NHL week ahead: games and storylines to watch
A possible Stanley Cup Final preview and the second of this season's three outdoor games highlight the NHL’s week ahead:
• Monday, Feb. 15: Penguins at Panthers (7:30 ET; ROOT, FS-F)
Is the carriage turning into a pumpkin for the Florida Panthers? The Atlantic Division leaders have spent the past two weeks getting pushed around by their stepsisters, going 1-3-1 in their past five games and allowing at least four goals in each of their past three. Coach Gerard Gallant said they were “pathetic” in their 5–0 loss to Nashville on Saturday and called them out to be better in this one. They’ll be in tough against a Pittsburgh team that earned 3–2 overtime decisions in each of their previous meetings this season. The Penguins, who have won seven of nine, are looking to win their third consecutive road game for the first time since early November.
• Tuesday, Feb. 16: Kings at Capitals (7:00 ET; FS-W, CSN-DC)
A potential Cup Final preview? Could be. The Capitalss are the class of the Eastern Conference, winners of five straight before losing a tough one in Dallas, 4–3, on Saturday night. They’re getting terrific mileage out of Alex Ovechkin, who has scored six goals during a four-game streak to pass Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the top spot in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. This will be a big one as well for Mike Richards and Justin Williams. Both will be looking to make a statement against the team that cut them loose last summer. The Kings have been erratic through the first four games of their season-high seven-game road trip, but are coming off a strong performance in a 1–0 loss to the Devils. They’ll be without Marian Gaborik, who could miss a significant stretch with a lower-body injury.
• Wednesday, Feb. 17: Blackhawks at Rangers (8:00 ET; NBCSN)
The Blackhawks dropped the first three dates of their current four-game homestand and gave up control of top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference. Their forwards have gone dry, scoring just one goal during that stretch. And now they’ll have to contend with the loss of first-line winger Marian Hossa (lower body), their most reliable two-way forward. They’ll look to straighten out their game against the Rangers, a team that’s on an 8-0-2 run at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts have injuries of their own to deal with, including Rick Nash (leg bone bruise) and possibly Ryan McDonagh (concussion), though the captain could see action this week if he can resume contract drills on Monday.
• Thursday, Feb. 18: Wild at Oilers (9:00 ET; FS-N, FS-WI)
This one might not jump out at you, but it has a chance to be a beauty. The Wild come into this one with a new head coach in John Torchetti, who is expected to build a rather large fire under their collective butts. If they’re going to get their season back on track, this is the time to do it. Keep an eye on Zach Parise, who was playing miserably under Mike Yeo. If he truly was being held back by his old coach, here’s his chance to prove it. The Oilers don’t have as much purpose in their game, but they’re having fun now that Connor McDavid is back in the lineup. The rookie sensation has three goals and seven points in his past four games and is scoring at a 100-point pace.
• Friday, Feb. 19: Sharks at Hurricanes (7:00 ET; CSN-CA, FS-CR)
Two of the hottest teams of the second half—and two of this season’s biggest surprises—face off in a game that could have long-term implications for both. The Hurricanes sit just four points back of a wild-card berth in the East, and while they’re playing well they haven’t strung together more than two consecutive wins in a month. If they’re going to make up some ground, they need to take advantage of this stretch that sees them play six of eight at home. If they can’t get traction, it might be time to cut bait and move captain Eric Staal. The Sharks have all but secured their spot in the Pacific, but could lose ground to the Ducks as they head out on a five-game road trip. Keep an eye on Joe Pavelski. San Jose’s All-Star forward hasn’t looked right for more than a week now. Sick? Injured? Either way, the Sharks need him to be at his best.
• Saturday, Feb. 20: Bruins at Stars (8:00 ET; NESN, FS-SW, NHLN-US)
All eyes will be on Tyler Seguin and his latest opportunity to remind Boston of what might have been, but the bigger story here will be how the Bruins stack up to the challenge of a playoff-caliber team like the Stars. The B’s haven’t knocked off a team that’s sitting in postseason position in two months and while there’s a sense that parity in the East gives them a chance to beat virtually anyone outside of the Caps, they need to start proving they’re up to the task. A couple more losses like the ones they suffered at the hands of the Kings and Red Wings last week and management may decide that it makes more sense to hang up the For Sale sign.
• Sunday, Feb. 21: Blackhawks at Wild (3:30 ET; NBC)
Minnesota finally gets the outdoor game it’s long deserved and, current struggles aside, there’s every reason to believe the Wild will put on a terrific show. The weather calls for a 30% chance of precipitation, but the potential to reach 40 degrees makes it touch-and-go as to whether we’ll see rain or snow. Whatever the weather brings, the Hawks will be prepared. This will be Chicago’s fourth outdoor appearance and third in the past three years. The Blackhawks hosted Detroit at Wrigley Field in 2009 and the Penguins at Soldier Field in 2014, and visited the Capitals at Nationals Park in 2015. That experience should give them an edge in what could be a very hostile environment.
The numbers game
• Against the Bruins on Sunday, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm became the first three Red Wings to score multiple goals apiece in the same game since Feb. 13, 1996, when Vyacheslav Kozlov, Greg Johnson and Keith Primeau all did so in a 9–4 romp over the Kings. Datsyuk also became the sixth Wing to reach the 900 points mark, joining Gordie Howe (1,809), Steve Yzerman (1,755), Alex Delvecchio (1,281), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,142) and Sergei Fedorov (954).
• By tallying eight seconds after the opening face-off against Detroit, Brad Marchand set a Bruins franchise record for fastest goal to begin a game, bettering the old mark of nine seconds set by Fleming MacKell on Feb. 14, 1953 vs. the Rangers.
• Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers is working on a 12-game points streak that is an NHL record for a rookie defenseman and a Philadelphia franchise rookie record. Gostisbehere is the first blueliner to post a 12-game run for an NHL team since Detroit’s Mathieu Schneider did it from Nov. 27 to Dec. 22, 2006.
• Ken Campbell looks back at the impact Eric Lindros made on the game as a player safety trailblazer and the driving force that turned a little-known event into an annual tradition. A must-read piece.
• Steven Stamkos might not be the only superstar looking to join the Leafs in free agency. There's already speculation that this player could have his heart set on Toronto as well.
• Here’s how coach Barry Trotz changed Alex Ovechkin for the better. Is Trotz the Jack Adams favorite now?
• The Blackhawks might be a completely different team if not for the time they decided to match an offer sheet.
• The story of NHL hockey in Seattle took another strange twist with the revelation of a report on Key Arena that was buried months ago. Maybe this is why they can't have nice things.
• Interim coach John Torchetti met with the Wild yesterday and pronounced the team ready to go for the stretch run. Good luck, Torchy.
• A pair of season-ticket holders who have been with the Flyers since the very beginning of the franchise have some advice for coach Dave Hakstol.
• Lightning forward J.T. Brown explains how he met his wife the new-fashioned way: via Twitter.