Five things to watch: Anaheim Ducks the NHL’s hotest team; Winter Classic warmup

Bryan Mcwilliam
Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils

The Ducks hope to continue to soar, while a preview of the Winter Classic takes place and the Jackets welcome back two of their top stars. THN gives you our five things to watch on a busy Saturday night as ‘Ovie’ tries to avoid a hangover.

Ducks flying high
The Anaheim Ducks are the hottest team in hockey, winning seven straight and still not having lost a game in regulation at home. However, the Ducks have played more road games than any other team in the NHL and are beatable when they fly their coop having lost seven games on the road. The good news is they’re playing the dreadful New York Islanders. The Isles did manage to secure a win over the Rangers last night, but the team can’t even secure a winning record at home and have only two wins under their belts in their past nine games. The big news in this one is that if the Ducks come out on top, the victory will secure a new season-high win streak, besting their seven game tear from Oct. 5-20.

Warmup act
The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Detroit Red Wings tonight at the Air Canada Centre in a preview of the 2014 Winter Classic, which is set to take place in 11 days at Michigan Stadium. Both teams have struggled in their last ten games – a combined seven wins in 20 games – and both have come down with the injury bug, so don’t expect to see Jimmy Howard, Henrik Zetterberg or Tyler Bozak in this one. Jonathan Bernier is day-to-day with a lower body injury, so James Reimer should be in net for the blue and white. Despite the injuries on both sides, the rivalry should make for an entertaining game as the two squads continue to fight to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Olympic watch
With the Sochi Games a couple months away, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith stands near the front of the line for a spot aboard the Canadian Olympic hockey team. Carey Price and Roberto Luongo should earn the roles of starter and back-up respectively, while Corey Crawford’s injury will most likely take him out of the running, so it’s a battle between Smith and Braden Holtby of the Capitals for the third string spot that remains intriguing. The roster deadline is just a few weeks away and Smith has outplayed Holtby thus far, keeping his team’s hopes alive in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Yotes take on a struggling Sens team tonight in Ottawa. Smith, who has only allowed five goals in his last three starts, will get the start.

Avoid the hangover
Alex Ovechkin netted his 400th goal on Friday against the Hurricanes and looks to take his first step towards 500 tonight against the Devils. Ovechkin leads the league in goals with 29 and doesn’t look to be slowing down at all this season, but dry spells have hit Washington’s captain before. The last thing the Caps want to see is a 400 goal hangover hit their star forward, as they try to hold onto a playoff spot in an abysmal Metropolitan Division, where their 41 points currently give them the second place spot.

Returning a jacket
The Columbus Blue Jackets had an awful night in Philly on Thursday, blowing a three goal lead, losing to the Flyers 5-4. The Jackets allowed five goals in the third period and watched Claude Giroux put them out of their misery with his 100th career goal for the game-winner. The second game of the home-and-home is tonight and the Jackets will welcome back two of their top stars in forward Marian Gaborik and defenseman James Wisniewski. Gaborik, who has not played since Nov. 14 due to a knee injury, is one of Columbus’ top scoring threats and should provide the team with a much-needed offensive spark. The team currently ranks 19th in the league in scoring. Wisniewski should also help tighten up a defensive core that currently ranks 17th in goals allowed and 16th in shots allowed.