suggested to Tortorella that having such a young, impressionable team has made it easier to get his message across.

Read more: Jackets are far better fit for Torts than Canucks

After all, this is the same coach who failed so spectacularly in his one year with the veteran-laden, “stale” Canucks.

But he wasn’t buying that theory.

“It’s easy to get buy-in when you have some success, and we’ve had some success early on here,” said Tortorella. “I don’t think it’s ever young or old, I think it’s how you sell it, how you communicate with your team. I think with different personnel, you may be communicating differently. That’s part of our job, that’s one of the biggest chores of our job, as a coaching staff, is how you get to them, how you make them understand what we’re looking to happen here.”

To be sure, it has been a process for Tortorella, who took over early last season and did not have immediate success. The Jackets went a modest 34-33-8 under his watch, and he lashed out at times, saying things like, “I see weakness. I think we’re weak mentally, and it’s not the kids. I worry about the kids getting into bad habits by watching other people.”

What does he see today?

“We’ve got some good leadership that I think is growing,” he said. “It was one of my points of contention last year, I don’t think we had leadership in doing it the right way and raising the standard. I think everybody has their finger in the pie right now, not just the coaches, but all the players too.”

The Jackets return home for three tough games before the Christmas break. Tuesday it’s Los Angeles, Thursday it’s Pittsburgh, and Friday’s it’s Montreal.

The second half of the season may be more of a challenge for Tortorella and his charges, because the way things are going, the days of taking this team for granted are gone.

Pre-game reading: On Torts and the ‘amazing’ turnaround in Columbus

— Up top, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman talks about the biggest challenge facing the Maple Leafs as they look to emerge out of their rebuild. The Leafs have a ton of talent up front, but what about the back end? The cost to acquire top defensemen has maybe never been higher, as evidenced by the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson. And that’s what the Leafs could really use now: a top d-man.

— Here’s Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on the job John Tortorella has done in Columbus: “We had hit rock-bottom mentally and it was a big challenge for him to turn us around. It’s actually amazing how quickly he did it.” Tortorella received the Jack Adams Award in 2004, but not many predicted he’d be in the coach-of-the-year conversation this season. He deserves a lot of credit for helping the Jackets believe again, while adapting himself to a changing league. (Hockey News)

— The Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, but they’ve never hosted the NHL Entry Draft, nor have they hosted an outdoor game. That could change soon, with NHL executive VP Steve Mayer telling the Tampa Bay Times, “There’s no question we are absolutely, strongly considering Tampa in the mix. The city can house a world-class event.” The 2017 All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and the 2017 draft is in Chicago. But the league’s schedule is open after that. We wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for an outdoor game in Florida, but then, if Dodger Stadium can host one, it can’t be ruled out completely. (Tampa Bay Times)

— Mattias Ohlund will be inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour tonight prior to Vancouver’s game with Tampa Bay. Ohlund, 40, might be the best defenseman in Canucks history, but unfortunately injuries shortened his career. “I pushed myself and my body as far as I could. And then one day, after speaking to numerous doctors and trying everything I could, it was just impossible for me to practice and play and travel. My left knee is worse, but both are bad. … I can have a decent, normal life, but I don’t run, don’t ski. Certainly my body’s not perfect, but I’m well enough to enjoy a comfortable life.” (Vancouver Province)

— Whatever the NHL decides about the Olympics, TSN’s Gary Lawless wants there to be a true best-on-best tournament. If that’s the World Cup, then so be it. As long as it’s best-on-best. No Team North America or Team Europe or anything like that. “The World Cup of Hockey has a long way to go before it measures up to the Games. The kind of history and tradition that builds emotion for spectators can’t be manufactured overnight. But the World Cup has no chance in its current incarnation. It must revert to best-on-best and take advantage of the surge in talent in the U.S. as well as the current excellence in Canada.” (TSN)

Matt Duchene is happy to be back playing center for the Colorado Avalanche. ““I love it. It’s my natural position. I enjoy playing right wing, depending on the situation, but at center it’s consistent, I always feel in the game. I like having that responsibility defensively that you have more as a centerman than as a winger. I just like being in the middle of the ice and distributing.” The other side of the coin? Center Carl Soderberg logged just 10:08 in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Philly, and that’s not much for a guy with a $4.75 million cap hit through 2019-20. Though to be fair, he’s been fighting a cold. (Denver Post)

Enjoy the games!