By Josh Elliott, Gareth Bush and Brian O’Neill
With two afternoon games already done (or almost done) today’s five things gets you prepared for the games ahead tonight. From the Flames looking to rebound to the Stars trying to get back on track in 2014, here is what to keep an eye on this evening.
You’ve probably already heard about or watched the line brawl that broke out on Saturday night between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks off the opening faceoff. What you might not have seen was the amount of minutes that some of the players had to take on because of the eight ejections that resulted from the fights. Flames defensemen Dennis Wideman (38:05), T.J. Brodie (35:42), Mark Giordano (33:32) and Shane O’Brien (21:26) all played a much heavier workload than they’re used to and haven’t had much time to recover. Calgary has flown down to San Jose to take on the Sharks and will understandably be exhausted despite getting their bottom defense pairing back for tonight’s matchup.
Force of Nature
That Sidney Crosby’s a pretty good player, right? Like, pretty amazingly good. With Crosby, there’s no more debate: he’s the best player in the world and that’s that. The recently named captain for Team Canada is a mile ahead in the scoring race, with 68 points and a 10-point lead over second place Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares. He’s near the top of the charts in goals (third) and assists (second) and he collects points by the bucket load. Crosby has points in 39 of his 48 games this season and his longest pointless streak was a two-game dry spell back in November. Watch for this Captain Canada to flourish under the added pressure of leading his country. Florida Panthers beware: this force of nature is coming for you tonight.
‘D’ is for Desperate
The Dallas Stars are in a bad way. Since the calendar flipped over to 2014, Dallas has just three points in nine games. Even the struggling Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have fared better than the Stars so far this year and while those teams are still way back in the standings, Dallas has slipped to 10th in the West and has Nashville and Winnipeg just a point back. The Stars will be dreaming of opening up some space tonight as they visit Nashville for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day game. After that, it’s back to Dallas for a five-game home stand. If the Stars don’t start stringing wins together in a hurry against beatable rivals like the Preds, the post-season will become nothing more than a pipedream in ‘Big D.’
Face of the Leafs
Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk has been the face of the team since the turn of the New Year. Apart from his taunting of P.K. Subban on Saturday night, JVR has been a big reason why the team has won four straight after losing four in a row prior to this run. The Middletown, N.J., product has nine points in his past 10 games and 29 shots on goal in his past five. Anyone know what Luke Schenn is up to these days? The Leafs continue their drive for a wild card spot – or according to Nazem Kadri, the division title – tonight against the Coyotes, who have dropped six of their past nine.
Take These Broken Wings
Despite currently having a losing home record and what seems like an entire roster of injuries, the Detroit Red Wings are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit will be missing centers Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson, left winger Johan Franzen, right winger Daniel Alfredsson, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. With so many injuries, it’s not the best timing for their first game against former Central Division rival St. Louis. The bright spot for the Wings is that the Blues have lost three of their past four. With tough upcoming home games against the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, the Wings may need a couple more lucky bounces like the one they got against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.