- Penguins winger Jason Zucker is listed as a game-time decision for their game on Monday in Vegas, notes Mike DeFabo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The 30-year-old has missed nearly a month due to a lower-body injury that he was trying to play through before being shut down. He was off to a tough start before the injury with just four goals and seven assists in 30 games but he’s an intriguing addition to a Pittsburgh attack that is getting pretty close to being fully healthy.
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bryan Rust practiced with the team today after missing their last four games while in COVID protocol, per team reporter Michelle Crechiolo. The Penguins face off against Vegas tomorrow night, but head coach Mike Sullivan said today that he’s unsure whether or not he’ll insert Rust into the lineup. Rust’s yet again been lethal when in the lineup, although he’s been limited to just 15 games this season. He has nine goals and 11 points, on pace for his second career season above a point-per-game pace.
More from around the league:
- Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme issued a further update today on injured winger Paul Byron, stating that he’s probable to join the team at some point during the upcoming week. Byron’s been absent the entire 2021-22 season after having offseason hip injury, and he was expected to miss about five months. He’s now missed about five-and-a-half, so it’s a good sign that he won’t be out much longer. The 32-year-old winger has 26 points in 75 games over the past two seasons and will provide valuable leadership presence to a struggling Canadiens team.
- The San Jose Sharks could be getting a pair of players back into the fold. Head coach Bob Boughner said today that goalie James Reimer — who’d been out with a lower-body injury for over a week — and forward Alexander Barabanov, who was on COVID protocol, could be back in the team’s lineup for their Monday night game against Los Angeles. Both Reimer and Barabanov have been valuable parts of an impressive Sharks team this season. Reimer’s posted strong numbers in a tandem with Adin Hill, and Barabanov has 20 points through 32 games.
It doesn’t make for much of an exciting stretch run, but it just might be the truth and The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington isn’t afraid to make the claim: less than halfway through the 2021-22 NHL season, the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots appear to be locked up. While the eight in place can certainly jockey for position, Harrington believes that those teams currently in the postseason in the East will stay in postseason position and those not, including his Buffalo Sabres, have nothing left to play for this season. Do you agree?
The conference standings do paint a pretty bleak picture for the playoff race, as the gap between the eighth and final playoff spot and the next closest competitor is sizeable. In terms of both absolute points and points percentage, the Boston Bruins sit in eighth in the East with 46 points and a .657 points percentage, holding the second wild card spot if the postseason started today. In ninth place in both categories are the Detroit Red Wings, but calling it a distant ninth is generous. Detroit has 39 points on the year, just seven back of Boston, but having played four more games than the Bruins the Red Wings are actually just a .500 team, 157 percentage points back. Every other team outside the playoff picture is under .500 and they are all chasing a Bruins team that is 8-2 in their past ten games, riding a five-game winning streak. Just ahead of Boston are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are also 8-2 in their last ten. The only other teams in the conference that are not 200+ percentage points ahead of Detroit are the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
[See: Eastern Conference Standings]
Statistically, there don’t appear to be any clear underachievers outside of the playoff picture primed for a late push either. All eight teams not in a playoff spot in the East have a negative goal differential, with the top mark being the Columbus Blue Jackets at -15. In contrast, the worst differential among the playoff teams is the Rangers’ +17 and they are the only club below +20. Hardly any of the non-playoff teams hold a spot in the top half of the league in any major statistical category either. The New York Islanders are ninth in goals against per game and eleventh in penalty kill efficiency, the Blue Jackets are tied for twelfth in goals for per game, the New Jersey Devils are thirteenth on the penalty kill, and the Ottawa Senators are tied for fourteenth in power play efficiency – end of list.
Yet, can the playoff picture really be sealed up this early? The law of averages suggests that a current playoff team is likely to slump while a current non-playoff team is likely to hit their stride in the second half. In fact, this may have already begun. While the Bruins and Penguins have been surging, the Capitals are just 4-3-3 in their last ten games and struggling to find consistent goaltending and defensive play. The Capitals’ record is also buoyed by a league-leading nine overtime points and their abysmal 30th-ranked power play is a major stain on their playoff resume. If there is a pretender in the East, it could be Washington. The Rangers may also be due for some regression in the second half. New York has exceeded expectations thus far and have somehow found ways to win despite trouble scoring. Their 2.85 goals per game is tied for 18th in the league, behind the likes of Columbus and New Jersey and just .01 ahead of Ottawa. On the flip side of the playoff picture, the Islanders are one of the biggest disappointments of the season. A conference finalist last year, the Isles looked to be building a true contender. While they are still playing a good defensive game, the team has had no luck offensively this season. Yet, with a league-low 30 games played, the Islanders could have time to find their game and fight their way back into postseason consideration. At least on paper, the Philadelphia Flyers should also be better than their current record, while the rebuilding Red Wings and Blue Jackets should be happy with their performance so far this season but would be even happier to get their young rosters into a postseason battle.
