Around the Rink
The first month of the season usually serves as a warm up, with players getting used to their new teams and rookies acclimating themselves to the pros. But give coaches and scouts enough viewings and they’ll catch on quickly, making the necessary adjustments along the way. This is what separates the great players from the good players and the playoff-bound teams from the pretenders. Teams that want to make up lost ground in October are making the necessary changes, as the Sabres did by firing general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston.
The questions remain: Are the Avalanche for real? When will the Oilers put it together? How long can the Leafs hold without their top centers? What, exactly, have Alex Steen and Ben Bishop been eating? Who will prevail in the division of death, the Pacific Division?
December and January are typically the toughest months of the NHL season, with the wear and tear of intense games and heavy travel affecting the bodies. Teams will want to enter those months with a comfortable lead, making November all the more important. Injuries will start to mount, with some teams already reeling from bad news – the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos broke his leg, Marian Gaborik will be out for 4-6 weeks for the Blue Jackets and Jonathan Quick of the Kings tweaked his groin.
That’s not mentioning the added pressure of the looming Olympics. Several national teams plan on doing some heavy scouting soon, and given the injuries and the disappointing play of players who were considered virtual locks, the coaching staffs may have to broaden their scope. Players like Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, conspicuously left off Canada’s Olympic camp roster, could very well play their way onto the team in February.
Without any further ado, here’s the primer for Saturday night’s action.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
Sabres (Jhonas Enroth) at Maple Leafs (James Reimer), 7:00 p.m.
Rangers (Cam Talbot*) at Canadiens (Carey Price*), 7:00 p.m.
Penguins (Jeff Zatkoff) at Devils (Martin Brodeur*), 7:00 p.m.
Red Wings (Jonas Gustavsson) at Islanders (Kevin Poulin), 7:00 p.m.
Hurricanes (Justin Peters) at Blues (Brian Elliott*), 8:00 p.m.
Blackhawks (Nikolai Khabibulin*) at Predators (Carter Hutton), 8:00 p.m.
Lightning (Ben Bishop) at Coyotes (Mike Smith), 8:00 p.m.
Panthers (Tim Thomas) at Avalanche (J-S Giguere), 9:00 p.m.
Oilers (Devan Dubnyk) at Flames (Reto Berra*), 10:00 p.m.
Injury News for Teams Playing Saturday
Mike Weber, D – (Broken Left Hand) Suffered blocking a shot; likely to return Tuesday.
Tyler Bozak, C – (Sprained Hamstring) Placed on LTIR; eligible to return Nov. 21.
Dave Bolland, C – (Severed Left Ankle Tendon) Surgery performed on Nov. 4; out indefinitely.
Nazem Kadri, C – (Suspension) Will serve second game of 3-game suspension Saturday night.
Taylor Pyatt, LW – (Concussion) Suffered on Nov. 7 vs. Blue Jackets; out indefinitely.
Rick Nash, RW – (Concussion) Practicing with the team but still no timetable for return.
Brendan Gallagher, LW – (Flu) Missed Friday’s game; game-time decision.
Davis Drewiske, D – (Shoulder Surgery) Surgery performed on Oct. 16; out 5-6 months.
Chuck Kobasew, RW – (Lower Body) Left game on Oct. 28; out 2-4 weeks.
Rob Scuderi, D – (Broken Ankle) Surgery performed on Oct. 30; out indefinitely.
Tomas Vokoun, G – (Pelvis) Surgery performed to dissolve blood clot on Sept. 21; out indefinitely.
Ryane Clowe, LW – (Concussion) Placed on IR on Oct. 16; not skating.
Jon Merrill, D – (Facial Lacerations) Suffered on Nov. 3; not skating.
Bryce Salvador, D – (Foot Stress Fracture) Placed on IR on Oct. 22; not skating.
Anton Volchenkov, D – (Leg) Missed Friday’s game vs. Kings; day-to-day.
Stephen Weiss, C – (Groin) Practicing, but won’t play until next week.
Brendan Smith, D – (Separated Shoulder) Placed on IR Nov. 3; should be ready for Saturday.
Thomas Vanek, LW – (Upper Body) Should return for Saturday’s game.
Brian Strait, D – (Upper Body) Placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 24; out indefinitely.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D – (Concussion) Placed on IR on Oct. 21; out indefinitely.
Jeff Skinner, LW – (Upper Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 25; practicing with no-contact jersey.
Kevin Westgarth, RW – (Upper Body) Practicing with no-contact jersey.
Radek Dvorak, RW – (Lower Body) Suffered Nov. 12; day-to-day.
Joni Pitkanen, D – (Broken Left Heel) Surgery performed April 16, 2013; out for the season.
Anton Khudobin, G – (Lower Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 14; out indefinitely.
Cam Ward, G – (Lower Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 25; day-to-day.
Magnus Paajarvi, LW – (Upper Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 27; not cleared for contact.
Jordan Leopold, D – (Hand) Surgery to repair ligament; out at least 8 weeks.
Michal Handzus, C – (Upper Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 25; day-to-day.
Mike Kostka, D – (Right Foot) IR retroactive to Oct. 22; hasn’t started practicing yet.
Matt Hendricks, C – (Upper Body) Sat out Friday’s game; day-to-day.
Pekka Rinne, G – (Hip Surgery) Placed on IR on Oct. 23; out 6-8 weeks.
Steven Stamkos, C – (Broken Right Tibia) Surgery performed Nov. 12; out indefinitely.
Tom Pyatt, LW – (Fractured Collarbone) Placed on IR on Oct. 9; likely 4-6 more weeks.
