Game Day Preview: Blood feuds

The Hockey News
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By Nicholas Carafa, Garrett Perry and Curtis Ng

There are 10 games on the docket tonight, headlined by a Toronto-Buffalo tilt that will not only be Ted Nolan’s first back behind the Sabres bench, but also the first game between the two teams since the Kessel-Scott incident in the pre-season.

MAPLE LEAFS (11-6-1) at SABRES (4-15-1)
Is everyone ready for the John Scott-Phil Kessel rematch? The Leafs are probably more concerned about ending this three-game road trip on a good note after dropping the first two contests in Vancouver and Minnesota. They’ll be in Buffalo for Ted Nolan’s debut behind the Sabres’ bench after Ron Rolston was relieved of his coaching duties this past Wednesday. The Leafs are having trouble scoring as of late, maybe because of the absence of Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland, but the last time the Buds scored more than one goal in a game was two weeks ago in Calgary. Over the past seven games, realistically, all they would need is two – Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have a combined 1.54 GAA in their last seven contests. Just saying.

The Leafs’ lack of a No. 1 center has always been the talk of the town. Now with Nazem Kadri serving the first game of a three-game suspension, the Leafs’ are going to be without their top-three centers. (National Post)

As Ted Nolan is about to begin his second stint with the Buffalo Sabres, he brings an unmistakable buzz in the dressing room that had been absent for a while. (Buffalo News)

Player to Watch: Cody Hodgson. Since Matt Moulson came over from Long Island, it has seemed to bring an extra step into Hodgson’s game. The Toronto native has registered six points in the seven games Moulson has been with the team. Now if only he can keep this up and the Sabres can re-sign Moulson in the off-season, then the Sabres would be on their way back to respectability.

KINGS (12-6-1) at DEVILS (6-7-5)
The last time these two teams met in 2012, the Los Angeles Kings scored three times on a five-minute power play to secure the Stanley Cup. Fast-forward two seasons later and the Kings no longer have the services of Jonathan Bernier to back up Jonathan Quick, who is out with a Grade 2 groin sprain. That job now belongs to Ben Scrivens who, in six games this season, has accumulated a .911 SP and a 1.92 GAA. He’ll have to deal with the Devils’ ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team with 14 points.

If you have ever been to a game to see Jagr play, you might not have noticed that he stands by himself along the boards during the national anthem. At 41, Jagr is still superstitious and isn’t going to change his ways now. (NJ.com)

Of the past seven Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings are one of the five Western Conference teams to hoist Lord Stanley. Has the West really been that dominant as of late? You better believe it. (LA Times)

Player to Watch: Anze Kopitar. Kopitar may be one of Slovenia’s studs once Sochi comes around, but right now, Kopitar is exactly who the Kings envisioned when they drafted him 11th overall back in 2005. He has led the team in scoring every year except for his first two years in the league. He’s leading them again right now, with 18 points in 19 games.

PREDATORS (8-8-2) at PENGUINS (11-7-0)
The Nashville Predators will be finishing up a seven-game road trip when they visit the Consol Energy Center Friday night that has seen them go 2-3-1. The Penguins enjoyed their hot start to the season, but have now started to fall back to Earth. They’ve gone 4-6 in their past 10 games and have seen their lead in the Metropolitan Division hanging by a one-point thread over the Washington Capitals.

How long has the Predators’ road trip been? They’ve had a guy suffer a concussion and return, while also have a player return after his wife has given birth. Thanks Country Music Awards. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in seven games heading into Wednesday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers. Meanwhile Evgeni Malkin hasn’t lit the lamp in 10 games. Are they getting worried? Nope. (Post-Gazette)

CAPITALS (10-8-1) at RED WINGS (9-5-5)
The Detroit Red Wings have lost eight of their last 11 games and have slipped into the fourth-place wildcard spot in the Atlantic Division. The Washington Capitals on the other hand are looking to take over first in the Metropolitan with a win at the Joe tonight. The Wings have lost their past six games at Joe Louis Arena, their worst slump since 1996-97. Wasn’t the move to the Eastern Conference supposed to help the Wings? Five of the six losses have come in shootout, so that softens the blow just a tad. The Wings better not take this game to shootout, the Capitals are tied for a league-best four wins in the skills competition thanks to the offensive arsenal Adam Oates has at his disposal.