It is hard to remember a conference having no battle for playoff position in recent memory, especially so early in the season. While it looks like that could be the case this year in the East, is that actual a realistic expectation? Is the current gap in the standings just too wide to overcome? Or is there enough potential for one or two teams in the playoff picture to collapse while one or two on the outside find a way back? Vote now and comment on which teams, if any, could drop out of the playoff picture and who might replace them.
During a live reveal on ESPN’s SportsCenter program in the United States, the National Hockey League unveiled their four divisional rosters for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Eight skaters and two goalies were announced for each team, leaving one skater spot open for each division. That last spot will once again be decided by a fan vote, who they can select by voting at NHL.com/LastMenIn.
The head coaches of each team were announced earlier, decided by the teams in first place (by points percentage) in their division on New Years Day. Florida’s Andrew Brunette heads the Atlantic Division, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour will coach the Metropolitan Division, Colorado’s Jared Bednar is the bench boss for the Central Division, and Vegas’ Peter DeBoer will serve as the Pacific Division’s coach.
Below are the full rosters for each division.
F Auston Matthews “C” (Toronto Maple Leafs)
F Drake Batherson (Ottawa Senators)
F Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
F Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers)
F Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)
F Nick Suzuki (Montreal Canadiens)
D Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo Sabres)
D Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
G Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning)
F Alex Ovechkin “C” (Washington Capitals)
F Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes)
F Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
F Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils)
F Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
D Adam Fox (New York Rangers)
D Adam Pelech (New York Islanders)
D Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets)
G Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes)
G Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins)
F Nathan MacKinnon “C” (Colorado Avalanche)
F Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets)
F Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks)
F Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild)
F Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)
F Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues)
F Joe Pavelski (Dallas Stars)
D Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche)
G Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators)
G Cam Talbot (Minnesota Wild)
F Connor McDavid “C” (Edmonton Oilers)
F Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers)
F Jordan Eberle (Seattle Kraken)
F Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames)
F Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings)
F Timo Meier (San Jose Sharks)
F Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights)
D Alex Pietrangelo (Vegas Golden Knights)
G Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks)
G John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks)
- Speaking of Canadian Olympians getting closer to the end of their playing days, Jeff Carter recently turned 37 and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. When Josh Yohe of The Athletic asked him about whether or not tomorrow’s Pittsburgh Penguins game would be the last time Carter plays in Los Angeles, the veteran forward suggested he is still hoping to play a few more years. Carter is having another strong year for the Penguins with 11 goals and 20 points in 29 games, and certainly appears as though there is more for him to give over the next few seasons. Now going on more than 1,100 games at the NHL level, the veteran forward will be an interesting case to follow this offseason should he hit the open market.
The day has come for Evgeni Malkin, who will make his season debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight against the Anaheim Ducks. The star center has been out all season rehabbing his knee after offseason surgery but now returns to a Pittsburgh lineup that won ten straight before falling to the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
With 48 games left in the regular season, Malkin will have a chance to climb a little further up the all-time points list. He currently sits 63rd with 1,104, just behind Patrick Kane’s 1,119. Both those names could jump over several impressive names, including former teammate Marian Hossa who is 57th with 1,134. Given Malkin recently said that he wants to play several more seasons, there’s no telling how high he’ll climb before eventually hanging up his skates.
- Unfortunately, Malkin’s return won’t be the only story of the day for the Penguins. Danton Heinen and Zach Aston-Reese have both tested positive for coronavirus and have entered the league’s COVID protocol. They are out for tonight’s game. Head coach Mike Sullivan explained that Heinen is experiencing symptoms, but Aston-Reese is not. The latter could test out of the protocol after five days, while Heinen will need his symptoms to resolve (and provide a negative test after a minimum of five days) before rejoining his teammates.
- The interesting part for the Penguins is how they’ll make the financials fit, as they actually don’t have the cap space to activate Malkin from long-term injured reserve without sending someone else down. With Heinen, Aston-Reese, and Casey DeSmith all on the COVID protocol, they’ll first have to get cap compliant before using emergency recalls to fill out a lineup.
