Anthony Duclair returns to Madison Square Garden tonight for the first time since the Rangers dealt him to the Coyotes at the trade deadline last season. He does so as the leading goal scorer among rookies this season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins get to see what they’ve been missing, the New York Rangers get to see what might have been, the Ottawa Senators get to see their feel-good story from last season and the Columbus Blue Jackets get to see how their new world will look as the NHL marks a hosts of firsts tonight.
* The one that will be the most compelling is John Tortorella’s first game behind the Blue Jackets bench when they visit the Minnesota Wild. A season that started with such high hopes has evolved into a disaster in a hurry. Should the Blue Jackets lose in Tortorella’s debut tonight, they’d be owners of the worst start in the NHL in more than 70 years. Tortorella obviously will not have a chance to put his stamp on the team in time for this game, but motivation should not be a problem for them. Teams often receive an early bump from a coaching change and that’s exactly what the Blue Jackets are seeking with
Tortorella behind the bench.
Tortorella said at his introductory news conference on Wednesday that he was “honored” to be part of the Blue Jackets organization. He said all the right things and spoke of restoring the team’s lost confidence. But the Blue Jackets brought Tortorella in to lay down the hammer with these guys and it shouldn’t be terribly long before he does that.
* After almost a full year out of the lineup, Pascal Dupuis returns to the Penguins tonight when they host the red-hot Dallas Stars, this time on a regimen of blood thinners and undoubtedly a renewed appreciation for the game. Dupuis has played just 55 games over the past two seasons and his absence has been felt by the team. He is not only a player who can play up and down the lines and kills penalties, but he’s also an enormous influence in the dressing room.
Dupuis came back for the first game of last season after missing 258 days and responded by scoring a goal and three assists. He returns tonight having not played a game in 341 days. Penguins coach Mike Johnston said he’ll use Dupuis with a variety of linemates early on, which should not both the veteran, who is the Penguins equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.
* The New York Rangers knew they were giving up a lot of their future when they dealt for defenseman Keith Yandle at the trade deadline last season, and their fans will get to see that future on display when the Arizona Coyotes visit tonight.
The centerpiece of the trade from Arizona’s standpoint was Anthony Duclair, who played 18 games with the Rangers last season before being sent back to junior hockey. Duclair leads all rookies with five goals and is tied for the overall rookie scoring lead with teammate Max Domi and Artemi Panarin.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney told the Arizona Republic. “The only way I can describe it is he’s come in and given us the skill that he has and been able to finish. I guess I didn’t have a number set, ‘OK, if he gets 10 goals and 20 points, we’ll be happy.’ No. He’s come in and made some real high-end skill plays, been rewarded on the scoreboard and helped us start the season strong. So we’re very happy with him to date.”
* And the finally first of the evening comes in Ottawa when Andrew Hammond returns to the Senators nets after leading the team on its wild and unlikely run to the playoffs last season. For his efforts, Hammond was rewarded with a three-year deal worth $4 million and the backup job with the Senators behind Craig Anderson.
Now it will be up to The Hamburgler to prove that last season was not a fluke, and it starts tonight against the New Jersey Devils. There had been little to suggest that Hammond would be able to carry an NHL team before the Senators turned to him in desperation during a rash of goaltending injuries last season. He proved his mettle by going 20-1-2 for the Senators and now he’ll have to prove it again. “I guess I’m understanding of the circumstances and I’m probably going to be a little more anxious than I would for a normal start,” Hammond told reporters in Ottawa after practice Wednesday.