Oliver Bjorkstrand

Blue Jackets
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Surging Blue Jackets finally getting some help

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams over the past month-and-a-half, riding a 12-2-4 run over their past 18 games. They have the league’s third-best record (behind only St. Louis and Pittsburgh) during that stretch and have played their way back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, entering play on Wednesday in a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot.

What makes this run even more impressive is the team has been absolutely ravaged by injuries during that stretch.

The list of injuries includes…

  • Forward Cam Atkinson, a 40-goal scorer a year ago, has missed the past 12 games.
  • Forward Josh Anderson and defenseman Ryan Murray have not played since Dec. 14 (15 games).
  • Rookie defenseman Andre Peeke has not played since Dec. 17.
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had 12 goals in his first 36 games, has missed the past 11 games.
  • Alexandre Texier, a rookie forward the team had high hopes for at the start, has missed the past seven games.
  • Starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo has missed the past eight games.

On Wednesday the Blue Jackets finally got some good news on the injury front when the team announced that Atkinson and Peeke have been activated from injured reserve (Peeke has since been assigned to the AHL).

Atkinson is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday for a huge game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are just two points ahead of the Blue Jackets in the standings.

The Atkinson is significant because he is such a huge part of the Blue Jackets’ offense and has been one of the most underrated goal scorers in the entire league the past few seasons. Over the previous three seasons he scored 100 goals in 227 games, a rate that averages out to 36 goals per 82 games. That production is down a little so far this season, but a lot of that drop has been driven by a significant dip in his shooting percentage.

He was already starting to see a bounce back before the injury, scoring five goals in his past eight games.

Blue Jackets keep surprising

Expectations were low for the Blue Jackets at the start of the season after the team lost Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel in free agency. Add in the recent injury situation on top of a slow start, and this team has every possible excuse to have completely gone in the tank. That has not happened.

Even with all of the free agency departures the Blue Jackets still had reasons for optimism this season (we looked at that here and here) because of the young talent still in place. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones form one of the best defense duos in the league, and they have been their usual steady selves this season. Pierre-Luc Dubois is also an emerging star in the NHL and becoming a legit No. 1 center that can impact the game on both sides of the ice.

But perhaps the biggest factor in their ability to remain competitive has been the emerge of Korpisalo, and most recently, Elvis Merzlikins in net.

Goaltending was always going to be the big X-Factor for this team and would strongly dictate what the team could do.

Merzlikins has been the big story over the past couple of weeks as he has stepped up in place of the injured Korpisalo. After losing each of his first eight decisions in the NHL, he is now 6-2-0 in his past eight games with a .950 save percentage. That includes back-to-back shutouts in his past two starts.

It is not realistic for him to keep playing at that high of a level, but as long as he and Korpisalo (once he returns) do not completely fall apart the Blue Jackets are going to have a great chance to not only stay in this race, but also shock the NHL and potentially return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Especially if they can start getting some more of their key players (Bjorkstrand, Murray, Texier, Anderson) back in the lineup.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL injury news: Good for Bruins, bad for Jack Hughes and others

Bruins injury news Krug Krejci McAvoy Hughes
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The 2020 Winter Classic began the next decade of NHL action, and that action included violence, a comeback, and Texas-sized fun. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 feels more like the first full round of hockey in this new decade, though, and it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of NHL injury news to consider, from returning Boston Bruins to less positive developments for the likes of Jack Hughes.

Let’s get to the tidbits like Brian Boucher seeking fried Snickers.

Plenty of good Bruins injury news updates

The Bruins hold a significant lead in the Atlantic Division, but can’t be happy about a 4-2-4 stretch, and their generally mediocre end to 2019.

That said, as much as the Bruins rolled with the punches over the last few seasons, you can only hold off injuries for so long. Boston buckled after a while, so the Bruins must be heartened to start 2020 a little bit healthier. It certainly looks that way right now.

The Bruins’ website shared plenty of promising updates:

Even if McAvoy can’t quite return, that’s quite the slew of returning players. Danton Heinen is also expected to be back in the mix after being a healthy scratch.

More bad breaks for Blue Jackets

The Bruins face the Blue Jackets on Thursday, and Columbus stands on the other end of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets keep finding ways to earn standings points, even as injuries pile up, and John Tortorella receives more fines.

The Blue Jackets placed intriguing young forward Alexandre Texier on IR on Thursday with a lumbar stress fracture. “Lumbar stress fracture” translates to a back/spine injury, so it’s no surprise that Texier is sidelined indefinitely.

Texier adds to an increasingly ridiculous Blue Jackets injury list that also includes:

Combine injuries with all of those free agent loses, and Columbus deserves credit for hanging in there. Sadly for Torts & Co., they face tough odds to actually persevere to the playoffs, though.

Setback for Jack

Jack Hughes looked like he was heating up with three points in his last four games, but now he’s hurt. The top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury, leaving him day-to-day.

