NHL Rumor Mill – January 27, 2023

NHL Rumor Mill – January 27, 2023

Could the Devils pursue Timo Meier before the trade deadline? Could the Rangers and Sabres get into the bidding for him? Will Sean Monahan become an Avalanche trade target? Find out in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.

DEVILS INTERESTED IN MEIER?

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reported he spoke with New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who indicated he’s looking for a top-six winger before the March 3 trade deadline. Fitzgerald didn’t say which player he was interested in as that would violate the NHL’s tampering rules, but LeBrun believes the San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier would fit the Devils’ needs.

San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier (NHL Images)

Fitzgerald said that ideally, he’s not interested in a rental player but someone who could remain with the Devils beyond this season. Meier could fit that description as he’s a restricted free agent on July 1, meaning the Devils would hold his rights after this season if they acquire him from the Sharks.

THE ATHLETIC: LeBrun also pointed out that the Devils still hope to re-sign RFA winger Jesper Bratt and must determine his place in this picture. He believes that Fitzgerald hopes to ink Bratt to a long-term extension somewhere between Nico Hischier’s $7.25 million AAV and Jack Hughes’ $8 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: LeBrun indicated that the Devils have the depth in draft picks and prospects to make a suitable offer to the Sharks. However, Fitzgerald will also have to work out a suitable contract offer for Meier, who will cost $10 million simply to qualify his rights before July 1. That’s in addition to working on a contract extension for Bratt.

Fitzgerald could consider Meier as insurance if Bratt’s contract talks become difficult. Like Meier, Bratt’s an RFA with arbitration rights who’ll be a year away from unrestricted free-agent eligibility. Fitzgerald could trade him in the offseason and use the savings to re-sign Meier.

SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: Sheng Peng wondered if the Devils might offer up prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin, a 2024 first-round pick (top-15 protected) and Andreas Johnsson for Meier.

Peng also took note of rumors linking the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres to Meier. He suggested a package from the Rangers consisting of prospect Brennan Othmann, a 2024 first-rounder (top-10 protected) and winger Sammy Blais. From the Sabres, Peng suggested Jiri Kulich, the Flyers’ 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-rounder.

UPDATE ON SEAN MONAHAN

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the Colorado Avalanche are a “team to monitor” regarding Montreal Canadiens center Sean Monahan.

The Avalanche expect captain Gabriel Landeskog will come off long-term injury reserve later this season, leaving them with limited salary-cap spaced. LeBrun anticipates they’ll keep an eye on Vancouver’s Bo Horvat and St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly but lack sufficient future assets to use as trade bait.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Monahan would be more affordable to acquire than Horvat or O’Reilly. However, the Canadiens won’t just give him away, especially if he picks up where he left off before he was sidelined in early December (17 points in 25 games).

The Canadiens reportedly aren’t actively shopping Monahan but it’s believed they move him for the right offer. That would probably be a first-round pick in this year’s draft or a top prospect.

BARBASHEV ON THE BLOCK?

TSN: Chris Johnston reports St. Louis Blues forward Ivan Barbashev is starting to circulate a little bit in the rumor mill. While he’s off last season’s 60-point pace, Johnston said several playoff contenders have him on their list. He’s slated to become a UFA this summer and carries an affordable $2.25 million cap hit for this season.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 27, 2023

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 27, 2023

The Lightning match a franchise home win streak, the Sabres’ Owen Power sets a franchise record for rookie defensemen, the Canucks re-sign Andrei Kuzmenko, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning matched a franchise record with their 11th straight home win by nipping the Boston Bruins 3-2, snapping the latter’s six-game win streak. Victor Hedman broke a 2-2 tie in the third period while Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point each had three points for the 31-15-1 Lightning, who hold third place in the Atlantic Division. Brad Marchand and Pavel Zacha replied for the Bruins (38-6-4), who sit atop the overall standings with 80 points.

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power (NHL Images)

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power scored for the third straight game in a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin each had two points for the 26-19-3 Sabres, who’ve won five straight contests and moved within two points of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth with 55 points. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 33 shots for the Jets (31-18-1), who sit in second place in the Western Conference with 63 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Power became the first Sabres rookie defenseman to record a goal streak of three games.

