Bryan Little

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NHL Injury roundup: Updates on Letang, Grubauer, and Little

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The Dallas Stars are not the only team dealing with some significant injuries at the moment.

Let’s take a quick look around the league at some other notable injury situations on Thursday.

Penguins won’t have Kris Letang on Thursday. The Penguins were finally starting to get healthy and play up to their potential with a fully stocked roster, and then another injury situation developed. Letang, their No. 1 defenseman, exited their game against Boston on Monday night after two periods and will not be available on Thursday as they try to snap the New York Islanders’ 10-game winning streak.

Letang has been off to a great start this season and his absence will be a significant one. He will be replaced on the top defense pairing by rookie John Marino. Marino has been impressive so far this season and just scored his first NHL goal on Monday.

More injury problems for Avalanche. Already without two of their top-three forwards (Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog) the Avalanche announced on Thursday that starting goalie Philipp Grubauer will miss the next couple of games due to a lower-body injury. In 11 starts this season Grubauer has a .915 save percentage. The goaltending duties will now fall on Pavel Francouz in Grubauer’s absence.

When the Avalanche have been healthy this season they have looked every bit the Stanley Cup contender they were supposed to be but have cooled off in recent games as the injuries have piled up. They have dropped five in a row and six of their past seven, and things will not get any easier with their starting goalie out of the lineup.

The Avalanche are home on Thursday against the Nashville Predators.

An update on Bryan Little. Scary situation for the Jets when forward Bryan Little was hit in the head with a puck earlier this week, requiring 25 stitches.

On Thursday, coach Paul Maurice offered an update on Little and revealed that the forward is dealing with a perforated ear drum and is currently experiencing vertigo. That update comes via Jets analyst Mitchell Clinton. Little is expected to make a complete recovery but there is no timeline on when he will be able to return to the ice.

In seven games this season Little has two goals and three assists for the Jets.

Blues will be without Steen for several weeks. Here’s another big one for the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The team announced on Thursday that Steen has been placed on injured serve with a high-ankle sprain and will be re-evaluated in four weeks. He was injured in the Stars’ win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.

He is off to a slow start this season with zero goals and five assists in 17 games, but the Blues are already without their top player, Vladimir Tarasenko, and just traded Robby Fabbri on Wednesday night.

Related: Injuries mounting for surging Stars

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.

Jets center Little hospitalized after being struck by puck

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little remained hospitalized Wednesday, a day after being struck near the ear by a puck.

Little was skating behind the net midway through the third period in a 2-1 home loss to New Jersey when teammate Nikolaj Ehlers fired a rising slap shot from the point. The puck hit Little on his left side and he fell to the ice, putting his head in his hands as blood dripped.

The Jets said Wednesday that Little was taken to St. Boniface Hospital and needed 25-30 stitches to close a cut, then was transferred to the Health Sciences Centre’s neurological unit for further observation.

The team said the 31-year-old center was alert at all times and in good spirits Wednesday morning. Little has two goals and three assists in seven games after sitting out the first nine of the season because of a concussion.

Jets’ turbulent offseason capped with injuries to Little, Beaulieu

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Few teams come into the very beginning of the 2019-20 season quite as bruised and bewildered as the Winnipeg Jets.

After a tough end to last season that included a Round 1 exit, the Jets absorbed body blows that were more than just flesh wounds during the offseason. They waved goodbye to some key players from rental Kevin Hayes to defensive mainstays including Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Things were bumpy, to say the least, with Patrik Laine, from ambivalent comments about his future, not-so-kind comments about linemates such as Bryan Little, and finally a very short-term truce with the team via a two-year deal. There was also uncertainty with Kyle Connor until he signed a lengthy pact. If that wasn’t all enough, Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement, and didn’t exactly give the Jets a ton of notice about what’s either a soul-searching sojourn or the end of a truly unique NHL career.

After all the corny (yet inevitable) “day off” jokes that once followed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, one couldn’t blame the executive if he felt both relieved and exhausted as the season merely begins.

Unfortunately, the hits kept coming in the final days of an offseason that rarely felt like time off.

The Jets provided two unfortunate bits of injury news on Tuesday, as the team announced that Little is out indefinitely with a concussion, while defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is IR-bound with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for about four weeks. Both injuries happened during what ended up being a very costly 4-1 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild.

