Games to watch: Ducks may get coach fired; Canadiens seeking history
A look at some of the key games for the week ahead:
• Mon. Oct. 26: Ducks at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, SNE, SNO, SNP, PRIME, FS-SD, CSN-CH)
More than just a rekindling of the hostilities left over from their epic seven-game Western Conference Finals, this game may serve as a referendum on the future of Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. Anaheim is off to an unexpected 1-5-1 start, and it might actually be worse than the Ducks' record indicates. They’ve been shut out four times in seven games—as many as all of last season—and offered little pushback when they’ve fallen behind. It’s been suggested that dropping that seventh game at home last spring to the Hawks sucked the spirit out of them. If that’s true, this chance to exact a small bit of revenge might be exactly what they need to right the ship. If not, well, Paul MacLean might be promoted to head coach before the team returns to the OC.
• Tues. Oct. 27: Canadiens at Canucks (10 p.m. ET; RDS,CITYM,SNV)
The Habs head out west this week with a chance to carve out another niche in the NHL record book. A win in Vancouver would improve their record to 10-0, making them just the third team in history to open a season with 10 consecutive victories (the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres were the others). Montreal's nine straight wins in regulation are a new league mark. Consistency has been key to this success. The Canadiens have dressed the same 18 skaters for each contest and the lines have been relatively stable. That familiarity has paid off with at least three goals scored in each game. They’ll be up against a desperate Vancouver side that has dropped its first four at GM Place and will be looking to salvage at least one win from this five-game home stand.
• Wed. Oct. 28: Penguins at Capitals (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN)
For the first time in ages, a Pens-Caps clash could be defined by something other than the Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin rivalry. Washington comes into this one off a three-game Western Canada sweep that served as Evgeny Kuznetsov’s coming out party. The second-line center enjoyed his best week ever, tallying nine points in wins over Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton and earning the league’s First Star honor. He’ll be the center of attention for an offense that’s tops in the league at 4.14 goals per game. Meanwhile, the Pens are hoping a few changes up front will kickstart a pair of struggling stars. The playing styles of Crosby and Phil Kessel never quite meshed, forcing coach Mike Johnston to split the pair up for their most recent contest, a 2–1 OT win over Nashville. Kessel netted the winner in that one, which could give him some confidence moving forward.
• Thurs. Oct. 29: Sabres at Penguins (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B,BELL TV,ROOT)
Disco Dan Bylsma returns to Pittsburgh to take on his former team for the first time since he was dismissed in the summer of 2014. Should be plenty of feels for Bylsma and for the fans who remember him guiding the Pens to their most recent Stanley Cup championship back in 2009.
• Thurs. Oct. 29: Canadiens at Oilers (9 p.m. ET; SN,SN360,RDS)
With a win on Tuesday night against the Canucks, the Habs can go for sole possession of the NHL’s wins-from-the-start-of-the-season record at Rexall. On paper, this looks like a mismatch. The Habs boast a league-best goal differential of +23 while the Oilers are at –6. Of course, the way Connor McDavid is going lately (eight points during a five-game scoring streak), he might be ready to take on the Canadiens by himself.
• Fri. Oct. 30: Senators at Red Wings (7:30 p.m.; RDSI,TSN5,FS-D+)
A budding rivalry between these two sides led to a couple of very chippy games last season. Add in that it’s Devil’s Night in Detroit and there’s a high likelihood of mischief in this one.
• Sat. Oct. 31: Sharks at Stars (3 p.m. ET; CSN-CA,FS-SW)
The Sharks wrote off long-time No. 1 goalie Antti Niemi over the summer, allowing the veteran to sign as a free agent with the Stars. So far, the returns have been better than expected for Dallas. The 32-year-old has pushed Kari Lehtonen for playing time, going 3-1 with a solid .928 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, helping to shore up the Stars between the pipes. Assuming he gets the start (you have to believe coach Lindy Ruff will give it to him), he’ll be looking to make a statement to his former employers.
• Sun. Nov. 1: Jets at Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US,SN,RDS)
Yeah, it’s a heavy dose of Montreal this week (hard to ignore an undefeated team this late into the season), but this one gets the nod because the Jets are so much fun to watch. Nikolaj Ehlers is a highlight waiting to happen, all sick hands and rocket-powered wheels. He’s good for one knock-you-out-of-your-seat scoring chance a night. Drew Stafford’s been a nice addition, leading the Jets in goal scoring and playing a dirty game down low. And Blake Wheeler’s been outstanding, setting a franchise record by notching at least one point in eight consecutive games from the start of the season. Fortunately for Habs fans, the Jets are nearly as exciting in their own zone. Jacob Trouba is an accident waiting to happen and Ondrej Pavelec is playing like his old, unreliable self. This one could be a first-to-five-goals wins.
The numbers game
• Wild forward Jason Zucker’s goal 10 seconds after the opening face-off against Winnipeg on Sunday was not the fastest tally in NHL history. The record is five seconds and it’s shared by four players: Merlyn Phillips of the Montreal Maroons on Dec. 29, 1926 at Chicago; Doug Smail of the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 20, 1981 vs. St. Louis; Bryan Trottier of the New Islanders on March 22, 1984 at Boston; Alexander Mogilny of the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 21, 1991 at Toronto.
• Florida’s ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr—O.K., he’s 43—has scored six goals in his first eight games this season. The last time he opened a campaign that well was in 2005-06 with the Rangers. He was 33 and he tallied seven times in his first eight games.
• The Blackhawks are now only the third team in NHL history—and first in 55 years—to win the Stanley Cup with a shutout and then blank their Cup Final opponent in their first meeting of the next season. The 1934 Hawks also did it with a 1–0 win in Game 4 of the Final vs. the Red Wings followed by a 4–0 whitewash of Detroit in their first meeting of 1934-35. The 1960 Canadiens took the Cup from the Maple Leafs, 4–0, in Game 4 of the final and hung a 5–0 donut on Toronto in their first meeting of 1960-61.
• James Mirtle writes that the playoffs may already be out of reach for these six slow-starting teams.
• Bruce Garrioch says those teams’ struggles indicate that changes are coming in the form of trades and coaching changes.
• Here’s something no one saw coming: With Tuukka Rask stumbling out of the gate, coach Claude Julien has a goaltending controversy on his hands in Boston. Will he go to his backup for a key game on Tuesday night?
• Rapidly improving technology is about to redefine how we watch the game at home. Side note: You might want to hold off on buying that $4k TV this Christmas.