EJ Hradek and Bill Pidto discuss the three games on tap for Monday night.
Which will you be watching?
EJ Hradek and Bill Pidto discuss the three games on tap for Monday night.
Which will you be watching?
The Rangers started the season as one of the league’s hottest teams, but have come back down to earth lately. Getting back on track will be a bit harder without the services of Rick Nash for the next week.
Another year, another ailment for Rick Nash, but luckily for the New York Rangers winger this one won’t be keeping him out of the lineup long-term.
Nash, 32, was forced to the leave the Rangers’ loss to the New York Islanders early on Tuesday, suffering a lower-body ailment that put him out of the game, and an MRI on Wednesday revealed that Nash will be sidelined for somewhere in the neighborhood of one week due to a groin injury.
Considering Nash was forced out of action due to the injury, that he’ll miss only one week is about as good as the news could be. Most Rangers fans would have thought the worst when Nash was forced to leave the game, especially given he missed nearly a quarter of the 2015-16 campaign due to a knee injury.
Being out for a week would force Nash, currently third on the Rangers in scoring behind J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes with 18 points, to miss anywhere from four to six games, depending when he’s feeling fit to return to action. Only one of those games are divisional games, which is a slight bonus, but the set of games against the Chicago Blackhawks is certainly a pair the Rangers could use Nash for, and getting by the New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets without Nash in the lineup is going to require someone else stepping up.
Nash is in the midst of quite the bounce back season, too. While it may be a far cry from his remarkable 2014-15 campaign in which he scored a career-best 42 goals to go along with 69 points, Nash has already potted 11 goals this season and, prior to his injury, was on pace for another 30-goal campaign.
Even if Nash reaches the 20-goal mark this season, though, it would be a step up from his past campaign. He managed only 15 goals and 36 points in 2015-16, making for the lowest full-season goal total of his career.
Nash isn’t the only injury concern for the Rangers right now, however. New York will also be without Matt Puempel for the foreseeable future due to a concussion and Mika Zibanejad’s broken fibula will likely keep him out of action for at least another month, if not more.
The Rangers, who started the season as one of the league’s hottest teams, are just 4-5-1 in their past 10 games.
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The budding power forward is having a successful season with USHL Youngstown, with Penn State on the horizon. Learn about him and other future NHLers in our weekly wrap
The world junior camp rosters are really rolling out now and there have been some minor surprises. Sweden will not be taking a last look at 2017 draft prospects Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brannstrom on defense, while Russia is taking a pass on Columbus pick Vitalii Abramov, among others. And now we know that Nolan Patrick will not suit up for Canada, due to injury. But let's concentrate on the player around the prospect world that are having good weeks. As always, here's our wrap-up of who is making waves.
Brett Murray, LW (Buffalo): We are just beginning to see what Murray is capable on the ice, but it's been a pretty good show already. The burgeoning power forward has the right frame at 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds and has put up 16 points in his first 22 USHL games with the Youngstown Phantoms. Now it's just a matter of speed for the Sabres' fourth-rounder.
“Being a bigger guy, my acceleration and quickness off the start is something I can work on," Murray said. "Always improving top speed in open-ice skating is a huge thing.”
With that foreboding frame, Murray can grow into a force once he puts it all together. The early results are encouraging and he already has championship experience from this past season, when he helped the CCHL's Carleton Place Canadians win their Jr. A title in Ontario's Ottawa region. In Youngstown, he's facing tougher competition and the stakes will rise again next year when he heads to Hockey Valley and the NCAA's Penn State Nittany Lions.
“It just seemed like the right fit," Murray said. "They have a new state-of-the-art facility and as a progression for me, just being in the gym every day with an elite strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist seemed like the best for me.”
So if everything goes according to plan, Buffalo will have a beast of a left winger once Murray is finished in the NCAA. He's already got the instincts to be a handful.
“I like to work the puck down low in the corners," he said. "Use my size and skill to create space for my linemates and myself.”
And with the World Jr. A Challenge coming up in Bonnyville, Alta., Murray is proof of what that tournament can do for a prospect that isn't necessarily on the mainstream radar. Murray played for Canada East last season and soaked in everything he could from international duty.
“I really enjoyed it," he said. "It was an excellent experience, matching myself up against top prospects from other countries and even my linemates.”
In The Pipeline
Sergei Zborovskiy, D (NY Rangers): Games don’t get much better than the seven-pointer Zborovskiy hung on poor Prince Albert in his Regina Pats’ 12-2 destruction. The big-bodied defenseman was all over the place, jumping into scoring positions and getting pucks to the net. He has also been invited to Russia’s final world junior camp.
Carter Hart, G (Philadelphia): It seems like I’m mentioning Hart a lot lately, but I can’t help it because he refuses to give up goals. Using structure and technique, the favorite heading into Canada’s WJC camp posted three straight shutouts before Medicine Hat finally dented the armor in his most recent game. Hart still got the win, though.
