Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: The NHL wants to play some games in China

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— Up top, relive the best moments of the Blue Jackets’ winning streak, which came to an end last night in Washington.

— The NHL wants to play some games in China. So says deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who will visit the country later this month. “I think it’s fair to say we hope to be in a position to stage NHL games there, probably initially preseason games and then potentially on a longer-term basis, regular-season games. We’re working on that possibility potentially as early as next year and with this visit, we’ll know a lot more about whether we can pull that off or not.” (Yahoo Sports)

— Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion, on the state of trade talks around the league: “I’ve been on the phone all day pretty much with my other counterparts. As quiet as it was before Christmas, I think talks are heating up, but it’s very difficult to make trades. Sometimes budget comes into it for other teams, sometimes it’s the number of contracts … So, working hard at it, I’m always looking to improve our team but there’s nothing imminent or at the forefront right now.” (Ottawa Sun)

Patrick Maroon had a hat trick last night in Boston, and he threw in a fight with Zdeno Chara for good measure. The big Oilers winger now has 14 goals on the season, all for the low, low cap hit of $1.5 million. And in case you’re wondering, no, he doesn’t always get to play with Connor McDavid. (Edmonton Journal)

— Pierre LeBrun continues his series on the upcoming expansion draft, this time with a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. “The Bolts have four players on a list of 66 guys who must be protected in the expansion draft (unless the players agree to waive them) as per the memo that the league sent to all 31 teams in November: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan. The last two players are an issue, to be sure — quality guys but players whose contracts have outgrown their actual value on the ice these days.” (ESPN)

— It wasn’t long ago that Nikita Tryamkin couldn’t get into a game for the Vancouver Canucks, and there was pressure on the big Russian defenseman to accept an AHL assignment. He never did go down to the AHL, but it’s turned out pretty well all the same. These days, Tryamkin is playing regularly and making a positive impact for the Canucks. “He wanted to play,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “He did not want to sit. He was not happy when we didn’t play him. I felt, for him to be his best, he had to change his (fitness) to be ready. It’s not that he ever accepted it, but he worked at it and did it.” (The Province)

Enjoy the games!

The Blues had their ‘worst game of the year’ last night

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The St. Louis Blues have not been able to win back-to-back games in over a month.

They failed again last night, losing 4-2 at home to Carolina. Three days prior, they’d beaten Chicago in the Winter Classic.

“I thought that was our worst game of the year,” goalie Jake Allen said last night, per the Post-Dispatch. “We need to look ourselves in the mirror after that game. Unfocused, (didn’t execute), just didn’t play our game at all. … I thought we had a lot more to give coming off the Chicago game, from all of us. I think we all need to get back real soon. We’ve got a huge divisional game coming this weekend.”

The Blues (20-14-5) host Dallas Saturday, and the Stars (16-15-8) have been playing better lately, with just two regulation losses in their last nine.

St. Louis, meanwhile, has been mostly floundering. The Blues are only 7-7-2 since the beginning of December, and they are regularly finishing games with between 22 and 25 shots. Against the Hurricanes, they were outshot 29-23.

In case you’re wondering, the Blues have not been hampered by injuries. That being said, they don’t have David Backes or Troy Brouwer anymore, and those two combined for 39 goals last season. David Perron (10 goals) has helped fill some of the offensive void, but it’s still been a struggle to score at times.

And scoring goals isn’t even their biggest issue.

In goals against, the Blues have fallen from fourth last season (2.40) to 24th (2.92). Jake Allen’s .904 save percentage is one of the lowest among NHL starters, and Carter Hutton (.890) hasn’t been any better in the backup role.

Not to pin it all on the goalies.

“This is attitude consistency,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “You can’t play the game when you’re losing as many races to pucks and battles — that’s the game.”

The Blues still have a four-point playoff cushion, but with Nashville, Winnipeg and Dallas not far behind, finishing top three in the Central is no guarantee.

standings

Five team stats you may find interesting

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24 — Regulation wins for the New York Rangers, the most in the NHL, and three more than the Blue Jackets (21), who have the second most. Even if the Rangers’ current PDO (103.0) isn’t sustainable at quite that level, the evidence over the last few years suggests that they are simply a high-PDO team, one that can count on getting better-than-average goaltending while also scoring on a relatively high percentage of their shots. The Rangers (27-13-1) have won four of their last five in regulation, and they’ve done it without Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and others.

7 — Overtime wins for the Los Angeles Kings, who’ve only won 11 times in regulation. Just imagine where they’d be if they didn’t have the most OT wins in the league. As of today, they’re only one point clear of Nashville for the second wild-card spot in the West. The Kings, unlike the Rangers, have a low shooting percentage. And without Tyler Toffoli, they’ve found it even harder to score. Los Angeles was shut out for the fifth time last night, falling 4-0 to Detroit at Staples Center.

11.3% — The Detroit Red Wings’ power play, on pace to finish as one of the worst of the salary-cap era.

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27.0% — The Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play, on pace to finish as the best of the salary-cap era.

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6 — The number of teams with a negative goal differential who are currently in a playoff position. Last season, only two teams — Detroit (-13) and Philadelphia (-4) — made the postseason with a negative goal differential. Of the six teams today, the Flyers (-7) have the worst differential. In a related story, there are two teams — Toronto (+4) and Nashville (+6) — who are outside the playoff picture with a positive goal differential. But the Leafs are only three points back of the Flyers, with three games in hand. And as mentioned, the Predators are only one point back of the Kings (-2), with one game in hand.

Rangers assign Buchnevich to AHL

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The New York Rangers have assigned forward Pavel Buchnevich to AHL Hartford.

Buchnevich does not require waivers to be sent down, so this is not technically a conditioning assignment.

But it’s for conditioning purposes all the same. Buchnevich has not played since Nov. 12 due to back spasms, an issue that required him to strengthen his core.

The 21-year-old winger has four goals and four assists in 10 games for the Rangers this season.

The Wolfpack plays tonight and tomorrow in Hartford, then Sunday at Providence.

Neuvirth expected to make first start in almost two months

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After gaining just four points out of a possible 16 in their last eight games — and suddenly in danger of falling out of a wild-card spot — the Philadelphia Flyers are making changes ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Tampa Bay.

The changes start in goal, where Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his first start since getting injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 12.

Neuvirth has a decent record, 4-2-0, but a lowly save percentage of .859. He’ll give Steve Mason a rest, after Mason allowed four goals on 27 shots in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Mason, per CSN Philly. “It’s pretty simple.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol also shook up his top three forward lines ahead of Saturday’s afternoon affair.

From philly.com:

Top-line center Claude Giroux had a new right winger, Matt Read, with Michael Raffl still on the left side; right winger Jake Voracek dropped to the second line, which had a new center, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny on the left. The third line had Brayden Schenn centering Wayne Simmonds, with Nick Cousins and Dale Weise alternating at left wing.

Only the fourth line – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare cenetring Chris VandeVelde and Boyd Gordon – was the same as the last game. Gordon, however, could be replaced by Roman Lyubimov.

It’s a big game for both teams tomorrow. The Flyers are only three points ahead of the Lightning, who’ve had their own issues lately.

The Bolts have dropped two straight and are coming off a 6-1 loss to Nashville on Thursday evening.

The Flyers also play Sunday in Columbus.

standings