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Saturday Daily Puck: West is Best

Jason Chen

Jason Chen

Probably the only Brendan Morrison fan around. Will always be appreciative of Artem Chubarov.

Around the Rink

How bad is the Eastern Conference this year? The Boston Bruins, sitting at the top with 30 points, would rank only ninth in the Western Conference. Conversely, the Los Angeles Kings, who sit eighth in the West with 32 points, would rank first in the East. This type of imbalance is unheard of.

Of course, no one expects this trend to last. Never before in the modern era of hockey have all eight playoff-bound teams in the East failed to qualify if they were in the other conference. The Metropolitan Division hosts five teams with 10 or more losses, more than any other division, but the Rangers and Flyers have finally started to pick it up and stringing some wins together. It’s probably no coincidence that neither team has significant injuries to note as Rick Nash returns to the lineup.

Heading into the holiday season, staying healthy will be key. Colorado and Los Angeles, two teams who rank in the top ten in fewest man games lost, are reeling from injuries to key players, including Matt Duchene, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick. The Avs have fallen from the top of the conference despite their hot start and the Kings can’t afford to lose any ground in the tough Pacific Division.

There are 12 games on the docket for Saturday, five of which are divisional games and two of which are inter-conference. Your Daily Primer is below.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)

Hurricanes (Cam Ward) @ Bruins (Tuukka Rask), 1:00 p.m.
Wild (Josh Harding*) @ Jets (Ondrej Pavelec), 3:00 p.m.
Capitals (Braden Holtby*) @ Maple Leafs (James Reimer), 7:00 p.m.
Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury*) @ Canadiens (Carey Price), 7:00 p.m.
Senators (Craig Anderson) @ Red Wings (Jimmy Howard*), 7:00 p.m.
Islanders (Anders Nilsson) @ Flyers (Steve Mason), 7:00 p.m.
Stars (Kari Lehtonen) @ Blues (Jaroslav Halak), 8:00 p.m.
Rangers (Cam Talbot*) @ Predators (Marek Mazanec), 8:00 p.m.
Ducks (Jonas Hiller) @ Coyotes (Mike Smith), 8:00 p.m.
Blackhawks (Corey Crawford) @ Canucks (Roberto Luongo), 10:00 p.m.
Avalanche (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) @ Kings (Ben Scrivens), 10:30 p.m.
Devils (Cory Schneider) @ Sharks (Antti Niemi), 10:30 p.m.

*Confirmed

Injury News for Teams Playing Saturday

Hurricanes
Alexander Semin, RW – (Concussion) Out indefinitely after getting hit by Alex Pietrangelo on Nov. 16.
Ron Hainsey, D – (Flu) Missed practice and likely a game-time decision.
Joni Pitkanen, D – (Broken Left Heel) Surgery performed April 16, 2013; out for the season.
Anton Khudobin, G – (Ankle) Joined the team in Detroit on Nov. 21 and practicing, could go to AHL on conditioning assignment.

Bruins
Adam McQuaid, D – (Lower Body) Practicing, but questionable for Saturday’s game.
Dennis Seidenberg, D – (Lower Body) Missed Thursday’s game and status is day-to-day.

Wild
Torrey Mitchell, LW – (Left Leg) Didn’t travel with team and Jason Zucker was called up.
Keith Ballard, D – (Upper Body) Practicing and travelling with team but unlikely to play.
Niklas Backstrom, G – (Concussion) Starting to skate but Josh Harding confirmed for Saturday.

Jets
Jim Slater, C – (Hernia) Out since Oct. 18 with no return date set.
Zach Bogosian, D – (Groin) Placed on IR retroactive to Nov. 15 and status is week-to-week.
Paul Postma, D – (Blood Clot) Placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 27; out indefinitely.
Jacob Trouba, D – (Neck) Inching closer to return, no longer wearing non-contact jersey in practice.

Capitals
John Erskine, D – (Left Knee) Underwent arthroscopic surgery during the summer and re-gaining strength, but recovery has stalled with no timetable for return.
Jack Hillen, D – (Right Leg) Underwent surgery in early October; out “for months.”

Maple Leafs
Tyler Bozak, C – (Sprained Hamstring) Missed Friday’s game, said “hopefully” he’ll return Saturday.
Dave Bolland, C – (Severed Left Ankle Tendon) Surgery performed on Nov. 4; out indefinitely.
Mark Fraser, D – (Knee) Dealing with MCL issue and missed Friday’s game.

