Off The Draw: Wild-Stars rivalry highlights weekend games
What to watch this weekend
Los Angeles heads to Motown to play the second half of a tough back-to-back on the road. The Kings will be hoping to avoid the penalty box parade that led to their 3–0 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night. Jonathan Quick gets the start for L.A. after ceding the crease to Martin Jones in Pittsburgh, and the former Conn Smythe winner’s stabilizing presence could be a key factor. The Kings dominated possession against the Pens, but didn’t get the big stops when they needed them on the penalty kill in the first period. And with L.A.’s forwards corps hit by injuries (no word on whether Anze Kopitar will be available for this one), the Kings might need a special performance from Quick tonight to take some of the pressure off of their overworked That ’70s Line. Not that Detroit is killing it offensively—in fact, unless Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg or Gustav Nyquist are on the ice, the Red Wings have not been all that intimidating lately. But they have been getting good mileage out of Justin Abdelkader since moving him to their top line (he chipped in two third-period goals to lead Detroit to a 4–2 win over the Capitals on Wednesday) along with solid energy from depth forwards Drew Miller and Luke Glendening. If the Wings can get Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco back on track, they will have a pretty dangerous mix up front.
Both Anaheim and Dallas went big over the summer, swinging significant deals to bolster their depth at center and strengthen their second lines. But here's the thing: While Ryan Kesler has given the Ducks an excellent secondary option (seven points, 53.8% success rate on the draw), the Stars have chosen to overload their top line, sliding Jason Spezza between Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The move has created an explosive unit that dares other teams to match up, but it leaves Dallas vulnerable when second lines go head-to-head. Cody Eakin has just two points and four goals so far this season, and is clicking at just 47.7% on face-offs. That should be a distinct advantage for Anaheim.
This one sets up as a showdown between two of the league's top puck-stoppers. Jonas Hiller will be between the pipes for Calgary, marking the first time this season that one of the team’s keepers has earned consecutive starts. Hiller has been sharp since he dropped his first two games of the season, going 3-0-1 while improving his goals-against average to 1.63 and save percentage to .948. His calming presence has been key to the Flame’s early success, providing a reliable safety net while Calgary’s kids work through their growing pains. Nashville will counter with Pekka Rinne, who is back in top form (6-1-1, 1.71 goals-against average, .936 save pct.) after missing 51 games last season due to a hip injury. He looked particularly sharp on Wednesday night while stopping 26 shots to help snap the Oilers’ four-game winning streak. “The confidence our club has when he is in the net is often times the difference between winning and losing," Predators GM David Poile said last week.
Stars at Wild (8 p.m. EDT; FS-SW+, FS-N)
It's been more than 20 years since the North Stars bolted Minnesota for Dallas, but the passage of time hasn't chilled the rivalry between these two franchises. The Stars will be playing the second game of a back-to-back—not a good thing for a team that went 4-9-1 in that situation last season—and they may have a tough decision to make between the pipes. Kari Lehtonen is expected to get the start on Friday, but can Dallas trust Anders Lindback to take the reins on Saturday? The free agent acquisition was brutal in his first two starts of the season. He deserves at least one more chance to show he can do the job, but another performance like his last one (six goals allowed on 28 shots against the Islanders) and he's likely to be on waivers by Sunday morning.
The Wild come into this game having won four of five, but still need to tighten up on defense. They've been lit up for 11 goals in the last three games after allowing just six in the first six. The highlight of this contest might be the special event planned for the first intermission. Jack Jablonski, a former player who was paralyzed during a high school game, will take the ice along with members of the 1980 Miracle On Ice squad to lead the Xcel crowd in hockey’s largest stick tap, the sport's sign of respect for a player injured during a game. Fans will also be asked to share photos or videos on social media of their own stick tap using #StickTap2Hope to help raise awareness for the 1.3 million Americans living with a spinal cord injury. Should be a great moment.
Rest of the schedule: Senators at Bruins (7 p.m. EDT; TVA, CITY, NESN); Blackhawks at Maple Leafs (7 p.m. EDT; CBC, NHLN-US, CSN-CH); Capitals at Lightning (7 p.m. EDT; FX-CA, CSN-DC+, SUN); Flyers at Panthers (7 p.m. EDT; TCN-PH, FS-F); Blue Jackets at Devils (7 p.m. EDT; FS-O, MSG+); Jets at Rangers (7 p.m. EDT; SN, MSG); Sabres at Penguins (7 p.m. EDT; SN1, MSG-B, ROOT); Coyotes at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EDT; FS-A Plus, FS-CR); Avalanche at Blues (8 p.m. EDT; ALT2, FS-MW); Canucks at Oilers (10 p.m. EDT; CBC, TVA); Islanders at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EDT; NBCSN, MSG+, CSN-CA)
Coyotes at Capitals (7 p.m. EST; FS-A, CSN-DC)
This is a huge weekend for Arizona, a team that has to be close to pushing the panic button. The Coyotes weren't terrible on Thursday night in Florida, outshooting the Panthers 33–26 and getting a decent performance from goalie Mike Smith (finally), but the game still went into the books as a 2–1 loss and left them buried in the Western Conference cellar. On Saturday, Arizona plays in Carolina against the NHL's only winless team. If the Coyotes fall to the Hurricanes, then the game in Washington could define the season. Arizona coach Dave Tippett's seat is warming up, and while the team is unlikely to find a more qualified coach to replace him, a change might be exactly what is needed. It doesn't bode well that, in the Capitals, the Coyotes are facing another team that is looking to get things back on track. Washington has lost three of four while Alex Ovechkin has been mired in the first five-game pointless streak of his career. Something's got to give.
Rest of the schedule: Red Wings at Sabres (5 p.m. EDT; TVA, FS-D, MSG-B, BELL TV); Kings at Hurricanes (5 p.m. EDT; FS-W; FS-CR); Flames at Canadiens (7 p.m. EDT; CITY, RDS); Ducks at Avalanche (8 p.m. EDT; PRIME, ALT); Jets at Blackhawks (9 p.m. EDT; TSN3, WGN); Predators at Canucks (9:30 p.m. EDT; FS-TN; SNP)
The numbers game
• Minnesota and Montreal entered the weekend as the league's only teams that remain undefeated on home ice.
• New Jersey snapped its NHL record streak of 18 consecutive shootout losses by prevailing in the skills competition against Winnipeg on Thursday night.
• Chicago's Marian Hossa is now the 80th player in NHL history to record 1,000 career points, but he is one of only four active players who have reached that milestone. The others: Jaromir Jagr (1,762), Joe Thornton (1,205), Jarome Iginla (1,175).
• Gordie Howe's family says the Hall of Famer's condition is improving after his stroke.
• Buried near the bottom of this column from Tom Gulitti is the news that Scott Stevens is interviewing for a job with the NHL's Department of Player Safety. I'm guessing that Matt Cooke and Sean Avery are up for the same job.
• This might be the craziest shootout goal you'll see all season.
• Detroit's European players explain that American-style Halloween celebrations are finally taking root in their homelands.
• Given the limits of my own carving skills, I'm amazed by these Sabres-themed pumpkins.
• And finally, it ain't Halloween until you've given this a spin.
GALLERY: Scariest goalie masks