Around the Rink – Thursday, December 9th

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s five games. As always, all the start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Florida @ Washington

All of a sudden, the Penguins have a three-point lead over the Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington played in one less game than Pittsburgh, though, so they can make up some solid ground against the lowly Florida Panthers. With a 12-2-2 home record, odds are pretty good that the Caps will break their three game losing streak.

NY Islanders @ Boston

The Bruins just went above .500 at home with their last win against the Buffalo Sabres and they have a great opportunity to get even better in Boston against the Isles. The Islanders haven’t won a game on the road in 10 straight games … so yeah, it’s a good chance for Tim Thomas and company to gain ground against Montreal.

San Jose @ Buffalo

The Sharks absolutely stole a win from the Philadelphia Flyers last night, so they have the momentum. The Sabres, on the other hand, don’t have much momentum but do have the advantage of being well rested. One good thing is that each team is starting to get their act together as of late.

Philadelphia @ Toronto

Both of these teams might be a little angry; the Flyers dropped that game at home against the Sharks while the Maple Leafs ran into the buzz saw known as the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. We’ll see if Philly can get back on track against an up-and-down Toronto bunch.

7:30 pm

NY Rangers @ Ottawa

These teams met last weekend, with Chris Kelly scoring a hat trick to help the Senators win 3-2. The Rangers are still in a much more comfortable position to make a run for the playoffs overall, though, as they’re in the “upper middle class” while the Senators are mired in the “lower middle class.”

8:00 pm

Columbus @ St. Louis

While the Blues are just banged up (Andy McDonald recently joined the wounded ranks along with T.J. Oshie and David Perron), the Blue Jackets seem to switch between great and dreadful every couple weeks. Both teams are competitive yet flawed, just like the many middle-of-the-pack squads that comprise most of the Western Conference.

9:00 pm

Minnesota @ Phoenix

The Coyotes are starting to look like that team that gave the Detroit Red Wings serious headaches in the playoffs last summer (7-2-1 in their last 10 games) while things are bleak enough for the Wild that people are pining for the times of Jacques Lemaire.

10:30 pm

Calgary @ Los Angeles

After beating the Red Wings and Panthers in Los Angeles, the Kings now have twice as many wins at home (10) than on the road (5). It seems like the SoCal bunch is getting things together after a stunning fall from grace while the Flames are barely staying in front of the Oilers to avoid being the worst team in the Western Conference. You’d think this would be an easy one for the Kings, but you never know.

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.