Off The Draw: Nathan Horton paying terrible price; games to watch

A debilitating back injury has Nathan Horton of the Blue Jackets living in agony and pondering the end of his NHL career; plus games to watch, news, notes and highlights.
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With Brandon Dubinsky nearing a return to action and Artem Anisimov and Sergei Bobrovsky close behind, the future is slowly brightening for the injury-riddled Blue Jackets.

But it couldn't get any darker for Nathan Horton, the winger whose life has degenerated into a nightmare of debilitating back pain.

“I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over,” Horton told Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday. “I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime.”

Horton's options at this point are unappealing. Either continue to deal with the near-constant pain and hope that it gradually improves over time, or submit to spinal fusion surgery that would relieve his suffering ... but likely mean the end of his NHL career.

“I don’t want to have surgery, because of what that means,” Horton said. “I don’t want to live with this pain, but I don’t want to make that decision. It’s hard for me to say that, at 29 years old, I’m done. I mean, really? Done at 29?”

You have to feel for the guy. An elite power forward just three years removed from an 80-game, 26-goal season, Horton has to know in his heart that the wait-and-see approach simply delays the inevitable.

“At some point soon, we’ve got to make the call,” he said.

The game has a way of exacting its toll, and players who have more than 600 games on their resume can hardly hope to walk away unscathed. But what Horton is going through? This is some seventh-level-of-hell suffering, the kind that makes a man question the value of fame and fortune and Stanley Cup glory—especially if he's incapable of reaching down and picking up his kids.

Here's hoping that Nathan Horton finds the relief he needs, sooner rather than later.

What to watch tonight

Bruins at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; SN360, NESN, RDS)

A game featuring the best rivalry in hockey sells itself, but this one could be extra nasty. Boston is coming off a humiliating 6–1 thumping to the Maple Leafs that left coach Claude Julien fuming and key players promising a better performance tonight. It also happens to be another chance for winger Milan Lucic to deliver on his 2014 postseason promise to “kill” Montreal's Dale Weise.

“The main thing is getting the two points,” Lucic said. “That’s what our focus is: going in and getting two points and not focusing on the other stuff that doesn’t matter.”

Focus was an issue for Lucic the last time he played at the Bell Centre, when he let his emotions get the best of him; the league fined him $5,000 for making an inappropriate gesture to fans.

“[I have to] tune everything out and just focus on playing the best game that I can,” he said. “That’s one of the things you have to try to spin it into a positive feeling to get those competitive juices going, get yourself riled up. For myself, I’ve always been a guy, when I play with that type of emotion, it’s when I’ve been at my best.”

The game also marks the Canadiens debut of Sergei Gonchar. The veteran defenseman was acquired in a trade with the Stars on Tuesday in hopes that he can help Montreal fix its impotent power play. He can count on being targeted by the Bruins, who will be looking to exploit his unfamiliarity with coach Michel Therrien's system.

• Canadiens, Stars try to alter their chemistry with low-risk trade

• Our three FanNation fantasy game picks for tonight

Sharks at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; CSN-CA, SUN)

San Jose comes into this game looking to turn around a seven-game road trip that's threatening to go sour after consecutive losses to the Blackhawks and the Panthers. To win, the Sharks will need a much better effort in their own end. Antti Niemi has allowed four goals in each of his last two starts, but he's been under heavy pressure, facing a combined 66 shots in those games. San Jose is allowing an average of 36 shots on the road, second-most in the NHL. A big part of the problem is Brent Burns. The forward-turned-defenseman is racking up points, but he's also second in the league with 23 giveaways. He has to be sharper in transition.

Tampa Bay is averaging 3.69 goals per game, second in the league, but is expected to be without Tyler Johnson tonight. The team's leading scorer may miss time after suffering an upper-body injury during Tuesday's loss in Chicago. Fortunately, the Lightning can count on solid goaltending if their offense struggles. Ben Bishop hasn't quite found his Vezina-finalist form from 2013–14 this year, but he's been solid at home, going 6-0-1 with a 2.26 goal-against average and a .917 save percentage. He could be the key in this game.

THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Avalanche at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, ALT, MSG); Jets at Hurricanes (7 p.m.; TSN3, FS-CR); Predators vs. Blues (8 p.m. EST; FS-TN, FS-MW); Sabres vs. Wild (8 p.m. EST; MSG-B, BELL TV, FS-N, FS-WI); Coyotes at Flames (9 p.m. EST; FS-A, SNF); Senators at Oilers (9:30 p.m. EST; RDS2, TSN5, SNOL); Stars at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; FS-SW+, FS-W)

• Preview video: Blues goalie Jake Allen breaks down the Predators

What you missed last night 

• Those "glandular infections" that sidelined Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin? What they really have is the mumps. And it's nowhere near as funny as it sounds.

• The hand injury suffered by phenom Connor McDavid in his Tuesday night tussle will send him to the sidelines for 5 to 6 weeks. That timetable cuts painfully close to the start of the World Junior Championships on Dec. 26.

• The video of two parents shielding their child from the horrors of a hockey fight has continued to elicit amused commentary.

Highlight video:

• That backup goalie Niklas Svedberg came off the bench and made it into Boston's net without his pants falling down may have been the high point of the Bruins' humiliating 6–1 loss to Toronto at the ACC.

• Ryan Kesler scored twice in the third period and again in the shootout to lead the Ducks to a stunning come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles.

The numbers game

• Anaheim's defeat of the Kings marked the first time in franchise history that the Ducks had erased a multi-goal deficit in the final six minutes of regulation to win a regular season game.

• Phil Kessel's two goals for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night gave him a career total of five in 28 games against Boston, his former team.

• Including when they eliminated their archrivals in last spring's playoffs, the Canadiens have now won seven of their last eight regular-season games against the Bruins.

Today's must-reads:

• Johnny Bucyk came to Boston in a trade 58 years ago and hasn't left. Dave Stubbs explains how the Hall of Famer still contributes to the organization's success at 79.

• The Sergei Gonchar trade provoked Dallas beat writer Mike Heika to ponder how players process information when English is not their primary language. Great stuff.

• Jamie McLennan explains the different puckhandling styles of NHL goalies. A fine piece, but he overlooks the hot-potato and the dexterity-and-confidence-of-a-newborn-infant styles.