Speaking of the Penguins, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Washington Capitals on shootout goals by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Alex Ovechkin tallied his 32nd goal while Darcy Kuemper made 35 saves for the Capitals (26-19-6), who hold a one-point lead over the Penguins for the first Eastern wild-card spot with 58 points. Casey DeSmith stopped 43 shots for the 24-15-9 Penguins.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Capitals winger Tom Wilson missed this game with a lower-body injury.

An overtime goal by Mats Zuccarello lifted the Minnesota Wild over the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 3-2. Matt Boldy scored twice and collected an assist for the Wild (26-17-4) as they vaulted back into third place in the Central Division with 56 points. The Flyers slipped to 20-21-9 on the season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Flyers forward Wade Allison left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury while Zack MacEwen suffered an upper-body injury from his fight with Wild winger Marcus Foligno. Wild center Ryan Hartman was a healthy scratch from this game.

Anaheim Ducks winger Frank Vatrano tallied a hat trick to upset the Colorado Avalanche 5-3, ending the latter’s six-game win streak. John Gibson kicked out 41 shots for the 15-29-5 Ducks. Mikko Rantanen scored twice for the Avalanche 26-18-3 as they hold the final Western Conference wild-card spot with 55 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar collected an assist as he returned to the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury.

The Calgary Flames missed an opportunity to surpass the Avalanche for that wild-card berth as they were upset 5-1 by the Chicago Blackhawks. Rookie goalie Jaxon Stauber made 34 saves to win his second straight NHL start for the 15-28-4 Blackhawks. The Flames (23-17-9) have 55 points but the Avs hold two games in hand.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews missed this game with a non-COVID-related illness.

Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene had a goal and an assist in the third period in a 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils to end the latter’s eight-game points streak. Juuse Saros turned aside 34 shots for the Predators (24-18-6) as they moved within one point of the final Western Conference wild-card berth with 54 points. Devils center Jack Hughes collected two points as the 31-13-4 Devils remain two points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes with 66 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Earlier in the day, the Predators announced that defenseman Alexandre Carrier will be sidelined for four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury.

The Arizona Coyotes (16-28-5) got a natural hat trick from Nick Schmaltz and a 33-save shutout from Karel Vejmelka to blank the St. Louis Blues 5-0. The Blues dropped to 23-23-3 and sit six points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blues forward Robert Thomas left this game with a lower-body injury. Coyotes forwards Matias Maccelli and Lawson Crouse returned to the lineup after being sidelined by injuries. However, the club announced before this game that defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere will miss four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury. That could affect management’s efforts to trade the pending free agent before the March 3 trade deadline.

An overtime goal by Robby Fabbri gave the Detroit Red Wings a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Moritz Seider had three assists for the Wings as they improved to 21-18-8 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive with 50 points. The Canadiens (20-25-4) got two goals from Rafael Harvey-Pinard but also lost defenseman Joel Edmundson to a lower-body injury

IN OTHER NEWS…

THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks re-signed winger Andrei Kuzmenko to a two-year contract worth an average annual value of $5. 5 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I predicted this in yesterday’s Rumor Mill as reports emerged Kuzmenko’s camp sought a two-year bridge deal worth between $5 million and $6 million. The 26-year-old rookie winger has 21 goals and 43 points in 47 games with the Canucks this season as he’s played well alongside center Elias Pettersson.

The signing disappoints those who believe the struggling Canucks should trade Kuzmenko for draft picks and prospects while his value was high. However, that would’ve meant rebuilding and that’s something the Canucks don’t do. This signing is also considered another indication that the club will move pending free agent center Bo Horvat before the March 3 trade deadline.

THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen reportedly avoided serious injury when he left Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Stars with an upper-body injury.

NEW YORK POST: The Rangers signed defenseman Ben Harpur to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $787, 500.










NHL Rumor Mill – January 26, 2023

NHL Rumor Mill – January 26, 2023

Check out the latest on Ryan O’Reilly, Bo Horvat, Jakob Chychrun, Anthony Mantha and Andrei Kuzmenko in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.

O’REILLY HOPES TO REMAIN WITH THE BLUES

THE ATHLETIC: Jeremy Rutherford reports St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly sounds like he doesn’t want to be moved by the March 3 trade deadline.

This is where I really want to be,” said the 31-year-old center. “I hope I don’t get moved, but I think things will probably progress, especially with the deadline coming up and the talks with that. We’ll see how it goes. We’re starting to get into that.”

