It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?
Here’s this week’s slate of games:
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, January 7|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Philadelphia||3-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||San Jose||1-3|
|Tuesday, January 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Buffalo||1-5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Islanders||4-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis||3-1|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vegas Golden Knights||2-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Edmonton||San Jose||2-7|
|Wednesday, January 9|
|8 p.m.||Nashville Predators||Chicago Blackhawks||NBCSN, SN360, TVAS|
|Thursday, January 10|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Boston||ESPN+, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Carolina||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Montréal||St. Louis||RDS, TSN2|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Vegas||ESPN+|
|10:30 p.m.||Ottawa||Los Angeles||RDS|
|Friday, January 11|
|10 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Anaheim||ESPN+, SN360|
|Saturday, January 12|
|1 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||NHLN, SN|
|1 p.m.||New York Rangers||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Buffalo|
|7 p.m.||Boston Bruins||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||Montréal||SN, TVAS|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Dallas|
|10 p.m.||Ottawa||San Jose||CBC, SN1, TVAS|
|10:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Los Angeles|
|Sunday, January 13|
|6 p.m.||New York Rangers||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.
In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.
As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.
Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.
Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.
However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.
For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).
However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.
Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.
With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.
Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.
What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.
Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.
Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.
Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.
An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.
Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.
A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.