Around The Rink
Wednesday’s light slate of action features a rivalry renewed, with one team heading toward the draft lottery and another relying on young talent to battle in a tough division. Dallas and Edmonton had some heated playoff contests in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s highlighted by duels between Ed Belfour and Tommy Salo, Derian Hatcher battling with Ryan Smyth in front of goal. Edmonton could never get past the Stars, now one has to wonder when the Oilers will lose their “wait until next year” moniker. Dallas isn’t exactly lightly up the league with an 8-7-2 record heading into Wednesday, but their 18 points are more than Edmonton’s 10.
The fact that the Oilers are loaded with young talent is not lost on the rest of the NHL. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are emerging as elite players in the league but, defensively, Edmonton can not close down the opposition. More scrutiny is certain to come on their defensive efforts the next week as the Oilers signed free agent netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov is slated to join the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City for a conditioning stint before returning to a city he referred to as the North Pole several years ago when asked about former teammate (and former Oiler) Chris Pronger.
Bryzgalov will not be the answer for Edmonton. He struggled toward the end of his rocky tenure in Philadelphia but some of that was Philadelphia’s system, which does little to insulate goaltenders. It’s not Dave Tippett’s system in Phoenix, where Bryzgalov thrived. Bryz had a rocky relationship with the Philadelphia media, so one has to wonder how he’ll handle the circus in a Canadian City. However, like in Philadelphia, the lack of success won't be all on Bryz.
Taking the heat off Bryz for the time being is the Nail Yakupov fiasco. Yakupov has just two goals and four points on the season and was the season’s most famous healthy scratch for a two-game stretch in October. The distractions right now are off the ice, as every story coming out of Edmonton seems to have Yakupov being traded or wanting to be traded. Igor Larionov, the agent for 2012’s first overall pick has vowed to come out to Edmonton to speak with the team’s ownership about his client, but coach Dallas Eakins and Oil GM Craig MacTavish feel the media is driving the controversy.
Win or lose, the Oilers will have every move scrutinized this season. If Yakupov is driving some of the frenzy around the locker room, imagine what Bryzgalov could do if he is the same person hockey fans could not stop watching.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Toronto (James Reimer) at Minnesota (Nicklas Backstrom) 7:30
Philadelphia (Steve Mason) at Pittsburgh (Marc-Andre Fleury) 8:00
Dallas (Kari Lehtonen) at Edmonton (Devan Dubnyk) 10:00
Injury News For Teams Playing Wednesday
Dave Bolland, C (ankle)-slated to miss several months with a severed ankle tendon
Tyler Bozak, C (hamstring)- skated out Tuesday, no return date yet
Colton Orr, RW (undisclosed)-Didn’t play the last two games, could be out Wednesday
Keith Ballard, D (upper body)- out several more weeks from an injury sustained by a blocked shot
Michael Rupp, RW (knee)- beginning a rehab assigning with Iowa (AHL), out Wednesday
Clayton Stoner, D (leg)-Didn’t play Saturday, game-time decision for Wednesday
Michael Raffi, LW (illness)- Out Tuesday with the flu, game-time decision Wednesday
Beau Bennett, W (lower body)- back practicing, likely out Wednesday
Chuck Kobasew, W (lower body)- Expected to miss another three weeks from Tuesday
Paul Martin, D (lower body)-did not play Saturday, a game-time decision Wednesday
Robert Scuderi, D (ankle)- Out indefinitely after suffering a broken ankle
Tomas Vokoun G (pelvis)- Out for 3-to-6 months with a blood clot
Ray Whitney, LW (upper body)- The Wizard was placed on IR Tuesday retroactively to Nov. 9 and will not play Wednesday.
Richard Bachman, G (groin)-Has not played since Nov. 2.
Ilya Bryzgalov, G (conditioning)-No injury. Bryz is playing for Oklahoma City (AHL) on a conditioning assignment after signing a one-year deal with Edmonton.
Luke Gazdic, LW (shoulder) Left Saturday’s game and did not return.
Steven MacIntyre, LW (knee)-has not played all season
Tyler Pitlick, C (knee)- has not played since October 26, remains out
Justin Schultz, D (groin)- Skated Friday, could play this week
Mikko Koivu, C, MIN: The quietly productive playmaker has a goal and three assists over the last three games and two points on the power play. The Wild have been getting their scoring from other sources of late, pushing Koivu aside, but the crafty veteran can still have an impact.
Jamie Benn, C/W, DAL: Benn has a point in each of the Stars’ last three games and five over the last seven. His talent is undeniable and we’re starting to see the caliber of player which is making him a candidate for the Canadian Olympic Team. Benn is leading a resurgent Dallas attack with fellow young star Tyler Seguin and can be relied upon for consistent production.
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM: Hall has four goals and seven total points over the last six games. Edmonton has been scoring more regularly, but they’re still losing games. Hall’s production is not a surprise, but the winger has been one of the few bright spots in northern Alberta along with Jordan Eberle, owner of a goal and four assists over the last five games.
Alex Chiasson, RW, DAL: The dynamic winger has no goals on 18 shots since October 24 with a modest two assists over those eight games. Chiasson has even more value in keeper leagues, but he’s cooled considerably since notching five goals over the season’s first nine games. He’s in a tremendous situations as one of the top six forwards with Dallas, but ebbs like this can be expected from youngsters, even ones with the talent level of Chiasson.
David Clarkson, RW, TOR: After missing the first 10 games of the season due to suspension stemming from an incident in the preseason, Clarkson is still waiting to open his scoring account with the Maple Leafs. (Toronto took great measure to ensure his bank account this past July). Clarkson has one assist through seven games and just 15 shots on goal, a stat that was usually higher during his days with New Jersey. Once the shots pick up, expect a few stretches of goal scoring to come for the Toronto native.
Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI: Voracek isn’t the only Philadelphia forward struggling this season (see Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell), but one goal through 16 games for talented winger is a concern. Compounding matters is the one assist Voracek has over the last six games and the fact that he is seeing top six minutes as one of the team’s more talented forwards. The Flyers are a mess defensively, but it’s the lack of scoring that is the surprise considering their stable of forwards.
Cody Eakin, C, DAL: Eakin has a goal in each of the last two games and three points over the last four contests. He’s one of several talented young forwards on the Stars’ roster, a roster that gets to face one of the league’s more porous defenses on Wednesday evening. He’s seen an uptick in power play ice time the last week, including 4:10 in Saturday’s contest against Chicago. The last three games have seen Eakin log 7:28 after seeing just 12 seconds over the previous four games. Eakin isn’t the team’s brightest offensive talent, but he has nine points over 17 games and has seen his name on the scoresheet recently.