What to watch this weekend
FRIDAY: Hurricanes at Oilers (9:30 p.m. EDT; SPSO, SNOL)
Ask any coach and you'll be told that mistake-filled hockey is exciting hockey. So if form holds, this one should be a beauty.
The Hurricanes (0-4-2) are committing errors at a historic pace in the early going, making themselves the early favorites in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes. The last winless team in hockey is struggling at both ends of the ice, ranking 27th in both goals-for and against, and tied for dead-last with the Sabres at five-on-five (0.35). Injuries are at the root of Carolina's rocky start, but the 'Canes are having problems doing the simplest things right now like handling the puck, controlling passes and recognizing when it's time to shoot. A lot of that is confidence. Some of it is missing key offensive players. But as those guys start to work their way back into the lineup, they need to start making a difference. Jeff Skinner, pointless in his first two appearances of the season, needs to be one of those difference makers.
Ben Scrivens has been the key to Edmonton's turnaround after its own early struggles. (The Oilers are currently tied for second for most give-aways, with 72.) The keeper came down hard on himself after a soft performance against the Coyotes on Oct. 15 saw his GAA balloon to 5.21, but since then Scrivens is 2-1 with a 1.68 GAA and coming in confident off his best effort of the year: a 32-save effort against Washington. He made a pair of amazing stops on Alex Ovechkin in that one, and seemed to get tougher as the game went on. That competitiveness sparked the Oilers (2-4-1) to their 3-2 win, and gives them some confidence that could be the key to salvaging their season.
Rest of the schedule: Stars at Devils (7 p.m. EDT; FS-SW, MSG Plus); Lightning at Jets (8 p.m. EDT; SUN, TSN3); Canucks at Avalanche (9 p.m. EDT; SN1, TVA2, ALT); Blue Jackets at Ducks (10 p.m. EDT; FS-O, PRIME)
SATURDAY: Blackhawks at Blues (8 p.m. EDT; FX-CA, WGN, FS-MW)
Take your pick of reasons to settle down on the couch for this one. A old Central Division rivalry. A rematch of last spring's epic playoff series. About a dozen Olympians in action. The only thing that's missing is two top teams colliding at top speed.
The Hawks are playing well enough, having just lost their first game in regulation on Thursday night to the Predators. But the Blues? They're not firing on all cylinders and that can't be blamed on the “bacterial ailment” that's reportedly hammering their room. This team hasn't scored an even-strength goal in more than seven periods of action. In their last two games, the Blues have allowed goals to Anaheim on the Ducks' first shot and the Canucks on their second. St. Louis is getting nothing from key forwards like T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund. David Backes is coming off a brutal performance against Vancouver. Fortunately, Jaden Schwartz has it going. Despite missing all of training camp, he's off to a terrific start with four goals and seven points through his first six games. If he isn't already the face of his team, he will be soon. His motor's always revving high, but never faster than his hockey sense. It's the rare night that he's not an impact player. Keep an eye on him in this one.
Rest of the schedule: Sabres at Sharks (4 p.m. EDT; MSG-B, BELL TV; CSN-CA); Bruins at Maple Leafs (7 p.m. EDT; CBC, NHLN-US, NESN); Rangers at Canadiens (7 p.m. EDT; TVA, CITY, MSG); Devils at Senators (7 p.m. EDT; SN1, MSG Plus 2); Stars at Islanders (7 p.m. EDT; FS-SW, MSG Plus); Red Wings at Flyers (7 p.m. EDT; SN360, FS-D, CSN-PH); Blackhawks at Blues (8 p.m. EDT; FX-CA, WGN, FS-MW); Penguins at Predators (8 p.m. EDT; ROOT, FS-TN); Lightning at Wild (8 p.m. EDT; SUN, FS-N, FS-WI); Panthers at Coyotes (9 p.m. EDT; FS-F, FS-A); Capitals at Flames (10 p.m. EDT; CBC, TVA2, CSN-DC)
SUNDAY: Sharks at Ducks (8 p.m. EDT; CSN-CA, PRIME)
Wasn't it just the other day that we all were raving about San Jose's start and how the Sharks seemed to be pulling it all together after last spring's dismal playoff collapse? Now it's back to doom and gloom as they give up goals in bunches and struggle to take care of their own end. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that they're falling apart lately. San Jose has given up a total of 24 goals this season. Fully half of them have been coughed up in the third period. Only Buffalo has allowed more 913). That pretty much sums it up ... but it doesn't even begin to say it all. The Sharks have allowed a league-low one goal in the first period, which begs the question: Why does a team that starts so well fall apart late with such consistently? It's not just defensive breakdowns. There are systemic issues at play here and that's on the coaching staff.
If the Sharks are looking for a break, they'll be hard pressed to find one in Anaheim. The Ducks are clearly the best team of October, and they're getting it done in all three zones. Frederik Andersen is receiving much of the attention, but keep an eye on the revamped second line of Ryan Kesler between Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. They've developed some nice chemistry early on and they're making things happen with a nice mix of speed and grit down low, giving the Ducks the added dimension that was missing last spring.
Rest of the schedule: Avalanche at Jets (3 p.m. EDT; ALT, TSN3); Blue Jackets at Kings (4 p.m. EDT; FS-O, FS-W); Senators at Blackhawks (7 p.m. EDT; NHLN-US, TVA, CITY, WGN); Capitals at Canucks (9:30 p.m. EDT; CSN-DC, SNV)
The numbers game
• Close shaves: The NHL entered Friday night's action with 100 games having been played and 60 of them were either tied or had a one-goal margin entering the third period; 39 featured a comeback, including 21 in the third period, and nine saw teams rally from multiple-goal deficits; 27 went into overtime; five featured the decisive goal scored in the final minute of regulation.
• A British guy moved to Texas. Now he likes barbecue,big scary guns and hockey.
• If you've got 40 minutes, sit down and take in this difficult discussion between CBC's Jian Ghomeshi and former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk about the effects of mental illness. It's well worth your time to understand how this pernicious affliction affected the most unfortunate Malarchuk.
• This encounter between an OHL coach and a reporter did not go well. (Warning: NSFW language!)
• Pittsburgh anthem singer Jeff Jimerson had no idea what signing O Canada before a hockey game would mean to the nation.
• The rest of us get older. Brent Burns just keeps getting better.
What you may have missed
• Revamped with a new coach and a legitimate sniper, the Predators remained the NHL's last undefeated team after their nice win over the Blackhawks.
• Goalie Darcy Kuemper is making the Wild look pretty smart for signing him despite his contentious contract holdout.