Games to Watch

TONIGHT’S GAME TO WATCH: Senators at Bruins

2017-04-06T17:18:32+00:00 April 6th, 2017|Games to Watch|

The Bruins are already in, the Senators with one more point in their last three games will make the playoffs as well. So what’s the big deal?

Avoiding President’s Trophy winner Washington in the first round is the big deal. With 116 points, the Capitals have run away with the often star-crossed prize. But even though they are playing out the string until the playoffs begin, Washington has won 9 of its last 10 games and so seem like they’ve already clicked into their playoff gear.

For Boston and Ottawa to avoid the Caps in the first round, they must finish ahead of the second wild card team, which almost certainly will be Toronto. Should they manage that, they will oppose each other in the first round, since the no. 2 and 3 teams in each division must meet.

So the second thing they’re fighting for besides staying ahead of the Leafs is to finish ahead of each other, to capture home ice in a best-of-seven matchup.

The Bruins have actually been slightly more successful on the road than at TD Garden. But the Senators have lost just 11 times at home this year, so home ice is clearly an advantage for them.

Boston will be without Brad Marchand, the league’s second-leading goal scorer for their remaining two games, because of his two-game suspension handed down earlier today. And Ottawa has another advantage — they’ve still got three games to play.

Minus Marchand, the Bruins will be missing the league’s most versatile scorer. He’s among the top 10 in the league in a staggering 22 different categories, including the leadership in goals scored within the goal mouth (20), from the side of the crease (7), on the backhand (10), while on a delayed penalty (3), into an empty net (4), and finally, unassisted (7).

Mike Hoffman of the Senators has a chance to track down Aretemi Panarin for the league lead in one-timers, trailing 14-13. He also can match Sidney Crosby as the league’s premier sharpshooter, trailing him 5-4, as do three other players. The Bruins had best attend to players in front of their net, as both Hoffman and Kyle Turris share the league lead with Ryan Ellis and Brent Burns for most goals scored through screens (10).

TONIGHT’S GAME TO WATCH: Flames at Capitals

2017-03-22T13:57:08+00:00 March 21st, 2017|Games to Watch|

Several good ones on a typically busy Tuesday card tonight, but the Capitals in Calgary is outright fascinating.

Washington is not playing its best hockey of the year right now, though it is tied for the league lead in overall points with divison-rival Columbus. The Penguins are just one point back in what must be the most top-heavy division in the history of the league. Other than the remarkable Blackhawks no team in the league is within eight points of the top three clubs in the Metropolitan Division.

But nobody is playing better than the Flames as the season winds down. Even after their 10-game win streak was stopped by the Bruins, Calgary has bounced right back with consecutive wins over Dallas and Los Angeles. In spite of the recent dominance, the Flames at the moment are just a wild card team — though they are two points out of second place in the Pacific Division.

Calgary has featured a remarkably well-balanced scoring attack. Twelve Flames already have scored in double digits, with Sean Monahan’s 23 pacing the team.

The Caps, on the other hand, have a top-heavy stat sheet. Alex Ovechkin for the first time in five years isn’t going to lead the NHL in goals. In fact he doesn’t even lead Washington. Thanks to his hat trick on Saturday, that honor goes to T.J. Oshie, who has already exceeded his career best in spite of missing 13 games. After Ovechkin, next come Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Justin Williams, all with over 20 goals for the year.

Oshie leads the NHL in goals scored from the slot, while Monahan has converted more rebounds into goals than anyone in the league.

TONIGHT’S GAME TO WATCH: Senators at Rangers

2016-12-27T17:21:08+00:00 December 27th, 2016|Games to Watch|

Seven Eastern Conference teams have already won 20 games this season, and the Lightning isn’t even one of them.

But the Rangers and Senators are. Each had pretty forgettable seasons last year, but have rolled through the first few months of this year as consistent winners. New York has been more noticeable, outscoring its opponents by nine more goals than the Penguins have, for instance. Ottawa has flown far lower on the radar, but is riding a four-game winning streak.

The Rangers will have to contend with the down-low presence of right wing Mark Stone, who has scored on 10 of his 52 shots on goal with four goals coming on rebounds. Further away from the net, defenseman Dion Phaneuf joins PK Subban and Mike Greene as the only defenseman to score three times from the high slot. Center Zach Smith has shown himself to be dangerous from the slot, just one shy of Leon Draisaitl and Nick Ritchie in goals scored from that area.

The Rangers will do well to keep an eye on center Kyle Turris if it’s late and close, as the Ottawa center, along with Patrik Laine and Evegeni Malkin, is the only player to score seven third-period goals this season. Furthermore, Turris has ended games twice in overtime. He’s also adept at scoring through screens. Only Laine, Subban, and Cam Fowler have ripped the twine more often with the goaltender’s view obscured.

Left-wing Mike Hoffman has been lethal on one-timers, scoring six of his 10 goals this way. Only Artemi Panarin has more — and he’s been a one-timing machine all year. So much safer than being a two-timing machine.

New York has been led by the surprising scoring exploits of Michael Grabner, who has regained his explosive abilities. Along with Paul Byron, Connor McDavid, and Wayne Simmonds, Grabner has scored three times this year when breaking in behind the opponent’s skaters. Moreover, he’s converted more often than anyone but Jeff Carter on odd-man rushes. Grabner has also shown good hands around the net — he’s third in the league in scoring on rebounds. And no one has scored more often on wristers. Grabner has 11 and is joined by Patrik Laine, Wayne Simmonds, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Rick Nash has also been a force in this regard, scoring on two breakaways and after carrying the puck himself from beyond the blue line on four occasions. And he’s the only player in the league to score twice off the crossbar — part of the goal-scorer’s equipment, he might be inclined to say.

Only Michael Del Zotto matches Ryan McDonagh for goals scored from the left point. Each has scored twice from that region of downtown. Jimmy Vesey has been opportunistic in the other direction, converting three of his goals from the side of the crease. Only Malkin has been more lethal from there. Left wing J.T. Miller is one of just four players to score on three or more redirects this season, with Sidney Crosby two ahead of he, Artem Anisimov, and Johan Larsson.

Can the Senators come out and play with the Rangers at the Garden with both teams fully rested? It will reveal much about whether the streak they’re on is something of a mirage — or whether they intend to hang around with the elite teams of the Eastern Conference, of which there appear to be many this year.

TONIGHT’S GAME TO WATCH: Canadiens at Blue Jackets

2016-12-25T20:34:34+00:00 December 23rd, 2016|Games to Watch|

Exceptional marquee game to head into the Christmas break with.

The two Eastern Conference division leaders collide with Columbus in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. They’ve failed to come away with two points just nine times in 31 games this year. Montreal has played well of late after a bit of a sag following a scorching first month of the season. On its mind will be how to contain the Big Columbus Express which routed the Habs, 10-0, earlier in the season. In that game Al Montoya started for Montreal, and he’ll likely be back in the net tonight as Carey Price has started the last seven for the Canadiens.

Though the Blue Jackets evenly-balanced scoring has picked up most of the headlines, the work of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, as well as his backup, Curtis McElhinney, has been exceptional. Both have GA of under 2.00.

With a holiday weekend to leave competitive hockey behind for a few days, expect these two teams to come out with their A games. Perhaps we’ll learn a little something about what might await us when the Eastern Conference finals roll around.