The first full week of November already has me looking forward to the NHL’s unofficial, yet statistically backed playoff qualification cutoff coming up only a couple weeks from now when the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.
Which teams are and aren’t among the league’s 16 best by November 22 will be heavily influenced by the 50 games taking place this week and the 48 on tap in the second half of this fortnight.
|NHL SCHEDULE: November 5-11|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, November 5|
|7 p.m.||Dallas||Boston||1-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||4-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Pittsburgh||5-1|
|Tuesday, November 6|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||3-5|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Ottawa||3-7|
|7:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Detroit||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Edmonton||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Carolina||St. Louis||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||Los Angeles||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Minnesota||San Jose||3-4|
|Wednesday, November 7|
|7:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Washington||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
|Thursday, November 8|
|7:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|8:30 p.m.||San Jose||Dallas|
|10:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Los Angeles||SN|
|Friday, November 9|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Toronto||TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Washington||NHLN, SN1|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||St. Louis|
|saturday, November 10|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Boston Bruins||CBC, NHLN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Vegas||Montréal||SN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Florida Panthers|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|10 p.m.||Calgary||Los Angeles||CBC, SN, SN360|
|Sunday, November 11|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota||St. Louis||SN1|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN|
|9 p.m.||Calgary||San Jose||SN360|
Just like every week, there’s more than a few solid options to choose from. There was at least five rivalries (Montréal at New York, Anaheim at Los Angeles, Pittsburgh at Washington, New York at Detroit and Toronto at Boston), three playoff rematches (Pittsburgh at Washington, Nashville at Colorado and Columbus at Washington) and more than a handful of player returns (LW Max Pacioretty potentially returning to Montréal with Vegas highlights that list, but don’t forget about G Anton Khudobin and D Brandon Manning heading back to Boston and Philadelphia, respectively) to choose from this very attractive list.
However, only one game can be chosen, so I might as well go with a contest that can check two boxes, right?
It’s a rivalry! It’s a playoff rematch! It’s everything we could ever dream of!
Maybe not the last part, but there’s no explanation needed these days to get excited for this matchup. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin has been a hot ticket ever since they began playing against each other 13 years ago, as they’ve rekindled a rivalry that had been dormant since the turn of the millennium.
Tonight’s participants enter this game with identical 6-4-3 records, but they seem to be heading in opposite directions.
Currently occupying third place in the Metropolitan Division due to earning all six of their victories in regulation or overtime, the Pens are the team trending down at the moment. They’re riding a four-game losing skid, including two (one in regulation, another in a shootout) to the red-hot division-leading Islanders and a 5-0 home blanking at the hands of the Auston Matthews-less Maple Leafs.
In fact, if we add in the 5-1 home loss at the hands of the Devils on Monday, the Penguins have been outscored 10-1 in their last two games and 18-6 during this skid.
What makes this slump all the more puzzling is Pittsburgh just returned from a four-game road trip through Canada against three teams currently in playoff position that saw it bring home all eight possible points.
As evidenced by a -12 goal differential over their past four games (by far the worst in the NHL during this run), problems abound for the Penguins. However, the one that is most glaring to me is Pittsburgh’s anemic offense. Usually among the league’s best (it still is, statistically speaking – Pittsburgh is tied with St. Louis for the fourth-best attack for the entire season), the Pens are averaging only 1.5 goals per game since October 30 – tied with Carolina for worst in the league in that time.
If any one person is the problem, it’s certainly not D Jamie Oleksiak. The former Star has posted impressive 1-2-3 marks in his last four outings, all of which were registered at even-strength.
Instead, I think a major hole in the lineup is at the third-line center position, as Derick Brassard has landed himself another seat in the press box with a lower-body injury. In the eight games he’s played this season, he’s managed decent 1-4-5 totals, but his replacement, Riley Sheahan, has not done well filling in, as he has no points to his credit in his last four games.
To resolve this problem, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has returned Phil Kessel to his usual spot on the third line, as well as added in Jake Guentzel to try to spread the scoring across the lineup. Since Guentzel has been demoted to the bottom six as a result of not shooting enough on the top line, Sheahan having two eager goal scorers on his wing should hopefully help his production.
Meanwhile, the Capitals – the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division after taking tiebreakers into account – look like they could be starting to break out of the slump they seem to have started the season in. Washington has posted a 2-1-1 record in its past four games, earning points against current playoff teams in Calgary and Dallas.
Though defense was the name of the game this spring when the Caps claimed their first Stanley Cup, this recent winning run is a direct result of some stellar Washington offense. Weighing in as the ninth-best offense in the league since October 27 alongside Los Angeles, Washington has been averaging 3.5 goals per game.
Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. Even without the incredible .266 points per game Tom Wilson has averaged for his career, Washington’s top line has reclaimed its rightful spot among the league’s best, as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are averaging an assist and point per game, respectively.
If there’s still a problem with Washington’s offense, it’s that a lot of its work is being done on the power play. While it it is certainly impressive that the Caps have a 33.3 percent power play to show for their last four games (that’s fourth-best since October 27), the fact that Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have registered five of their combined nine points with the man-advantage shows that Washington still isn’t finding as much success in five-on-five situations that Head Coach Todd Reirden would like.
That’s an important thing for Pittsburgh to keep in mind this evening, especially since they’re sending 2-0-2 G Casey DeSmith into the fray. Since October 30, the Pens’ penalty kill has ranked seventh-worst with a 69.2 success rate, so it would be in their best interest to stay as far from the penalty box as possible.
Speaking of goaltenders, 4-3-2 G Braden Holtby is expected to be between the pipes tonight for Washington. He’ll pit his .888 save percentage and 3.62 GAA against DeSmith’s .932 and 2.25.
To say that either of these clubs has me feeling extremely comfortable would be a blatant lie. While Washington has certainly shown the better form of late, Holtby has been a far cry from the reliable starter he was only a couple seasons ago and the 2018 playoffs. Conversely, I think DeSmith playing for Pittsburgh could be just the change the Pens need to start getting their game back in line.
As such, I’ll take the Capitals to win a tight, 4-3 game that could require overtime.