Guillaume Brisebois, D (Vancouver): Canada has a lot of options on the blueline, so it will be interesting to see if Brisebois can snag a spot. The Charlottetown Islanders rearguard has great size and skating ability, helping him to 17 points through 23 games. But he can also use his tools to shut players down and that might be his key to making the world juniors.
Henrik Borgstrom, C (Florida): He’s been great all year for NCAA Denver, but the announcement of Finland’s world junior roster gives us another reason to mention the speedy and talented freshman. Borgstrom has 16 points through 14 games with the Pioneers and Finland will need his offense with so many big names from last year’s squad unavailable.
Caleb Jones, D (Edmonton): Team USA named its preliminary world junior roster on Monday and it's looking like a solid crew. But who will step up on defense with so many options? Jones is one candidate, as his combination of physicality and skill make him dangerous. The Portland Winterhawks rearguard has an impressive 25 points in 28 WHL games this year.
2017 Draft Stars
Robert Thomas, C – London Knights (OHL): Thomas had one heckuva coming out party on the weekend, racking up five points for the Knights in a 6-2 win over Flint. Strong on his skates and blessed with some fantastic offensive moves, Thomas now has 30 points in 27 games on a deep team.
Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): There is so much to like about Tippett’s game, from his size (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) to his skating to his shot. All of those were in full gear against Ottawa on the weekend, where Tippett popped in four points in a 6-3 victory.
Lias Andersson, C – HV 71 (SHL): One of three draft prospects to make Sweden’s final WJC camp roster, Andersson plays an excellent two-way game and already has chemistry with Carl Grundstrom and Elias Pettersson on the international stage. Back with HV 71, Andersson is one of the top-scoring junior-aged players in the SHL with eight points in 22 games.
Jayson Dobay, D – Thayer Academy Tigers (Mass. HS): An excellent skater with great offensive instincts, Dobay is a UMass commit and one to watch in the New England prep ranks this season. With six assists in his first three games for the Tigers, his campaign is off to a great start.
Jesse Bjugstad, D – Stillwater Ponies (Minn. HS): When you think of Minnesota high school defensemen, finesse and skating usually comes to mind. But Bjugstad can also play the game with an edge. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has great NHL pedigree (dad Scott, cousin Nick) and has kicked off the season with two goals in two games.
The Blue Jackets have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL this season, but it's still going to take convincing for the hockey world to believe they're for real.
We’ll totally understand if you’re having just a little trouble getting on board with the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After all, you’ve probably been burned before.
Their fan base certainly seems to be wary. Despite the fact the Blue Jackets are the surprise of the NHL and have emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting teams in the league, they drawn fewer than 12,000 in three of their past four home games. Even their coach thinks the team has work to do to earn their fans’ trust. “I want our team to have a chip on their shoulder,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch recently. “I think they should. We’re trying to get respect in the league. Quite honestly, we should be disrespected because of where we’ve been.”
That won’t last long if the Blue Jackets keep this up. The league’s best power play continues to fuel one of the league’s hottest teams and has landed them at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings for the second time this season. Last week’s rankings in parentheses:
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (15)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
4. St. Louis Blues (2)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
6. Montreal Canadiens (7)
7. New York Rangers (4)
8. San Jose Sharks (11)
9. Boston Bruins (20)
10. Calgary Flames (27)
Is there a bigger bargain or a shrewder off-season signing than Sam Gagner?...Steve Mason went from one of the worst goalies in the NHL early in the season to one of the best of late. His save percentage in his first 16 games was .892, but has improved to .947 in his past five… If Marc-Andre Fleury wants to get traded, he’s not doing himself any favor with his play lately…The Blues completed a 4-0-1 home stand with the game going into overtime…With Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford already out, the Blackhawks lost defenseman Brent Seabrook in their 4-0 win over Arizona Tuesday night…How will the Canadiens and the surprising Alexander Radulov respond to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk?...The injury-ravaged Rangers saw Rick Nash go down with a groin injury and Matt Puempel to a concussion in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night…Joe Thornton passed Brendan Shanahan for 25th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with an assist in a 2-1 win over Montreal last week…Anyone who predicted David Pastrnak would be in Rocket Richard Trophy contention a third of the way into the season is looking very bright at the moment…The Flames were already one of the hottest teams in the NHL without Johnny Gaudreau, then won their first two with him back in the lineup.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Washington Capitals (11)
12. Edmonton Oilers (14)
13. Ottawa Senators (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (1)
15. New Jersey Devils (23)
16. Detroit Red Wings (16)
17. Nashville Predators (3)
18. Minnesota Wild (19)
19. Anaheim Ducks (10)
20. Winnipeg Jets (17)
