Off The Draw: Struggling Stars looking to deal?; weekend games to watch
Are the struggling Dallas Stars inclined to swing a deal to get their once-promising season back on track? There were 11 scouts, mostly from Eastern Conference teams, at the American Airlines Center on Thursday night to see the hosts bumble their way to a league-worst sixth loss in seven home games. Goalie Kari Lehtonen is struggling (he seems particularly vulnerable up high lately), but the Stars don't have anyone they trust to spell him. They could be looking for someone to replace current backup Anders Lindback. They could also use some help on the back end, but given the premium on defensemen, that seems unlikely. The most likely move? A relatively minor deal to shake up the forward corps. Dallas' physical game has fallen off significantly. Maybe someone like Montreal's Travis Moen might be a fit.
What to watch this weekend
This Winter Classic preview finds the hosts banged up (no Patrick Sharp for the next month) and the visitors reeling from a five-game losing streak. To be fair, the Capitals haven't exactly been terrible during this rough patch. They've held the lead in the second period or later in each of those games and the #fancystats point to their 54% Corsi in close situations. Taken together you'd expect those situations to yield more than one point, but this is one of those cases where you throw out the numbers and rely on your eyes. Washington is falling into some nasty old habits of late, doing a lousy job of marking opposing shooters and coming up short way too many times in the hustle department. These are things that can be corrected, especially with Barry Trotz calling the shots, but the players have to be committed to working in all three zones, not just the fun one. Until that happens, shot quality will continue to trump whatever shot differential they drum up.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Oilers at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; SNW, MSG-B, BELL TV); Blue Jackets at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, FS-CR); Devils at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-D); Coyotes at Ducks (10 p.m. EST; FS-A, PRIME)
Not since a group of plucky American college kids took on the mighty Soviet empire ... OK, maybe this one doesn't stack up as a mismatch on quite the same epic scale, but it's going to take a miraculous effort for the Sabres to keep pace with the high-flying Penguins. The league's top-scoring team (four goals per game) gets to tee off on a club that allows an NHL-worst 36.3 shots per game, setting the stage for some epic offensive fireworks.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Flames at Panthers (3 p.m. EST; SNW, FS-F); Rangers at Maple Leafs (7 p.m. EST; CBC, MSG 2); Wild at Canadiens (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US; TVA, CITY, FS-N+); Jets at Senators (7 p.m. EST; SN); Avalanche at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; ALT, CSN-PH); Lightning at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; SUN, FS-O); Hurricanes at Capitals (8 p.m EST; FS-CR, CSN-DC+); Predators at Blues (8 p.m. EST; FS-TN, FS-MW); Sharks at Stars (8 p.m. EST; CSN-CA, FS-SW); Islanders at Coyotes (8 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-A); Canucks at Kings (10 p.m. EST; CBC, TVA2, FS-W)
You know how I know when the Canucks win a game? My 10-year-old sticks his head in my office and "thanks" me for convincing him not to take Ryan Miller in his hockey pool. Apparently kids master sarcasm much earlier in life these days.
All Miller has done this season is win 10 of his first 11 games. On Thursday night, he became the first goalie to get to double-digit Ws when Vancouver knocked off San Jose behind his 34-save performance. It was the seventh straight game in which he's allowed two goals or fewer. Not coincidentally, it was his seventh straight win. But it was also one of his first big tests of the season. So this contest, the third in a Golden State swing and second of a murderous SoCal back-to-back, will reveal a lot about both Miller and the surprising Canucks. California clubs kicked sand in their face last season, winning seven of eight, but Vancouver is benefiting from a different state of mind now. Buoyed by Miller and former Duck Nick Bonino (who scored his team-leading seventh goal on Thursday), these Canucks are playing smarter, faster and more buttoned up than they have in years. This isn't so much one they need, but it's definitely one they want.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Maple Leafs at Senators (6 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, TVA, CITY); Lightning at Red Wings (6 p.m. EST; SUN, FS-D+); Oilers at Rangers (6 p.m. EST; SNW, MSG); Sharks at Blackhawks (7 p.m. EST; TVA, CSN-CA, WGN)
The numbers game
• Blues goalie Jake Allen's shutout streak of 184:38, which ended on Thursday night against the Devils, was the longest by an NHL rookie since Steve Mason of Columbus went 199:28 without allowing a goal during the 2008-09 season. Allen entered the weekend leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.40) and ranked second in save percentage (.944).
• The Bruins (vs. the Oilers) and Blackhawks (vs. the Blue Jackets) currently share the longest active winning streaks (13) against particular opponents. Boston hasn't lost to Edmonton on home ice since since Nov. 7, 1996.
• Ryan Miller is now the fastest goalie in Canucks history to reach 10 wins at the start of a season. Miller needed only 11 games. Bob Essensa and Kay Whitmore, the previous team record-holders didn't reach 10 victories until their 16th games.
What you missed
• Blues phenom Vladimir Tarasenko struck again.
• The NHL's COO said ads on team jerseys are as certain as death and taxes.
• Thursday was "Political Loser Night" in Waterloo, Iowa, where the USHL's Blackhawks gave ticket discounts to fans who showed up with junk mail from candidates who lost in this week's elections.
• The Kings' distinctive coach, Darryl Sutter, was the subject of a meme.
• Carter Ashton's use of an asthma inhaler cost him a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL's PED policy. I've used an inhaler for winter sports for 20 years, so I feel for him. Judging by his game (and mine), I'm guessing there's not much "performance enhancer" in those things.
• This letter penned by Brendan Shanahan to his younger self is funny, smart and a solid piece of writing. Shanny may have missed his true calling.
• Interesting piece here from former NHL keeper Jamie McLennan on the variety of styles employed today by goaltenders.
• Think Congress gets nothing done? Blame Wayne Gretzky.