Around the Rink – Tuesday, January 4th

Much like Monday night, we have five games to work with on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at all of them, with start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) as always.

7:00 pm

Tampa Bay @ Washington

It’s quite possible that the Capitals will face a more important game – at least from a pure standings perspective – tonight than in the Winter Classic. The Lightning lead the Capitals in the Southeast Division simply because they lost one less game, so whoever wins this contest will take a slight lead in the Southeast Division.

While the rivalry might not be as seasoned as his duel with Sidney Crosby, there may someday be a serious Alex Ovechkin vs. Steven Stamkos debate considering the two sniper’s elite scoring skills. This should be a fantastic – and possibly wide open – game. It’s a shame that it won’t be on national TV, though.

Minnesota @ New Jersey

Instead, this game will be shown on Versus. It’s too bad they couldn’t use a “flex schedule” in this one, as the Devils are easily the worst team in the East while the Wild are one of the Western Conference’s weakest clubs. Maybe Minnesota’s struggles are slightly predictable, but who would have thought that New Jersey would be in the swamps of the standings? The shock hasn’t completely worn off.

9:00 pm

Detroit @ Edmonton

The Red Wings are struggling a bit (two game losing streak, 5-3-2 in their last 10), but the Oilers tend to be an elixir for such maladies. Edmonton is currently on a six-game losing slump, nixing whatever good feelings were being developed when the team showed some friskiness upon Nikolai Khabibulin’s return from injury. The young team has been dominated by Detroit but also gave them a few headaches, so there’s no telling which effort we might see tonight.

Buffalo @ Colorado

The Sabres have been playing better in the short term (two wins in a row) than the Avalanche (two straight losses), but over 10 games the teams are both pretty mediocre. That being said, Ryan Miller is having a tough time cleaning up mistakes made by the shaky Buffalo defense, so sending him to face the explosive Avs offense might be like feeding the wolves.

Columbus @ Phoenix

On face value, it seems like the Coyotes are much better on the road, with 10 away wins to only seven on the road. That ignores the fact that they’ve played six more away games than home games, though. They’ve managed to stay semi-competitive with a tough schedule, but if they hope to make the playoffs again, they need to start winning now that they’re getting some games in Scottsdale.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.