Keith Aulie, D – (Upper Body) Placed on IR Nov. 12; no return set.
Mark Barberio, D – (Lower Body) Questionable for Saturday night.
Brian Lee, D – (Knee Surgery) Placed on LTIR on Oct 2; out indefinitely.
Mattias Ohlund, D – (Left Knee Surgery) Last played May 27, 2011; out for the season.
Sami Salo, D – (Lower Body) Probably for Saturday night.
Zbynek Michalek, D – (Lower Body) Left Thursday night’s game; could return Saturday night.
Derek Morris, D – (Lower Body) Missed four straight games through Friday; day-to-day.
Scott Gomez, C – (Groin) Missed Friday night’s game; day-to-day.
Ed Jovanovski, D – (Hip Surgery) Placed on IR on Sept. 25; day-to-day.
Alex Tanguay, LW – (Sprained Knee) Placed on IR on Nov. 4; reevaluation to come.
Ryan Wilson, D – (Back) Placed on IR on Nov. 8; out two more weeks.
Tyler Pitlick, C – (Sprained Left Knee) Placed on IR on Oct. 27; no return set.
Steve MacIntyre, LW – (Knee) Placed on IR on Sept. 28; out indefinitely.
Justin Schultz, D – (Groin/Ribs) Starting to practice; day-to-day.
Richard Bachman, G – (Groin) Placed on IR on Nov. 3; day-to-day.
Curtis Glencross, LW – (Sprained MCL) Placed on IR on Nov. 6; out indefinitely.
Mark Giordano, D – (Broken Ankle) Placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 21; out 6-8 weeks.
Tomas Hertl, LW, SJ – After a mesmerizing four-goal performance that sparked yet another debate about hot dogging in the NHL, Hertl actually scored just twice more in his next ten games. Maybe all the exposure was getting to him, but feast or famine streaks aren’t uncommon for rookies, even ones playing with the superb Joe Thornton. It looks like Hertl’s back on the wagon again, scoring six points in his last six games, including five points over a three-game stretch, and he's taking more faceoffs, adding yet another dimension to his fantasy stock.
Kyle Turris, C, OTT – Okay, if Team Canada were to take a center from Ottawa it’d be Spezza, but Turris has been on an absolute tear with seven points in six November games. Prior to getting shutout by the resurgent Claude Giroux and the Flyers, Turris was on a seven-game point streak during which he scored 10 points. The former third overall pick has never put together this kind of streak before and is well on his way to shattering his career high of 29 points. The Sens need Turris to establish himself as a viable second-line scoring option and, so far, he’s delivered.
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL – Stars general manager Jim Nill must’ve been giddy as a schoolboy when the Bruins offered up Seguin in exchange for Loui Eriksson. It wasn’t long ago when Seguin was being talked about as the best player in the 2010 draft, and his recent five-point effort against Calgary is further evidence that he still has the ability to be a potential franchise player. If there’s anything we’ve learned about Seguin is that he tends to score in bunches. When he scored four points on October 11 against Winnipeg, he followed that up with a four-game point streak. With Jamie Benn also finding his groove, there’s no telling what the pair will do next.
Dustin Brown, RW, LA – The Los Angeles captain has been a model of consistency since breaking into the league. Though he’s not blessed with quick feet or soft hands, he has scored at least 20 goals every year since the 2007-08 season, with the exception of last year when he scored 18 in 46 games in a lockout-shortened season. Through 19 games he has scored just three times this year and is now currently on a five-game pointless drought. After scoring two goals in his fourth game of the season against Nashville, Brown went 10 games without scoring a goal. The pressure on Brown to score would be a lot more intense if not for the Kings’ strong defensive play, but he needs to pick it up soon in light of Jeff Carter’s injury.
James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR – van Riemsdyk played center during his days with New Hampshire, but it’s too much to ask him to fill the voids left by Dave Bolland, Tyler Bozak, and now, Nazem Kadri. Since moving to center van Riemsdyk’s play has suffered. He’s winning less than 40 percent of his faceoffs and pointless in November, posting a minus-3 rating through five games. Unfortunately for van Riemsdyk owners, the Leafs, who are already light down the middle, will be forced to use JVR at center for the time being. It won’t get any easier facing John Tavares and Nicklas Backstrom next week, either.
Sam Gagner, C, EDM – Really, I could pick any Oiler and stick them on this list and call it a day, but Gagner has been particularly disappointing. Since returning in late October, Gagner has one assist in seven games, and, obviously not immune to the Oilers’ lack of defense, is minus-10 in that span. With Mark Arcobello’s surprising demotion, Gagner’s role to create offense will be even more important. The Oilers are loaded up front so there’s no excuse Gagner shouldn’t be producing offensively. Of course, there have been times when Gagner, coming back from a broken jaw, has looked far less than 100 percent, but nevertheless his production has been non-existent. He’s struggling in the circle as well, which means he doesn’t offer much right now in terms of peripheral stats either.
Chris Kreider, LW, NYR – Kreider became a playoff hero in 2012 when he scored five goals in 18 games after joining the Rangers right after his junior season with Boston College. He started the 2012-13 season with the Rangers but struggled under former coach John Tortorella and was assigned to the AHL to finish the season. This year, after six games with the Hartford Wolf Pack where he scored four points and added 16 penalty minutes, Kreider was re-called and has given the Rangers a tremendous offensive lift with 10 points in 11 games, including two multi-point games. Head coach Alain Vigneault has been known to bring out the best in offensive players and Kreider looks like he’s one of them. The best part? Kreider’s 7.7 shooting percentage is below his career and league average, meaning he could just be warming up.