With the All-Star break approaching and the schedule lightening up a bit before then, teams are sort of playing out the string. Think of it like that last week of school before the break for the holidays in December. You should be taking some tests and still studying but you see vacation on the horizon and can’t help but think about that. All right so maybe it’s not exactly like that but we’re trying to keep it real around here. Here’s tonight’s schedule with all times being Eastern.
Florida @ NY Rangers
The Rangers might want to avoid the shootout tonight but as long as Mats Zuccarello is around they’ll feel better about their chances if the game goes that far. Zuccarello is 4-4 on shootout attempts this year and given that their last two games have reached the skills competition and they’ve won them, they’re doing OK. Florida is looking to snap a four-game losing streak. The streaky Panthers are in the second game of a six-game road trip. Overtime and shootouts haven’t been kind to Florida recently though losing three of the last four games that have gone that far.
NY Islanders @ Pittsburgh
No Sidney Crosby in this one for the Penguins but that hasn’t mattered much lately as the Pens are winners of four of their last five games. Evgeni Malkin is also unlikely to play as well meaning that Jordan Staal will have to again take the reins as the top centerman and player up front. The Islanders have lost three of their last four games but are showing signs of improvement in that they’re at least scoring goals. It helps having Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen back in the lineup that’s for sure. Pittsburgh is looking to keep pace with Philadelphia in the division as they’ve fallen behind by five points.
Anaheim @ Columbus
The Ducks are looking to wrap up their four game road trip with their third win. Their two wins have come in the shootout but when you’re playing away from home a win is a win. The Ducks have been riding the great play of Jonas Hiller and Bobby Ryan to success and frankly they’re OK with that. Columbus, meanwhile, is on a two-game win streak of their own and protecting home ice against the Ducks would give them a lot of confidence. Getting solid consistent goaltending of late has helped Columbus get their act together as they’ve allowed two goals in each of their wins.
Montreal @ Philadelphia
While the Flyers want to keep ahead of the Penguins and extend their lead in the Eastern Conference, the Habs can tie things up with Boston again in the Northeast Division with a win. Montreal’s skating wounded did well enough to get a big win two games ago over Ottawa but couldn’t get a shootout win against Anaheim on Saturday. The beat up Habs could be in a tough spot against the physical Flyers who haven’t exactly played nice with each other so far this season.
Buffalo @ Ottawa
This always used to be a great rivalry as these two teams hated each other something fierce. Now, the Sens are floundering and the Sabres are still searching for consistency before they fall too far back in the hunt for the playoffs in the East. While the Sens are busy with nostalgia, the Sabres can get back on track with a small win streak with a win here. They’ve won three of their last four as it is but a loss to Ottawa would be a real morale killer.
Toronto @ Tampa Bay
Toronto’s southern swing isn’t going so hot with a loss to Carolina last night. Dealing with the Southeast Division leading Lightning on the second night of a back-to-back sounds less-than optimal, especially with the chance of going up against Dwayne Roloson who has owned the Leafs of late in his career. Roloson is 4-1-0 in his last five starts against the Leafs dating back to 2008-2009 and that includes a 29-save effort to win in overtime earlier this year.
Minnesota @ Chicago
The Wild roll into town as a team of streaks but playing better of late winners of three out of their last four games. Chicago is coming off of a poor performance against the Flyers on Sunday afternoon and looking to regain some composure in the Western Conference playoff race. If you didn’t look too closely, you’d see that the Wild are just three points behind Chicago in the West standings. While Chicago’s doing relatively well the Wild have rebounded well after a poor start to vault themselves into the race for the playoffs. Consider this a good test for both teams to see where they’re at.
Edmonton @ Phoenix
After Dallas getting humbled last night, the door is open for Phoenix to make up some ground on the Pacific Division leaders. Having to deal with an Oilers team that has been just brutal lately. Phoenix has lost three of their last four but a win would pull them to within four points of the Stars. Every little bit does count and for the Coyotes that can be a big deal to make the end of the season potentially less stressful. Edmonton’s losing ways have resulted in a five-game losing streak and a stretch of games over the last month and a half that’s just brutal. The Oilers weren’t really a factor for the playoffs as it was, but seeing them doing this poorly is disheartening for a team that showed flashes of brilliant fun early on. Here’s to hoping Taylor Hall doesn’t get too frustrated being counted on to do too much for a bad team.