7:00 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh @ New Jersey
The Devils are on a crazy run and they’re coming off a big win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. The Penguins are losers of five of their last six games and hurting for goals. The Devils during their run have been reminiscent of Devils teams from the past playing stifling defensive hockey. I think you can see where I’m going with this one and it doesn’t bode well for Pittsburgh. The Pens are five points behind Philly for the lead in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference. A win would help them keep the Caps off their heels for fourth and help them narrow the gap on the Flyers. The Devils, meanwhile, can’t afford to lose any games making virtually every game from here out like Game 7 for them.
7:30 p.m. ET
NY Rangers @ Ottawa
Things are getting awkward for the Rangers now. They’re in eighth in the East now and sit just two points ahead of Buffalo and three ahead of a hot and streaking Toronto. The Rangers can’t seem to score on anyone and facing Craig Anderson and the Senators tonight doesn’t help their prospects there. Anderson has allowed just seven goals in six games with the Sens and has a .966 save percentage over those games. The Rangers have lost three in a row and have just four goals in those three games. With Ottawa in full on spoiler mode (both for other teams and their own shot at the #1 pick) this isn’t shaping up to be a good night for New York.
8:30 p.m. ET
Carolina @ Chicago
The good news for Carolina is they’re not in eighth place anymore jumping to seventh in the East. The bad news is that they’ve got to face Jonathan Toews and the streaking Blackhawks tonight. Chicago has won six in a row and have vaulted themselves heavily into the mix for the playoffs in the West. As things go there, wins and other teams winning move you up and down the standings wildly, but Chicago is in that position now thanks to Toews. Just a couple weeks ago, they were on the outside looking in and feeling desperate. This season’s been funny like that for a lot of teams out West. Well, funny if you make the playoffs, infuriating if you miss them.
9:00 p.m. ET
Columbus @ Calgary
Remember three games ago when Columbus looked poised to join the fray fighting for a spot in the playoffs? Those were fun times. The Jackets have, instead, lost three in a row and returned to their regular place in the “also ran” category. Steve Mason’s play has returned to earth and with it so have the hopes of Columbus fans. Hockey life is cruel. Calgary comes in 5-2-1 in their last eight and looking to bounce back after a 6-4 loss to Chicago on Wednesday. Outside of that game, Miikka Kiprusoff has been outstanding for Calgary in goal of late. The Flames may be without Brendan Morrison in this one.
10:00 p.m. ET
Dallas @ Anaheim
A pair of teams looking to stay hot as Dallas goes into Anaheim on a three-game win streak while the the Ducks have won two in a row. We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the good times rolling in the Western Conference. Surprising development for Anaheim? The great play of Dan Ellis in goal. Ellis is 2-0-1 with Anaheim with a 1.93 goals against and a .929 save percentage. With Jonas Hiller out getting solid play like this from Ellis is huge for the Ducks in their efforts to get into the playoffs. Dallas, meanwhile, seems to have settled down after avoiding the Brad Richards trade drama. After a prolonged dry spell, they’ve got three wins in a row and back into the fray for the playoffs.
Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name has been floating around the NHL’s trade rumor mill for sometime now, and according to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Blues came very close to dealing him six weeks ago only to have the trade fall apart when the new team and Shattenkirk were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.
It is not the first time that has happened over the past year.
According to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues recently had a Shattenkirk trade in place with an Eastern Conference team that was believed to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. But when Shattenkirk turned down a long-term contract extension with the team that would have paid him $42 million over seven years, the trade fell apart.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Thursday night that the Arizona Coyotes also had permission earlier this season to speak to Shattenkirk about a new contract but were unable to reach a deal. A similar situation unfolded in the offseason when the Edmonton Oilers also tried to acquire the veteran defenseman.
The Lightning would make a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Blues here because they have been in desperate need of another big-time defenseman to add to their blue line along with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. They also have several restricted free agents (and a pretty tight cap situation) to deal with this summer that could have been part of a return in a Shattenkirk trade.
If the reported contract terms are correct, it’s a pretty good sign that Shattenkirk thinks he can get a massive payday on the open market this summer as a free agent. And he is probably not wrong. Since the start of the 2011-12 season Shattenkirk has been one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL, currently sitting 10th among all blue-liners in points (241) and posting dominant possession numbers.
A $6 million per year cap hit would put him in the same salary range as Mike Green, Johnny Boychuk, and Erik Johnson.
He outperforms all of them.
Even though Shattenkirk is one of their top players, and the Blues seem on track to make the playoffs, the team still seems determined to move him before the deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing over the summer.
Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.
On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up two more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.
Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.
Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.
It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.
Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.
The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.
Remember those few weeks earlier this season when Henrik Lundqvist was struggling, he was losing playing time to Antti Raanta, and everybody in the NHL was freaking out about the Rangers’ goaltending situation?
At this point it seems like an eternity ago.
Lundqvist has been on an absolute roll over the past month and has helped the Rangers finally gain some ground in the Metropolitan Division.
After his 32 save performance — in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers are now in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who for the time being move down to the top Wild Card spot. The Rangers are now just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spot that would get them home ice in the first round.
Leading the way lately during this recent surge has been Lundqvist as he plays his best hockey of the season. In his past 13 starts the Rangers own a 10-2-1 record, while Lundqvist is carrying a .938 save percentage.
Even though the Rangers took huge steps over the summer to improve their forward depth — and it has absolutely paid off — it is still a team that is weak on the blue line and is only going to go as far as Lundqvist can carry it in the playoffs.
But with the way he is playing right now, and with the way the Rangers can roll four solid lines and score (3.28 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL) this could be a potentially scary team come playoff time.
Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.
Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.
The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.
With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.
But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.
With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.
It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.