While the trade deadline has come and gone, it doesn’t mean that teams aren’t facing line-up changes.
Eastern Conference Recap:
Teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightening and the Montreal Canadiens are dealing with this issue in particular. On the other hand, teams such as the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are celebrating individual milestones. Conversely, the Toronto Maple Leafs will mark a team milestone in grand fashion. Finally, the Buffalo Sabres breathe a collective sigh of relief regarding one of their own this week.
The Pittsburgh Penguins announced early Saturday that star center Evgeni Malkin will be out 6-8 weeks with what the team is calling an upper body injury. Malkin sustained the injury when he ran into Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout. After the hit, Malkin appeared to be holding onto his left arm, left the bench and did not return for the remainder of the game. As mentioned, Malkin will be out 6-8 weeks, which will put him out for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs. Losing Malkin is a huge loss for the Penguins, as he is second on the team with 27 goals, and was having nearly a career year with said tallies in goals.
As the Penguins playoff hopes hang in the balance due to the loss of Evgeni Malkin, the same could be said about the New Jersey Devils as well. As reported last week, goaltender Corey Schneider was out with what the team called a lower body injury. With that said, the news didn’t get any better regarding Schneider. The Devils have confirmed that the all-star will be out for at least two weeks with a grade 1 MCL sprain and will have his knee re-evaluated again in two weeks. The Devils are battling Pittsburgh and the Detroit Red Wings for a wild card berth, and losing Schneider could be a major blow for them.
Staying in the Metropolitan, the New York Rangers have received good news regarding a few of key pieces of their line up. The team disclosed on Saturday that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, left winger Rick Nash, and defenseman Marc Staal have returned to the team after dealing with various different injuries. Lundqvist has missed the last 4 games after dealing with neck spasms, while Nash has been dealing with a leg injury that has limited him to 45 games this season, and Staal has missed the Rangers last two games due to back spasms. Having these three back in the line-up fortifies the Rangers and will help build cohesion for a run in the play-offs.
As the Rangers strengthen their line up with members of their franchise, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally have put the Jonathan Drouin controversy to bed. The hold out left winger demanded to be traded, and subsequently refused to accept his assignment to the team’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. As a result, the Tampa Bay Lightning suspended Drouin indefinitely. After not having his request to be traded fulfilled, the second year winger decided it was best for his development to end his hold out and report to Syracuse on Monday. As a result, the Lightning have lifted his suspension.
While the Lightening and the Rangers continue to grow their respective rosters, the Montreal Canadiens are bit yet again by the injury bug. The Canadiens stated that they will be without right-winger Brendan Gallagher for the second time this season. This latest injury is being labeled as a lower-body injury, and will have him on the shelf for 2-3 weeks. Gallagher sustained the injury in the team’s 4-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets late Saturday. As mentioned earlier, this is Gallagher’s second significant injury this year, after sustaining 2 broken fingers which forced him to miss 17 games. One other item of note from the Canadiens this week had many around the hockey world panicked also. Star defenseman P.K. Subban was sent to the hospital earlier this week, due to a freak collision with his own teammate, Alexei Emelin. Subban was taken off the ice on a stretcher, and spent the evening in the hospital as a precaution. Subban was later released, and missed his first game on Saturday as a result of the collision.
As Montreal deals with injuries and scares, there are several other individuals and teams celebrating milestones, with two coming in the same game. The first milestone of note involves Boston Bruins head coach, Claude Julien. Julien made Bruins history Monday night by passing the legendary Bruins coach Art Ross by winning his 388th game as the Bruins bench boss. Also, in the same game, Jaromir Jagr propelled himself in to the NHL’s stratosphere with points all time. Jagr scored career point 1,851, good enough to surpass legendary defenseman Gordie Howe for third all time.
While it may be early in his career, Philadelphia Flyers rookie defensemen Shayne Ghostisbehere is quickly solidifying his position with the team. Ghostisbehere made Flyers history by scoring his 14 goal of the season in the team’s 4-2 win over the Lightning on Monday night. This is the most ever scored by Flyers rookie defenseman since Ben Wilson scored 13 in the 1978-1979 season.
Individual milestones have made news this week, as well team milestones. One such team milestone belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the team will be celebrating 100 years in the league next season, it has been announced in conjunction with this celebration, the team will be hosting The Centennial Classic outdoor game at BMO field on New Years Day against the Detroit Red Wings.
Finally, from the off-ice files: The Buffalo Sabres are breathing a collective sigh of relief as star left winger Evander Kane has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Kane, as reported months ago, was accused of sexual assault in December. According to District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr, “After a careful and diligent examination of all the known facts, including the results of forensic and toxicological testing, neither the provable facts nor the applicable law support the filing of any criminal charges or a prosecution in this matter.” As a result, the Buffalo police department considers the matter closed and no further investigation will be needed.
Western Conference Recap:
The NHL has unveiled their slate of outdoor games for next season. The Western Conference will receive the NHL Winter Classic and Heritage Classic. The 2017 Winter Classic will take place on January 2, 2017 in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. The Blues will play host to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Heritage Classic will be hosted by the Winnipeg Jets on October 23, 2016. The Jets will host the Edmonton Oilers outdoors at Investors Group Field.
So the Western Conference will get two outdoor games that will pit two Canadian rivals against each other, and two Central Division foes against each other. There will be plenty of good storylines to follow with these two outdoor games. Busch Stadium in St. Louis has always been an exciting venue that packed for Cardinals baseball. This will be the first time the Blues have been in an outdoor game. The Blues and the Blackhawks are fierce rivals and have plenty of playoff history with each other. The Blues will be celebrating their 50th anniversary as an NHL franchise.
With the Heritage Classic, the big storyline will probably surround Connor McDavid in his first outdoor game. How will McDavid perform on the big stage outside? Will Investors Group Field have a crazy environment that is similar to the MTS Centre?
There have been some suspensions handed out by the NHL Department of Player Safety this week. On Thursday, the NHL suspended Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog 3 games for cross-checking Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres in the head. After reviewing this hit, Landeskog could have probably pulled up on his check and could have not ran into Despres. The suspension is fair here.
Also on Thursday, the NHL suspended Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse for an altercation he had with San Jose Sharks defenseman Roman Polak. Nurse violated Rule 46.2 (aggressor) as he attacked Polak late in the game with under 5 minutes remaining. After reviewing this hit, there was no need for Nurse to attack Polak as he was making a line change. The game was pretty much decided as the Sharks led 3-0 with under 2 minutes remaining. The suspension is fair here.
Earlier this week, the Vancouver Canucks signed rookie defenseman Nikita Tryamkin to a 2-year entry deal. Tryamkin, 21, has spent the last four seasons playing in the KHL. The 6’8” 240 lb. defenseman is a large man, who has drawn some comparison to Zdeno Chara. He could make his NHL debut as early as Saturday against the Nashville Predators, but he will most likely debut early next week, either on Monday against Winnipeg or Wednesday against Colorado.
The Dallas Stars are decimated with some injuries right now. On Thursday, Stars Coach Lindy Ruff announced that defenseman Jason Demers will miss the next six weeks with a shoulder injury. The Stars have already been missing defensemen John Klingberg and Jordie Benn, as well as forward Patrick Sharp. They are all day-to-day with lower-body injuries.
The Nashville Predators are heating up. Heading into Saturday, they have not lost a game in regulation in 15 games. The last time the Predators lost in regulation was at home to the Washington Capitals on February 9. It will be difficult for the Predators to sneak back into the top 3 in the Central Division, but they have given themselves a little bit of cushion in the first Wild Card spot.
Andi Sobolik – Eastern Conference
George Foussekis – Western Conference