Chicago’s race for the playoffs is getting a bit more awkward lately. After losing in overtime to Montreal, sure they got a point in the standings for their effort, but Dallas earned two points behind them after shutting out Columbus. The Blackhawks (93 points) have just a two point lead on Dallas (91 points) and both teams have three games left to play. Calgary is right there as well tied with Dallas, but with just two games left things are a bit tougher for them as they have more shootout wins than both teams.
Chicago will now have to weather the storm tonight against St. Louis and possibly in their final two games against Detroit without forward Troy Brouwer. Brouwer left last night’s game against Montreal with an apparent right shoulder injury. While Brouwer doesn’t come with the abilities that guys like Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, or Patrick Kane do, adding another injury on top of losses to Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland doesn’t do them any favors.
Guys like Jake Dowell and Bryan Bickell will need to step up and play a bigger game the rest of the way without Brouwer in the lineup. They’ve been the steady third line guys all season, but they’ll need them to play a little bigger now. Same goes for veteran Fernando Pisani as well. Pisani’s been through it before in 2006 with the Edmonton Oilers helping lead that team to the Stanley Cup final against Carolina. That kind of experience is invaluable at this time of year.
While you’d think the Blackhawks wouldn’t have too much of a hard time disposing of the Blues tonight and might be looking ahead to a pivotal two-game showdown with Detroit, never discount old Norris Division rivalries to flare up once again. The Blues season is finished but giving them a goal for a night to try and hurt a rival like Chicago’s playoff hopes and the scope of the game changes dramatically.
With both teams coming off of games last night, neither team comes in with a rest advantage. The Blues are buoyed by a win over Colorado and the confidence is high. If you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, you treat tonight’s game like a do-or-die.
As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.
The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.
“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”
Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.
Suter also had something to say about that.
“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”
Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately. In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”
For example, at today’s practice:
The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.
Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.
We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.
Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.
Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.
“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”
Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.
Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.
— Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.
— Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.
— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.
Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.
The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.
He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)
But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.
“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.
“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”
Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)
The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).
Stars winger Jamie Benn, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.
Benn shared the League lead in goals (4) and points (6) as the Stars (19-5-0, 38 points) won two of three games to continue their best start to a season in the franchise’s 48-year history.
Holtby posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.
Galchenyuk tied for first in the NHL with four goals and added one assist to help the Canadiens (18-4-3, 39 points) earn five of a possible six points and reclaim first place in the League standings.
As much as the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been frustrating for the Canadiens, those are short-term issues that should be forgotten soon enough. Galchenyuk’s play, in contrast, is reason for long-term optimism. The 21-year-old is trending towards becoming the elite No. 1 center the Habs have needed so badly. He’s not there yet, but when’s all said and done, he could turn out to be the best forward (or player, period) taken in the 2012 draft.