By Garrett Perry and Curtis Ng
Streaks are the name of the game in tonight’s NHL action. Can the Isles end their drought and can the Jackets extend their opposing shooters’ drought?
Dire straits for the Isles
It’s been more than three weeks since the New York Islanders won a game. It was Nov. 16, when they beat the Red Wings 5-4 at the Nassau Coliseum. Since then, they’ve gone 0-7-2. Only two of those losses came against teams currently out of a playoff spot – 5-2 to the Flyers and 3-2 to the Jets – but to only earn two of a possible 18 points is unacceptable. John Tavares has gone two straight games without recording a point for the first time this season. Frans Nielsen, who had 21 points in his first 19 games, has recorded just two in his past 11. Kyle Okposo has eight goals and 26 points in 30 games, but is streaky. The Isles allow a league-worst 3.40 goals per game and own the worst penalty kill at 71.6 percent. Their playoff chances sit at 0.5 percent. After making the post-season last year for the first time since 2006-07 and also putting up a fight against the stacked Penguins, it looks like the Islanders are taking a massive step backward this year. Including tonight, they’ve got 52 games to somehow turn it around. Life doesn’t get any easier with them playing tonight in Anaheim, where the Ducks are 10-0-2 so far this season.
The Hurricanes look to extend their winning steak to four games tonight, but will have to do it in Vancouver, where they haven’t won in more than 14 years. This is the second of two contests between the Hurricanes and Canucks this year and Carolina hasn’t lost since losing to Vancouver on home ice 3-2 on Dec. 1. During their current streak, the Hurricanes have recorded at least four goals in each contest. Leading the charge for them are team captain Eric Staal and young left winger Jeff Skinner, as Staal has a four-game point streak and Skinner has six goals and one assist in his last five games. They will be up against an equally hot Vancouver Canucks team, who enter tonight’s matchup as winners of four in a row.
No ‘Bob,’ no prob!
The Columbus Blue Jackets hold 137 minutes and 45 seconds of shutout hockey heading into tonight’s matchup against the offensively potent Pittsburgh Penguins. In his first start since Sergei Bobrovsky went down with a groin strain, Curtis McElhinney turned away all 20 shots he faced en route to a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Friday. The backup also stopped eight shots in relief of the injured Bobrovsky, securing the 1-0 shutout victory over the Lightning on Tuesday. The last time the Blue Jackets recorded back-to-back shutouts was November 2010. McElhinney’s performance so far is good news for the Jackets, as the team has placed Bobrovsky on injured reserve, expecting him to miss four to six weeks. The Blue Jackets franchise record for time without a goal allowed is 199:19, set by Steve Mason back in 2009, so a shutout tonight would bring them close to that mark.
Flyers’ playoff hopes take a hit
The Philadelphia Flyers had a horrible start to the season, with only three wins in October. After they hit rock bottom Nov. 1 with a 7-0 loss to the Capitals – at home, no less – they put together a couple win streaks to pull themselves within respectability. According to sportsclubstats.com, their chances of making the playoffs right now is 25.1 percent. However, those odds may get worse because yesterday, the team announced Vincent Lecavalier will be out three to four weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his lower back. He had already missed three games with what was called back spasms. Lecavalier is tied with Matt Read for first on the team with nine goals and tied for third with 14 points.
Offense comes easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference with 3.03 goals per game. They also lead the league in power play efficiency at 26.6 percent. It helps when you have two of the NHL’s biggest stars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on your team. The two are currently in first and second in league scoring and have already combined for 79 points on the year. Aside from them, the Penguins have been getting great secondary scoring from the likes of Chris Kunitz (17 goals, 31 points) and James Neal (10 goals, 20 points). The bad news for the Pens is they could be without Malkin, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and Neal has been suspended five games for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head.