St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly (NHL Images)

O’Reilly was referring to his contract negotiations. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is earning an average annual value of $7.5 million on his current contract. He also lacks no-trade protection. O’Reilly is currently sidelined with a broken foot until mid-February.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday night that O’Reilly was “officially in play” in the trade market. General manager Doug Armstrong could be gauging the market on the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner in case discussions fail to produce a new contract by the trade deadline.

It’s believed the Blues would prefer to retain their captain but he’ll have to accept a short-term contract with a lower salary cap hit.

O’Reilly will draw interest in the trade market. Boston Hockey Now’s Jimmy Murphy believes Bruins GM Don Sweeney should give the Blues a call but cautions against pursuing him if the asking price is similar to what the Vancouver Canucks seek for Bo Horvat. Speaking of Horvat…

LATEST CANUCKS SPECULATION

TORONTO STAR: Nick Kypreos is hearing that the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils are among the teams that could aggressively pursue Canucks captain Bo Horvat. He said both clubs want an extended playoff run this spring and seem willing to pay for it.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Horvat’s also been linked to the Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild and Seattle Kraken in recent trade conjecture.

Teams will be interested in him as a rental player but I think they’ll pay larger returns if they can sign him to a contract extension. So far, the Canucks reportedly haven’t allowed his agent to speak with other clubs yet.

CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal reports agent Dan Milstein said contract discussions have started with the Canucks regarding his client Andrei Kuzmenko. His camp’s preference is for a short-term “bridge deal.”

THE PROVINCE: Ben Kuzma reports Kuzmenko’s representatives seek a two-year contract worth an average annual value of between $5 million and $6 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kuzmenko is an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He’s steadily improved this season as he adjusted to the NHL game, sitting second among Canucks scorers and 22 goals and third in points with 43 in 47 games.

Kuzma pointed out that the Canucks’ rabid fan base prefers management sell high on Kuzmenko at the trade deadline for a return that helps them rebuild instead of retooling. However, I think we’ll see him re-signed to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million per season, especially if they end up moving Bo Horvat at the trade deadline and Brock Boeser in the offseason.

ISLANDERS EYEING CHYCHRUN?

NYIHOCKEY.COM: Stefen Rosner cited Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reporting someone told him the New York Islanders were looking around at Jakob Chychrun. He said they’d previously had an interest in the 24-year-old Arizona Coyotes defenseman. However, Friedman doesn’t think the Islanders should pay the Coyotes’ high asking price.

THE ATHLETIC: The Islanders are also on Shayna Goldman’s list of potential trade destinations for Chychrun. She noted the Isles need offense and he can provide it from the blueline. However, their more pressing need is for a high-end winger.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Going after Chychrun would be a desperate move by Isles GM Lou Lamoriello at this stage in the season with his club sliding out of playoff contention. He spent last summer trying in vain to land a scoring forward and I believe that’s where his priority lies this summer.

NO TRUTH TO “MANTHA-TO-MONTREAL” RUMORS

WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: Sammi Silber reported Anthony Mantha’s recent scratching from the Capitals’ lineup sparked trade rumors about the 28-year-old forward. One of them had the Montreal Canadiens shipping defenseman Joel Edmundson to the Capitals for Mantha. However, a source told Silber that there haven’t been any trade discussions involving Mantha between those two clubs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The oft-injured Mantha’s had a frustrating season in Washington. He’s been healthy but managed just nine goals and 24 points in 46 games.

Mantha is a native of Longueuil, a suburb of Montreal, which might explain why this rumor popped up linking him to the Canadiens. I don’t see him as a fit with the rebuilding Habs.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 26, 2023

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 26, 2023

The Leafs, Hurricanes and Blues Jackets each collect 3-2 overtime wins, the surging Kraken take over first place in the Pacific Division, the Avalanche and Sharks make a four-player trade, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner scored 19 seconds into overtime in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers after teammate Timothy Liljegren tied it late in the third period. The Leafs improved their record to 30-11-8 and are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes with 68 points. Filip Chytil tallied twice for the 26-14-8 Rangers as they sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 60 points.

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner (NHL Images).

Speaking of the Hurricanes, they got an overtime goal from Martin Necas to beat the Dallas Stars by a score of 3-2. Sebastian Aho scored his 200th career NHL goal as they extended their points streak to six games. The Hurricanes (30-9-8) sit second overall in the overall standings with two games in hand over the Maple Leafs. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal of the season for the 28-13-9 Stars as they hold a two-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Western Conference with 65 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen left this game following the first period with an upper-body injury. There was no post-game update as to the severity of his injury. He was activated off long-term injury reserve on Jan. 11 after missing over two months with a lower-body injury.

