Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 4|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles Kings||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 5|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Boston Bruins||1-3|
|7 p.m.||Minnesota||Buffalo||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Florida||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||New Jersey||5-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Vegas||Tampa Bay||3-2 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||3-2 (OT)|
|Wednesday, February 6|
|8 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Rangers||3-4 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 7|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New Jersey Devils|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Philadelphia|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Tampa Bay|
|9 p.m.||San Jose||Calgary||ESPN+, SN1|
|Friday, February 8|
|8 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Rangers||NHLN, SN|
|Saturday, February 9|
|1 p.m.||Los Angeles||Boston|
|1 p.m.||Minnesota||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||Colorado Avalanche||New York Islanders|
|2 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis|
|2 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||Ottawa Senators||CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton||SN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Montréal Canadiens||CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, February 10|
|12:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Nashville||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Colorado||Boston||SN1, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||New York Islanders|
|6 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Florida|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Rangers||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.
In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.
Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.
However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.
Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.
After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.
While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.
Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.
Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.
But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.
Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.
And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.
With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.
Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.
The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.
Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.
Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.
Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.
Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.