Eastern Conference Recap:
The new year brings in an influx of news coming from the Eastern Conference this week. News from Montreal, Tampa Bay, Florida, Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New York (Islanders), are all in this week’s Eastern Conference notes.
The Montreal Canadiens are making all kinds of news this week, with not only participating in the Winter Classic, but in making a move to shore up their goaltending situation, and while they welcome back one of their best scorers, they lose another one to injury.
We begin with the Canadiens sending embattled winger Zach Kassian to the Edmonton Oilers for goaltender Ben Scrivens. This gives the the Canadiens some much needed stability in the net, while Carey Price continues to rehabilitate his lower body injury that has limited him to only 12 games this season.
While the Canadiens are attempting to have some cohesion to their goaltending, the news regarding a couple of their right wingers is a mixture of good and bad. The Canadiens welcomed back Brendan Gallagher after missing 16 games due to fractured fingers, which was sustained in a game against the New York Islanders when attempting to block a shot from Johnny Boychuck. However, the bad news is they lost right winger Dale Weise for at least 5 to 10 games as he was injured in this Year’s Winter Classic when he was cross-checked into a shot that came in from the point.
It appears the injury bug has also bitten the Tampa Bay Lightening as well. The team stated that starting goaltender Ben Bishop suffered an undisclosed injury about 10 minutes into the team’s practice on Friday. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper downplayed the severity of Bishop’s injury by stating, “I don’t think it’s anything serious”. Bishop did not play in the Lightening’s win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, so it is unknown when Bishop will return. Because of this, the team has recalled goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy from their AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
Staying with the Lightening, the team also announced that they have sent left winger Johnathan Drouin back to Syracuse to help regain his scoring touch and to rehabilitate some nagging injuries as well. According to General Manager Steve Yzerman, “Jonathan has played in nine games in the last nine weeks. He’s been dealing with a minor nagging issue that is finally healed. With everyone coming back at the same time, it’s a good opportunity to get a young player a lot of ice time, get his game right back on top and bring him back at the appropriate time.”
Further on south in the Sunshine State, everything is looking just like that for the Florida Panthers: sunny. The Panthers find themselves battling Montreal for the top spot in the Atlantic, as a result, the team has rewarded General Manager Dave Tallon and Head Coach Gerard Gallant. GM Tallon signed a 3-year extension, and Coach Gallant signed a 2-year extension. This is a well-deserved extension for both, as the team has improved a whopping 25 points (as of this publishing) over last year’s totals.
While things may be sunny for the Panthers, that’s not the case for the Boston Bruins. Not only did they suffer a humiliating loss to their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens in the Winter Classic, the team is without two of their better forwards in David Krecji and Brad Marchand. Krecji sustained what the team is calling an upper body injury when he ran into the Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Ryan. The team is stating that Krecji will continue to be week to week and won’t be rushed to come back any time soon.
As Krecji works to recover from his injuries, the Bruins will be without the services of Brad Marchand for three games. Marchand went low with his hit on the Senators’ defenseman Mark Borowiecki, and upended him. This is not the first time Marchand has had the NHL’s Department of Player Safety place a call to him for actions he has taken. This will make the fourth time Marchand has been suspended. He has been suspended for two incidences of slew footing and one for clipping before this latest transgression.
While Marchand deals with an on-ice transgression, the Buffalo Sabres’ Evander Kane is dealing with an alleged off-ice transgression. Reports out of Buffalo are stating that Kane is the subject of an alleged sexual assault of a woman last Sunday in a hotel room near the First Niagra Center. Meanwhile, Kane is denying any wrong-doing and has been cooperating with the authorities regarding this issue. This will be an on-going investigation, and updates will be provided as they become available.
Moving on to some news coming out of some of the Metropolitan Division teams, beginning with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have activated goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from Injured Reserve on Friday. Fleury was out for 8 games with a concussion, and returned to the Penguins, showing no ill effects of said concussion on Saturday, posting a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Staying in the vein of the New York Islanders, the team stated that they will be without star defenseman Johnny Boychuk for a while, as he has been placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. Boychuk sustained the injury when he crashed into the boards when he lost his footing when trying to check the Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel. While the injury did not look serious at first, as Boychuk was able to get up on his own power, further testing showed that the injury is a lot worse off than initially thought.
The new year has started with quite a bang in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, with much more to come in the following weeks.
Western Conference Recap:
Happy New Year! The NHL All-Star Captains have been announced. John Scott (Arizona) won the top vote for the Pacific Division, while Patrick Kane won the top vote for the Central Division. Hopefully this will be the last year of the “fan-vote” and All-Star game. It will be interesting to see who fills out the rest of the rosters for both divisions. One can assume the Dallas Stars will be well represented with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg all in the mix. The Chicago Blackhawks should also be well represented with guys like Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. One can assume that Daniel Sedin and Taylor Hall will both come out of the Pacific Division. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick will probably be the goalie of the Pacific’s team.
Connor McDavid participated in Oilers practice on Friday for the first time since his clavicle injury. There is still no timetable for McDavid’s return to the ice, but it sounds like he may only be another week or two away.
Coyotes Captain Shane Doan set a Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes franchise record on Thursday night. He scored goal no. 380 in the first period against the current Winnipeg Jets. Doan is one of the NHL’s most underrated Captains. His loyalty to the Coyotes franchise is something that is underappreciated. Well done, Shane!
Canucks forward Jannik Hansen was fined $2,000 on Thursday. He was given a warning after a game against Pittsburgh back in November, and his second violation happened against Tampa Bay on December 22. The NHL has really cracked down on diving and embellishment the past couple of seasons. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Through the new year, Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane still leads the way in the NHL scoring race. He has 56 points in 39 games. Stars forward Jamie Benn is right behind Kane with 52 points.
The Central and Pacific Division leaders (Dallas, Los Angeles) have both built up sizable leads. The Stars have a 9-point lead in the Central Division, while the Kings have an 11-point lead in the Pacific Division. The Stars and Kings appear to be playoff bound.
The Pacific Division is a major crapshoot right now. The 2nd through 6th place teams are separated by a slim 3 points. The Pacific looks to be very weak this year, as no team can establish any kind of long win streak.
The St. Louis Blues placed veteran forward Scott Gomez on unconditional waivers earlier this week. Gomez had 1 goal and 7 assists this season, but had been a healthy scratch a lot within the past few weeks.
It was a fun year in 2015 and 2016 is shaping up to be exciting for the NHL’s Western Conference. It is safe to say that the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings are the Cup favorites out of the West as 2016 enters. But hockey is always full of surprises. Can a team like Minnesota or St. Louis get over the hump and make it to the Stanley Cup Final? It will be a fun ride the next few months before the playoffs begin.
By George Foussekis and Andrea Sobolik