Monday February 8th, 2016

A look ahead to this week’s must-watch games, including an outdoor preview, a grudge rematch and a Monday night meet-up between two teams that are finally playing up to expectations.

Monday, Feb. 8: Ducks at Penguins (7:00 ET; FS-W, ROOT)

This is the sort of game that makes you glad you pay for the league’s season pass package ... or makes you wish you did. The Ducks come into it as one of the league’s hottest teams, with eight wins in their past 10 games. They’re getting results thanks to some outstanding defense and an NHL-best penalty kill, and they’re finally putting some pucks in the net as well. While they still rank 30th in total offense, they’ve outscored their opponents 25-12 over their past six and seem to have found the confidence that was missing early in the season. So has Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who comes into this contest with 10 goals and eight assists in a 10-game scoring streak that has him ranked among the league’s top 10 scorers for the first time this season. He’s also riding a seven game scoring streak against Anaheim (6-5-11).

Tuesday, Feb. 9: Capitals at Predators (8:00 ET; CSN-DC, FS-TN)

Next generation of Russian NHL stars

Because of an lower body injury, Alex Ovechkin couldn’t make it to Nashville for the league’s All-Star festivities last month, so he’ll be looking to put on a show for the locals in this one. He’s scored four goals in his past six games, giving him 30 for the season, just two behind league leader Patrick Kane. Ovi will put his hot streak on the line against Pekka Rinne, who finally seems to have found his own game after a rough start this season. The veteran keeper has held opponents to a single goal in four of his past seven starts and was the difference in a 6–2 win over the Sharks on Saturday.

Wednesday, Feb. 10: Canucks at Coyotes (9:30 ET; FS-A)

Nothing spices up a hockey game quite like a dash of desperation. Both Vancouver and Arizona enter the week trailing the playoff pack and are running out of time to make up ground. The Coyotes have just two wins to show for their past 10 games, but Shane Doan is exhorting them towards a strong finish. Arizona’s captain is having a brilliant campaign and enters the week one point behind Dale Hawerchuk for the franchise’s all-time scoring lead (929 points). Vancouver has dropped back as well, but now has Dan Hamhuis and Henrik Sedin back in action, giving the Canucks their first fully healthy roster in ages. Keep an eye on Bo Horvat. With 13 points in his past 13 games, the 20-year-old center could be an impact player down the stretch.

Thursday, Feb. 11: Stars at Blackhawks (8:30 ET; FS-SW, CSN-CH)

Hockey’s great shot volume debate

“They came to play,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said in the wake of Saturday’s 5–1 loss to the Blackhawks. “They were ready to go and embarrassed us in front of our fans and in our own building.” Dallas lost more than a bit of pride in that one, though. The Stars also blew a chance to close the gap between themselves and the Central Division leaders, and to prove that their game is back on track by measuring up against an established power. Safe to say then that they’ll be looking for more than a spot of revenge when they hook up at the United Center for a game that is a must-win for their pysches. The Hawks won’t be taking this one for granted, knowing that the Stars hold three games in hand and have the opportunity to whittle away at Chicago’s division lead. Keep on eye on the special teams battles. The two sides are tied for the league lead with 20 shorthanded goals after the Hawks netted a pair on Saturday.

Friday, Feb. 12: Avalanche at Red Wings (7:30 ET; ALT, FS-D)

Before they head to Coors Field for a bit of outdoor fun on Feb. 27, these two old foes will renew acquaintances in Detroit. Their bitter rivalry has quietly softened since the Wings switched conferences, but there is plenty on the line in this one. The Avalanche enter the week on an 0-2-1 skid, but have been one of the league’s most efficient teams over the past two months, running up an 18-10-3 mark since Dec. 1. They took both games in this series last season, but each of those victories required extra time. Meanwhile, the Wings are in the midst of a crucial five-game homestand. They haven’t made much noise at Joe Louis this season, going just 12-10-5, and need to find some traction on home ice if they hope to secure their 25th consecutive playoff berth.

Saturday, Feb. 13: Capitals at Stars (8:00 ET; CSN-DC, FS-SW)

Desperate Canadiens; Toronto trade bait, more notes

This one is looking less like a Stanley Cup Final preview than it might have a few weeks back, but it still promises to be a barnburner. The Caps (3.25) and Stars (3.21) boast the two most potent offenses in the league, powered by the first and fifth most dangerous power plays, respectively, and six of the top-30 scorers. Dallas will be coming off a big game in Chicago on Thursday night, so building on that, or recovering from it, could be the key to this contest.

Sunday, Feb. 14: Blues at Lightning (6:00 ET; FS-MW, SUN)

There's plenty of on-ice intrigue to make this one worth tuning in. The Bolts enter the week as the league’s hottest team, with 10 wins in their past 11, and eight straight victories at Amalie Arena. The Blues are finding some traction as well, going 6-3-1 in their past 10, thanks to some stout defense. What they need, though, is a little touch to boost an offense that’s been held to just nine goals in their past six games—and that stat only looks as good as it does thanks to a 4–1 win over the hapless Wild on Saturday. St. Louis is said to be interested in Lightning holdout Jonathan Drouin. Will the Blues showcase players who up for grabs in this one? And could something get done while both sides are gathered in the press box? It'll be fascinating to watch.

The numbers game

• Jaromir Jagr’s next game will be the 1600th of his career. He needs 11 points to tie Gordie Howe for third all-time (1,850). Jagr’s 738 career goals are three shy of Brett Hull for third in NHL history.

• Alex Ovechkin needs two goals to tie Hall of Famer Jean Béliveau for 39th on the NHL’s all-time list, with 507. The Capitals sniper is now the third player in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in each of his first 11 seasons. The others: Mike Gartner(15 seasons) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

• Andrei Markov is now the third defenseman to play in 900 games for the Canadiens. The others are Hall of Famers Larry Robinson (1,202) and Serge Savard (917). Markov has also passed Guy Lapointe into second place on the Canadiens’ all-time assists list for blueliners, with 407. Robinson (686) is the all-time leader.

Hot links

• One of the most generous autograph signers in hockey history has permanently put away his pen.

• Here's an idea worth supporting: the creation of an all-Canadian NHL championship. Hey, those teams deserve a chance to play for something, too.

NHL Roundtable: The next John Scott; Kane trade rated; Calder race

• Here’s how surgeons rebuilt Dan Hamhuis’s face  after it was demolished by a slap shot. Warning: Amazing, but kinda gross.

• Thanks but no tanks for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

• With contract negotiations stalled, Coyotes GM Don Maloney faces a tough call with pending UFA Mikkel Boedker.

• Could a Canadian-based team trade for Boston’s Loui Eriksson with this specific purpose in mind?

• Can you smell what Jason LaBarbera’s new mask is cooking?

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