Wednesday November 26th, 2014

Off The Draw

There may be two points on the line when the Rangers take on the Lightning tonight (7:30 p.m. EST; MSG 2, SUN), but the end result is secondary to the lead story: the return of Martin St. Louis to Tampa.

Will there be an outpouring of Thanksgiving Eve gratitude at Amalie Arena for the man who helped the Bolts win the Stanley Cup in 2004 and who stands as the franchise's all-time leading scorer (192-298-490)? That should be the prevailing emotion, especially when the team unveils the tribute video it has prepared to honor St. Louis during the first period. It'll be hard not to get swept up in all the feels that one promises. 

But you can bet there'll be a fair number of fans who have "target" on their minds—and not the kind they'll be lining up at early on Black Friday. After demanding a trade in a fit of pique following his omission from Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics last winter, St. Louis understands that he's earned whatever scorn comes his way.

NHL
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“People are entitled to their opinion and I respect it,” he said on Tuesday. “I know a lot of them probably will heal with time. It is what it is. I’m expecting the worst, hoping for the best.

“Sometimes, people aren’t happy with a decision you make. I get that. But I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and know that I gave my heart and my soul to this franchise for 14 years. It was just time to move on and I’m really happy where I am right now.”

The Bolts can say the same. With all due respect to his scoring touch and leadership, the team is undoubtedly better off without St. Louis thanks to a legendary piece of damage control by Steve Yzerman. Despite having his hands tied by the strict limitations imposed by St. Louis's trade demand, Tampa's GM made an amazing swap with the Rangers, acquiring pending UFA Ryan Callahan and two first-round picks (2014 and 2015).

The picks alone were a great return under the circumstances, but Yzerman really tilted the tables by re-signing Callahan, who's been everything the Lightning hoped he would be. Yzerman then flipped the 2014 pick—which ended up being 29th overall by virtue of New York making the Cup final—for a pair of second rounders from the Islanders. All told, the deal secured the Lightning's present and vastly improved their chances for future success.

While that's the main story, the evening offers a fascinating sub-plot as well.

St. Louis is coming home just two points shy of reaching 1,000 for his NHL career. It's not quite Wayne Gretzky returning to Northlands with Gordie Howe's all-time scoring record in his sights, but in terms of poetic symmetry it has a nice ring to it. And there's a really good chance that it could could happen. St. Louis is red hot of late. He enters this one with 11 points in his past 10 games, including a goal and an assist in New York's 5-0 dismantling of the Canadiens on Saturday night.

Not surprisingly, he's playing down the pressure.

“I know I'll get there eventually,” he told Newsday's Steve Zipay. "I try not to think about it too much.”

Trying, but probably failing. The pride that pushed him out of Tampa still drives St. Louis. You know this matters to him. And so do his Rangers teammates, who'll be looking for No. 26 every chance they get.

If all goes well, they'll get him that ovation he deserves.

What to watch tonight

Rangers at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; MSG 2, SUN)

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Even if you're a die-hard of a team playing on another channel, this is the one you need to be glued to tonight. The return of Martin St. Louis promises to provide the top drama of the season to date, and the chance to see him make history by scoring his 1,000th career point against his old team is too juicy to pass up.

Of course there's more than St. Louis happening in this one. The Rangers come to town off two of their best performances of the season, shutting out the Flyers and Canadiens for their first back-to-back whitewashings in more than a decade. Henrik Lundqvist, who rang up the win over the Habs, will look to keep the streak going. Another shutout would move him past Ed Giacomin and Bernie Parent into sole possession of 20th place on the league's all-time list, but to turn that trick he'll have to blank the league's second-ranked offense. The Lightning are averaging 3.46 goals per game and they're third in five-on-five play (1.30). Steven Stamkos leads the Bolts with 24 points, and he's hit the scoresheet in eight of his past nine games.

Maple Leafs at Penguins (7:30 p.m. EST; TVA, SN, ROOT)

If for some reason you have an aversion to human drama, this contest might offer a decent alternative. Both teams come into this one having pulled out of a tailspin in their last games and are looking to prove that they're back on track. 

Sidney Crosby's eyes always light up when he sees the Leafs. He's tormented them throughout his career, piling up 21 goals and 26 assists in 30 games against Toronto. "I don't know how to explain it," he said last season. "But you know a lot of people are watching those games and you want to do well."  Crosby is coming off a 1-2-3 effort in Pittsburgh's 3-2 OT win over Boston Monday. The Leafs bought themselves some time with impressive wins over Tampa Bay and Detroit last week, but every night is a battle to keep the wolves at bay. Toronto always seems one bad play away from another implosion and tonight seems ripe with the possibility of imminent disaster. At least they go in knowing that Jonathan Bernier is at the top of his game having stopped 52 of 55 shots in those two victories, and that they'll be deeper up front with the return of Joffrey Lupul and David Booth, who makes his Toronto debut after missing the first 21 games of the season with a broken foot.

The rest of the schedule: Jets at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; SN 1, MSG-B); Capitals at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; CSN-DC+, MSG+); Flyers at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, TCN-PH, FS-D+); Hurricanes at Panthers (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-CR, FS-F); Kings at Wild (8 p.m. EST; FS-W, FS-N); Blackhawks at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; TVA2, CSN-CH, ALT); Flames at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; SNW, CSN-CA)

What you missed last night

• The Devils gave Cory Schneider no offensive support against his former team as the Canucks shut out New Jersey (highlights).

• Jonas Hiller's return to Anaheim as a member of the Flames was spoiled as the Ducks continued their home ice dominance of Calgary (highlights).

• The Blue Jackets' season of misery continued in a loss to the Jets as Winnipeg's Evander Kane delivered two power play tallies (highlights).

• Ottawa's third period rally got the Senators into OT and the skills competition where Bobby Ryan provided the decider in a win over the Blues (highlights).

• The surprising Predators continued to impress as they bested the reigning Stanley Cup champions in a shootout, thanks to James Neal (highlights).

• Tyler Seguin scored twice as the Stars took down the Oilers (highlights) but the most eye-popping goal of the night was scored by defenseman John Klingberg, who has quite a shot.

• After an avalanche of unanswered goals by Colorado, it took a bad break in overtime to finally doom the Coyotes (highlights).

The numbers game

• Happy Founders Day! On this date in 1917, a little something called the National Hockey League was formed in Montreal after the National Hockey Association of Canada Limited went belly-up. The first NHL games weren't played until December 19 of that year.

• ​Vancouver is off to the best 22-game start (15-6-1) in franchise history.

• The Flames might as well just stay away from Anaheim. They've now lost their last 19 games on the Ducks' Pond.

Today's must-reads

• Elliotte Friedman addresses the tenuous tenure of San Jose coach Todd McLellan, Philly trade rumors and Montreal's diving problem in this week's 30 Thoughts column.

• Connor McDavid continues the great Canadian tradition of top prospects who've destroyed their parent's basements or garages. Anyone know a good contractor?

• You really need to see this: a behind-the-scenes look at the moment Vancouver prospect Bo Horvat learned he'd made the Canucks.

• Will the Oilers look to another struggling team for a shakeup trade?

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