Let’s look at the many, many key injuries heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs

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Over the next few months, you’ll be subjected to a litany of stories — some written by PHT! — about players getting hurt during the exhausting, physical Stanley Cup playoff grind.

So why not get out in front, and look at all the injuries heading into the postseason?

Because there are a lot of them.

• We begin in Pittsburgh, where the defending champs have lost No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang (neck) for the year. It’s an absolutely massive void to fill. Letang played arguably the best hockey of his career in helping the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games while averaging a team-high 28:53 of ice time.

Pittsburgh probably has better overall defensive depth than last year — the trade deadline acquisitions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit certainly helped — so the hope is the collective can mitigate the loss. But there’s no sugarcoating Letang’s absence. It’s huge.

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As for the other limping Penguins, there’s no definitive word on the returns of Evgeni Malkin (missed last 13 games with an upper-body injury) and Carl Hagelin (missed last 16 games with a lower-body injury). Malkin appears close to returning, having practiced last week. Hagelin is back skating, but might not be ready for Game 1 against Columbus on Wednesday.

Finally, Chris Kunitz is out long-term with a lower-body ailment.

• Boston could be without Torey Krug (lower body) for its entire opening-round series against Ottawa, and rookie Brandon Carlo (upper body) is definitely out for Game 1. Krug was injured in the Bruins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, and then Carlo was forced to leave their final game.

The Bruins did address those losses by signing prized prospect Charlie McAvoy to his entry-level deal, and McAvoy immediately began practicing on a d-pair with John-Michael Liles. But McAvoy is only 19 years old, and has never played in the NHL. The Bruins are already asking a lot of McAvoy just by putting him in, so it’s safe to suggest he won’t be getting the usual ice times of Krug (21:36 per night) or Carlo (20:49). As such, look for Liles, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to get a bump, and for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to shoulder an even heavier load.

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• Yet another key blueliner is expected to miss the entire first round — Anaheim’s Cam Fowler. Fowler suffered a knee injury on a hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano near the end of the regular season, and will miss the next 2-6 weeks as a result.

The Ducks have a very deep defense, and are better equipped than most to deal with the loss. And while it is a sizable loss — Fowler averages nearly 25 minutes a night, and leads all Anaheim d-men in scoring — head coach Randy Carlyle can still ice a top-six of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Kevin Bieksa, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore, with a veteran like Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

• St. Louis has been without top center Paul Stastny for nearly three weeks, as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury. Blues head coach Mike Yeo played coy when asked if Stastny would be ready for the opener against the Wild, saying “we’ll see” while grinning.

Earlier, Yeo was much more vocal in explaining how big a role Stastny plays.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”‘

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• Physical Habs d-man Alexei Emelin is definitely out for Game 1 of the Rangers series, and possibly more. Emelin missed the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body ailment.

• Caps blueliner John Carlson (lower body) missed the last four games of the season, but that was precautionary as Washington didn’t have much to play for. He is expected to play Game 1 against Toronto.

• Ottawa d-man Marc Methot hasn’t suited up since getting his finger mangled on a Sidney Crosby slash in late March, but could be back in time for Game 1 against Boston. In fact, all the banged-up Sens might be in the opener — Erik Karlson (foot) is expected to play, as is forward Zack Smith.

• There was some thought Columbus d-man Ryan Murray would return from his broken hand in time for the playoffs… but it’s not shaping up that way. Zach Werenski, meanwhile, is expected to be ready for Game 1 against Pittsburgh, after sitting down the stretch with a shoulder ailment.

• Finally, we get to the Sharks, who lost both Logan Couture (face/mouth) and Joe Thronton (knee) to injuries over the final week of the season. Thornton said there was “no doubt” he’d be in for the opener in Edmonton, but has infrequently skated or participated in practice since then. Couture has also skated and practiced occasionally, but missed the final seven games of the season and was decidedly less committal about his playoff availability.

It is worth noting, though, that both Thornton and Couture practiced with the Sharks on Monday.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.