Mike Babcock has a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal on his resume. Now he’s about to add a law degree from McGill University to the list. Pretty impressive coach. (Detroit Free Press)

Joel Ward is enjoying his best season as a Washington Captial. The former Pred has nine goals on the year, only second to Ovi’s 14. (Washington Post)

Player To Watch: Mikhail Grabovski. He has been heating up again of late, scoring seven points in seven games. He now has 17 points in 19 games – a production necessary to make up for the loss of Mike Ribeiro last off-season.

DUCKS (15-5-1) at HURRICANES (7-7-4)
The Anaheim Ducks are a mediocre 4-4-1 against the Atlantic Division, but they’re a perfect 4-0-0 against the Carolina Hurricanes’ Metropolitan Division. Carolina is 1-3-3 against the Western Conference, though most Eastern teams sport a similarly bad record against the West as well. The Ducks got steamrolled 5-1 yesterday by the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and lost 3-2 in Florida on Tuesday. They are looking to avoid losing three straight for the first time this season. The Canes have a nice little point streak going, earning seven of a possible eight over the past four games. They’ve got a heck of a week coming up, however, starting with the St. Louis Blues tomorrow to go along with a couple dates with Boston and another with Detroit. Remarkably, no Cane has more than four goals or nine points through 18 games played.

Jeff Skinner is a maybe for tonight’s game while Cam Ward appears to be healthy enough to backup Justin Peters. (Raleigh News and Observer)

The Ducks made a few roster moves on Thursday, most notably, sending Frederik Andersen, one of the hottest goalies in the league this year, to the Norfolk Admirals and recalling Viktor Fasth from his conditioning assignment there. (NHL.com)

Player to Watch: Ryan Getzlaf, assuming he plays. If not, watch the Ducks’ goalie. Getzlaf has six points in his last two games, including a hat trick on Nov. 8 against Buffalo. With regard to the goalies, did you know that Andersen’s save percentage is 45 points higher than Hiller’s and 66 points better than Fasth’s?

CANADIENS (9-8-2) at BLUE JACKETS (6-10-2)
This is the first of a six-game series against Canadian teams for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the only one at Nationwide Arena. These are two teams struggling mightily, with just a win each this month, both coincidentally coming against the slumping New York Islanders. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been consistent, but neither has his team, and they haven’t announced who will get the call tonight. Meanwhile, Peter Budaj gets a rare start tonight to allow Carey Price to be rested for tomorrow’s game against the Rangers. Goaltending has been a bright spot for the Canadiens this season, with Price sporting a .933 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average. Montreal is allowing just 2.10 goals per game, good for fourth in the league.

After a breakthrough season of sorts for the Jackets, this year could represent a step backward. Apparently, pending UFA Marian Gaborik could be gone before the end of the year if he and his team continue playing below their capabilities. (The Fourth Period)

The Canadiens have some bodies returning to the lineup. George Parros has been a healthy scratch for the past couple games, but is available to play tonight. Alexei Emelin and Brandon Prust made the trip to Columbus as well, but are day-to-day. (Montreal Gazette)

Player to Watch: P.K. Subban, because why not? He was pointless in Tuesday’s game against the Bolts, but so was most of his team. Prior to that game, he had a goal and six points in his last five games.

BRUINS (12-5-1) at SENATORS (7-7-4)
This is the first of four meetings this season between these old Northeast Division rivals. The Bruins won four straight against the Senators last season before dropping the final game of the season to them by a score of 4-2. Boston is currently on a four-game winning streak. This is game four of a five-game home stand for the Sens. They were embarrassed 5-0 on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Flyers, but they did win three straight prior to that. While Ottawa has four players with 16 points or more, Boston has been winning games with excellent goaltending and solid fundamentals. They have the fifth-best penalty kill in the league and are allowing about 1.20 goals a game less than the Senators. Ottawa is tied with Buffalo for worst in the league with 36.9 shots against per game.

