By Josh Elliott and Gareth Bush
Johnny on an Island
Whether the New York Islanders are hot or cold – and they’ve been mostly cold – Captain Islander John Tavares has been a bright spot for the team all season. Perhaps in a bid to make the stacked Canadian Olympic team, Tavares has been lighting it up offensively for the Isles, with four goals and eight points in his past five games. He’s also led his oft-struggling squad to wins in three of its past four games. Tavares has been remarkably consistent this year, as he’s been held off the scoresheet only seven times in 42 games and has 17 goals and 46 points to this point.
Bobbing in the Big Apple
After playing backup in the Blue Jackets’ last game against St. Louis, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will be back between the posts tonight for Columbus. Bobrovsky’s numbers have come back to Earth somewhat this year with a .909 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average – a big drop from his Vezina-winning .932 save percentage and 2.00 GAA last season. The Jackets are 10-11-2 with ‘Goalie Bob’ in the lineup, but since losing him to a groin injury part way through a game Dec. 3, they’ve gone 8-6-1 and kept pace with the rest of the Metropolitan Division. Tonight, they’ll look for Bobrovsky to boost them to within two points of the Rangers with a win in New York.
Columbus will need the goaltending help, as they’ll be facing a Rangers team fresh off a 7-1 bulldozing of the Toronto Maple Leafs Jan. 4. The Rangers saw 15 of its 18 skaters record points in that game, while every player had at least a shot on goal. Brad Richards, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore all snapped lengthy goal-scoring droughts in the win. Columbus, meanwhile, surrendered six goals in its last game. Tonight will tell whether the Toronto game was an aberration or the start of something big in NYC.
Flames Offense Extinguished
Suggesting that the Calgary Flames offense is struggling would be a major understatement. Ranked second-last in goals scored halfway through the season, the Flames enter tonight’s matchup having scored only once in the past four games. Reto Berra and Karri Ramo have played well, allowing more than two goals only once over that span, but the team’s forwards have done little to reward them. They enter tonight’s matchup against the Colorado Avalanche with a glimpse of hope, as Avs goaltender J.S. Giguere allowed seven goals in his previous outing against the Blackhawks.
Rookie On The Prowl
While the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and now-injured Tomas Hertl have received the most attention with regards to the Calder Trophy, Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov is well on his way to becoming a frontrunner for the award. He sits ninth in rookie scoring with 21 points halfway through the season, but has tallied 11 points in his past 11 games. Centering the first line alongside Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim, Barkov is being given ample opportunity to excel in his rookie season. The Panthers take on the Canadiens at the Bell Centre tonight in Montreal and will attempt to expose a Habs defense that has allowed more than four goals per game since Christmas.