By Josh Elliott, Brian O’Neill and Gareth Bush
It’s a busy 11-game schedule in the NHL tonight and we get you prepared with our five things to watch. Will this be Martin Brodeur’s last start in his native Montreal?
Brodeur’s Au Revoir?
Tonight could be the last time Martin Brodeur laces up the skates to play in his hometown of Montreal. The 41-year-old netminder has not said whether he will retire at the end of the season, but it may be time as he is in the final year of his contract. Brodeur has had tremendous success in Montreal. He has posted a 1.66 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and a record of 19-9-1. Cory Schneider started the past three games for the Devils, winning two of them, but this is Brodeur’s night. Regardless of the outcome, it will be bittersweet for the league’s all-time shutout and wins leader.
Big Ben Back on Broadway
It wasn’t a very long layoff – four games and most of a fifth – but Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop is ready to return to the net. Bishop suffered a wrist injury early in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 5 and hasn’t played since, though he did dress as a backup in last night’s tilt against the Blue Jackets. The Lightning went 2-3-0 in his absence, so they’ll be happy to have the 6-foot-7 standout back in the lineup. Bishop’s numbers have been otherworldly this year. He leads the league with a .935 save percentage and sits second in goals-against average (1.86) and shutouts (four). Watch for Bishop to make Team USA regret its decision to leave him off the roster as he enters the second half of a Vezina-worthy season.
The Isles Have It
Maybe you’ve seen that McDonald’s egg McMuffin commercial. You know, the one where everyone says “Seriously?” Well, people are saying the same thing when they look at the New York Islanders’ record these days. The Isles are – wait for it – 7-3-0 in their past 10 games. It’s a shocking turnaround for a team that couldn’t win a scrimmage in late November and early December, when they suffered through a 10-game winless streak. Now, despite an injury to starter Evgeni Nabokov – because this wouldn’t be the Isles if they didn’t have an injured goalie – New York is one of the hottest teams in the East. Captain John Tavares has essentially put the team on his back through this streak, with eight goals and 18 points through the past 10 games. Florida better watch out tonight, because the Islanders are playing great. Seriously.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ defensemen have been taking a lot of heat in the past few months for inconsistent play and deservedly so. But you can’t fault them for not trying. Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson have been throwing their weight around considerably in their recent string of games, with both placing in the top three in the NHL in hits over the past week. Franson has been especially physical, making 30 hits in the past two weeks, second only to Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. The Leafs head into Boston tonight, so Phaneuf, Franson and company will need to continue their physical play to give themselves a chance to beat the rough and tough Bruins in their own barn.
Shut the Front Door
Ken Hitchcock’s two-way defensive system is so effective that even the average fan could probably post a plus-.900 save percentage over the span of a full season with the Blues. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have been a brilliant tandem thus far, with Elliott posting a 1.87 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Halak’s played nine more games than Elliott and has a 2.31 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Hitchcock has always split starts with his Blues backstoppers, but you have to think that Halak fears Elliott will begin getting the brunt of the starts from now on given the numbers he’s been putting up. Coming off a 5-0 shutout against Calgary last Thursday, Halak gets the call tonight against a tired Phoenix Coyotes squad that was blown out by the Winnipeg Jets last night. However, that was Halak’s only start in the past seven games, so watch for him to keep focused.