Tonight's games: Uphill battles

Although most of tonight’s games are pretty interesting, Pittsburgh-New Jersey is far and away the biggest one. Let’s took at that battle of the Atlantic as well as the five other matches on the schedule.

Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-5, 85 pts) at New Jersey Devils (39-23-3, 81 pts) 7:00 PM ET

If you want to get technical about it, the Penguins have only won once more than the Devils in the last 10 games but they’ve taken advantage of the Devils’ slide with charity points anyway. New Jersey is struggling (in a Kovalfunk?) at the moment but they’ve manhandled Pittsburgh all season long. This game has big Atlantic division title implications.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-12, 66 pts) at Washington Capitals (45-13-9, 99 pts) 7:00 PM ET

As Brandon pointed out, Steven Stamkos is turning the Crosby-Ovechkin Richard trophy duel into a three horse race. Meanwhile, the Capitals could be the first team in the NHL to hit 100 points tonight.

Minnesota Wild (31-29-6, 68 pts) at Buffalo Sabres (36-20-9, 81 pts) 7:30 PM ET

The Wild are a horrible mess and are weak on the road while the Sabres are on a three game winning streak and feature budding media darling Ryan Miller in net. Talk about two wildly different teams.

New York Rangers (29-29-9, 67 pts) at Atlanta Thrashers (28-28-10, 66 pts) 7:30 PM ET

Both teams are currently out of the playoffs in the East. Both are on four game losing streaks. Which team will get it together and which one will slip further into Boston’s rear view mirror?

Los Angeles Kings (39-22-5, 83 pts) at Dallas Stars (29-25-12, 70 pts) 8:30 PM ET

While Jon Quick experiences/recovers from/prepares for the horrifying sight of birth gore, the Kings travel to up-and-down Dallas in this one. Los Angeles has been slapping the Stars silly lately, but you never know with Turco (good or bad).

Nashville Predators (36-26-5, 77 pts) at Anaheim Ducks (30-28-8, 68 pts) 10:00 PM ET

Barry Trotz cannot bask in the glow of his 400th coaching win for very long with Calgary and Detroit breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, Anaheim is another member of the “four losses and fading out of the playoffs” club. In fact, could it already be late for the not-so-plucky Ducks?

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    Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

    Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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    The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

    Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

    The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

    “They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

    Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

    Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

    Elsewhere…

    Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

    John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

    — Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

    Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

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    Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

    Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

    Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

    The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

    The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

    Update:

    Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

    “I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

    Alain Vigneault
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    Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

    This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

    “An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

    Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

    Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

    Vigneault felt the hit was late.

    “I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

    Beleskey was not suspended.

    Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

    Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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    Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Panthers center Vincent Trocheck have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

    From the NHL:

    Crosby led the League in goals and points (5-3-8) in three games as the Penguins (26-18-7, 59 points) earned four of a possible six points to secure the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

    Karlsson led the League in assists and ranked second in points (0-7-7) in three games as the Senators (24-23-6, 54 points) won one of three starts for the week.

    Trocheck notched six points (3-3—6) in three games, helping the Panthers (31-15-6, 68 points) widen their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points.

    Related: Red-hot Crosby could make Pens a flawed (but dangerous) dark horse