Penguins
Chuck Kobasew, RW – (Lower Body) Skating on his own, could return to practice next week.
Rob Scuderi, D – (Broken Ankle) Starting to amp up rehab and aiming for Christmas return.
Tomas Vokoun, G – (Blood Clot) Underwent surgery to dissolve blot clot in pelvis, out indefinitely.

Canadiens
Rene Bourque, LW – (Groin) Had an MRI on Wednesday, missed Friday’s game and doubtful for Saturday.
Davis Drewiske, D – (Shoulder Surgery) Surgery performed on Oct. 16; out 5-6 months.

Senators
None

Red Wings
Stephen Weiss, C – (Groin) If not a game-time decision, expected to play Saturday.
Daniel Alfredsson, RW – (Groin) Will miss his own bobblehead night and return over American Thanksgiving weekend.
Danny DeKeyser, D – (Separated Left Shoulder) On LTIR, so earliest possible return is Dec. 14 but unlikely to be ready then.
Brian Lashoff, D – (Flu) Left Thursday’s game with the flu; day-to-day.

Islanders
Brian Strait, D – (Upper Body) Placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 24 with no timetable for return.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D – (Concussion) Had a much publicized stationary bike ride Friday but likely still weeks away from return.
Evgeni Nabokov, G – (Groin) Placed on IR retroactive to Nov. 16 and Anders Nilsson got called up.

Flyers
Marc-Andre Bourdon, D – (Concussion) Hasn’t played since last year.
Chris Pronger, D – (Concussion) Still suffering from symptoms, last played Nov. 19, 2011.

Stars
Ray Whitney, LW – (Lower Body) Head coach Lindy Ruff says “it’s a possibility” he plays, which means game-time decision.

Blues
Patrik Berglund, C – (Upper Body) Will return Saturday or Monday; missed Thursday’s game.
Jordan Leopold, D – (Hand) Surgery to right index finger; return is sometime closer to Christmas.

Rangers
Taylor Pyatt, LW – (Concussion) Suffered on Nov. 7 vs. Blue Jackets; out indefinitely.

Predators
Eric Nystrom, LW – (Upper Body) Injured in fight Nov. 15 and skating with the team.
Filip Forsberg, RW – (Upper Body) Missed Nov. 21 game against Toronto and still day-to-day.
Pekka Rinne, G – (Hip Surgery) Placed on IR on Oct. 23; out 6-8 weeks.

Ducks
Saku Koivu, C – (Concussion) Suffered on October 27 and not yet medically cleared to play.
Jakob Silfverberg, RW – (Hand) Had cast removed recently, earliest return is early December.
Sheldon Souray, D – (Wrist) Torn ligament during off-season training; expected return is early 2014.

Coyotes
Lauri Korpikoski, LW – (Upper Body) Day-to-day but will sit out Saturday against Ducks.
Zbynek Michalek, D – (Lower Body) Hopeful for Saturday return, but head coach Dave Tippett nixed it.
Dave Schlemko, D – (Lower Body) Was game-time decision Thursday, likely the same on Saturday.

Blackhawks
Michal Handzus, C – (Upper Body) Placed on IR on Oct. 25; day-to-day.
Bryan Bickell, LW – (Lower Body) Expected to miss a few more weeks.
Mike Kostka, D – (Right Foot) IR retroactive to Oct. 22; hasn’t started practicing yet.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G – (Groin) Helped off the ice on Nov. 16 and placed on LTIR; no return date.

Canucks
Jordan Schroeder, C – (Fractured Ankle) Required surgery and likely out for another month.

Avalanche
Matt Duchene, C – (Oblique) Suffered a setback and didn’t accompany team on road trip.
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.

Kings
Jeff Carter, C – (Foot) Skated with team first time since injury on Friday; no return date set.
Jordan Nolan, LW – (Undisclosed) Hurt himself hitting Peter Harrold and day-to-day.
Kyle Clifford, RW – (Upper Body) Remains on IR but status is day-to-day.
Matt Greene, D – (Upper Body) Placed on LTIR retroactive to Nov. 2, must miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days.
Jonathan Quick, G – (Groin) Will be out another month and shooting for Christmas return.

