Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The Predators, Blackhawks, Blues and Stars take the spotlight as the tough Central Division race heats up.

By Allan Muir
December 07, 2015

A look-ahead to some of this week’s most intriguing matchups:

Tuesday, Dec. 8: Predators at Blackhawks (8:00 p.m. ET; FS-TN, CSN-CH)

This feels like a big week for the Preds, a team that has won just three of its past 10 games and dropped to fifth place in the Central after starting the season 7-1-2. After playing a tough one in Boston on Monday night they head directly into a home-and-home with the Blackhawks, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in a thrilling six-game series last April. Although there’s just one point separating the teams as of Monday morning, that gap could widen significantly if Nashville can’t get its house in order. And keep an eye on Patrick Kane in this one. After assisting on a last-minute empty netter on Sunday night, the NHL’s leading scorer will be aiming to stretch his American-record point streak to 23 games.

Wednesday, Dec. 9: Bruins at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, RDS)

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These teams may not like each other, but this hasn’t been much of a rivalry of late. The Habs own the Bruins, winning each of their past seven regular-season meetings including a pair of 4–2 victories this season. Alex Galchenyuk has been the offensive catalyst in this season’s series, notching five assists in the two games, while Lars Eller has scored three times, including the game-winner on Oct. 10. The Bruins, though, are playing well of late, taking points from their past eight games (6-0-2). It’s a good bet that backup Jonas Gustavsson will be between the pipes for the B's, given Tuukka Rask's 3-14-3 career mark against the Canadiens.

Friday, Dec. 11: Rangers at Oilers (9:00 ET; MSG, SNW)

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A big night for New York GM Glen Sather, who’ll be honored with a banner to recognize his role in guiding the Oilers to five Stanley Cup championships from 1984 through 1990. Several former Edmonton greats will be on hand for the ceremony, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr, so you might want to tune in early to ensure that you don’t miss any of the fun. The game itself sets up a tough call for Oilers coach Todd McLellan. Does he go with red-hot Anders Nilsson between the pipes or does he give the struggling Cam Talbot (whose save percentage has topped .900 just once in his past eight appearances) a chance to redeem himself against his former team?

Saturday, Dec. 12: Stars at Blues (8:00 ET; FS-SW+, FS-MW)

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The gap is widening between the top two teams in the Central—the Stars lead by eight points heading into the week—so this is one that the Blues can’t afford to lose. Dallas comes in as the league’s top road team at 11-2-2 while St. Louis has dropped three of its past four at Scottrade Center, including a pair to the Panthers and Maple Leafs last week. This will be the first of the teams’ three meetings in a 15-day span, so the Blues will want to set the tone.

Sunday, Dec. 13: Canucks at Blackhawks (7:00 ET; NHLN-US, TVAS, SN, WGN)

The last time these two teams met, the Sedins went off for nine points in a 6–3 Canucks victory. Corey Crawford will be looking to avenge his worst start of the season (just 14 saves on 19 shots). Keep an eye on Vancouver rookie Jared McCann. His usage in this one could indicate whether the Canucks will release him to play for Team Canada in the upcoming World Juniors.

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• Patrick Kane, whose streak of points in 22 straight games has broken the Blackhawks franchise record set by Bobby Hull as well as the NHL mark for an American-born player, has put up at least a point in 25 of the 27 games he’s played this season.

• ​There’s no place like home for the Rangers and Kings. New York has the NHL’s best mark (12 wins, 25 points) at Madison Square Garden. Los Angeles ranks second with 11 wins and 22 points at STAPLES Center.

• Overall, home teams are 213-143-48 (.587 points percentage) through 404 games this season.

Hot links

• Steve Buffery argues that these have sucked all the fun out of the NHL.

• Jeff Skinner, Jordan Eberle, Kerby Rychel and Dustin Byfuglien headline this collection of NHL trade rumors.

• Some good notes here, including news about Jack Eichel’s new side gig, a bargain free agent, and one reason Steven Stamkos might stay put in Tampa.

Salary cap estimate for 2016-17 will affect Stamkos deal, trade market

• One of the great traditions of junior hockey at Christmas time: the teddy bear toss. If you’ve never seen one before, this “world record” is well worth watching.

• Wayne Gretzky invited Hockey Night In Canada's Ron MacLean to the unofficial Wayne Gretzky museum in Walter Gretzky’s basement for this week’s episode of Hometown Hockey.

• Hometown Hockey also offers this list of 10 things you didn’t know about the Zamboni. Its upper speed limit is pretty surprising.

• Finally, the great Roy McGregor argues that it’s time to change the way we think about concussions. His suggestion about head contact makes perfect sense.