Considering the sorry state of the New Jersey Devils, there’s no sense in risking Hughes’ long-term health by rushing him back. Honestly, Hughes might benefit from a break.

The Devils face the Islanders as part of NBCSN’s doubleheader on Thursday, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

[MORE: Devils – Islanders preview]

Assorted injury news

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.

NHL injury roundup: Bruins’ Krug, battered Blue Jackets

Bruins Krug
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Not everyone healed up enough during the holiday break. This post runs down some of the biggest injury bits, including the Boston Bruins placing Torey Krug on IR.

Krug and other Bruins injuries

The Bruins limped into the break with just two wins in their last 10 games (2-4-4). Losing Krug only makes matters worse, especially with Charlie McAvoy also banged up.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Krug will be out through at least Dec. 31, while McAvoy is day-to-day. Boston will ask more of the likes of Zdeno Chara, starting with a home-and-home against Buffalo beginning on Friday.

Banged-up Blue Jackets

Columbus deserves serious credit for going on a hot streak (five straight wins, 6-0-2 in eight) considering mounting injuries. The Blue Jackets didn’t push into the East’s top eight, though, so they’ll need to persevere some more.

Cam Atkinson going to IR represents the toughest loss, but the sheer quantity mixes with such quality. The Blue Jackets expect Oliver Bjorkstrand to miss multiple weeks. Combine those two with Ryan Murray and Josh Anderson, along with smaller ailments, and the list becomes daunting.

John Tortorella deflected talk of injuries presenting such a challenge to the Blue Jackets, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (sub required).

“It isn’t a challenge, it’s just the way pro sports are,” Tortorella said. “You have injuries, you plug a guy in and you go play.”

More injury updates and news

  • The Red Wings updated that Anthony Mantha will miss at least four weeks with an upper-body injury. Jeff Blashill indicated that the injury is to Mantha’s ribs. Jake Muzzin‘s hit on Mantha prompted concussion concerns, so this is a mix of good and bad news.

This list isn’t considered comprehensive. If you want even more injury details, check out Rotoworld’s injury report and player news updates.

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.

The Buzzer: Hat tricks for Acciari, Perron; Korpisalo owns Capitals

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THREE STARS

1. Noel Acciari, Florida Panthers

The first hat trick of Acciari’s career helped Florida to a 6-1 rout of the Senators and ended the Panthers’ three-game losing streak. The three-goal night was also the first multi-goal game of his career.

2. Joonas Korpisalo, Blue Jackets

Korpisalo registered 30 saves and Oliver Bjorkstrand provided a pair of goals in the 3-0 shutout of the Capitals. The shutout was the third of Korpisalo’s career and he’s yet to lose to Washington in three career starts. Columbus’ win put head coach John Tortorella into 15th place all-time with 635.

3. David Perron, Blues

St. Louis scored four consecutive goals en route to a 5-2 win over the Avalanche. After going down 2-1 midway through the second period, the Blues scored twice in a 36-second span, with Perron tying the game on the power play. He’d complete the fifth hat trick of his career late in the third period with an empty netter to seal the victory.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Acciari’s second goal came via some lovely dangling from Jonathan Huberdeau, who had four assists on the night. Huberdeau now has 400 points in 500 career NHL games:

Artemi Panarin is wondering how this puck did not cross the goal line:

SUPPLEMENTAL DISCIPLINE CORNER

Ryan Ellis on Pavel Buchnevich. Two-minute minor enough?:

• What about this hit by Tom Wilson on Vladislav Gavrikov?

NEWSY MONDAY
Taylor Hall gets dealt to the Coyotes

Hall is hoping to play some playoff hockey in Arizona
Kovalchuk and the Kings are finally breaking up
Crawford will return to Blackhawks bench from suspension on Jan. 2
Farabee gets suspended three games
POWER RANKINGS!

STATS OF THE NIGHT

SCORES
Predators 5, NY Rangers 2
Panthers 6, Senators 1
Blue Jackets 3, Capitals 0
Blues 5, Avalanche 2
Oilers 2, Stars 1

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Fantasy: Krejci, Perry highlight this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Brock Nelson, Islanders – C/LW: Nelson set a career-high last season with 53 points in 82 games and at this rate the 2019-20 campaign will be even better. He has eight goals and 19 points in 21 contests, though that point-per-game pace has been skewed by his recent run of nine points in six contests. It also helps that Nelson is averaging 19:01 minutes a game, which is up from 17:58 minutes in 2018-19 and way up from 14:44 minutes in 2017-18. While I do expect him to slow down somewhat, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach the 60-point milestone this season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand got off to a pretty rough start this season with just four goals and six points in 19 games. He’s been red hot lately though with a goal and six points in his last three contests. While he’s likely to be a borderline player in standard fantasy leagues overall in 2019-20, he’s worth taking a chance on as long as he’s hot.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has been somewhat hot-and-cold this season and right now he’s hot. He has four goals and six points in his last four contests. He’s up to 10 goals and 15 points in 23 contests this season, which puts him on pace to best his previous career-high of 44 points. That’s not surprising though, given that he’s averaging 16:25 minutes per game, which is up from just 12:42 minutes in 2018-19 when he recorded 33 points in 74 contests.

