The winless Blue Jackets face what may be a make-or-break game for coach Todd Richards vs. the Isles; Stanley Cup Final rematch on tap.
A look at the games to watch during the week ahead:
• Mon. Oct. 19: San Jose Sharks at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, TVAS, SNI1, CSN-CA, MSG)
The Sharks suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday, a 6–3 defeat by the Islanders in Brooklyn, and will look to get back on track against the Blueshirts with No. 1 goalie Martin Jones between the pipes. One of the biggest question marks coming into the season, Jones has keyed San Jose’s hot start, going 4-0-0 with a 0.49 goals-against average and .982 save percentage. He also established a franchise shutout streak (234:33) that, as our own Alex Prewitt noted, is longer than the extended edition of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (223:00).
Jones’s steadiness will be key as the Sharks battle a swarm of early injuries. Logan Couture (broken leg) is out. Joonas Donskoi, Paul Martin and Ben Smith are questionable. Nikolay Goldobin, who stepped onto the top line to replace Donskoi, is one to watch.
The Rangers will look to end a three-game losing skid during which they’ve scored only two goals. Their power play, which has clicked just once in 16 tries this season, is a particular source of concern.
• Tues. Oct. 20: New York Islanders at Columbus Blues Jackets (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-O)
Yes, the Jackets have dropped six straight and looked miserable in the process but remember, most teams like to measure their success in 10-game segments. A win in this one against the Isles would give the Columbus a slim chance to salvage something from its first segment. Another loss? That would pretty much force GM Jarmo Kekäläinen into making some kind of change.
Axing coach Todd Richards is one option. When a team consistently fails to match the compete level of the opposition, that’s on the coaching. But it might be more logical to upgrade a blueline that’s been outmanned from the start. Not an easy task—especially compared to turfing the coach—but it’s a step that would have a greater long-term impact on the club.
Keep an eye on this one: It could be a turning point in franchise history.
• Tues. Oct. 20: St. Louis Blues at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-MW, RDS, CITYM)
While the Jackets look for their first win, the Habs hope to maintain the league’s only flawless record. Montreal is off to a 6-0-0 start and outscoring its opposition 20-7 in the process, proving that the Canadiens are more than just Carey and the Pricettes this season. Tomas Plekanec is off to a hot start, scoring five goals to power an offense that’s not just more effective but more aggressive than in the past. Maybe coach Michel Therrien has finally figured out that sitting back and protecting a lead isn’t the only way to win games.
• Thurs. Oct. 22: Arizona Coyotes at Rangers (7 p.m. ET; FS-A, MSG)
“You do a lot of calculated risking when you do any kind of deal,” Rangers GM Glen Sather said last March in the wake of a bold deadline move to acquire defenseman Keith Yandle from Arizona. He’ll face that risk first-hand on Thursday when Anthony Duclair returns for the first time to face the team that drafted and then gave up on him, shipping him off the Yandle trade. The Duke has played a key role in Arizona’s early success, leading the team with four goals and showcasing the kind of speed and net-front presence that can set him up to be an impact player for years to come. He’ll be looking to make a statement in this one.
• Thurs. Oct. 22: Dallas Stars at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m.; SN360, FS-SW, ROOT)
The Stars, the NHL’s highest-scoring team (3.80 goals per game), takes on a squad tha’s not scoring nearly as well as everyone expected ... yet. Dallas shut out the Pens in the season opener, but has had some shaky defensive moments since then. If ever the Pens were going to break out of their early funk, the Stars and their sketchy goaltending provide the perfect opportunity. This one could be a barn-burner.
•Sat. Oct. 24: Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, SN1, SUN, WGN)
A rematch of last spring’s Stanley Cup Final pits a Lightning team looking to re-establish its identity against a Chicago side that’s showing signs of that championship hangover. The Bolts have struggled to find the offensive spark that defined them last season. Jonathan Drouin, so effective at times (one goal and six points in six games), was benched for part of a listless 2–1 win over Buffalo on Saturday, but he wasn’t alone in feeling the ire of Jon Cooper. The coach also broke up the Triplets as he looked to light a fire under his team. The Hawks, meanwhile, are struggling as they try to integrate new players into their roster. Trevor Daley has been a square peg on the blueline in the early going, and they’re really feeling the loss of Brandon Saad on the top line. Maybe memories of the old hostilities will bring out the best in both sides.
The numbers game
• There’s nothing like playing the Wild to fix what ails the Ducks. Anaheim‘s 4–1 win on Sunday boosted its record to 10-1-0 in its last 11 meetings with Minnesota.
• On Saturday against Calgary the Oilers became the first team in NHL history to have four No. 1 picks (Connor McDavid, Talor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov) score goals in the same game.
• Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings is the first rookie in franchise history to post a point in each of the team’s first five games of a season.
• TSN host James Duthie did a Reddit AMA session over the weekend to promote his new book. Turns out he wasn’t dating a llama after all. Warning: Some salty language is used by questioners.
• Trickle-down technology from the aerospace industry and other sectors will soon impact the way hockey players skate, shoot and are protected.
• Don’t blame the lack of blueline depth or forward speed for the rocky start in Los Angeles. It’s really all Taylor Swift’s fault.
• Being Tampa Bay’s emergency defenseman has made this player a more conscientious and effective forward.