- Moving Jason Zucker to LTIR could solve the issue for now but he too is close to a return. Zucker skated with the club today in a non-contact jersey, but Sullivan explained that his status hasn’t changed and is not ready to return just yet. Given Zucker hasn’t played since December 19, his stint on LTIR could be backdated to allow the Penguins to activate him whenever ready.
The late-night cancelation of today’s Philadelphia Flyers-Carolina Hurricanes game is raising eyebrows all across the league, especially after the Flyers took the ice today for practice. The team seemingly has enough players to continue their season, even if several key ones would be missing tonight’s game. In an email to Sam Carchidi of Philly Hockey Now, deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote that the decision to postpone was “based on totality of circumstances” and that the league stands by it.
A bit later, the Flyers announced that Rasmus Ristolainen has been added to the COVID protocol. Perhaps his test is what predicated the postponement, as the league has always tried to contain spreading outbreaks.
More from Flyers practice:
- Claude Giroux has exited the COVID protocol and rejoined practice today, skating for the first time since isolating a week ago. The Flyers captain is still leading the club in scoring with 29 points in 32 games despite the recent time off and is putting up a strong case for a new contract in the offseason. While his days in Philadelphia seem numbered if only because of the lack of team success the group has had, Giroux is proving to be a top offensive player in the league. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, he’ll turn 34 tomorrow.
- The Flyers will be without Patrick Brown for the next month after he suffered an MCL sprain in Saturday’s game. The 29-year-old center has four points in 20 games this season but was a necessary option with so many others out with injury. Brown, who was claimed on waivers at the beginning of the season, is in the first season of a two-year deal that pays him the league minimum of $750K.
- On the latest edition of the Cam and Strick Podcast, Flyers’ legend Bobby Clarke discusses Ron Hextall’s time as the Philadelphia general manager and specifically confirms that the team’s scouts wanted to select Cale Makar over Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick in 2017. Makar ended up going fourth to the Colorado Avalanche after the Dallas Stars took Miro Heiskanen third overall.
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan spoke to reporters today, saying that injured center Evgeni Malkin is taking line rushes in his normal second-line center spot and is taking scrimmages on the top power play. He’ll officially be listed as a game-time decision for tomorrow’s game against Anaheim. If Malkin is healthy enough to go, it’ll be his first NHL game since May 26, 2021, his first in six and a half months. Malkin was expected to be out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery in June 2021. Now, after missing Pittsburgh’s first 34 games of the season, he’s hopefully fully healthy and ready to go for the stretch run.
Other notes from around the league:
- Three Vancouver Canucks forwards who were previously in COVID protocol – Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Jason Dickinson – are likely to return when the Canucks kick off a road trip on Tuesday against Florida, per NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley. All three exited protocol today and practiced with the team. It will be Vancouver’s first game since New Years Day, a 5-2 win against Seattle.
- Top Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson is recovering from a leg injury that’s sidelined him since mid-October 2021, and their AHL head coach, Greg Moore, says Robertson is skating with the Toronto Marlies again and could play in a “couple of weeks.” It’s great news for Robertson, who’s been taken out of the lineup by long-term injuries each of the past two seasons. He has 19 points in 29 games between the NHL and AHL since the beginning of 2020-21.
The Penguins are looking for their 11th straight victory today against Dallas but they will be without a pair of forwards for this one as the team announced (Twitter link) that wingers Bryan Rust and Brock McGinn have been placed in COVID protocol. Head coach Mike Sullivan clarified that McGinn tested positive yesterday while Rust tested positive this morning.
Rust has been on quite the hot streak lately, collecting seven goals and four assists in just three games since returning from a lower-body injury so the timing for this news is certainly far from ideal. McGinn, meanwhile, has been a decent secondary scorer in his first season with Pittsburgh, picking up nine goals in 33 games so far.
The two join forward Drew O’Connor as those currently unavailable to COVID protocol. As a result of the confirmed positive tests, they will miss at least five days past the date they tested positive which will keep McGinn out for at least the next two games and Rust for the next three. Pittsburgh does get one player back from COVID protocol today, however, as center Jeff Carter returns after missing the last three contests.
- While the Florida Everblades of the ECHL raised some eyebrows today when they announced the signing of Penguins staffer Trevor Daley, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes (Twitter link) that Daley will remain in his advisory role with Pittsburgh. With ECHL teams ravaged by COVID-19, injuries and recalls, it appears the Everblades are going to use Daley for a game or two until they get some of their players back. Daley last played back in the 2019-20 season with Detroit.