The week ahead: Strife in Penguins' locker room bubbling over
Here’s a look at this week’s most intriguing match-ups:
• Monday, Nov. 16: Ducks at Hurricanes (7:00 p.m. ET; PRIME, FS-SD, FS-SE)Anaheim’s return to respectability hit a road block last week with three consecutive losses. Granted, two of them came in overtime, but the failures point out the trouble the Ducks are having scoring goals. That explains why winger Nick Ritchie was called up on Sunday and could make his NHL debut Monday night. The 10th pick in the 2014 draft has been tearing up the AHL, scoring nine goals in 12 games for AHL San Diego. The Canes have dropped a pair in OT as well, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some free hockey at the end of this one.
• Tuesday, Nov. 17: Wild at Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ROOT)
The underlying sense of discontent in Pittsburgh exploded to the surface on Saturday night in the wake of a brutal 4–0 loss to the Devils. Star center Evgeni Malkin said the team is “mad at each other” and that the Penguins are “not playing right.” A closed-door meeting followed. Were the Pens able to clear the air or do they remain on the verge of imploding? This game could reveal where this team is heading.
• Wednesday, Nov. 18: Capitals at Red Wings (8:00 p.m. ET: NBCSN, TVAS)
All eyes will be on Alex Ovechkin, who landed a career-high 15 shots on net when these two teams met last week and is still looking for the tally that will make him Russia’s most prolific NHL goal scorer. But how about Petr Mrazek? Detroit’s netminder made 38 stops in that 1–0 whitewashing of the Caps and has allowed just four even-strength goals in his past three starts. With the Red Wings struggling to score goals, he’s been their most reliable asset in the early going and should play a key role in this contest.
• Thursday, Nov. 19: Rangers at Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG, SUN)The Blueshirts will look to stretch their winning streak to 10 games and maybe exact a measure of revenge for their Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final when they visit the Bolts. If the Rangers get a lead in this one, look out. They’ve trailed only three times during this recent hot stretch, and once they get the lead they’re playing some spectacular kitty-bar-the-door hockey. With the Bolts struggling to score (they rank a surprising 22nd after leading the league last season), they’ll be in trouble if forced to play catch up.
• Friday, Nov. 20: Blackhawks at Flames (9:00 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, SNW)Artemi Panarin is starting to run away with the rookie scoring race. The Blackhawks winger scored his sixth goal of the season in a 4–1 win over the Flames on Sunday night, and it seemed like he and linemate Patrick Kane had the puck on a string whenever they were on the ice. If Panarin’s going to face a challenge, it could come from Calgary’s Sam Bennett. The gritty Flames winger has two goals and four points in his past five games and now ranks fifth among the rookie leaders.
• Saturday, Nov. 21: Maple Leafs at Bruins (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, NESN)
You might want to pick up some extra snacks for this one. Their final two meetings last season both went to the shootout (each won once) and there’s an undercurrent of animosity that might have something to do with a certain recent playoff game that didn’t end well for the Leafs a couple of years ago. And with both sides struggling to keep the puck out of the net (Toronto and Boston rank 21st and 26th, respectively, in goals-against), expect this to be a chippy, high-scoring affair.
• Sunday, Nov. 22: Devils at Canucks (10:00 p.m. ET; MSG, SNP)
Goalie Cory Schneider was skipped in favor of backup Keith Kinkaid when these two sides met earlier this month, but it’s a good bet the veteran will get the start against his former team this time around. Schneider hasn’t had the best of luck against Vancouver since being dealt at the 2013 draft, going 1-3, but h’s on a roll of late, allowing two goals or fewer in seven straight. Bo Horvat, the player who was selected with the first-rounder acquired from New Jersey in the Schneider trade, has just one goal in his past 16 games. He’ll be feeling the pressure to perform in this one as well.
The numbers game
• At 14-2-2 (30 points), the red hot Rangers are off to their best 18-game start in the franchise’s 89-year history. They've won nine straight games for the first time since 1973 and are one win shy of their franchise mark set in 1939-40.
• Patrick Kane’s seven-game goal streak is the longest by a Blackhawk since Steve Larmer rattled off a similar run in 1987.
• Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz needs one more game to grab sole possession of 10th on the NHL’s all-time games-coached list. He's currently tied with Jacques Martin at 1,294.
• A fan on the verge of completing her quest to visit all 30 NHL buildings before she turns 30 offers her take on the best experiences around the league.
• The NHL has a new leading scorer after Sunday night’s action.
• Bigger nets? Here’s one sniper who thinks that’s a terrible idea.
• Larry Brooks wonders why the league is talking about net size when people should be talking about this.
• Some players might love the prospect of a break in the schedule, but not these guys.
• All the complaining out of Pittsburgh suggests that what this team needs most right now is an attitude adjustment.