Blue Jackets shrink Flyers’ playoff buffer

Getty
7 Comments

The Columbus Blue Jackets are streaking; the Philadelphia Flyers just can’t stop from being streaky.

Columbus edged Philly 5-3 on Thursday, extending a winning streak to six games.

Cam Atkinson managed a hat trick by scoring his third goal with about a second remaining in the contest, Artemi Panarin collected two assists, and the Blue Jackets once again enjoyed nice offense from defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski (an assist apiece).

Again, this simply seems to continue the Flyers’ trend of either being hot or cold. Lately, Philly has been traveling in the wrong direction, as this represents losses in seven of eight games.

The Flyers have to hope that Brian Elliott‘s recent return to the ice signals a looming return to suiting up for NHL action, as Petr Mrazek‘s really been struggling lately. He was pulled from Thursday’s game early in the second period after allowing four goals on just 10 shots. The pending UFA has just one win in his last seven appearances, making it tough to remember that he rattled off three straight victories in late February.

This result didn’t push Philly out of the Metropolitan Division’s top three, but Columbus is breathing down their necks, and the Florida Panthers’ lopsided games in hand situation makes it difficult to tell how much of a buffer the Flyers possess overall.

Take a look at how the bubble looks now, which could end up being increasingly, uncomfortably relevant to Philly:

Third Metro: Flyers – 81 points in 71 games, 33 ROW

First WC: Blue Jackets – 81 points in 71 GP, 32 ROW

Second WC: Devils – 80 points in 70 GP, 31 ROW

Panthers – 77 points in 68 GP, 32 ROW

Bob adds some pizzazz to that playoff outlook. Thanks, Bob. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As you can see, the Flyers could easily slip into the wild-card ranks thanks to threats from both the Devils and Blue Jackets. Again, they also can’t dismiss the Panthers if Florida can make the most of games in hand. (James Reimer did his part on Thursday, authoring a masterful shutout in a 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Now, look, the Flyers still find themselves in a decent spot. While they face a closing schedule that’s pretty road-heavy, the Devils and Blue Jackets must struggle with similar challenges. The Panthers also need to stay hot to overtake one or more of those Metro bubble teams.

Still, it’s a bit jarring to see the Flyers even vulnerable to slipping out of the playoff picture, at least after they seemed to pull away from the pack.

Then again, for a team that once lost 10 in a row and then shook that off with a six-game winning streak, maybe that’s just how things are going to go for 2017-18? Ultimately, we’ll see where they land after navigating the peaks and valleys of a bumpy season.

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.

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

austonmatthews
Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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

caufield surgery
David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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

matty beniers
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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.