Around the rink – Saturday, December 4th

1 Comment

Know how I can ruin your Saturday? You’ve only got three weeks until Christmas and I know you’re not done shopping yet.  Know how I can make your Saturday better? I can tell you that there are 12 games on the schedule today and that the first one drops the puck at 1:00 this afternoon. A full day of hockey? You bet your gingerbread house there is. All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

New Jersey @ Philadelphia

Philly is going to be looking for a bit of redemption in this one after dropping their last meeting against the Devils in a shootout. The Devils, meanwhile, are still trying to get things right and coming off a 5-1 loss to Montreal the other night, getting that kind of sting to heal could be made worse by having to deal with the Flyers. Martin Brodeur is still out for New Jersey and Ilya Kovalchuk is still not scoring. The Flyers, meanwhile, are looking to snap a three-game skid of their own. Something’s got to give.

2:00 pm

San Jose @ Montreal

Hockey Day in Canada? You got it. An afternoon tilt between the strong Habs and the on-again, off-again Sharks. San Jose comes into the game after thumping Ottawa 4-0 the other night. Montreal is riding high after delivering a sound beating to the Devils. If both teams are on top of their games, it should make for a great matinee in Montreal.

7:00 pm

Boston @ Toronto

If the Maple Leafs want to do their part to save head coach Ron Wilson’s job, beating Boston at home would be a good way to do it. The Leafs have struggled with Boston and Phil Kessel has been a non-factor in virtually every meeting between the two teams since he was acquired from Boston. With Toronto having lost four straight, dealing with the Bruins who have won two in a row including an 8-1 thrashing of Tampa Bay doesn’t sound like a good mix. Things could get ugly here.

Buffalo @ Ottawa

Buffalo gets a big win over Columbus last night after having nearly a week off. Their reward is getting to play back-to-back nights with the second coming against a team they struggle mightily with in Ottawa. If Buffalo is back, beating the Sens in Ottawa would make for a heck of a sign. Ottawa, meanwhile, needs to get things going especially after their brutal no-show against Dany Heatley and the Sharks on Thursday.

Atlanta @ Washington

The team in charge of the Southeast Division gets to deal with the upstart youngsters once again. The Thrashers and Caps have already met four times. The Caps are 2-2-0 against the Thrashers this year, but in their last meeting Atlanta mopped the floor with them 5-0 with Ondrej Pavelec getting the shutout. These teams play just six times this year and the schedule makers being funny like that are making sure they get all their games out of the way now. Their final meeting will come just before the All-Star break in late January. Look for the Caps to be angry after getting a bit hosed by the referees in their previous game in Dallas.

Pittsburgh @ Columbus

What’s Columbus’ reward for getting thumped by Buffalo?  A home game against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Worse yet, the game will be a virtually home game for the Penguins as fans from western Pennsylvania have no qualms about making the trip to Ohio to take over Nationwide Arena. It’s bad timing for the Jackets as they’ve dropped three straight. Meanwhile, the Penguins are winners of eight in a row. Some might say it’s a recipe for disaster for Columbus, but this has all the makings of a trap game for the Pens. This one could be a lot more interesting than it seems at first glance.

7:30 pm

Colorado @ Tampa Bay

Colorado got off to a bad start on their road trip dropping a game in overtime to Carolina last night. They’ll get to deal with a Lightning team looking to redeem themselves after an 8-1 beat down by Boston on Thursday night. Tampa has lost three of their last four games and the reason for them falling off has been goaltending. The Lightning are 29th in goals allowed this year. Colorado being one of the better scoring teams in the league will look to get back on track after only getting one goal last night.

8:00 pm

Carolina @ Nashville

Life without Pekka Rinne for the next 2-4 weeks starts for Nashville and it couldn’t come at a worse time for the Preds as Rinne had been playing great. Now it’ll be up to Anders Lindback to try and keep the Hurricanes at bay. The Canes will prove to be a tough opponent as while the wins have been inconsistent for Carolina, their games have been close. Expect a tight-knit affair here.

Minnesota @ Dallas

Minnesota comes in after losing a tough one against Calgary last night and they’ll look to turn around their fortune in Dallas. The Wild have a miserable record in Dallas as the Stars are 14-2-2 against the Wild in Texas. Yikes. Dallas will want to keep their eyes focused on Martin Havlat who has been carrying the bulk of the Wild offense of late notching 16 points in his last 11 games.

Florida @ Phoenix

The Panthers come into this one losers of five of their last six games and the Coyotes will be looking to pick up after their last game, a 4-2 win over Minnesota. Florida over that span of six games have allowed 20 goals, an average better than three per game. Tomas Vokoun and the Panthers defense will have to tighten things up if they want to have a shot to win. For what it’s worth, their offense hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been consistent at all.

10:00 pm

St. Louis @ Edmonton

Can the Oilers keep it going? They went 3-0-0 on their tour of eastern Canada and now they return home with renewed confidence. Getting to face off with the slumping Blues could help them keep rolling. The Blues are losers of four in a row but the rest they’ve had the last few days could be the thing they needed. The Blues looked a bit gassed in their 4-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. If the Blues are going to compete though, they’ll need goals. During their four game skid, the Blues have scored nine goals, five of which came in a 7-5 loss to Chicago.

10:30 pm

Detroit @ Los Angeles

The slumping Kings get to deal with a Wings team that is just on a roll. The Kings are 2-7-0 in their last nine games while Detroit has won four straight. Potentially working in the Kings favor in this one is who they’ll face in goal. Chris Osgood is back from injury and will make the start. Osgood has gone back to being inconsistent this year and if the Kings are looking for a means to shake off the cobwebs, perhaps getting a shaky and rusty Osgood will help matters.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
1 Comment

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.