TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

Saturday: Tampa Bay at Phoenix (8 p.m. ET)

The Lightning are a perfect 2-0-0 since Steven Stamkos broke his tibia, including a 5-1 destruction of the Ducks Thursday night. But now they’re facing a four-game trip to Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim. That slate of games would test any team, let alone one missing an elite player like Stamkos. As for the Coyotes, they’ve been outshot by a whopping margin, 91-49, in their last two games. The results? A win in St. Louis and a shootout loss in Chicago. Could’ve been worse.

Sunday: St. Louis at Washington (6 p.m. ET)

A tough test for the Caps. St. Louis is just so good at controlling the puck and, as a result, limiting total scoring chances. In fact, the Blues have kept opponents to 24 or fewer shots in each of their last four games. They absolutely destroyed Colorado Thursday, exploding for seven goals against an Avs side that had been one of the NHL’s stingiest. We still wonder if GM Doug Armstrong should go out and get a Jaroslav Halak insurance policy (possibly Ryan Miller), but there’s plenty of time to decide that before the March 5 trade deadline.

Sunday: San Jose at Chicago (7 p.m. ET)

The Sharks finish their current five-game road trip at the United Center against the defending champs. It’s been an OK trip so far, with a shootout loss in Winnipeg and wins in Calgary and Vancouver. But despite the five points out of a possible six, they’re still not playing the way they’re comparable of. San Jose was lucky to get last night’s game versus the Canucks to overtime…

…and afterwards head coach Todd McLellan admitted, “We weren’t the better team tonight.” Before traveling to Chicago, San Jose has to play Friday in Edmonton against an Oilers side that hasn’t scored in its last three home games. The Sharks were dominant earlier this season. They’ll likely need to get back to that level to get a win against the ‘Hawks.

Sunday: Los Angeles at NY Rangers (7 p.m. ET)

The Kings escaped Long Island Thursday evening with a 3-2 victory over the Islanders, thanks to some questionable goaltending from Kevin Poulin and a bonehead penalty by Colin McDonald. For L.A., it was the first of what could be quite a few games without star goalie Jonathan Quick, and fans are rightly wondering how backup Ben Scrivens will fare. But here’s the thing: Quick hasn’t even been that good this season. His .905 save percentage is right down the near bottom of the regular-starters list. You could even argue the Kings had been winning in spite of the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy recipient.

Sunday: Dallas at Vancouver (8 p.m. ET)

If you haven’t heard of the Roxy Flu, read this first. After you’re done with that, consider that the Dallas Stars have two nights off before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena. Now consider they’ve won five of their last six, including a huge 7-3 victory Thursday in Calgary. They deserve to have some fun, right? In a related story, Lindy Ruff just locked Tyler Seguin in his hotel room.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick