Callahan agrees he’s a ‘no-go’ for Rangers’ opener

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In accordance with what New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault already said, captain Ryan Callahan backed up predictions that he won’t play in the team’s season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday, ESPN reports.

“I think Thursday’s a no-go,” Callahan said.

It’s unclear if Callahan, 28, will play in the Rangers’ second game (a road game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, Oct. 7).

There was some concern that the winger went back to wearing a yellow non-contact jersey on Tuesday, but Callahan insisted that he went “full contact.” Here’s a little more on that from ESPN, anyway:

Though Callahan knew when he saw the sweater in his dressing room stall that it would invite some questions, he explained that it was done so he and fellow injured player Carl Hagelin could practice together without confusion. Vigneault also said that the change held no special significance.

Gavin McHale’s unforgettable night as Capitals’ backup goalie

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The calls started to pour in around 5 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

Gavin McHale, a former Western Hockey League goaltender whose NHL dream ended a decade ago, was finishing up practice with the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team. The 31-year-old goaltending coach did what most do these days when work is over: he checked his phone.

What was different than other days was a screen littered with roughly 10 missed calls, most of them from Winnipeg Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger, and another from a random Pennsylvania number.

Both were calling about the same thing.

A few hours earlier, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby tweaked something in his upper-body during an informal skate at Bell MTS Place. Holtby was slated to start Wednesday night’s game against the Jets, but whatever happened during that brief morning jaunt on the ice turned an expected start into a game-time decision.

Capitals head coach Todd Reirdan spoke with the media at 4:45 p.m. and not a peep was shared about Holtby. But the situation seemed in flux enough that McHale needed to be summoned.

By 5:15 p.m. CT, McHale had caught wind of the situation and was now in his car weaving through traffic to get to from the south end of the city to the Jets’ downtown arena. With the revelation that Holtby would sit due to injury, McHale was set to be signed to an amateur tryout contract and serve as Pheonix Copley’s backup.

“I don’t think I can say those words but (I’m) trying to tell everyone I know that’s close to me and get to the rink as fast as possible,” McHale said of the thoughts racing through his head.

McHale is one of several emergency puckstoppers in Winnipeg. When it’s his turn to be on-call he’ll get to the game with a guest — on Wednesday it was his mom, Val — and eat the press box meal before nestling into his seat to watch among media members and team staffers high above the ice. When the game ends, he exits along with 15,000 others.

Wednesday wasn’t like all the rest.

McHale wasn’t afforded his complimentary pre-game grub. He didn’t sit down next to his mother, either. She was joined by her husband, Ian, in the press box while their son was a few floors below in the visitors’ dressing room suiting up for the game.

“I think every single person in this room introduced themselves to me so it just made me feel a lot more calm and they just kind of let me do my thing,” McHale said. “They had to get ready for a game so it just made me feel really welcomed.”

By 6:40 p.m. CT, McHale, wearing No. 41 in Capitals away threads, stepped onto the ice for his first NHL warmup.

The only shots McHale would see on Wednesday were the ones whizzing by him during warmup, the first courtesy of Alex Ovechkin.

“I was hoping no one saw that,” McHale said afterward.

They did.

It’s hard to miss the 6-foot-7 netminder. But you can forgive him for giving up a few softies as he spelled Copley pre-game.

“Ah, pretty star-struck,” McHale said. “And then star-struck for the next three or four after that until I kind of settled in and the guys said a couple of things to me.”

Crazy enough, it’s not the first time McHale has had to make haste in an emergency role. Heck, it’s not even the first time this year.

On Feb. 16, McHale had to rush down from the press box during the second intermission of Winnipeg’s game against Colorado. Avalanche starter Jonathan Bernier picked up and injury, meaning backup Semyon Varlamov was summoned onto the ice and McHale had to quickly don his goalie garb for the final 20 minutes.

