Around the rink – Saturday, November 13th

There’s far too much going on tonight to be really witty. As always, all times listed are Eastern because that was our favorite failed airline.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Boston

After winning four of their last five, Ottawa starts a four-game road trip in Boston against Tim Thomas, a guy who has owned them throughout his career. Thomas is 17-7-2 in his career against the Sens with a 2.02 goal against average. Ottawa could stand to see their offense continue to improve. During their stretch of success in their last five games they’re averaging over three goals a game.

Washington @ Buffalo

The Sabres are on a roll of late and their reward for that is facing the best team in the league. The Sabres have five points in their last three games, meanwhile the Caps and Alex Semin come roaring into Buffalo with a 12-4-0 record and the top scoring offense in the NHL. Semin leads the way with 11 goals and has been an offensive revelation making teams forget a bit about Alex Ovechkin the goal scorer. Meanwhile, Ovi leads the team with 12 assists and leads in scoring with 21 points.  For Buffalo, look for Ryan Miller to get the nod tonight for the first time since late October. They’ll need him to be in top form to stop the flying circus of offense from Washington.

Vancouver @ Toronto

Think there’s any pressure on Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri? After being called up from the AHL yesterday, the 2009 first round pick gets to make his debut on home ice on Hockey Night In Canada against gold medal winner Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. The Leafs are in desperate need of offense and Kadri’s been producing that of late in the AHL. No pressure, kid. Meanwhile, the Canucks continue their tour of eastern Canada looking to build off their stomping of the Senators the other night. This one could turn out to be special for Kadri and the Leafs or continue pouring gasoline on the speculation over Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s job security.

Carolina @ Montreal

The first place Canadiens welcome the Hurricanes to town fresh off of a 8-1 thumping at the hands of the Flyers. Meanwhile, the Habs are riding high after back-to-back wins over the Canucks and Bruins. The Habs are doing it with defense and after all the preseason speculation over Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, it appears that Price has settled in just fine and many Habs fans are happy to just stop talking about Halak from now on. Do the Hurricanes that won 7-1 or lost 8-1 show up tonight for the Habs to deal with? We shall see.

Florida @ Philadelphia

Florida will be without Steve Bernier after catching a butt-end in the face from Minnesota’s Brent Burns last night in their 2-1 win over the Wild. In his place, enforcer Darcy Hordichuk gets the call and it’s convenient considering the ever-forceful Flyers are the opponent. The Flyers, meanwhile, are winners of eight of their last nine games and have Sergei Bobrovsky and Claude Giroux to thank for that.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta

The Penguins look to keep things rolling after a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay last night. Marc-Andre Fleury redeemed himself for at least one night. Ondrej Pavelec gets the nod against the Pens and his history against them is a bit dubious. In his career, he’s 0-4-0 with a 5.22 goals against and just an .843 save percentage. Considering how shaky Atlanta’s defense and goaltending have been of late, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be putting on a show for the Atlanta fans tonight.

Colorado @ Detroit

An old rivalry renewed it’s not, so let’s put that to bed right now. Still, these two get together to play some exciting games of late. The Avs continue to do well despite all their injuries, including a 5-1 spanking of the Blue Jackets last night. Meanwhile, quietly, Detroit is having a very solid season. Jimmy Howard is playing well and the stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are producing in a big way for the Wings. This game shapes up to be like a movie script with the young, plucky upstarts going against the veteran machine of a team. Whether it plays out like Hollywood would dictate remains to be seen.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Nashville

The Predators get a big boost tonight with the return of defensemen Ryan Suter and Alexander Sulzer. With Suter back, the steadiness of the Preds blue line becomes even more improved. With Pekka Rinne in goal, tonight’s Preds lineup gets a bit closer to looking the way it should which means potentially big headaches for the middling Blackhawks. The Hawks have been inconsistent of late and while there have been flashes of brilliance, it’s not quite the same. With Dave Bolland back in the lineup for Chicago, they’ll have at least one more top producer out there and a key factor on special teams.

St. Louis @ Phoenix

We’ll say this right now to get it out of the way: If Vernon Fiddler strikes back with another hat trick tonight we’ll be stunned. One Fiddler hat trick last night was enough to throw the universe into disarray and having another one would have us questioning mankind. Meanwhile, the Blues M.A.S.H. unit rolls into town without David Perron once again and now without T.J. Oshie as well as a host of starting defenseman. Yet still they’re tied with Detroit atop the Central Division. Jaroslav Halak has to be some kind of miracle worker, right?

10:00 pm

Calgary @ San Jose

The Flames roll into San Jose coming off a bad loss to the Coyotes last night. Sure, the final was 5-4 but it wasn’t actually that close. The Flames could stand to get those goals a bit sooner in the game and put the pressure on the opponents for once. Meanwhile, the Sharks are looking like they’ll roll out Antti Niemi in goal tonight and they’re looking to get things right. They’ve won two of their last three games, sure, but they’ve yet to look like the world beaters they’re expected to be. Thumping on an inconsistent Flames team will help them out as they’ve got a date with the Kings after this.

10:30 pm

NY Islanders @ Los Angeles

Speaking of the Kings, could they be looking at a trap game against the hapless Isles? Sure, the Isles have lost eight in a row, but they’re not losing games by a wide margin. They’ve looked tight but at least defensively responsible in their last three losses to the Flyers, Ducks, and Sharks. With the Kings slated to have a game with San Jose up next, the possibility for getting caught looking ahead is there and real. If the Kings fall asleep at the wheel in this one, the Isles might be able to break that streak.

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    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

    Rasmus Sandin
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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.