The Columbus Blue Jackets also picked up 3-2 overtime victory by downing the Edmonton Oilers thanks to Kent Johnson’s winning goal. Joonas Korpisalo made 34 saves as the Blue Jackets improved to 15-30-3 on the season. Zach Hyman tallied his 25th goal of the season for the 27-18-4 Oilers, who hold the first Western Conference wild-card berth with 58 points.

Seattle Kraken winger Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice and Jared McCann collected three points to crush the Vancouver Canucks 6-1 and move into first place in the Pacific Division with 61 points. It was the first loss for Rick Tocchet since taking over as Vancouver’s head coach on Sunday. The Canucks slipped to 19-26-3.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kraken rookie Matty Beniers left the game with an upper-body injury. No update was provided as to his condition.

The Ottawa Senators got goals by Shane Pinto and Claude Giroux to hold off the New York Islanders 2-1, handing the latter their sixth straight loss. Brock Nelson replied for the Islanders (23-22-5) as they sit five points out of the final Eastern wild-card spot with 51 points. The Senators improved to 21-23-3.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Before the game, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello shouldered the blame for his club’s struggles this season. He also expressed confidence in his coaching staff. Meanwhile, Senators goaltender Cam Talbot left the game midway through the second period with a leg injury. The club is expected to have an update on his condition on Thursday.

HEADLINES

COLORADO HOCKEY NOW/SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: The Colorado Avalanche acquired defenseman Ryan Merkley and forward Matt Nieto from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for defenseman Jacob MacDonald and forward Martin Kaut.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nieto previously played for Colorado from 2016-17 to 2019-20 and is being brought in to improve the Avalanche’s penalty kill. Merkley and Kaut are two young players in need of a fresh start after struggling to stick with their former clubs. Evan Rawal of Colorado Hockey Now believes MacDonald’s inclusion in this swap suggests sidelined defensemen Bowen Byram and Josh Manson could be returning to the Avs’ lineup soon.

PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry will be sidelined with an undisclosed injury until after the upcoming All-Star break. The club recalled goalie Dustin Tokarski.

CALGARY HOCKEY NOW: Flames defenseman Chris Tanev (upper-body injury) is also sidelined until the All-Star break.

ARIZONA SPORTS: Coyotes signed defenseman Juuso Valimaki to a one-year contract extension worth $1 million. He was also fined $4,189.19 by the NHL department of player safety for slashing Anaheim Ducks forward Max Jones.










NHL Rumor Mill – January 25, 2023

NHL Rumor Mill – January 25, 2023

Check out the latest on Bo Horvat, Ryan O’Reilly, Timo Meier and Max Domi plus updates on the Hurricanes, Lightning and Senators in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.

UPDATE ON HORVAT, O’REILLY, MEIER AND DOMI

SPORTSNET: During the Jan. 25 episode of “32 Thoughts”, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed potential trade destinations for Bo Horvat. The 27-year-old Vancouver Canucks center is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Friedman thinks everyone is wondering if the Boston Bruins could make a pitch for Horvat. He believes the New Jersey Devils would be more interested in San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier because they’ve got Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes at center. The Detroit Red Wings could be an option depending on the state of contract talks with center Dylan Larkin.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa believes the Bruins acquiring Horvat is complex but doable. Getting the Canucks to retain part of his $5.5 million cap hit, finding the right player to offer up as part of the return, sending a contract back to Vancouver and parting with a prospect such as Fabian Lysell are among the multiple factors in play.

I don’t rule out the possibility of the Bruins landing Horvat. However, there are other clubs that could have fewer hoops to jump through with better assets to offer up for the Canucks captain.

Friedman also reported that the Canucks haven’t allowed potential suitors to talk to Horvat’s agent about a contract extension. He believes they’re trying to determine which clubs have serious interest and are willing to meet their asking price.

TSN: Darren Dreger said Ryan O’Reilly is “officially in play” in the trade market. This comes while the St. Louis Blues captain is currently sidelined until mid-February but the Blues are willing to gauge his value. Dreger speculates the asking price could involve “draft picks, you’re talking about a prospect, the draft pick could be determined by the quality of the prospect.”