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[ABOUT LAST NIGHT] … “We’ll come get you if we need you.” – @nhljets assistant GM Craig Heisinger on October 4th, 2017, my first game as the Emergency backup. … I looked over at @kbabb9 and we chuckled, knowing that shit would have to go sideways for that to happen. … Since then, every time I’ve been working a game and a goalie gets knocked or nudged or twists the wrong way, my heart stops. … “Will this be the moment I throw an NHL jersey over my head for real?” … Last night was an odd game, the Jets pulling away from the visiting @coloradoavalanche. I even mentioned something to my guest, @c_hodgyyy in the second period when Avs goalie Jonathan Bernier got hit awkwardly. … As the teams skated out for the third period, I noticed the Avalanche had switched their goalie. Totally normal, especially when you’re down 4-0 after two periods. … But Bernier didn’t come out of the tunnel to take his place as backup… GULP. … I turned to watch Jets PR guy Scott Brown walking directly towards me with a smile on his face. … “You’re needed in the Avalanche dressing room. Let’s go.” … I turned to Colin and all I could mustre was “holy fuck” as I stood up and bee-lined it out of the press box. … I put my gear on as fast as I ever have, knowing that I was now one play away from stepping onto the ice in an NHL game. … My heart raced as I slung my equipment onto my body. Then, I realized my childhood dream of slipping a real life @NHL jersey over my head. … It was number 61 and the name bar had been taped over, but I didn’t give a shit. I didn’t even get to keep it, but I can now say that I have dressed for an NHL team, albeit for half a period and I wasn’t even allowed to leave the dressing room. … No contract to sign. No fame (except in my small circle of family and friends) and not even a memento from the team. … But the opportunity to be one play away from PLAYING IN THE NHL? I’ll take any amount of proverbial shit in my pants for that. … #grateful #nhl #avalanche #jets #emergencygoalie #theshow #mchalestrength #tarpsoptional

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A little different, eh?

“It was kind of late in the game so it was a little bit of a different experience than getting the whole pregame experience and all that,” McHale said.

Just after 7 p.m. CT, McHale stood for the anthems at the entrance of the visitors’ tunnel across from Washington’s bench. Sporting a Capitals ball cap, he peered on for the next three periods.

At one point, Copley took a puck off the mask, dislodging it.

“I was thinking, ‘Get that thing on as fast as you can,'” McHale said.

Copley did, and he would go on to stop 21 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Jets.

McHale’s name will forever be on an NHL scoresheet. Playing time or not, he had made it to The Show.

“It’s definitely not something I thought would happen in the last 10 years since the career took a downturn,” McHale said. “But it was a pretty exciting experience.”

On Thursday, McHale returned to his coaching gig with a story to tell. He’ll now have some bragging rights, too, for his beer league buddies who play weekly at Bell MTS Iceplex.

“I think the biggest thing is that every guy in here was so nice to me and made me feel so good,” he said. “Just to be a person is a really important piece of what hockey players are. This was a pretty successful team last year, so to be welcomed in like that in a bit of a crazy situation was a pretty nice feeling.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Watson reinstated to Predators’ roster after suspension

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Forward Austin Watson has been reinstated to the Predators’ roster after serving an 18-game suspension for domestic abuse, and he issued a statement apologizing to everyone for the June incident that cost him the start of the season.

Watson issued the statement Wednesday through the NHL Players’ Association thanking his family, friends and the Nashville Predators for their continued support.

”It is a privilege to play in the National Hockey League, and I am grateful to be able to once again compete with my teammates,” Watson said. ”I apologize to Jennifer, my family, Jennifer’s family, my teammates, the Nashville community, and the Nashville Predators for the negative attention that has come from the events on June 16th.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Watson for 27 games on Sept. 12 for unacceptable off-ice conduct after an investigation and a hearing with Watson after he pleaded no contest in July to a charge of domestic assault stemming from an incident in June. Arbitrator Shyam Das reduced the suspension to 18 games, allowing Watson to return to the ice Thursday night in Arizona.

The NHL does not have a written domestic abuse policy and has chosen to judge each incident separately. Slava Voynov is currently still suspended indefinitely for a 2014 incident.

Watson concluded his statement asking for privacy on this issue.

”Out of respect for my family’s health, well-being, and privacy, I will have no further comment on this matter moving forward,” Watson said.

The Predators, who are wrapping up a five-game road trip in Arizona, also issued a statement saying Watson has served his suspension and the organization continues to support Watson, his girlfriend and their baby as they work together as a family. The team statement also noted that the Predators also will have no further comment ”on this matter.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Paul Martin retires; Nylander wait continues

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, introducing “Desert Gold,” an inside look into the Vegas Golden Knights’ incredible run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Watch the first episode on Saturday, Nov. 27th on NBCSports.com and Facebook Watch.

