Dallas Stars v Phoenix Coyotes

Tonight on NBCSN: A Pacific Division battle royal featuring Coyotes-Stars and Sharks-Kings

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If you’re not infected with playoff fever yet, perhaps tonight’s doubleheader will do the trick. Four teams from the Pacific Division all battling for the lead there while also duking it out for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Saddle up and get ready for a wild finish.

Dallas Stars vs. Phoenix Coyotes (8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

These two teams are tied atop the Pacific with 83 points and the winner gets to steer clear of the pack for at least a night. The Stars got back into the thick of things thanks to a run that saw them win 10 of 11 games. Since then they’ve dropped their last two games putting them straight into the quagmire with everyone else. Led by Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, and Jamie Benn the Stars have the scoring talent up front to make you pay. What keys them to victory, however, is how well Kari Lehtonen is playing in goal. If ever there’s a slightly off night, the Stars’ climb uphill gets a bit steeper.

The Coyotes are in much the same spot as how Mike Smith goes in goal, so go the Coyotes. Lately, things have been alternating between hot and cold as the Coyotes have alternated wins and losses in their last five games. With that kind of run coming off a five-game losing streak, frustration is there. While the Coyotes offense goes through the motions at times, the guy they’ve been banking on lately is Ray Whitney. “The Wizard” has a four-game points streak with a goal and five helpers in that span. They might have it tough tonight, however, as Radim Vrbata is questionable to play.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

source: APThese two sit tied for third in the Pacific just one point behind both the Stars and Coyotes. While they won’t be able to catch up for the divisional lead tonight, they can help make their case stronger for either the seventh or eighth spot in the West.

For the Sharks, they’re coming off an ugly loss to the Ducks last night that saw them get dumped 5-3 and unable to beat backup goalie Jeff Deslauriers. After seeing Antti Niemi get chased in favor of Thomas Greiss last night, confidence cannot be high. At the very least the Sharks have Joe Pavelski and Martin Havlat playing well recently. They could stand to see Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau do a lot more. It’s stunning to see the Sharks even in a position where they have to fight for the playoffs. So much for being Stanley Cup hopefuls.

The Kings, on the other hand, are in the midst of an era of good feelings. Since acquiring Jeff Carter, the Kings offense has picked up dramatically averaging over three goals a game. That might not sound huge to you, but considering they were barely averaging over two a game before he arrived, it’s an immense improvement. The Kings’ record since Carter’s arrival? 8-3-0.

Keying their resurgence are two Kings fixtures in Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Brown has points in 10 of his last 11 games and Kopitar has points in nine of his last 10 including six goals and five assists. It’s taken almost the entire season, but with how the Kings are playing now this is the team we expected to see all year long. That’s bad news for the Sharks and everyone else in the playoff hunt out West.

Allen’s mental reset continues, as Blues will start Hutton in Pittsburgh

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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St. Louis is giving Jake Allen more time to sort out his struggles.

Today, the club announced backup Carter Hutton will start tomorrow in Pittsburgh, while Pheonix Copley — the AHL call-up that allowed five goals in Saturdays’ loss in Winnipeg — will serve as the No. 2.

Allen, who didn’t even travel to Winnipeg so he could ‘reset’ mentally, will start on Thursday in Minnesota, which will be St. Louis’ last game prior to the All-Star break. Copley will again serve as the backup.

The decision to go back to Allen comes after a horrific stretch in which he was yanked from three straight games, and four of his past six.

It is noteworthy, though, that Allen isn’t getting the Pittsburgh game. Part of that could be the opponent — the Pens are a force offensively, and lead the NHL in goals per game — but it could also be that Allen needs additional time to sort out his issues.

Whatever the case, the plan may have changed. In explaining why he left Allen behind while the team went to Winnipeg, Blues GM Doug Armstrong suggested Allen could get right back in.

