By Garrett Perry, Josh Elliott and Curtis Ng
With a relatively light three-game schedule up Friday night, we get you prepared with our five things to watch. From Chris Kunitz fighting for an Olympic spot, to Nicklas Backstrom living under Alex Ovechkin’s shadow, and more.
Robin to his Batman
Ovechkin scores four goals, Capitals edge Lightning – the headlines read Tuesday night. And while Ovie’s four-goal night, which included an equalizer with 32.4 seconds left in regulation, stole the headlines, it was the unheralded play of Nicklas Backstrom that ultimately contributed to the Caps victory. The dynamic Swedish pivot notched five points, setting up all four of Ovechkin’s goals, while adding one of his own. But that’s life living in the shadow of one of the NHL’s more prominent figures, sometimes you take a (pardon the pun) Back-seat. With Ovechkin currently leading the NHL with 26 goals, four more than St. Louis’ Alex Steen, one might expect Ovie to be a lightning rod for attention. That and the fact the Olympics are being played in Sochi, Russia this year. But, what if there was no Backstrom in Ovechkin’s game? It’s interesting to note that of Ovechkin’s league leading 26 goals this season, Backstrom has assisted on 16 of them, a clear indication of his value to Ovie’s success. And with seven goals and 32 points this year, Backstrom is no slouch, heck, he could be an offensive superstar for more then a few franchises in this league. So, the next time you see a headline, you might want to look a little deeper into the stats to reveal the game’s true story.
Don’t cry for me, Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers have three former first overall picks and Jordan Eberle playing for them, and yet it is another former first-rounder, David Perron, acquired via trade, who is their best player right now. Eberle leads the team with 28 points in 33 games, but Perron is right behind him with 27 in 29. Taylor Hall has 27 in 26. Among Oilers who have played at least 10 games this season, Perron is third with an even plus-minus rating – Ryan Jones and Luke Gazdic are both plus-1. Eberle is a minus-4, Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Hemsky are all minus-10, while Nail Yakupov is a horrific minus-20. Perron had the only two Oilers goals in a 4-2 loss to Boston yesterday and prior to that, had four goals and seven points in six games. Tonight, the Oilers are in Vancouver to face the Canucks, who they are historically good against, with a 110-78-19-10 record all-time, including 3-1-1 during the 2012-13 season. The Canucks did, however, win their first meeting this season by a score of 6-2.
Sympathy for the Devils
New Jersey’s defensemen have had a devil of a time staying healthy this season. Of the nine players to patrol the New Jersey blueline this year, only Andy Greene has played all 32 games. Marek Zidlicky is next on the list with 31 appearances, but after that, no defenseman has played more than 24 games. Captain Bryce Salvador has been out since Oct. 24 with a stress fracture in his foot. He’s started skating with the team, but remains on the IR along with Peter Harrold and 2011 fourth overall pick Adam Larsson. Veteran Anton Volchenkov left Tuesday’s game with a back injury, but skated in practice Thursday.
Tim Thomas has been hot lately, starting 15 of the past 16 games and allowing two or fewer goals in his three straight wins. But he’s also had his share of injuries and, after leaving practice early Thursday, the Panthers were worried enough to call up Jacob Markstrom from San Antonio for tonight’s game. If Thomas can’t go, Markstrom or Scott Clemmensen will get the nod. Clemmensen was in net for the last game against the Capitals, a 3-2 shootout loss Nov. 2.
More than meets the eye
Life as a Penguin is pretty good for Chris Kunitz, especially when playing the wing on a line with Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the game. But the undrafted forward hopes life gets even better with a spot on Canada’s Olympic team in Sochi this year. The gritty Regina native currently has 17 goals and 31 points on the year, good for 12th in the league. People seem surprised when he is mentioned in Olympic discussion, believing that his familiarity playing with Crosby isn’t enough to capture him a spot on the squad. Those folks need to reevaluate their perception of him. Last year, he finished seventh in the league with 52 points (22 G, 30 A) in just 48 games. As well, he is currently riding a streak of six goals in the past six games, which have him hanging around some pretty impressive names atop the goal scoring leaders. Expect an inspired effort from him tonight against the New Jersey Devils, as he keeps trying to improve his Olympic stock.