• Paul Martin’s 14-year NHL career has come to an end as the longtime defenseman has announced his retirement. [Gophers]

Sidney Crosby‘s status for Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning is unclear after he was evaluated for an upper-body injury following practice. [Tribune-Review]

• Did you hear about the Twitter accounts that were recently created and have put out a strong defense of the Ottawa Senators? Never a dull moment. [Silver Seven Sens]

• With six of their next seven games away from TD Garden, the Boston Bruins are hoping to build some momentum. [Bruins Daily]

• Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Mark Chipman will join the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee, replacing writer Eric Duhatschek and the late Bill Torrey. [HHOF]

• The longer the Toronto Maple Leafs wait to sign William Nylander, the more beneficial it could be for them. [TSN]

• Speaking of Nylander, here are 29 reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning should trade for him. [Raw Charge]

Erik Haula’s injury has opened the door for Cody Eakin as the Golden Knights forward showed Wednesday night. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• The 2019 NWHL All-Star Game will be held in Nashville as part of a doubleheader with the Predators on Feb. 10. [NWHL]

• The only choice for the Calgary Flames when it comes to Mike Smith is patience. [Flames Nation]

• How sustainable is this start by the Vancouver Canucks? [Sportsnet]

• NHL superstars talk about the key issues surrounding the next CBA. [ESPN]

• The next few weeks are pretty important for the future of the Anaheim Ducks. [Anaheim Calling]

• “For the first time in program history, Sun Devil Hockey cracked the top-20 in this week’s USCHO Coaches’ Poll at No. 18 after the best start in program history.” [Sun Devils]

• The Dallas Stars power play is really missing John Klingberg. [Blackout Dallas]

Niklas Kronwall’s presence has been impactful for the Detroit Red Wings this season. [Octopus Thrower]

• Finally, what a save by Worcester Railers goaltender Evan Buitenhuis:

Golden Knights chase Gibson, demolish Ducks

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Heading into Wednesday’s 5-0 win for the Golden Knights, you could see Vegas and Anaheim as two teams suffering through very different circumstances.

On one hand, John Gibson was frequently bailing out Anaheim despite the Ducks allowing waves of scoring chances. Conversely, the Golden Knights fired shot after shot, yet found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard far too often to start 2018-19.

Well, the Golden Knights got to Gibson (and Ryan Miller) early and often on Wednesday, and it didn’t really require a barrage of shots … even if the dour Ducks defense sure seemed overwhelmed as ever.

Alex Tuch gave Vegas a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but the Golden Knights truly shot as accurately as archers during the second period. They added two more goals to end Gibson’s night early (three goals allowed, nine saves), and it didn’t stop there. As if to cement the notion that this wasn’t all Gibson’s fault, Cody Eakin‘s second goal of the night looked alarmingly easy considering that it came shorthanded:

Sure, there were some odd moments, like Nick Holden receiving unlikely credit for this goal:

Perhaps Vegas receiving the bounces they haven’t enjoyed much this season (but practically bathed in during that magical 2017-18 campaign) amplified the score a bit, yet the Golden Knights seemed like the faster, more dangerous team when the game was actually in reach. They made it look easy at times against a Ducks team that honestly seems pretty hapless against oft-criticized head coach Randy Carlyle.

As you might expect in a lopsided contest, there were some promising overall developments for Vegas, ones that the Golden Knights likely hope to carry over beyond this one-sided affair.

While Gibson’s looked like his best self from last season much of this year (but not tonight), Marc-Andre Fleury has failed to channel his magic from 2017-18 on most evenings this season. He was dynamic when he needed to be against the Ducks, however, stopping all 29 shots for the 51st shutout of his NHL career.

The Golden Knights must be heartened by the work they saw from Max Pacioretty, too. “Patches” came into Wednesday with a paltry two goals and zero assists in 14 games, including a five-game pointless streak, prompting some to compare him unfavorably to Tomas Tatar already. One game isn’t going to keep this from being a tough start. Even so, two assists (on the first two goals of the game, when the match was still in dispute) could really boost the winger’s confidence.

Vegas still has some work to do, and Anaheim remains ahead of the Golden Knights following this result. The Golden Knights can take quite a bit from this win nonetheless, including some comfort in seeing that their efforts can yield results, from goals to victories.

Meanwhile, the Ducks get another reminder that Gibson can’t save their tails every night.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.