“I think taking a day way, getting a total reset — he could reset traveling with the team, but I wanted a complete reset — and then we come back on Sunday, he’s back in the net and he’s ready to go,” Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch. “To me, it’s not a huge story; he’s going to take a day to get a reset with his family — he just had a young baby — but the play needs to improve and I want to give him a fresh start.”

Allen’s struggles this year are well-documented (see here, here, here and here). Per the Post-Dispatch, his .897 save percentage ranks 43rd among 47 goalies who have appeared in 14 or more games this season.

Oshie’s contract status underscores urgency in Washington

Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The way he keeps scoring, T.J. Oshie‘s next contract isn’t getting any smaller.

The 30-year-old winger was today named the NHL’s third star of the week, after racking up six points (3G, 3A) in three games for the red-hot Washington Capitals.

Oshie now has 31 points (17G, 14A) in 38 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, he’ll no doubt be looking for a raise beyond his current cap hit of $4.175 million.

One comparable contract is Andrew Ladd‘s seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Islanders.

Loui Eriksson‘s six-year, $36 million deal with the Canucks is another.

And one more for good measure: David Backes‘ five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins.

All three of those contracts have a cap hit of around, or exactly, $6 million. Ladd and Eriksson are a year older than Oshie, while Backes is two years older. They’re all reliable veteran wingers, just like Oshie.

Now, the Caps could always try and convince Oshie to take a home-town discount. They may even be able to keep him without a discount.

That being said, their No. 1 priority has to be getting Evgeny Kuznetsov, a pending restricted free agent, locked up. And they also need to keep in mind John Carlson, their No. 1 defenseman who can become unrestricted in the summer of 2018.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said last season.

When he said it, MacLellan saw his team in a “two-year window.”

Alas, only one year of that window remains. Hence, the urgency to finally win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Like Oshie, Justin Williams and Karl Alzner are pending UFAs.

And like Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett ConnollyDmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Philipp Grubauer are pending RFAs.

The Caps host Carolina tonight.

Related: Kuznetsov sets table for Jakub Vrana’s first NHL goal

Galchenyuk re-injures knee, but not believed to be serious

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Given that Montreal center Alex Galchenyuk‘s already missed 18 games this season to a knee injury, there was some consternation on Monday as head coach Michel Therrien said Galchenyuk had aggravated the ailment, and would miss Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

Thankfully for the Habs, it doesn’t sound like a serious issue.

Therrien said Galchenyuk “slightly injured” his knee, and is listed as day-to-day. This falls in line with what occurred during Saturday’s OT loss to Buffalo — even though Galchenyuk suffered the ailment during the game, he was able to play through it and finish with 16:36 TOI.

It’s unfortunate this knee issue has lingered, as the fifth-year pro is having a great season. Galchenyuk has 11 goals and 27 points through 30 games and, had he been healthy, probably would’ve eclipsed last year’s production, when he scored 30 goals and 56 points.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see when the Habs opt to get Galchenyuk back in the lineup. After tomorrow’s game against Calgary, they have just one game left until the All-Star break, on Thursday in Brooklyn.

After that, they don’t play again until Jan. 31.

Rangers’ Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

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Kevin Hayes, who sits third on the Rangers with 35 points, will miss the next couple of weeks with a lower-body ailment, the club announced on Monday.

The news comes one day after Hayes exited New York’s 1-0 OT win over Detroit after playing just 8:41. Per Newsday, it’s a left leg ailment.

It’s a tough blow for a guy that had been playing well lately. Hayes had been a point-per-game producer in January, with two goals and five assists through seven games, developing chemistry on a line with Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s the schedule. Hayes’ absence will coincide with the All-Star break, so he won’t miss as many games as he would’ve under usual circumstances.

Still, if he’s shelved for the full three weeks, that puts his return around Feb. 13 — meaning he could miss up to eight contests.

In related news, the Blueshirts activated Matt Puempel off IR today. He’d been out since December with a concussion.