Goalie nods: Corey Crawford returns

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All the latest from the blue paint …

Corey comes back for Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing quite well in Corey Crawford’s absence, as Scott Darling and Antti Raanta have put up almost identically nice numbers. Still, there’s something to be said for stability, and Chicago will get that back tonight as Crawford faces off against the always-limping Columbus Blue Jackets.

Crawford, 29, was on quite the hot run before he went down with a lower-body injury, too. He won his last three games, allowing four goals combined. Crawford also won six of seven and eight of 10.

His overall numbers have been impressive, even if the strong team in front of him certainly helps matters; Crawford is 12-5-1 with a .929 save percentage and one shutout.

The Blackhawks will probably face Sergei Bobrovsky tonight as they hope to continue their domination of Columbus.

Elsewhere …

Coyotes at Kings: Devan Dubnyk vs. (probably) Jonathan Quick

Capitals at Devils: Braden Holtby vs. Cory Schneider

Lightning at Islanders: Andrei Vasilevskiy vs. Jaroslav Halak

Flyers at Maple Leafs: Ray Emery’s expected, Jonathan Bernier’s confirmed

Senators at Canadiens: Robin Lehner vs. Carey Price

Rangers at Hurricanes: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Cam Ward

Panthers at Penguins: Roberto Luongo vs. Marc-Andre Fleury

Avalanche at Sabres: Calvin Pickard vs. Jhonas Enroth

Predators at Wild: Pekka Rinne vs. Darcy Kuemper

Flames at Canucks: Jonas Hiller vs. Ryan Miller

Blues at Sharks: Jake Allen vs. Antti Niemi

Sens roll over Ducks, who ‘weren’t ready’

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Was it about a lack of preparation for the Anaheim Ducks or the improving play of the Ottawa Senators’ most promising young players?

That may be a matter of opinion, yet the line of Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan had a big night on Saturday in powering Ottawa to a 6-2 win against Anaheim.

Signs of a strong set for the future?

Zibanejad had a goal and an assist, Ryan collected two assists and Hoffman scored two goals. (Ryan’s expected partner-in-crime Kyle Turris wasn’t too shabby in his own right, collecting two tallies, including a shorthanded goal.)

Ottawa might be most excited about what could very well be a breakout for Zibanejad, the sixth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. It’s not merely a matter of crediting a coaching change alone, either, as the 21-year-old has 11 points in nine December contests.

The line was strong enough that the Senators’ official Twitter feed was crowing about it:

Tough night for Anaheim

It represents a rare loss for the Ducks, who admitted that it was pretty ugly at times.

Indeed, the Ducks seem disgusted by their efforts as Bruce Boudreau said “we weren’t ready” and Ryan Getzlaf was frustrated by their overall play.

Ultimately, Ilya Bryzgalov’s first Ducks start since Nov. 7, 2007 was a dud, as he allowed six goals on 31 shots.

Many will note that Anaheim seems to lose ugly when it does fall; the Ducks’ last loss was also a 6-2 decision on a rough night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sens’ Methot re-injures back, no timetable for return

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After returning from a back injury to play in his first two games of the season, Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot is back on the shelf.

Head coach Dave Cameron confirmed the news on Friday, telling reporters Methot re-aggravated his old ailment — and doesn’t have a timetable for return. It’s a pretty difficult blow for the 29-year-old rearguard, especially in light of his uncertain contractual status; he and the Sens were in negotiations at the start of the season on an extension but, given how badly this back injury has derailed him this season, one has to think Ottawa’s reconsidering investing big money and/or term.

During the preseason, reports suggested that Methot was looking at a five-year deal worth $5.5 million annually. When the two sides were unable to reach an agreement — Methot’s agent, Larry Kelly, said they were $300,000 apart — it didn’t take long for the veteran defenseman’s name to start appearing in trade rumors, with Detroit and Anaheim said to be two of his suitors.

All told, Methot has missed 29 of Ottawa’s 31 games this year.

Avs’ Stuart to play game No. 1,000 tonight

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Veteran blueliner Brad Stuart will join some select company this evening, as he’ll play in the 1,000th game of his 15-year career.

From the Avalanche website:

One thousand is a lofty number, and it doesn’t come easily to many in the league. In fact, the 35-year-old Stuart will become just the 100th defenseman (293rd player overall) to reach that achievement when the puck drops tonight in the house that the Penguins built.

“It’s a nice accomplishment, something that you don’t really think about when you come into the league,” Stuart said on Wednesday. “You’re just trying to stay in the league and establish yourself, and then as I got closer and closer I realized how it’s a pretty good milestone for someone to play that many games.

“It’s a lot games, but I’ve had a lot of fun and made a lot of good memories.”

The third overall pick at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft — behind Vincent Lecavalier and David Legwand, the latter of whom hit the 1,000 games-played plateau earlier this season — Stuart’s carved himself a nice resume with San Jose, Boston, Calgary, Los Angeles, Detroit and Colorado. He broke in during the 1999-2000 season and was the runner-up to Scott Gomez for the Calder; he also captured a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008.

Sens loan Lazar to Team Canada for World Juniors

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Good news for Team Canada, and potentially tough news for the rest of the teams at this year’s World Junior tournament.

Having already secured the services of Rangers forward Anthony Duclair, Canada learned on Thursday that Ottawa would release Curtis Lazar — its first-round pick (17th overall) at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft — for this year’s tournament, to be played in Toronto and Montreal from Dec. 26-Jan. 5.

Lazar, 19, made the Sens after a strong training camp and exhibition season, and has played well in his rookie campaign. The former WHL Edmonton standout has one goal and seven points through 27 games this year but has seen his ice time dip recently — in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over New Jersey, he played a season-low 8:30 (under new head coach Dave Cameron, it must be noted.)

Regardless, this is a big get for Canada.

Lazar was a standout at last year’s tourney, finishing with seven points in seven games. A physical center that can score goals — he had 41 in his last year of junior — Lazar will bolster a team that’s already deep down the middle with the likes of Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid in the mix.