Five things to watch: Del Zotto begins anew with Nashville

The Hockey News
Michael Del Zotto

By Josh Elliott, Brian O’Neill and Gareth Bush
Michael Del Zotto plays his first game as a Preator, the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets look to keep separating from the other wild card contenders and more in today’s five things to watch, a preview of the 10 NHL games on tap Thursday.

A Fresh Face
Having been acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for Kevin Klein yesterday, Michael Del Zotto will make his debut with the Nashville Predators tonight. MDZ has posted 11 points in 42 games this season, a sharp decline from the 21 he tallied over 46 games last season. He fell out of favor with coach Alain Vigneault and had long been the subject of trade rumors, before being dealt yesterday. This could be the fresh start that Del Zotto needs and if all goes well he could stabilize a Predators defense that ranks among the league’s best. The Preds head into Vancouver where the Canucks are beginning a four-game homestand.      

We’re Going Streaking
It’s feel good time for the wild card kids. Toronto and Columbus, the East’s two wild card teams at the moment, are making a bid to separate themselves from the pack and vault into the history books. Toronto has won six straight and jumped back into playoff contention after a dreadful December. A win against Dallas tonight would give them seven in a row, which they haven’t done since before the first lockout. Not to be outdone, Columbus is already at seven straight and will look to add to its franchise-best run with No. 8 against the Flyers tonight. The Blue Jackets are scoring by committee and have outpaced opponents 30-15 over their current run, while Philadelphia arrives in Ohio for the second of back-to-back games. With the Olympics right around the corner and the home stretch after that, these teams are going to want to bank as many points as they can.

Jet Fuel
We’ve seen it before and we’re seeing it again: sometimes a coaching change is all a team needs to kick it into the next gear and that’s what’s happening in Winnipeg. The Jets certainly aren’t going to hit Mach 1 (read: playoffs) this year, but newcomer Paul Maurice has injected a sense of life and urgency into his squad that was sorely lacking under outgoing Claude Noel. The Jets have won four straight since Maurice took over, including a 3-2 victory in Anaheim to snap the Ducks’ incredible home winning streak at 22 games. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 40 shots in that contest and has allowed no more than two goals a game since Maurice arrived. Pavelec and the Jets will need to be at their best against San Jose, who are on a four-game run of their own.

Rock You Like a Hurricane
It seems right that a team called the Hurricanes would have two games postponed this year due to storms. Now the team is generating a little storm of its own, going 7-3-0 in its past 10 games. Hurricanes right winger Alexander Semin, who was just added to the Russian Olympic squad on Tuesday, has four goals in his past three games. The Hurricanes have thrived on winning close ones this year, posting a record of 15-3-9 in one-goal games. The Buffalo Sabres, not so much. The Sabres have dropped their past four games by the same score: 4-3. This one looks to be another tight one.

California Love
Two SoCal rivals will match up for the second time this season, as the Los Angeles Kings are next in line to try to slay the dragon that is the Anaheim Ducks at home. L.A. has been struggling lately, losing their past three and 10 of their past 14. The Ducks have lost two of their past three, but that’s about as big a slump as the Ducks have endured this season, boasting a 20-1-2 record at home. Even though the Ducks’ winning streak ta home just ended, the Kings still have a massive challenge ahead of them. This is also the last time they play each other before facing off in the highly anticipated outdoor game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.