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some pointed words to Alex Ovechkin about his penchant for taking minor penalties of late. No cracks in the foundation, though. Just a frank discussion…The Oilers game Tuesday night against Buffalo was touted as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, the kind of narrative the Oilers have learned to accept. “Every night it’s Connor vs. Somebody,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan…Goalie Craig Anderson started in the Senators’ 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, but did not travel with the team for a three-game California trip to be with his wife as she undergoes treatment for throat cancer…The usually stingy Kings have given up 11 goals in their past three games. “That’s too many goals,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter…Devils winger Taylor Hall on the aftermath of his clean, but devastating, hit on Philip Larsen Tuesday night: “I feel terrible.” Not to be trite, but Hall should not be feeling terrible about the way he has played since returning from a knee injury. He has five points in his past two games…Goalie Jimmy Howard will be back in uniform for the Red Wings when they host Columbus Friday night, but will have a difficult time pushing Petr Mrazek out of the crease…After missing four games with an upper-body injury, James Neal scored a goal in a 4-3 Predators’ win over Colorado Tuesday night…Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose career was revived when he came to Minnesota, will make his 300th career start tonight in Toronto…Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle could not pull Jonathan Bernier during his team’s 8-3 loss to Calgary because backup John Gibson was battling a stomach virus…Over the past 30 years, only Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin have scored goals at a better pace than Patrik Laine of the Jets is scoring them now.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. New York Islanders (26)
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (22)
23. Carolina Hurricanes (25)
24. Buffalo Sabres (29)
25. Florida Panthers (24)
26. Vancouver Canucks (18)
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
28. Dallas Stars (28)
29. Arizona Coyotes (21)
30. Colorado Avalanche (30)
With points in each of their past five games, four of them wins, the Islanders are easily on their most successful string of the season…The Lightning could get Ryan Callahan, Jason Garrison and Jonathan Drouin back for their home game against Vancouver Thursday night…Jordan Staal, sidelined for the past four games with a concussion, likely won’t be available to the Hurricanes for a three-game road trip through California that begins tonight…After playing almost 500 games in the minors, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer made his NHL debut in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win over Washington Tuesday night… Panthers have gone to overtime in four of their five games GM Tom Rowe has been behind the bench. They’ve won one in overtime, lost two in OT and one in a shootout…Philip Larsen, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit from Taylor Hall Tuesday night, was released from hospital in New Jersey Wednesday morning and was cleared to return to Vancouver while the Canucks continue on a five-game road trip…After waiving Jhonas Enroth, the Maple Leafs search for a backup goalie continues. They signed Karri Ramo to a professional tryout contract and assigned him to their farm team. That should cure everything…The Coyotes have been outscored 14-6 and have averaged 41 shots against per game in an 0-3-1 month of December…All nine of Matt Duchene’s goals this season have come on the road. The Avs could use that kind of production at the Pepsi Center, where they’re 4-8-1 this season and recently went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand.
While the loss of the two centers is a crushing blow in the short-term, this team is positioned too well to lose assets in a hasty trade scenario
The Montreal Canadiens will be without top center Alex Galchenyuk and fellow pivot David Desharnais for at least six weeks, perhaps even eight. Both players sustained knee injuries in recent games and the news is obviously not good. But GM Marc Bergevin would make it even worse by jumping into a hasty trade.
True, the Habs now look skeletal down the middle (though Tomas Plekanec isn't a horrible choice for the top line and Andrew Shaw can help out), but this is a short-term problem. Montreal is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now and with netminder Carey Price, they can win more than a few games in the next month or so just on the strength of his gifted play. And the Shea Weber-led defense has been better than expected, so even if the Habs are super-boring and conservative until February, they'll get some results.
Will Montreal still be on top by then? Maybe not, but as long as they don't lose like, 20 games in a row, they'll still be in a playoff position with enough runway left to climb back up the rungs. And as the Los Angeles Kings have proven twice already, you can win the Stanley Cup as long as you get into the playoffs, particularly if your goalie is one of the best on the planet (caveat: being a great possession team helps and the Canadiens are only middling).
But a trade is not the way to go, particularly since the Canadiens aren't deep to begin with. They don't have many attractive pro prospects right now – unless they can drum up interest in a Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak – and their best recent draft pick is defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who should be seen as untouchable. I mean, if Pittsburgh offers up Evgeni Malkin for the 2016 first-rounder and a couple other goodies, you make that trade – but I don't think that's going to happen.
If anything, Montreal needs to build their pipeline up, instead of taking assets away from it. The Canadiens ranked just 23rd in the NHL in our most recent Future Watch edition and Sergachev was the only pick they made in the first two rounds this summer. They do have two second-rounders for 2017 (their own and Washington's selection), but again: they need those.
Galchenyuk and Desharnais will be back and in all likelihood, the Canadiens will still be in a playoff position. The short-term may seem a little bleak, but the price of a quick patch isn't worth the long-term loss. Patience is a virtue here.