Around the Rink
There’s no argument – fantasy hockey isn’t real hockey. But if there’s one thing that gets just about every fan excited, it’s goals. The more, the better. In previous years, the NHL has toyed with ideas to increase scoring, from moving the nets further away from the boards to regulating the size of goalie pads. As sports fans, there’s always a thirst for more, for the next human achievement.
Alexander Ovechkin has 32 goals in 42 games this year, on pace to score his 60-goal season, and the first time anyone has done so since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12. Though it’s unfortunate that the Rocket Richard Trophy has become a one-horse race after Stamkos broke his leg, Ovechkin’s quest is nonetheless intriguing. If Ovechkin scores 60, it’ll be the third time it has happened in 15 years. In fact, Ovechkin’s hypothetical 60-goal campaign will be exactly 20 years since Pavel Bure notched the second of his back-to-back 60-goal seasons.
Has scoring become easier, or are we witnessing a generation of truly phenomenal talent? It’s often said in sports that the talent levels of professional sports leagues ebb and flow, where some decades feel leaner and more forgettable than others because they lack true superstar talent and storybook rivalries.
Though the Canucks’ bid for the Stanley Cup fell one game short in 1994, there’s hoping that Ovechkin, in his ninth NHL season, can at least lead the Capitals past the semifinals. That’ll come after Ovechkin tries to win gold on home soil. Through no fault of their own, Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby’s career will remain inextricably tied together. However, the gap in accomplishments between the two seems to widen as the years pass, with Crosby’s gold medal, won on home ice in dramatic fashion, and Stanley Cup title triumphing over Ovechkin’s individual awards.
It’s a rare night in the NHL with the Leafs getting the night off as the Canadiens take center stage against the Blackhawks. The rest of Saturday includes Columbus and Winnipeg battling for position in a tight wild card race, and potential Stanley Cup previews with the Kings hosting Detroit and the Sharks hosting Boston.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Tampa Bay Lightning (Anders Lindback*) at Philadelphia Flyers (Steve Mason), 1:00 PM
Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford*) at Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price), 7:00 PM
Florida Panthers (Tim Thomas) at New Jersey Devils (Cory Schneider*), 7:00 PM
Ottawa Senators (Craig Anderson*) at Nashville Predators (Marek Mazanec), 7:00 PM
Columbus Blue Jackets (Curtis McElhinney) at Winnipeg Jets (Ondrej Pavelec), 7:00 PM
Colorado Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov) at Minnesota Wild (Niklas Backstrom), 8:00 PM
Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller) at Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith), 8:00 PM
Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury) at Calgary Flames (Reto Berra*), 10:00 PM
Detroit Red Wings (Jimmy Howard*) at Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick), 10:30 PM
Boston Bruins (Tuukka Rask) at San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi), 10:30 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
Tampa Bay Lightning
Brian Lee, D - (knee) doing off-ice workouts, no timetable for return.
Ben Bishop, G – (wrist) practiced briefly Friday, Lindback already named starter.
Steven Stamkos, C – (broken leg) practiced Monday, shooting for return in early February.
Keith Aulie, D - (hand) practicing in no-contact jersey, no return date set.
J.T. Brown, LW - (shoulder) practicing, expected to return on this road trip.
Radko Gudas, D - (lower body) did not practice, still day-to-day.
Mattias Ohlund, D - (knee) out indefinitely, last played May 2011.
Chris Pronger, D – (concussion) career is over, according to Holmgren.
Zac Rinaldo, RW - (ankle) placed on IR Friday.
Matt Read, RW - (concussion) placed on IR.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G – (torn rotator cuff) underwent surgery, out 4-5 months.
Alex Galchenyuk, C – (broken hand) will miss 6 weeks.
Ryan White, LW – (upper body) will miss 2 weeks.
Davis Drewiske, D – (shoulder surgery) has not played this year, out indefinitely.
Jesse Winchester, LW - (hand) expected to miss more time, day-to-day.
Dylan Olsen, D – (upper body) placed on IR.
Alex Petrovic, D - (upper body) is not on the Panthers’ road trip.
New Jersey Devils
Damien Brunner, RW - (knee) hasn’t resumed skating.
Jacob Josefson, C – (virus) considered day-to-day.
Patrik Elias, LW - (upper body) skated alone Friday, day-to-day.
Peter Harrold, D - (fractured foot) resumed light skating, no return date set.
Chris Neil, RW - (lower body) already ruled out of Saturday’s game.
Pekka Rinne, G - (hip) cleared Friday to start weight exercises, no timetable for return.
Patric Hornqvist, RW - (lower body) did not play Thursday, day-to-day.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Marian Gaborik, RW - (collarbone) no longer wearing a sling, no timetable for return.
Blake Comeau, LW – (sprained knee) expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
Jack Skille, RW - (upper body) placed on IR Friday
Jared Boll, RW – (ankle surger) out 3-4 months, no timetable for return.
Matt Halischuk, RW - (forearm) still a few weeks away, says head coach Claude Noel.
Grant Clitsome, D – (black) “not close,” says Noel.
Paul Postma, D - (leg) close to practicing with the team, no timetable for return.
Evander Kane, LW – (hand) doubtful for Saturday.
Jim Slater, C - (sports hernia) progressing, but no timetable for return.
Alex Tanguay, LW - (knee) practiced in a non-contact jersey Thursday.
P.A. Parenteau, RW - (knee) placed on IR.
Nate Guenin, D – (ankle) missed Friday’s game, day-to-day.
Ryan O'Reilly, LW - (shoulder) questionable for Saturday’s game.
