We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.
Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 11|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Toronto||6-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Islanders||0-2|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||3-0|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Edmonton Oilers||2-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, March 12|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||St. Louis||3-1|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||5-4|
|9 p.m.||New Jersey||Calgary||4-9|
|Wednesday, March 13|
|9:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Edmonton||6-3|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vancouver Canucks||1-4|
|Thursday, March 14|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Ottawa||0-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||5-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||Los Angeles||3-1|
|10:30 p.m.||Florida||San Jose||4-2|
|Friday, March 15|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Calgary Flames||1-5|
|10 p.m.||New Jersey||Vancouver||3-2 (SO)|
|Saturday, March 16|
|1 p.m.||St. Louis||Pittsburgh||NHLN, TVAS|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings|
|4 p.m.||Florida||Los Angeles|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Ottawa||CBC, SN1, TVAS2|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Minnesota Wild|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||Arizona Coyotes||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||San Jose||ESPN+|
|Sunday, March 17|
|3 p.m.||New Jersey||Colorado||SN1|
|5 p.m.||St. Louis||Buffalo||NHLN|
|6 p.m.||New York Islanders||Minnesota Wild||ESPN+|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
Another fun week of NHL action, no?
After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.
The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.
We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.
It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.
Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.
Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).
However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.
The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?
Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.
However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.
As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.
In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.
With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.
You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.
Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).
While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.
Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).
Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.
Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).
Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.
That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.
Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.