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Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, the first test for new Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, highlights the NHL games and storylines to watch this week.

By Allan Muir
December 14, 2015

A look at the most compelling games on this week’s schedule:

• Monday, Dec. 14: Capitals at Penguins (7:00 ET; NHLN-US, SNE, SNO, SNP, CSN-DC, ROOT)

As if the latest chapter in the Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby rivalry wasn’t enough of a draw, Monday night’s game will be spiced by the debut of new Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. What will the struggling team look like under his aegis?

“I don't think it's any secret the Pittsburgh Penguins are built around speed and skill,” he said on Sunday. “So, that has to be an element of our identity as far as how we’re going to play.”

Pressure on Penguins GM Rutherford after firing head coach Johnston

No doubt Crosby, off to the worst start of his career, likes the sound of that. Keep an eye on the power play in this one. Washington’s remains potent at 23.3%, but the Pens have looked lost at 15.6%, 27th in the league. This is one area where Sullivan will try to make an immediate impact.

•​ Tuesday Dec. 15: Panthers at Islanders (7:30 ET; FS-F, MSG+)

It seems like Jaromir Jagr makes history in most every game, but this one poses the opportunity for a truly memorable moment. The ageless wonder comes into this contest tied with Marcel Dionne on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list with 731. One tally here and he claims sole possession of fourth spot behind the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Brett Hull. Amazing.

Report: Florida Panthers ‘completely rebranding’ for 2016-17 season

The Isles are in the process of making a little history of their own during their first season in their new Brooklyn digs. They are the hottest team in the league, having taken points in 10 straight games (8-0-2). Backup goalie Thomas Greiss could get the start after earning his first shutout of the season in Saturday’s 4–0 win over the Devils.

•​ Tuesday, Dec. 15: Lightning at Maple Leafs (7:30 ET; TVAS, SUN, SNO)

Steven Stamkos is from Toronto. Steven Stamkos can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Steven Stamkos is playing in Toronto on this night.

Yeah, this is going to be chaos.

•​ Thursday, Dec. 17: Ducks at Sabres (7:00 ET; PRIME, FS-SD, MSG-B, BELL TV)

Still afloat in the weak Pacific, the woeful Oilers must make a move

Two struggling teams might not look great on paper, but desperation has a way of bringing out the best in hockey players. The Ducks, who were pathetic in a 5–1 loss to the Hurricanes on Friday, are in the midst of an odd stretch that sees them playing only three games in a span of 11 days. Will the extra practice time they’ll gain help them get back on track or will the lack of competition dull their already questionable edge? And can coach Bruce Boudreau’s tenure behind the bench survive another effort as gutless as that last one?

The Sabres, who picked up a big win on Saturday against the Kings, have questions of their own to answer, but they have no concerns about Ryan O’Reilly. Their other big summer acquisition (after Jack Eichel) has been brilliant, scoring in seven straight including the OT clincher versus Los Angeles.

•​ Thursday, Dec. 17: Kings at Canadiens (7:30 ET; FS-W, RDS, CITYM)

Semin leaves Habs with room for upgrade; Stamkos fuels Leafs talk

This one sets up as a battle between two division leaders. The Habs have struggled of late, losing four straight, but they rediscovered their game in a dominant 3–1 win over Ottawa on Saturday. The Canadiens tied a team record in that one, landing 27 shots on net in the first period alone. No such troubles for the Kings, who enter the week having gone 7-0-2 in their past nine to take control of the Pacific Division. The line of Anze Kopitar between Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson has shown some jump of late. They’ve combined for seven points over their past five games, but are starting to create chances with more consistency.

•​ Saturday, Dec. 19: Canadiens at Stars (7:00 ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, CITY, FS-SW+)

Tough week for the Canadiens, who move on from one divisional leader to face another. The Stars have been dominating the Central Division, daring opponents to keep up with their explosive attack. Dallas averages 3.37 goals per game to lead the league, but the Habs are close behind at 3.19. The Stars have had their way against the East as well, going 13-4 while Montreal is just .500 (4-4) against the West.

Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin on rare fast track to stardom with Detroit

•​ Sunday, Dec. 20: Flames at Red Wings (7:00 ET; SN, FS-D)

No teams have benefited more from three-on-three play than these two. Calgary already has notched seven wins in OT this season, tops in the league. Detroit is right behind at six. Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau scored his third OT winner of the season in Saturday’s win over the Rangers, and now leads the league in that category. Gustav Nyquist is tops on Detroit with a pair. Let’s just hope this one goes longer than 60.

The numbers game

3 (on 3) is the magic number in the NHL this season

• Patrick ​Kane’s 26-game point streak, a Blackhawks franchise record and the longest such run by any U.S.-born player in NHL history, is also the longest by any player since Mats Sundin of the Quebec Nordiques rattled off a 30-game run from Oct. 8 to Dec. 10, 1992.

• A streak grows in Brooklyn. At 18-8-5 (41 points), the Islanders have passed the archrival Rangers (18-9-4, 40 points) for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers held an 11-point lead over them on Nov. 25. At 7-0-2 against the Metro this season, the Isles are the only team that has yet to be defeated in regulation by one of their divisional foes.

• Semyon Varlamov is now 12-3-3 in 18 career regular season games when making 40 or more saves, and those 12 such victories with the Avalanche are a franchise record that is four more than the next-closest goaltender, his current coach Patrick Roy (8).​

Hot links

• It sounds like the chances of Steven Stamkos re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning are decreasing by the day.

• Here’s an excellent catch-up piece on all the efforts to bring hockey to Las Vegas. The more I see of this rink, the more it looks like it will be the best in the league.

Draft, salary cap complications slow NHL expansion talks

• Take a look back at the worst loss in NHL history.  And maybe someone can explain what “rewange” means.

• Ryan Kennedy conducts the insane but fascinating experiment of building a Canadian World Junior team without using CHL players.

•​ Evander Kane is a good guy. So much stuff like this goes on quietly behind the scenes. Always nice when we get a little hint of it. And we’re pulling for you too, Kylee!

• Was this old Montreal Gazette piece the true first usage of the term Three Stars?

• Jeremy Roenick says that if Team USA wants to be successful in the upcoming 2106 World Cup of Hockey, it needs to play like the Blue Jackets. I‘m not even kidding.

• Some changes are coming to the NHL’s approach to player safety.

• Here’s the latest on the imminent battle between the NHL and NHLPA over the rules of a potential expansion draft.

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