Jason Zucker, LW – left Thursday’s game, questionable for Saturday.
Jared Spurgeon, D - (lower body) placed on IR.
Zach Parise, LW - (foot) last played December 22, no timetable for return.
Josh Harding, G - (illness) placed on IR.
Mikko Koivu, C – (ankle surgery) will miss 3-4 weeks.
Dustin Penner, LW - (upper body) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Luca Sbisa, D – (torn tendon) suffered late November, no timetable for return.
Viktor Fasth, G – (lower body) considered week-to-week.
Sheldon Souray, D - (wrist) skated on Thursday, no time timetable for return.
Bryan Allen, D - (lower body) placed on IR Tuesday.
Zbynek Michalek, D - (lower body) will not play Saturday.
Kyle Chipchura, C – (lower body) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Tomas Vokoun, G - (pelvis) out indefinitely after surgery.
Pascal Dupuis, RW – (torn ACL) out for the season.
Chuck Kobasew, RW - (lower body) did not play Tuesday, day-to-day.
Paul Martin, D - (broken leg) skated last week, no timetable for return.
Chris Conner, RW – (hand) surgery performed last week.
Andrew Ebbett, C – (broken ankle) out indefinitely.
Beau Bennett, RW – (hand/wrist surgery) out indefinitely.
Jayson Megna, LW - (lower body) considered week-to-week.
David Jones, RW - (eye) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Curtis Glencross, LW – (high ankle sprain) considered week-to-week.
Blair Jones, C – (torn meniscus) out indefinitely.
Kris Russell, D - (knee) skated on his own last week, no timetable for return.
Detroit Red Wings
Stephen Weiss, C – (sports hernia) underwent surgery, out until late February.
Pavel Datsyuk, C - (groin) will not play Saturday.
Johan Franzen, LW - (concussion) will not play Satuday either.
Jonathan Ericsson, D - (ribs) resumed skating, no timetable for return.
Darren Helm, C - (groin) ruled out for Saturday.
Jonas Gustavsson, G – (groin) won’t return on this road trip.
Dennis Seidenberg, D – (ACL/MCL tear) out for the season.
Johnny Boychuk, D - (personal) will not play Saturday.
Loui Eriksson, RW - (concussion) wants to return Saturday, game-time decision.
Chris Kelly, C - (leg) no timetable for return.
Jordan Caron, RW - (back) practiced Wednesday, but no timetable for return.
San Jose Sharks
Matt Irwin, D – (upper body) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Tomas Hertl, LW – (knee) out indefinitely.
Martin Havlat, RW - (lower body) placed on IR, no timetable for return.
Raffi Torres, RW – (ACL surgery) no timetable for return.
Adam Burish, RW – (back surgery) out indefinitely.
Logan Couture, C - (hand) placed on IR.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL – The 22-year-old Russian Olympian has 11 points in his past eight games, coinciding with the Blues’ recent win streak before it was snapped by Vancouver on Friday. What’s most impressive about Tarasenko’s recent hot streak is that nine of those points have come even strength. He has given the Blues a dynamic offensive element to their game, and he’s flourishing on a line with two other Olympians, Patrik Berglund of Sweden and Vladimir Sobotka of the Czech Republic. Tarasenko has 28 points this season.
Paul Stastny, C, COL – Since being named to Team USA, Stastny has scored eight points in four games, including back-to-back three-point performances. Though his name seems to pop up in trade rumors frequently, Stastny has never been on pace to finish the season with fewer than 20 goals over a full 82-game season. He is on pace to score 26 goals this year, which would be the highest total since his rookie season.
Jonathan Quick, G, LA – There’s no rust in Quick’s armor, that’s for sure. After missing significant time due to a groin injury, Quick has allowed just four games in three games. The Kings were mired in a five-game losing streak prior to his return on January 4 in a 3-1 win over Vancouver, and defeated Eastern Conference heavyweight Boston 4-2 on Friday. The Kings face a tough stretch of games against the Red Wings (twice), Canucks, Blues and Bruins again over the next two weeks. Quick is battling Ryan Miller to be Team USA’s starter, which should give him some extra motivation.
Mike Smith, G, PHX – Smith was pulled in a New Year’s Eve game against lowly Edmonton, and his struggles continued into 2014. Smith has allowed nine goals in his past three games, all of them in losing efforts. The Coyotes have fallen two points out of a wild card spot and fortunate to still be in the race with Dallas, Nashville and Winnipeg struggling to win games. Given Smith’s recent play, you can only hope that Roberto Luongo’s injury isn’t serious and Carey Price continues his strong play.
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB – The cold streak was coming, as Johansen’s previous hot streak was difficult to sustain, even if he were a veteran. Columbus’ young franchise player has just one goal in his past six games, and has consequently seen his ice time dip. The Jackets are still in the playoff race, but will need Johansen to start scoring again if they want to make the cut.
Bryan Little, C, WPG – Little faded as the 2013 calendar year wound down, despite being one of the NHL’s better forwards at the start of the season. He was well on his way to his breakout season, but expectations have to be tempered (again) with just one assist in his past six game as the Jets continue their four-game losing streak. The Jets have found adjusting to the Western Conference difficult and quickly fading from the playoff race.
Vladimir Sobotka, C, STL – The forgotten Boston Bruin took a little longer to find his scoring touch, but a player formerly cast as a fourth line grinder has turned into a dependable two-way player under Ken Hitchcock. Sobotka scored 74 points in 68 AHL games, but has never scored more than eight goals in a season in the NHL, so maybe the 26-year-old is a late bloomer. Line mate Tarasenko is on fire, which makes it a good time to cash in on both Vladimirs.