Devils get Schneider back for tough stretch

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As great as Taylor Hall has been – and those MVP discussions aren’t out of line – the New Jersey Devils have mainly been up-and-down lately. Consider this: since the calendar turned to 2018, the Devils have just an 11-12-1 record.

Such a mark is more impressive when you realize that Cory Schneider has only played five games, with all of them coming in January. They’ve even seen Keith Kinkaid get injured, too, pressing them to bring Eddie Lack into the fold.

Schneider, 31, hasn’t played since Jan. 23, and his work in January was bad enough that you wonder if he had been nursing that injury for some time.

So, really, they haven’t seen true Cory Schneider for a while.

That stinks, but the Devils should be glad they’re getting him back for March, as the road ahead could be bumpy. Take a look at the looming stretch, beginning with Schneider’s return tonight against a hungry Panthers team in Florida:

Thu, Mar 1 @ Florida
Fri, Mar 2 @ Carolina
Sun, Mar 4 vs Vegas
Tue, Mar 6 vs Montreal
Thu, Mar 8 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh

After that, the Devils will close out their regular season with six home games and two road contests, so the above run is where they need to really dig deep.

The Devils began this current three-game road trip by edging the Penguins 3-2 in regulation, but the next two nights should be even more interesting.

The Devils are already in a strong position to grab the first wild-card spot, if not push to make it into the Metro top three. Consider how much they might expand their lead with wins against the Panthers and Hurricanes:

First wild: Devils – 74 points, 63 games played
Second wild: Columbus – 69 points, 63 GP

Hurricanes: 65 points, 63 GP
Islanders: 65 points, 64 GP
Panthers: 64 points, 60 GP

Tonight, they face a Panthers team attempting to take advantage of considerable games in hand advantages over the other bubble squads. Tomorrow, they’ll face a Hurricanes team that has to be feeling pretty desperate amid a six-game losing streak. Not a bad way for the Devils to test themselves, right?

Being thrown into the fire like this could help Schneider get his game back. He’s been fine this season, particularly considering New Jersey’s live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword mentality, but you can bet he’d like to have a better save percentage than his .913 mark in 2017-18.

It’s easy to justify the hype about finally seeing Taylor Hall in a playoff series, yet Schneider must feel like he has something to prove, too. Despite a nice career on paper, he’s only appeared in 10 postseason contests so far.

Schneider gets a chance to gear up for a probable postseason, starting with tonight’s test against the Panthers. The next few weeks should tell us a lot about where Schneider and his team are at.

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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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.

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

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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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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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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.