St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly (NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: O’Reilly’s solid reputation as a two-way center and leader will make him a player of interest in the trade market despite his injury and offensive struggles in the first half of this season. Nevertheless, clubs will want to see how well he performs once he returns to action before they start making offers before the March 3 trade deadline.

Pierre LeBrun reports the San Jose Sharks have not yet granted permission to Timo Meier’s agent to speak directly to teams interested in a trade where a contract extension could be part of the deal. It’s not out of the question that the Sharks could try to sign the restricted free-agent winger but they haven’t yet put an offer on the table.

LeBrun suggests contenders like the Toronto Maple Leafs would make sense. The Carolina Hurricanes have some interest while the Buffalo Sabres have also reached out to the Sharks about Meier.

SPORTSNET: During his Jan. 23 “32 Thoughts” podcast, Elliotte Friedman told Jeff Marek that he believes the New Jersey Devils are among the teams interested in Meier.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes are in a better position cap-wise and prospect-wise than the Leafs for Meier. The Sabres, however, could outbid both clubs. They are loaded with cap space and promising young players to tempt the Sharks.

Given the salary-cap congestion around the league, Chris Johnston believes teams will be looking at a value player such as the Chicago Blackhawks’ Max Domi. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent carrying an affordable $3 million contract who is putting up good numbers this season.

LATEST ON THE LIGHTNING, HURRICANES AND SENATORS

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBrois lacks a first-round pick in 2023 and 2024 or a second-round pick in order to make a big splash at the trade deadline. If he makes a move it’ll likely be a dollar-in, dollar-out swap like his acquisition of Nick Paul at last year’s deadline. BriseBrois said he’s unconcerned over whether rivals like the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs make a big splash.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: BriseBrois has proven a very savvy dealer at the trade deadline over the past three years. Despite his lack of draft capital to use as trade bait, he could find a creative way to add a good depth player or two by the deadline.

THE ATHLETIC: LeBrun also reported the Carolina Hurricanes could have $10 million to work with at the trade deadline if they placed sidelined winger Max Pacioretty on long-term injured reserve. GM Don Waddell said his team will explore the trade market but they’re not in a rush to get a deal done.

LeBrun doesn’t believe we should rule out the Hurricanes on pending UFAs like Bo Horvat, Ryan O’Reilly or Vladimir Tarasenko. However, he believes they would want a shot at re-signing that player to get involved. That’s why he thinks they might look at the Sharks’ Timo Meier given his RFA status.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: LeBrun recently said the Hurricanes had spoken with the Canucks about Bo Horvat but the asking price was too high. He also pointed out that Waddell usually doesn’t pursue big-ticket pending UFAs at the deadline, preferring instead players with term remaining on their contracts. Any moves that he makes will depend on the depth of talent available in the trade market and the asking prices for them.

TSN: Darren Dreger reports Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion is still looking for a defenseman. While he’d ideally like a blueliner with term remaining on his contract he’s also interested in unrestricted free agents. He could have an opportunity to re-sign that UFA or perhaps flip him at the March 3 trade deadline. Dreger also said Dorion is also exploring all of his own UFAs including goaltender Cam Talbot.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 25, 2023

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 25, 2023

The Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to action with a four-point performance, the Bruins reach a league milestone, the Canucks win their first game under new coach Rick Tocchet, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to action after an 11-game absence with an overtime goal in a 7-6 victory over the Florida Panthers. Letang finished with two goals and two assists while Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for the Penguins (24-15-8) as they moved into the first Eastern Conference wild-card berth with 56 points.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Carter Verhaeghe scored twice and Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists as the 23-21-6 Panthers sit four points behind the Washington Capitals for the final Eastern wild-card spot with 52 points. Florida forward Sam Bennett missed this game with a lower-body injury while Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury.

Speaking of the Capitals, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Colorado Avalanche. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 37 shots while Nathan MacKinnon picked up an assist for his 700th career point as the Avalanche (26-17-3) have won six straight games to move into third place in the Central Division with 55 points. Alex Ovechkin returned to action with his 31st goal of the season but his Capitals slipped to 25-19-6.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Capitals and Penguins each have 56 points but the latter holds three games in hand. Ovechkin returned from a lower-body injury but admitted he wasn’t at 100 percent. Capitals winger Tom Wilson left this game with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day while Nicklas Backstrom missed this contest with a non-COVID-related illness.

