Five things to watch: Western Canada feeling the pain

The Hockey News
oilerscanucks-461385773

By Josh Elliott, Gareth Bush and Brian O’Neill
The NHL has 10 games on the schedule tonight and we get you prepared with our five things to watch. From the Western Canadian teams struggling, to a Subway Series showdown, we preview the night ahead.

Pacific Fallout
The Pacific Division is a wacky place these days. Its three California-based teams are among the league’s best, while the dunce cap has been getting passed around western Canada an awful lot this last week. Calgary and Vancouver shared it Saturday for their Hockey Day in Canada line brawl and Canucks coach John Tortorella’s ensuing why-I-oughta act outside the Flames dressing room. The Canucks were the dunces again Monday when the league handed Tortorella a six-game suspension, which starts tonight. Not to be outdone, Oilers owner Daryl Katz reminded everyone his team is the most moribund franchise in the west by writing an open letter to fans yesterday pleading with them to hang in there. Tonight, the Canucks will arrive in the “City of Champions” with just two wins in their past 10, minus their head coach and their leading scorer, the injured Henrik Sedin. And Edmonton? They’re still Edmonton.

Subway Showdown
The Rangers and Islanders face off for the third time this season tonight at Madison Square Garden. Yes, they play five times this season so the matchup isn’t exactly a rare one, but considering this is one of the fiercest rivalries in hockey and that both teams have won seven of their past 10 games, tonight’s game is a can’t-miss tilt. The teams have split their first two meetings this season and will play again Jan. 29 at Yankee Stadium. John Tavares and Kyle Okposo have been money for the Isles all season long, but the Rangers are only just starting to get their star players to click simultaneously, as Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist have played more like their usual selves of late.

Power Rangers
It’s morphing time. After a slow start to the season, Nash and Lundqvist have begun to turn things around and the Rangers are playing quality hockey because of it, going 11-3-1 in their past 15. Nash has seven goals in his past eight games, doubling his goal total on the year. It took Nash 22 games to get his first seven goals. In a 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals Sunday, Nash scored his first of two goals on his first shift. Lundqvist hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his past six starts and is 4-1-0 in his past five. The Rangers are second in the Metropolitan Division, 13 points behind Pittsburgh, but with continued strong play by the Blueshirts’ top stars, they could close that gap.

Texas-sized Slump
Things are always bigger in Texas and that includes the Dallas Stars’ current funk. After closing out 2013 with a 5-0-2 record, the Stars have fallen and picked up only three points out of a possible 20, going 1-8-1 in their past 10 games. Their only win of 2014? That came against the Edmonton Oilers, the team with the worst record in the league. Dallas sits fifth in the Central Division and is 11 points behind tonight’s opponent, the Minnesota Wild. Despite all their injury woes, the Wild have been playing consistently solid hockey and could get left winger Zach Parise back from a foot injury this week. One positive the Stars can look at is that their next five games are at home, where they are 10-8-5.

Help Is On The Way
Well, it’s not like they need him, but the Colorado Avalanche will be getting P-A Parenteau back in the lineup tonight against the Maple Leafs. He’s been out of the lineup since injuring his knee in a game against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 29. Parenteau wasn’t expected to return for at least another two weeks, but the 30-year-old is expected to play on the fourth line with Patrick Bordeleau and Marc-Andre Cliché in his first game back. He has nine goals and 15 assists in 38 games. Meanwhile, the Avalanche have gone 8-1-1 in his absence, sitting at fifth in the Western Conference. Keep watch for P.A.P., as we’ll find out if coming back this early was a wise decision.