What to watch tonight
Yeah. This one could be ugly.
Montreal slinks into town riding a three-game losing streak after being humiliated 5–0 on Tuesday night by the Blackhawks. The Habs were a team in disarray, chasing the play rather than dictating it. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were noticeably off, both full value for their –3 marks. Amazingly, it could have been worse if not for a heroic performance by Carey Price, whose night was highlighted by what may be the save of the year on Jeremy Morin. Montreal is desperate for the sort of confidence boost that playing Buffalo usually provides, but as bad as the Sabres have been—they're allowing 2.7 goals for every one they score—they will have extra motivation for this game. Captain Brian Gionta and defenseman Josh Gorges will be lining up against their former teammates for the first time since they signed with the Sabres over the summer. Maybe seeing those familiar bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters will help Gionta get off the schneid. Brought to Buffalo to add some scoring, he's chipped in just one assist so far. He's due.
After watching Jimmy Howard get hung out to dry by his teammates against the Senators on Tuesday night, it's not hard to believe the rumors that he was the one who required minor medical care (reportedly an IV from paramedics who rushed to Detroit's dressing room) after a 3–1 loss that was more lopsided than the score indicates. Howard will get a well-earned rest on Wednesday night while Jonas Gustavsson gets the start against New York. The Red Wings are also likely to sport a different look up front, as coach Mike Babcock tries to find some consistency in an offense that's running hot and cold. Justin Abdelkader moved up to the top line late in Tuesday night's loss to Ottawa, with Gustav Nyquist dropping to the third. They'll face a Rangers club that's missing four of six regulars on the back end. While New York got a decent effort out of fill-ins Matt Hunwick, Dylan McIlrath, Conor Allen and Mike (Thor) Kostka in a 4–3 shootout loss to the Blues on Monday night, that group can only be asked to hold the fort for so long. GM Glen Sather has invited 36-year-old Tomas Kaberle to skate with the team in hopes that he can step in a provide some veteran presence. Kaberle won't be in the lineup on Wednesday night, but if his presence is an indication of how concerned Sather is, then the Rangers might be exactly the opponent Detroit needs to erase the taste of their ugly loss to the Senators.
Remember the good ol' days when we all thought New York would be this season's surprise team? So much for hot starts. The Islanders come into this one having dropped five of seven after kicking off the season with four consecutive victories. The defense that looked so promising early on has allowed 39 goals in 11 games and goalie Jaroslav Halak (3.44 goals-against average, .891 save percentage) has gone from a steadying presence to Evgeni Nabokov 2.0. New York needs some kind of spark to get this thing turned around. Will the return of Travis Hamonic bring some balance to a blue line that's been bad at even strength and brutal on the penalty kill (30th in the NHL)? The answer will be crucial on Wednesday night because Anaheim won't provide the Isles with much margin for error. The Ducks have allowed just five goals in their last four games, and two or fewer in 10 of their last 12. There's no telling who will be between the pipes for them tonight. Starter Frederik Andersen was a late scratch on Sunday with tightness in his leg, forcing Jason LaBarbera into an emergency start because rookie John Gibson is out for six weeks with a groin injury. It could be either Andersen or LaBarbera, or even Igor Bobkov, who was recalled yesterday from Norfolk of the AHL. Somehow, though, it feels like it won't matter. Anaheim is playing inspired hockey and will be at home, where they have the best record in the league (33-9-4) since the start of last season. This is the Ducks' game to lose.
What you missed last night
• Gordie Howe's family says that he's recovering remarkably well from his stroke.
• Adrian Dater has identified what's missing from the ailing Avalanche.
• Joe Thornton is flattered to be at the center of so much trade speculation, but he insists that he has no intention of leaving the Sharks. Since Jumbo is armed with a full no-movement clause, it sounds like we can put an end to any future rumors here and now.
• Ready for another story on the perilous financial future of the Coyotes? Penned by the great David Shoalts, this one explains how things spiraled out of control so quickly for the team's last group of saviors.
• Shawn Thornton returned to Boston for the first time last night as a member of the Panthers. The Bruins would not let the occasion pass unobserved.
• Did your guy lose in the election last night? Then the USHL Waterloo Blackhawks have a deal for you.
The numbers game
• Since his NHL debut in 2005, Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals (428) and points (827) than any other NHL player. The rest of the top five in goals over the same span: Jarome Iginla (312), llya Kovalchuk (309), Dany Heatley (292) and Patrick Marleau (288). The rest of the top five in points are: Sidney Crosby (788), Joe Thornton (784), Martin St. Louis (730) and Henrik Sedin (710).
• Jake Allen is now only the second goalie in Blues history to record consecutive shutouts. The first was the immortal Ernie Wakely in January 1970. Allen hasn't allowed a goal in his last 128:03 of playing time, dating back to Oct. 23.
• Pittsburgh had its shutout streak of 205:28 snapped by the Wild. During the run, the Pens scored 18 consecutive goals before allowing one, the longest such streak since the Phoenix Coyotes scored 18 without allowing a goal from Dec. 31, 2003 to Jan. 9, ’04.