By Brian O’Neill, Josh Elliott and Gareth Bush
From the Ovechkin-less Capitals trying to break a slump, to Jonas Gustavsson playing big in Detroit and two super-rookies taking to the ice, we get you prepared for the five games ahead on Friday night with our five things to watch.
Olympus Has Fallen
The pre-Olympic hype is picking up around Alex Ovechkin, but right now the Washington Capitals need him more than Team Russia. The Caps, who have plummeted to 13th in the East and are winless in their past six games, face the very real possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. They head into tonight’s tilt in New Jersey with the third-worst road record in the league (8-11-4), behind only Edmonton and Buffalo. Teams are galloping past them in the standings, but even if the Caps catch up, they lose any tiebreakers because they have the third-worst number of regulation or overtime wins (14). The only teams with fewer ROWs are, again, Edmonton and Buffalo. That’s bad company to be keeping, and with Ovechkin out of tonight’s game (his second in a row), things could get ugly if the Caps don’t figure it out soon.
Call For Backup
With Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard ruled out for a week with a knee injury, backup Jonas Gustavsson is being relied on to help get the Wings back into a playoff spot. To the utter disbelief of most Leaf fans, he just might be the right man for the job. ‘The Monster’ has played far better than Howard this season, sporting a 12-3-2 record, .912 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average. Gustavsson was undeniably a bust in Toronto, but has fit in well with the Wings and his fellow Swedish teammates. Currently two points behind Philadelphia for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, Detroit hosts the Montreal Canadiens tonight who have lost three of their past four, allowing 18 goals in the process. Keep watch for another monster performance from Gustavsson against the Habs.
Three To Go
Devils forward Jaromir Jagr has been having a great season at 42 years old, tallying 40 points in the team’s first 51 games, but he’s not a happy camper. He recently expressed displeasure with the constant shuffling of the team’s top line, having played with a number of different player combinations in the past few weeks. But amidst the complaints, Jagr stands at 697 career goals and faces off against a slumping Washington Capitals team tonight that has lost six straight games. Jagr hopes to inch closer to goal No. 700, an accomplishment only six players have reached in NHL history.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Calgary’s Sean Monahan are having a greater impact on their respective teams than their youth may suggest. MacKinnon has scored multiple points in consecutive games, including both Avalanche goals in a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs this week. He currently leads all rookies with 17 goals and 33 points and those numbers put him fifth in team scoring. Monahan broke a five-game scoreless streak Wednesday when he potted his team-leading 14th goal of the season. He is currently third in rookie scoring. Both super-rookies will be on the ice tonight, with Colorado in Florida and Calgary hosting the Predators.
Eakins' Job on the Line?
With the second-worst record in the NHL, things aren’t getting any better for Dallas Eakins and the Edmonton Oilers. This has been anything but the ideal season for Eakins who broke the mold this week and admitted his job may be on the line. If he has any hopes of sticking around, the Oilers better get out of the current funk they’re in. They are 0-4-1 in their past five and have only managed 10 goals in that span. It doesn’t help that they are ranked 30th in goals allowed, giving up an average of 3.48 goals per game. The Oilers have yet to find a stable coach as Eakins is their fifth in six years. The watch is on to see if there may be a sixth coming.