What to watch tonight
What's not to love about this one? The defending champs against the league's most star-studded team, a battle of airtight defense against firewagon hockey. Should be a beauty.
The Penguins come in boasting the league's most explosive offense (4.12 goals per game) after thumping New Jersey 8-3 in their last start. Evgeni Malkin's goal in that one ran his scoring streak to eight games (4-7-11), but his track record of success against the Kings should put the visitors on notice. Geno has clicked for nine points in five career games against L.A., all Pittsburgh wins. The Kings will need all hands on deck in this one, and while they're not likely to have Anze Kopitar in the lineup they'll at least be able to dress 20 skaters. They employed a little-known emergency-roster exemption in order to call up winger David Van der Gulik in time for this one after dressing just 17 players in their 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers on Tuesday night. They were hoping to bring in Jordan Weal, but a series of potential bonuses meant they had to settle for the 31-year-old veteran minor leaguer instead. Van der Gulik isn't likely to play a significant role tonight, but he does allow Darryl Sutter a little flexibility with his lines while GM Dean Lombardi tries to unravel his team's salary cap mess.
Have the Blues finally found their groove? They're showing signs of being the team that most people expected them to be with a pair of recent wins over the Blackhawks and Stars, but this rematch against the Ducks lines up as a tougher challenge. No word yet on the availability of David Backes. The captain was blindsided by Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley on Tuesday night and struggled to get back to the bench after cracking his head on the ice. If Backes can't go, the pressure falls squarely on Jori Lehtera's line to counter Ryan Getzlaf's. They should be up to the challenge. Lehtera, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen toyed with the Stars in their 4-3 OT win, accounting for all four goals and baffling the Dallas D with their quick puck movement and uncanny ability to find dead space. Tarasenko's been dangerous of late but hadn't been getting the results he deserved until he clicked for his first career hat trick in that game. He's the one to watch tonight.
Vancouver’s top line of Henrik Sedin, Radim Vrbata and Daniel Sedin is starting to generate some buzz, but their hot start (a combined 33 points in nine games) has masked the quiet success of the team's revamped second unit. Nick Bonino, acquired in the off-season deal that sent Ryan Kesler to Anaheim, has been a nice addition so far, chipping in three goals and seven points in nine games with the Canucks. He's always been knocked for his lack of foot speed, but his hockey sense and playmaking skills allow him to keep pace with linemates Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows. He's got some work to do in the face-off circle, but Bonino looks like he's up to the challenge of a regular top-six role. Meanwhile, Montreal has rolled out to an 8-2 start despite allowing the first goal in eight of those contests and getting very little from their third line. Lars Eller was benched in the third period of Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Flames, and notoriously streaky winger Rene Bourque is deep in the rough with just one assist so far this season. The pressure is mounting on both to make some kind of contribution.
Rest of the schedule: Bruins at Sabres (7 p.m. EDT; NESN, MSG-B, BELL TV); Jets at Devils (7 p.m. EDT; TSN3, MSG); Blackhawks at Senators (7:30 p.m. EDT; CSN-CH, RDSI, TSN5); Flyers at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EDT; CSN-PH, SUN); Coyotes at Panthers (7:30 p.m. EDT; FS-A, FS-F); Sharks at Wild (8 p.m. EDT; CSN-CA, FS-WI, FS-N+); Islanders at Avalanche (9 p.m. EDT; MSG+; ALT)
The numbers game
• Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin has now been held scoreless in five consecutive games for the first time in his NHL career.
• Pavel Datsyuk owns Washington. Detroit's wizardly center has put up five goals and 18 points in 14 career games against the Capitals.
• The Wild, who host the Sharks tonight, have posted four shutouts in their last nine home games at XCel Energy Center, where they also own a six-game win streak over San Jose that includes two pails of whitewash.
• Several Red Wings share stories of their interactions with Gordie Howe here, but none are as amazing as Johan Franzen's tale of touching Mr. Hockey's knee.
• Nashville's Ryan Ellis absolutely Shreked his old junior teammate Taylor Hall last night. Might want to keep your head up next time, Hallsy.
• Things are starting to get ugly in Arizona, and coach Dave Tippett is about to feel the heat.
• Nice story here about Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and several other Penguins who are teaming up to help prepare some underprivileged kids for the tough winter ahead in Pittsburgh.
What you missed last night
• Justin Abdelkader proved he has a nose for the net and didn't blow it when opportunities to score came his way in Detroit's 4-2 win over the Capitals.
• Defenseman John Moore of the Rangers was slapped with a five-game suspension for his headshot on Minnesota's Erik Haula.