Ryan Dadoun

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Kessel returns to Toronto for weird, but fun game


Phil Kessel has already played in his first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs since being dealt, but now it will be the fans at the Air Canada Centre’s first chance to address him.

“I figure they’ll be some boos, obviously,” Kessel said with a grin on his face as he address reporters this afternoon. “That’s always how it is, right?”

It’s impossible to account for every fan, but it will be interesting to see what the general reception is. He was the face of the Maple Leafs during an era that brought more pain than success, but Kessel himself scored a superb 181 goals and 394 points in 446 games with Toronto.

In terms of offensive production, it would have been unreasonable to expect much more from him, although some will allow their feelings to be colored by the cost of getting him — three draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton.

At the same time, he occasionally found himself butting heads with the media and had former Toronto coach Ron Wilson questioned his reliability.

Even still, he made it clear that he considers Toronto home and doesn’t have any regrets.

As for tonight it will be “a weird game, but a fun game.”

Pittsburgh will look to keep rolling after winning six of its last seven. Meanwhile, Toronto is 1-6-2 and has been one of the worst teams offensively without Kessel’s services.

You can watch the full Kessel interview here:

Related: Report: Leafs plan … nothing for Kessel’s Toronto return

Tavares not playing with Isles for as of yet undisclosed reason

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The New York Islanders’ matinee against the New Jersey Devils got tougher with the late announcement that star forward John Tavares is not available — for some reason.

It’s not clear why he’s absent and it won’t be for a while as the Islanders only said, “reasoning to be provided postgame,” per the team’s Twitter feed.

So for now all we really have to go on is that Tavares is injured, based on the fact that the Islanders called it an “injury update.”

With Tavares gone, here’s what the Islanders’ lines look like:

Prior to the announcement of Tavares’ absence Taylor Beck was recalled on an emergency basis. He isn’t playing this afternoon though.

Obviously, this could still be minor and that has to be the hope among Islanders fans. He’s the core of that team and any extended absence from him would be a big hurdle for them to overcome.

Update: Tavares’ injury isn’t believed to be serious, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

Goalie nods: Allen will get his third straight start

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After the St. Louis Blues play in their 11th game of the season tonight, Jake Allen will have started in one more game than Brian Elliott.

That has less to do with Elliott’s play and more with the strong performance of Allen as of late. The 25-year-old goaltender shutout Tampa Bay on Tuesday and held Anaheim to a single goal Thursday night. That’s earned him a third straight start against the Minnesota Wild.

It will be interesting to see how long Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is willing to ride the hot hand if Allen has another strong start tonight, although there’s an obvious end point in the near future. St. Louis will play Los Angeles on Tuesday and Chicago Wednesday night, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the netminding duties get split for those two contests.


Jaroslav Halak will play for the Islanders against New Jersey’s Cory Schneider, who is making his eighth straight start.

— There’s no confirmed starters for San Jose vs. Dallas, although there’s a fair chance it will end up being Martin Jones vs. Antti Niemi.

Jonathan Quick will probably play between the pipes for Los Angeles and while nothing is certain yet, it obviously wouldn’t be surprising if the Nashville Predators go with Pekka Rinne.

— Maple Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier‘s strong game against the New York Rangers last night will lead to him making a second start in as many days. Pittsburgh will probably start Marc-Andre Fleury after giving him the night off on Thursday.

— Detroit and Ottawa will be playing in the second half of a home-and-home series tonight with the two netminders that rested Friday getting the nod tonight. In other words, Petr Mrazek will face Craig Anderson.

— We might see Jonas Gustavsson in net tonight for Boston as Tuukka Rask played yesterday. Tampa Bay will probably start Ben Bishop.

— Washington’s Philipp Grubauer will make his second start of the season tonight. He’ll likely be countered by Panthers goalie Al Montoya, given that Roberto Luongo played last night.

— Winnipeg will start Ondrej Pavelec against Columbus tonight. The Blue Jackets used Sergei Bobrovsky last night, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Curtis McElhinney start against the Jets.

