The Eastern Conference is in the holiday spirit this week in giving fans plenty of gifts in the form of news coming from Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh, New York, and Detroit.
The Montreal Canadiens have been making a lot of news, as they are missing Brenden Gallahger and Carey Price, and now have lost a legendary member who played for the storied franchise. The team announced late Saturday that legendary winger Dickie Moore passed away at the age of 84. Moore was instrumental in the Canadiens dominance in the 1950’s, most specifically helping the Canadiens win consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-1960.
As the Canadiens deal with the death of one of their legendary players, they now are dealing with the release of Zack Kassian. They announced that he has been cleared to play again, and has entered the second part of the NHL’s substance abuse program. After this, Montreal has also decided to release Kassian outright.
While Zack Kassian is attempting to shake the grip substance abuse has on his life, the Toronto Maple Leafs Jonathan Bernier is attempting to shake the grip of low self-confidence. Bernier recently had a four game conditioning stint with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. During this time, the Maple Leafs called up Garrett Sparks to take his place until James Reimer returns from injury. As reported earlier, Sparks posted a shutout in his debut, the first to do so in Maple Leafs history. However; just a few games into his NHL career, Sparks sustained a lower body injury Thursday night in the Leafs 5-4 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks. This leaves Toronto severely hampered between the pipes. As a result, the Maple Leafs have signed former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ray Emery to a professional try out contract with the Marlies. Washington Capitals fans may recognize that name, as he was the goalie that challenged Braden Holtby to a fight 2 years ago. Perhaps the news and reputation of Emery’s fiery personality has travelled to Bernier, as he posted a 5-0 shutout against the Kings on Saturday night.
More goalie news is coming out of the Steel City this week. The Pittsburgh Penguins troubles continue to mount. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is out at least 1-2 weeks due to a concussion. Fleury stated to the team after their loss to the Capitals on Monday that he was not feeling well, and it was determined after a round of tests that a concussion, is in fact, what Fleury has. As if the news couldn’t get worse for the Penguins, they also will be without right-winger Beau Bennett. Bennett will be out for at least 4-6 weeks with what is called an “upper-body” injury that also was sustained in the same game, when the Capitals’ T.J. Oshie collided with him, sending Bennett awkwardly into the boards.
Staying in the Metropolitan division and in the theme of goalies, the New York Rangers are now without backup goaltender Antti Raanta for an undetermined amount of time after taking a slap shot from the Minnesota Wild’s Marco Scandella. The shot hit Raanta in the middle of his forhead, causing him to collapse onto the ice, clutching his forehead. As of this writing, it is unknown when Raanta will return.
Finally, from the never give up aspect of life, one doesn’t have to look no further than the Detroit Red Wings Justin Abdelkader. While it took the better part of 10 years, the rugged left winger finally received his degree in Business Management from Michigan State University. Abdelkader stated, “It was something that I kind of promised my parents when I left (home) that I would get my degree. It’s something that I’ve always wanted and I think it’s a huge accomplishment, something that you’ll need one day whether it’s in the business world or coaching college hockey. To me the degree is important.”
Western Conference Recap:
One of the biggest stories over the past couple of months has been the point streak of Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. Earlier this week, his record-breaking 26-game point streak ended in a 3-0 defeat against the Colorado Avalanche. Kane’s point streak is the longest in Chicago Blackhawks history and longest by any American-born player. Kane is still leading the way in the NHL scoring race heading into Friday, as he has recorded 47 points in 33 games. The streak was a fun ride and a good storyline for the NHL over the past couple of months. It may be a record that will not be broken for a very long time.
Keeping with the Blackhawks here, goaltender Corey Crawford is on a roll lately. He has 3 shutouts in his last 4 games he has started. He now leads the NHL among goaltenders with 5 shutouts, and he is ranked 3rd in wins.
One more bit of Blackhawks news, forward Marcus Kruger had surgery on Friday to repair a dislocation of his left wrist. He is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
And now we have some good news out of Alberta. The 2015 1st overall pick of the Oilers Connor McDavid has begun skating again. He has missed over 20 games of action, as he sustained a clavicle fracture back on November 3. There is still no timetable for his return. The Oilers have actually gotten on a little bit of a roll lately, as they have won 7 out of their last 10 games.
Staying in Alberta, the Calgary Flames are hot right now. They have won 7 in a row and have slotted into the 3rd spot in the Pacific Division. The Flames have received better goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. There have been some rumors regarding the Flames goaltending recently. Earlier this week, Flames brass Brian Burke and GM Brad Treliving attended a Maple Leafs game. Could they be scouting Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier? Bernier has had an off-year, could a change of scenery be in his future?
The Vancouver Canucks have been cold lately, and things have only gotten worse. Henrik Sedin was injured in the 2nd period on Thursday night against Philadelphia, and did not return to the game. The Canucks recalled centre Linden Vey from Utica, and he may slot into the lineup against Detroit on Friday night. The Canucks have been shut out in 3 out of their last 6 games and are looking for any kind of offense.
A team that is puzzling right now in the Western Conference is the San Jose Sharks. They have a great 12-5-1 road record, but they cannot seem to win many games at home. They have a 4-9 record at the Shark Tank so far this year. Why are the Sharks so good on the road versus at home?
Keep an eye out on the Colorado Avalanche. They have quietly won 4 games in a row and they are sneaking up on the rest of the Central Division contenders.
By Andrea Sobolik and George Foussekis