Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

— TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

— Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

— Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

— Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

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    Price, Weber will be key to Canadiens’ survival without Galchenyuk, Desharnais

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    The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.

    It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.

    Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.

    To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.

    But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.

    Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.

    This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.

    Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.

    If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.

    It should be fascinating to watch them try.

    Draisaitl’s growth raises questions for Oilers

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    It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.

    Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.

    They also think about the other first overall draft picks: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only the latter of whom is still with the team.

    But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?

    That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.

    But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.

    “Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”

    Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.

    Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.

    The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.

    Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.

    Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.

    Related: With McDavid and RNH, where does Draisaitl fit for Oilers?

    Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

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    Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

    The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

    Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

    The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

    The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

    “For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

    Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

         Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

    The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

    Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

    That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.

    The Lightning are getting healthier and ‘starting to figure things out’

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t played since Sunday, so they should be well-rested for tonight’s encounter with the Vancouver Canucks at Amalie Arena.

    This is another important game for the Bolts, who’ve won just once in their last six. A Stanley Cup contender in the eyes of many, Tampa Bay (14-11-2) is currently two points out of a playoff spot.

    While Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan remain out with injuries, the Lightning are expected to get a couple of key players back when defenseman Jason Garrison and forward Jonathan Drouin return against Vancouver.

    The Bolts already feel like they’ve turned the corner, after beating Washington in a shootout Saturday and earning a point Sunday in Carolina.

    “When you go through those streaks, it’s kind of like you’re going into games just waiting for something bad to happen,” forward Alex Killorn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think we’ve kind of gotten over that. You’ve got to be the instigator, got to be the aggressor and take over games.”

    There’s definitely the potential for the Lightning to take over tonight’s game. The banged-up Canucks will enter without their two top defenseman, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and one of their best forwards, Jannik Hansen, among other injuries.

    Saturday brings a much tougher test when the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit.

    But tonight’s focus is the Canucks. The Lightning could really use the two points. They should get them. They just need to play like they can.

    “It’s a great opportunity for us to get back on track,” Killorn said. “We’re starting to figure things out.”