The line of Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris has been reliable for the Sens, but that of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Cory Conacher needs to get going tonight. Michalek had 35 goals in 2011-12, but is on pace for about 14 right now. Conacher has a pair of goals and an assist in 18 games. (Senators Extra)

Not sure if Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson will get the start for Ottawa, but Tuukka Rask will start tonight after Chad Johnson earned the win yesterday against Columbus. Adam McQuaid is still out with an undisclosed injury and doesn’t appear to be joining the B’s at any point during their three-game road trip. (Boston.com)

Player to Watch: Torey Krug. The 22-year-old defenseman was impressive in last season’s playoffs and continues to be this season. He is on a five-game point streak, registering two goals and five points during that span.

FLYERS (7-10-1) at JETS (9-9-2)
This is the first of two meetings between these teams this month, as the Flyers glide into the MTS Centre. Last season saw the Flyers take the best of three series 2-1, but the Jets head in to tonight’s affair winners of three straight at home.  Both teams are currently riding three-game win streaks, and are looking to makeup ground in their respective divisions. For the Jets, their streak has them sitting with a .500 record, while the Flyers are only three points out of third place in the Metropolitan division despite their early season struggles. The Jets special teams will have to be a lot better if they hope to continue their winning ways, as they are 1-for-47 in their last 15 games on the power play and have allowed four goals on their last 10 penalty kills.

Flyers head coach was happy with his teams performance Wednesday night, saying, “I like the fact that we grinded the win out.” (USA Today)

“We’ve got to keep growing and moving,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said following the teams 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings. (Winnipeg Sun)

Player to Watch: Brayden Schenn. The dynamic Flyers pivot, who leads the team in scoring, has three goals and two assists while riding a three-game point streak. He had two goals, including the game winner, in a nail-biting 2-1 win against the Penguins Wednesday night.

PANTHERS (4-11-4) at WILD (11-4-4)
The Panthers are looking for their first win streak of the season, as they are coming of a nine-game losing skid following a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. The win was interim head coach Peter Horachek’s first since replacing Kevin Dineen. This is the final and second meeting of these two teams this season as the Panthers squeaked out a 2-1 shootout win over the Wild back on Oct. 19th. The Wild come in as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won eight of 10 and four in a row in front of the home crowd.  Both teams have special teams struggles of their own, the Panthers owning the worst power play in the league operating at 9.1 percent, while the Wild have been mediocre at best on the penalty kill at 77.8 percent.

The Panthers traded veteran forward Kris Versteeg to the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night. (USA Today)

Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs received a three-game suspension for his hit to the head of Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. (Toronto Star)

Player to Watch: Josh Harding. The Wild goaltender has led the way for his team, compiling a 10-2-2 record with an NHL-best 1.21 goals-against average.

SHARKS (12-2-5) at OILERS (4-14-2)
This is the first of five games between these Pacific division rivals this season. Last year, the Sharks swept the season series and enter tonight’s contest winners of three in a row at Rexall Place. The Oilers are struggling to find the back of the net at home, having been shutout in their last three games. If the Oilers get blanked tonight it would mark the first time in 86 years that a team has been shutout four-times in a row on home ice. And with only four wins in 20 games to start the year, the Oilers are in tough against a Shark team who own a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 trips to Edmonton. If the Oilers have any hope of turning their home ice misfortunes around they are going to need more production from Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The young duo has just four points combined at home and a dreadful -21 rating.

The Sharks look to carry their momentum into Edmonton after a dramatic come from behind overtime win in Vancouver last night. (San Jose Mercury News)

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish is willing to move a first-round draft pick (potentially 1st overall) for an impact player on the blueline. (Edmonton Journal)

Player to Watch: Tomas Hertl. The playmaking rookie notched his 11th goal of the season Thursday night, scoring with 65 seconds left to send the game into overtime. He currently leads all rookies in scoring with 17 points.