Karri Ramo will get the nod tonight for Calgary after Joni Ortio played in a 6-2 loss to Montreal last night. This will be Ramo’s first start in the NHL since his stint in the minors. Edmonton will probably go with Cam Talbot.

How much trouble are the Ducks, Flames, Jackets in?

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Wes Gilbertson recently wrote about Calgary’s struggles and in that piece, he had an interesting statistic that applies to more than just the Flames.

Per the Calgary Sun:

Over the past decade, since the introduction of the shootout resulted in more three-point contests than ever before, only 11 NHL outfits had previously collected five points or less in their first 10 dates. (The Flames have company this fall, with the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets scratching out just four points apiece through 10 showings.)

Of those, only the 2013 Washington Capitals rebounded to earn a playoff invite.

Be sure to check out the rest of the piece, which was written prior to Calgary’s 6-2 loss to Montreal last night, if you want to get into more detail about the Flames’ issues specifically, but that statistic certainly puts those three teams’ weak start into context.

There will be some that downplay a slow start by saying that it’s only October and while it’s certainly true that there is a lot of time left to stage a comeback, making up ground can be very difficult, especially in an era that awards a consolation point for making it to overtime.

For example, Columbus is already seven points behind in the Wild Card race and even that’s misleading because the Blue Jackets have played two more games than the Boston Bruins, which occupy the second Wild Card spot.

If it takes 98 points to make the playoffs — as it did in the Eastern Conference last season — then that means that Columbus needs to get 94 points in 71 contests, which translates to 47-24-0 or 42-19-10. Even if you assume that last season was an anomaly when it came to the minimum standard to make the playoffs and go with the more traditional 93 points it took in 2013-14, then that’s 44-26-1 or 39-21-11.

In other words, it would already take a remarkable turnaround.

For Calgary and Anaheim, things are arguably a little less bleak because the Pacific Division as a whole isn’t looking too strong so far this season. Right now you don’t have to meet the standards of the second Wild Card spot to earn the third seed in the Pacific and that’s a trend that might persist throughout the campaign.

Beyond that, they might all have something else in common with the 2013 Washington Capitals: They’re arguably talented teams that underperformed out of the gate. Because keep in mind, there’s a fourth team that can join the Ducks, Flames, and Blue Jackets in this unfortunate category with a loss tonight: The Toronto Maple Leafs.

That’s not an interesting addition because not much was expected of Toronto going into the campaign. But that’s the thing: Sometimes a poor start is reflective of the team’s talent and other times it’s in spite of it.

The Flames, Ducks, and Blue Jackets all arguably fall into the second camp, but those squads have to act fast because they’re already fighting against history, even though it’s only October.

Related: Murray will be ‘patient’ with ‘severely under-performing’ Ducks

Quenneville calls out ‘Hawks for surrendering ‘rather easy’ goals

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It might just be two losses, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville isn’t happy with a common theme that ties them together.

“The [last] two nights we’ve given up some goals; you’re not going to win in this league giving up those kind of goals,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago following Chicago’s 5-4 loss to Minnesota on Friday. “Rather easy. Two goals to start periods, big shifts and those two – you can look at other ones, but we have to be better last shifts of the period.”

Minnesota scored early in each period of Friday’s contest, including this marker 32 seconds into the third frame that proved to be the game winner:

It’s hard to get too down on Chicago given that the squad posted back-to-back shutouts prior to this two-game slide. The Blackhawks also remain one of the stingier teams when it comes to goals allowed per contest, so it’s not as if defensive and goaltending problems have been an overwhelming issue this season.

Still, it’s particularly notable right now given that Chicago is missing Duncan Keith. We previously noted the Blackhawks’ strong start in his absence, but also added that this two-game road trip against Winnipeg and Minnesota would be a significant trial for the team. It proved to be more than Chicago could handle at this time and things will stay tough for the Blackhawks as they will host Los Angeles on Monday and St. Louis on Wednesday.

Related: Marian Hossa suffers seemingly minor injury in Chicago loss