Here’s your look at the week ahead and some of the most compelling games on the NHL schedule.
Monday, Jan. 4: Kings at Avalanche (9:00 ET; NBCSN)
Will this be the night for Jarome Iginla? The veteran winger has been stuck at 599 goals for three games, and he missed a poetic chance on Saturday night against his former team, the Calgary Flames, to light the lamp for the 600th time. While he’s looking to make history, the Avs would be happy to simply dig themselves out of a ditch. They’ve dropped four straight at the Pepsi Center and are facing a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. The Kings enter this contest as one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of five straight and in firm control of the Pacific Division. Keep an eye on Tyler Toffoli, who has six goals in his past six games.
Tuesday, Jan. 5: Panthers at Sabres (7:00 ET; FS-F, MSG-B, BELL TV)
The Panthers proved they could win at home, going 6-0 on a just-completed homestand to run their franchise-record winning streak to nine games. Now they’ll take their show on the road, kicking off a six game trip in Buffalo. They weren’t particularly good in their last game, a 2–1 win over the Wild on Sunday, but they rode another larcenous effort from Al Montoya to the win. The backup keeper has allowed a single goal in each of his past four appearances, and might get another look in this one. The Sabres meanwhile have dropped four straight and lost a league-high 12 games at home in regulation. Anyone else smell a trap?
Wednesday, Jan. 6: Penguins at Blackhawks (8:00 ET; NBCSN, TVAS)
It’s always fun when these star-studded foes come together, but this one, the back end of a home-and-home set, promises to be particularly feisty. The Pens are finally rounding into form under new coach Mike Sullivan, going 4-1-1 in their past six. The difference? Their big money players are finally delivering. Sidney Crosby pitched in with a pair of power-play goals in Saturday’s 5–2 win over the Isles. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each had three assists and Marc-André Fleury made 38 saves in his first game back from IR. They’ll be a handful for a Blackhawks team that comes into this series having won three straight, scoring 14 goals in the process.
Thursday, Jan. 7: Capitals at Islanders (7:00 ET; TVAS,SN360,CSN-DC,MSG+)
Whatever the line is for this first of four meetings between these Metropolitan Division rivals, take the over. The Caps enter the week holding a 10-point lead, but are struggling with their first two-game losing streak of the season. Injuries are beginning to take a toll, particularly on the blueline where the absence of John Carlson and Brooks Orpik is wearing down the top pairing of Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and putting excessive pressure on Braden Holtby. Meanwhile, the Isles knocked off the Stars, 6-5, in their last outing, but they’ve allowed five goals in consecutive games and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (shoulder) has been placed on injured reserve for the next four to six weeks. Could be a red light fiesta at Barclays.
Two of the league’s most physically inclined teams—Anaheim ranks third in major penalties, St. Louis, seventh—meet up with more than a hint of desperation in their games. Can’t imagine this one will play out quietly.
Saturday, Jan. 9: Penguins at Canadiens (7:00 ET; CBC, NHLN-US, TVAS, ROOT)
Playing against the team he cheered for while growing up always seems to bring out the best in Sidney Crosby, who has 17 goals and 40 points in 30 career games against the Habs. Meanwhile, Montreal will be looking to build on an excellent performance in the Winter Classic. Brendan Gallagher was brilliant in his return from IR, rejuvenating the Canadiens’ attack with his speed, nastiness in the corners and net-front presence. Keep an eye on No. 11 as well as Max Pacioretty, who was a shadow of himself while his linemate was rehabbing his broken hand but looked to be in top form against the Bruins.
The numbers game
• Besides their franchise-record nine-game win streak, the Panthers have set a team mark with seven straight (and counting) victories at home.
• With his team's first 40 games in the book, Corey Crawford is now the fastest Blackhawks goaltender to post six shutouts in a season since 1969-70, when rookie Tony Esposito had 10 in Chicago’s first 40. The Hall of Famer finished the season with a franchise-record 15.
• On Saturday, Blue Jackets backup Anton Forsberg became the first goalie in NHL history to be credited with his first career victory after entering a game in overtime. Forsberg replaced Curtis McElhinney 55 seconds into OT against the Capitals, made six saves and stopped two shootout attempts as Columbus won, 5–4. He also became the first goaltender in Blue Jackets history to earn his first NHL win in relief.
• Bruce Arthur beautifully explains why there’s no reason to panic after Canada’s early ouster at the World Juniors.
• All of a sudden, the Dallas Stars don’t look quite so unbeatable.
• Gordie Howe’s youngest son didn’t follow him into the family business, but blazing his own path allowed him to help save his father’s life.
• Attention, fight fans: There was a good, old-fashioned line brawl this weekend ... in the National Women’s Hockey League.
• Troubled Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang has done some growing up since being sent down to junior ... oh wait, no, he hasn’t.
• A member of one of hockey's greatest brother acts passed away over the weekend. Our condolences to his family.