(This Luke Kunin hit injured Little, and Scott Billeck reports for the Winnipeg Sun that head coach Paul Maurice was understandably unhappy about it.)

All of these injuries, free agent losses, and Byfuglien-sized curveballs create some massive craters in the Jets’ lineup, which is troubling since Winnipeg looked so wobbly at times last season, even with the likes of Trouba in the mix. Money Puck’s month-to-month expected goals chart presented their plummeting play in a dramatic way:

Some of those months were without Byfuglien, but again, with Trouba. Taking Ben Chiarot and Beaulieu out of an already troubled group slices up that defense even more.

Meanwhile, the Little injury stacks the deck against Maurice and the Jets, too.

The team shared line rushes that would include Andrew Copp as a second-line center, with Adam Lowry possibly as the 3C.

That doesn’t inspire the highest level of confidence, although maybe this is a time where Maurice should be more willing to experiment. While this would be out of necessity, you never know when you might find different things that work, possibly giving you a Plan B (to Z!) for when matchups become tougher during playoff skirmishes.

What if Jack Roslovic could thrive in a 2C or 3C role? Is it possible that breaking up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele could benefit the likes of Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers? Considering his traditionally impressive possession stats, would Mathieu Perreault be worth a look at one of those center spots, too?

It’s possible that none of those alignments would be optimal, but you don’t need to look too hard to see that these aren’t the most optimal times for the Jets.

Again, though, sometimes bigger challenges bring out the best in players. In the past, it might have felt like the Jets had a luxurious surplus of talent, maybe allowing some to believe – consciously or subconsciously – that they could “flip the switch” and turn things around, even with red flags waving.

Under the current circumstances, they’re going to depend on not just Scheifele and Wheeler, but also Laine, Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. Without pressure, you can’t get diamonds, and so maybe that thought will serve as the Jets’ silver lining.

Because, frankly, there are some uncomfortable forces bearing down on them as the season begins.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

The Buzzer: Price, Canadiens continue to roll

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Players of the Night:

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: Price made like a brick wall for the third straight game, stopping 27 of 28 shots he faced for his third straight win since returning from injury. Montreal had been a tire fire prior to Price’s return, and Price had been a tire fire before he went down with the mysterious lower-body injury. Price’s revival looks very, very good over the past three games with a 0.67 goals-against average and a .980 save percentage. The Canadiens have won three-straight.

Antoine Vermette, Anaheim Ducks: Vermette picked a good night to end his 11-game goal-scoring drought, netting twice, including the game-winner, as the Ducks beat the St. Louis Blues. Anaheim had lost their previous four games before Wednesday’s win.

Highlights of the Night:

This is just one filthy, filthy pass by Andrew Shaw:

Riley Nash made Andrei Vasilevskiy look pedestrian with this slick wrister:

Steven Stamkos ended a five-game goal-less slump when he finished off this tic-tac-toe play on the power play:

The Mighty Stumble:

The NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams coming into Wednesday night’s action both fell to lesser teams (going by standings, of course).

On Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBSCN, the Boston Bruins topped the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. Charlie McAvoy had a goal and an assist and played over 28 minutes for the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the final four minutes for St. Louis, but it wasn’t enough to claw his team back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Winnipeg Jets took a too many men penalty with seven seconds left in regulation in a 2-2 game and paid for it when the game shifted into overtime as Nathan MacKinnon scored 59 seconds into extra time.

The Jets had a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference with St. Louis losing. Alas, it was not to be.

MISC:

  • Tuukka Rask hasn’t had a good start to the year — he has just four wins in 14 starts — but he stopped 19 shots on Wednesday against the league’s top team to end a four-game skid, including this fine save:

  • Bryan Little has eight points in nine games since ending an 11-game goal-scoring drought on Nov. 14.
  • Erik Karlsson continues to starve the scoresheet of his name. He is now seven games without a goal or an assist, this after recording 17 in his previous 10 games.

Factoid of the Night:

And it was a pretty nice goal to boot.

So majestic.

Scores: 

Bruins 3, Lightning 2

Canadiens 2, Senators 1

Ducks 3, Blues 2

Avalanche 3, Jets 2 (OT)


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

Winnipeg Jets ’15-16 Outlook

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As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.

After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.

Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.

Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?

Aging core –  It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.

For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.

Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.

Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?

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The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.