Corey Perry, Stars – RW: Perry is definitely a risk, but one that could pay off nicely. He didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 16th due to a foot injury. After that, he was slow to get going with his new team, scoring two goals and four points in 14 games. Now he’s showing signs of getting going though. He contributed a goal and an assist on Nov. 19th and he registered three assists on Nov. 21st. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Perry as a major offensive threat, but he’s also had a lot of injury troubles in recent years. There’s absolutely a chance that his recent strong performances are nothing more than a blip on the radar, but if you’re feeling bold, this is a time to try him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier enjoyed four consecutive multi-point games from Nov. 13-21. He’s up to eight goals and 16 points in 21 after that run, which is a huge start for him given that he was limited to 28 points in 81 contests last season. That said, his jump in production has gone hand-in-hand with added responsibilities. He logged 14:39 minutes per game in 2018-19, which at the time was a career-high for him, and that’s jumped to an average of 17:52 minutes this season.

David Krejci, Bruins – C: Krejci had 73 points in 81 games last season and the 2019-20 campaign is shaping up to be similarly strong. He has four goals and 15 points in 17 contests so far. He’s only owned 31% of leagues despite his strong offensive numbers. That’s largely due to him being only eligible as a center and because the vast majority of his points coming from assists, but even still, he certainly has value. At the least, you can keep him in mind as a potential stopgap measure if your team takes a hit due to injuries.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: Cirelli is another center-only option, but he’s a very different case than Krejci. Rather than be just a steady option, Cirelli is someone you’d want to consider taking because of how hot he is. He has four goals and seven points in his last four contests. He’s not likely to be a long-term option, but if you’re hoping to just ride a hot player, then he’s certainly worthy of consideration.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello had just an assist in his first seven games, but that was probably due in part to him adjusting to life with the Wild. Since then, he’s scored four goals and 10 points in 12 contests. He is only averaging 15:49 minutes, which is somewhat concerning, but given how well he’s done lately, he’s still a good pickup in most situations.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: Rust is still only owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been really good this season. Part of the reason why he’s been able to fly under the radar is because he didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 26th. In terms of his points pace though, he’s been superb with eight goals and 13 points in 12 contests. He’s never recorded more than 38 points in a single season, so it’s reasonable to ask if he can keep this up, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He’s only been held off the scoresheet in two contests and is on a four-game point streak.

Brett Connolly, Panthers – LW/RW: With 11 goals and 18 points in 24 contests this season, Connolly has been pretty solid. It’s been something of a hot-and-cold campaign for him, so he might be more of a player to grab in certain situations than to own all the time. Even if that’s the case though, this would be the situation to grab him in given that he’s hot right now. He has five goals and seven points in six contests. 

Players You May Want To Drop

P.K. Subban, Devils – D: I had high hopes for what Subban could bring to the Devils, but he’s ended up doing very little offensively. He has just two goals and five points in 22 games this season. He hasn’t shown any signs of turning around either. In fact, he has no points over his last 10 contests.

Viktor Arvidsson, Predators – LW/RW: Arvidsson is unfortunately a pretty cut-and-dry case. He was injured Saturday night and is projected to miss the next four-to-six weeks as a result. He’s a solid forward, but not good enough that he’s worth holding onto for over a month while he’s notplaying.

Conor Garland, Coyotes – LW/RW: Garland has managed to score 10 goals in 25 games, but he hasn’t done a whole lot else. Those goals have come in bunches too with his latest batch being three goals in four games from Nov. 12-18th.  Now that he’s cooled down again, he’s probably not worth hanging onto, but it would still be good to keep an eye on him as you may want to grab him again later.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is one of those forwards whose worth owning in standard leagues when he’s hot, but not at all times. Right now, he’s gone cold with no points in his last six games. There’s also a secondary consideration with him because his role may be somewhat reduced under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. He logged over 18 minutes in six of his final seven games under Mike Babcock. In Keefe’s first two games, he was on the ice for 15:49 minutes and 16:12 minutes. Not a huge drop, but it is noteworthy.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers – D: Gostisbehere set a career-high with 65 points in 2017-18 before dropping to 37 points in 2018-19. This season is shaping up to be another sharp decline for Gostisbehere as he’s scored just a goal and six points in 22 contests so far. He’s also averaging 18:30 minutes, which is his lowest ice time per game since his two-game stint as a rookie in 2014-15.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.