Devils
Ryane Clowe, LW – (Concussion) Placed on IR on Oct. 16; no return date set.
Bryce Salvador, D – (Foot Stress Fracture) Placed on IR on Oct. 22; no return date set either.
Anton Volchenkov, D – (Leg) Missed Friday’s game vs. Kings; still on IR and day-to-day.

Sharks
Raffi Torres, RW – (Knee) ACL surgery; out indefinitely.
Adam Burish, RW – (Back) Had surgery for disc problem and yet to play this season.

Hot

Dustin Byfuglien, D, WPG – The Jets have lost three of their past four games but you can’t fault Big Buff. The refrigerator-sized defenseman has scored five goals during his four-game point streak and his 19 points rank second on the team. Since getting traded from Chicago, where he was buried on the depth chart behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Byfuglien has emerged as a 20-goal, 50-point threat from the blueline. Byfuglien’s play is still a little inconsistent at times, but he can score in bunches and when he gets going, no one can stop the 265-pound freight train.

David Perron, LW, EDM – The pesky left winger made headlines with his three-game goal streak, during which the Oilers won three straight games. “Surprising” has been the word used to describe Perron’s production, but it should be anything but. Since 2010, the 25-year-old winger has been on pace to score more than 20 goals every season. It wasn’t too long ago that Perron was thought to be one of the Blues’ building blocks for the future. It’s unlikely Perron will continue this point-per-game pace, but with 18 points in 20 games and playing alongside a group with a highly-talented offensive dynamos, he’s on his way to a career season.

Jaromir Jagr, RW, NJ – The Devils have not lost in regulation when Jagr scores a goal, further proof of the team’s lack of young talent and their reliance on the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer. That’s fine with Jagr, as long as he gets to slow the game down to his pace and get plenty of chances to handle the puck. After getting traded to the more defense-first Bruins last year, Jagr struggled, scoring just two goals in 11 regular season games and went goalless in 22 playoff games. Jagr (690 goals) also has Steve Yzerman (692), Mark Messier (694) and Mike Gartner (708) on the all-time goals list in his sights, too.

Cold

Alex Edler, D, VAN – Head coach John Tortorella did an outstanding job developing the Rangers’ young defensemen and named the talented Swede as the player he looked forward to working with in Vancouver. But Edler has just one assist in November and a minus-6 rating in his previous five games, all of them losses. The Canucks’ leader in ice-time is capable of putting up 40-50 points and he’ll need to start producing like a first-pairing defenseman if the team wants to snap out of its losing streak.

Michael Grabner, RW, NYI – The Austrian speedster scored two goals in the Islanders’ season-opening win over the Devils but hasn’t scored since – a span of 18 games. Grabner was a healthy scratch November 19 against the Leafs and returned to the lineup Friday night, only to play just 11:43, second-least among forwards, and registered one shot. In Grabner’s two best seasons with the Islanders, he was shooting close to 15 percent. This year, it’s at 4.8 percent. This could mean that Grabner is in line for a big second half, but so far he’s been a non-factor for the Islanders.

Jason Spezza, C, OTT – The Senators have lost three straight games and now 4-4-2 in their last ten, falling behind in a weaker-than-normal Eastern Conference. Spezza has been held scoreless in his past three games, all of them losses. It’s clear that he is the engine that drives the Senators’ offense. The Sens are 5-3-2 when Spezza records a point and 3-7-1 when he doesn’t. The fancy stats tell a similar story. Spezza’s on-ice Corsi (a measure of shot attempts which relates to puck possession) is −11.32 this year, compared to his 9.43 rating in 2011-12 and 8.55 in 2012-13. The Sens have a tough stretch with four games in six days and need Spezza to pick it up.

Recommended Pickup

Brandon Saad, LW, CHI – Playing with Patrick Kane certainly helps, but the former Saginaw Spirit star comes with a pedigree of his own, having scored 131 points in 103 career games in the OHL. After going pointless in the first four games of November, Saad has been on a tear, scoring four times and adding three helpers over the past six games. He’s shooting the puck a lot more and even with the addition of Kris Versteeg, it’s hard to keep Saad out of Chicago’s top-six. The second-round pick in 2011 is still available in most leagues and a 50-point season from Saad isn’t out of the question.

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