By Gareth Bush & Brian O’Neill
It’s a busy Thursday night on the NHL schedule, so we get you prepared with our game day preview. Our five things to watch today include hot Olympians, the Canucks looking for a bounce back and Ben Scriven’s first start with the Oilers.
From sunny L.A. to wintery Edmonton
It’s not hard to feel sympathetic towards Ben Scrivens. He’s gone from living in sunny Los Angeles playing behind a stellar L.A. Kings defensive system, to an Edmonton franchise that continually sits at the bottom of the Western Conference. On the bright side, Scrivens has found himself a starting job with the Oilers. Ilya Bryzgalov will battle him for starts down the stretch, but Scrivens is expected to take the reins. As a pending UFA, Scrivens has the chance to play himself into a hefty contract with an Oilers team that is starved for a long-term fix in goal. His first start with his new team is tonight in Minnesota.
The Vancouver Canucks didn’t exactly bring their “A” game in Anaheim last night, where there were blown out 9-1 by a Ducks team that improved to 20-0-2 at home this season. The matchup was a letdown for hockey fans outside of Anaheim, as many believed the Canucks could have pushed Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and company to their limit and potentially delivered their first home regulation loss. The Nucks hope to rebound tonight in Phoenix against the Coyotes, who have dropped four straight games. Vancouver won’t have Roberto Luongo or Alex Burrows back in the lineup yet, but both are expected to return on Saturday. The egos of Canucks players are certainly damaged after losing the way they did to the rival Ducks, so watch out for the Canucks as they look for redemption.
Lightning in a bottle
If you haven’t been paying attention, you might not have noticed that Tampa Bay’s Matt Carle has statistically been the best defenseman in the league over the past two weeks. After starting the season with 14 points and a plus-6 rating over the first 39 games, Carle has put up nine points in his past eight with a league-best plus-10 rating. He also set a franchise record with a plus-6 performance against Philadelphia on Saturday. The Lightning host the streaking New York Islanders tonight. Keep watch to see how long Carle keeps up this torrid pace.
That flame you smell burning is not the Olympic torch, it’s four Olympians whose games have caught fire as of late. Since returning from a lower-body injury that kept Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (USA) out since Nov. 12, he has gone 3-1-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. Kings right winger Jeff Carter (Canada) has led the way offensively with 17 points in his past 16 games, while center Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) is on a three-game point streak and has nine points in his past 11. St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been making a case to Team Canada for big-time minutes in Sochi by scoring nine points in his past six games and has a plus-16 rating this season, 10th in the league.
The Toronto Maple Leafs must be missing left winger Clarke MacArthur just a little bit as he sits fourth on the Ottawa Senators with 34 points. In his past six games, MacArthur has lit the lamp five times. He has been getting support from linemate Kyle Turris who is also catching fire, scoring in his past three games and putting up nine points in his past 10. The Senators’ recent offensive burst has led them to turn around their horrid start and go 7-1-2 in their past 10. Since Dec. 9, the Senators have gone 10-4-3 and are currently one point out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Montreal Canadiens have been in a bit of a slump lately, failing to win back-to-back games since Christmas. A win over Montreal tonight would move the Senators to within five points of the Canadiens.