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Around the Rink – Saturday, January 8th

There are a bunch of games tonight, so let’s get right to the previews. All start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

1:00 pm

New Jersey @ Philadelphia

It might only be for a few hours, but the Flyers could re-gain their Atlantic Division (and Eastern Conference) lead with a win over the lowly Devils this afternoon. The Penguins play later today, but cannot take it easy because Philly is right behind them with less games played.

3:00 pm

NY Islanders @ Colorado

The Avalanche are basically everything the Islanders should be: a once-proud franchise restocking with brilliant young talent and plenty of positive energy. Unfortunately, the Long Island bunch are punchless and far from positive. This one could be ugly.

7:00 pm

Florida @ Washington

The Capitals should be a well-rested bunch considering the fact that they only played one game (a 1-0 overtime shutout loss to Tampa Bay) since last Saturday’s Winter Classic. In other words, there aren’t many excuses if they lose to the Panthers tonight.

Tampa Bay @ Ottawa

The Senators are bruised and battered while the Lightning should be awfully angry coming off a humiliating 8-1 loss to the Penguins. This smells like a blowout for Tampa Bay, but you really never know.

Minnesota @ Pittsburgh

If the Wild could pick a time to play the Penguins, this wouldn’t be a bad one. Pittsburgh is stumbling ever so slightly and is without Sidney Crosby. Can Minnesota take advantage?

Boston @ Montreal

Winning the Northeast Division vs. coming in second place currently means the difference between being the third seed in the East and barely hanging onto a playoff spot. The Bruins can take a nice lead with a win in Montreal, but that’s easier said than done.

8:00 pm

Buffalo @ Phoenix

There’s a lot these two teams have in common: both wish they could play like they did in 2009-10, although each club is pretty happy with what is happening off the ice this season. They’re also both in 10th place in their respective conferences, although that means more to the Coyotes than Sabres.

Nashville @ San Jose

Generally speaking, the Predators (strong defense) and Sharks (efficient power play) get things done in different ways but they are producing similar up-and-down results. Right now Nashville is trending up with a four game winning streak while San Jose is struggling. Is it time to cue the record scratching noise for a change of pace?

NY Rangers @ St. Louis

The Rangers are a rough and tumble bunch who can win on the road (14 away wins) while the Blues are a profoundly different animal at home (14 wins in St. Louis). So which strength will matter the most in this game?

10:00 pm

Detroit @ Vancouver

This one should be an absolute treat, even if the absence of Pavel Datsyuk is a bit of a bummer. Whatever way you slice it – the two best teams in the West or NHL period – face off in this game. Hopefully it’s as entertaining on the ice as it is on paper.

10:30 pm

Columbus @ Los Angeles

Blue Jackets-Kings is like a Thanksgiving dinner argument between two dysfunctional family members, except someone actually will win this game. Columbus will be angry after a 6-0 beatdown from Anaheim last night while Los Angeles wants to end a five game losing streak. I’d hate to be in the losing locker room after this game.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.

Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19:  Doug Weight of the New York Islanders handles his first game as head coach against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 19, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.

Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.

They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.

(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)

That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.

Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.

If nothing else, maybe life will be a bit better for John Tavares. He scored another goal on Thursday to add to his beautiful 1-0 tally.

Baby steps, right?