The league-leading Boston Bruins became the fastest team in NHL history to reach 80 points in a season (47 games) by doubling up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. David Pastrnak had a goal and three assists while Patrice Bergeron snapped a 2-2 tie with the winning goal as the Bruins improved to 38-5-4 to hold a 14-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the overall standings. Kirby Dach scored both goals for the Canadiens as they dropped to 20-25-3.

Rick Tocchet picked up his first win as the new head coach of the Vancouver Canucks as they downed the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 5-2. Andrei Kuzmenko tallied twice for the Canucks (19-25-4). Petr Mrazek stopped 43 shots for the Blackhawks as they dropped to 14-28-4 to sit second-last in the overall standings with 32 points.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his 250th career win with a 33-save performance in a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Corey Perry netted two goals as the Lightning (30-15-1) sit in third place in the Atlantic Division. Joel Eriksson Ek had two points for the 25-17-4 Wild as they tumbled one point behind the Calgary Flames for the final Western Conference wild-card berth with 54 points.

The New Jersey Devils nipped the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2. Dougie Hamilton scored the tying goals and then scored in overtime for the second straight game as the Devils (31-12-4) moved into a tie with the Hurricanes with 66 points. Goalie Logan Thompson kicked out 33 shots for the 29-17-3 Golden Knights as they cling to first place in the Pacific Division with 61 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights activated Brett Howden (lower body) off injured reserve.

An overtime goal by Kevin Fiala lifted the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Anze Kopitar scored two goals as the 27-17-6 Kings move one point behind Vegas in the Pacific Division. Carter Hart stopped 34 shots while James van Riemsdyk had a goal and an assist for the Flyers, who slipped to 20-21-8.

The Nashville Predators nipped the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 as Tanner Jeannot snapped a 1-1 tie in the third period. Cody Glass also scored for the Predators (23-18-6) as they moved to within three points of a Western Conference wild-card berth with 52 points. Pierre-Luc Dubois replied for the 31-17-1 Jets as they sit one point behind the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars with 63 points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Logan Stanley returned to the Jets lineup for the first time since being sidelined by a lower-body injury on Dec. 9.

Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thompson had a goal and two assists as his club picked up their fourth straight win by holding off the St. Louis Blues 5-3. Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch each had a goal and an assist for the Sabres (25-19-3) to move within three points of the final Eastern wild-card spot with 53 points. The Blues slipped to 23-22-3.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues activated Vladimir Tarasenko, Torey Krug and Logan Brown off injured reserve for this contest. They also placed winger Pavel Buchnevich (ankle) on IR.

The Detroit Red Wings defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on an overtime goal by Andrew Copp. Michael Rasmussen had a goal and an assist as the Wings improved to 20-18-8. Erik Karlsson collected two assists for the Sharks as they dropped to 14-25-10 on the season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Before the game, the Red Wings activated forward Matt Luff off injured reserve and assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler scored twice in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Anthony Stolarz got the win for the Ducks (14-29-5) with a 37-save performance. Barrett Hayton had a goal and an assist for the 15-28-5 Coyotes, who’ve dropped 12 of their last 14 games.

HEADLINES

MONTREAL GAZETTE: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took questions from the media yesterday on a variety of topics prior to the Bruins-Canadiens game.

Bettman dismissed the notion of teams deliberately tanking this season to improve their odds of winning the draft lottery. “Nobody tanks because we have a weighted lottery,” said Bettman. “You’re not going to lose games to increase your odds by a couple of percentage points. That’s silly.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Finishing dead last is no guarantee of winning the lottery but it doesn’t hurt your chances despite what Bettman says.

Bettman also said it is conceivable that next season’s salary cap could rise by more than the projected $1 million if the outstanding escrow still owed to the owners from the players is paid off by the end of this season. However, he cautions that will depend on whether their projected revenues come in higher than anticipated.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We won’t learn for certain what it will be until sometime in June. General managers are preparing for next season expecting a $1 million hike rather than a significant increase.

DAILY FACEOFF: Hall-of-Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo will participate as a “celebrity goaltender” in the breakaway challenge during the skills competition at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 3.

OTTAWA SUN: The Senators have rallied to support assistant coach Bob Jones after he was diagnosed with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Devastating news for Jones and the Senators organization. My best wishes to Jones and his family as he battles this disease.