Jaroslav Halak

TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend


Saturday: Chicago at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

We can all agree that these are two very good teams. A possible Western Conference Final preview even. That said, it’s interesting that neither has received very good goaltending this season. The Blackhawks have a team save percentage of .902, the sixth lowest in the NHL. The Blues are a bit better at .911, but Jaroslav Halak has been downright pedestrian in December, registering a .893 save percentage in seven appearances. If Halak doesn’t show a marked improvement by the March 5 trade deadline, we’d be surprised if general manager Doug Armstrong doesn’t do something about it. What’s the price to get Ryan Miller out of Buffalo? That’s the question everyone should be asking. (We already asked it in TGIF all the way back on Nov. 1.)

Saturday: Los Angeles at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)

Interesting that Elliotte Friedman was feeding the Shea Weber-to-Edmonton speculation in his latest 30 Thoughts column. Wrote Friedman: “The Predators had no choice but to match the Philadelphia Flyers’ offer sheet for Shea Weber. They needed control of the asset and credibility among the fan base after losing Ryan Suter. But things are changing in Tennessee.” Quite a few PHT commenters thought we were crazy to be banging that drum over a month ago, but we stand by what we wrote then. We’re not saying Weber-to-Edmonton is definitely going to happen, but it would make a lot of sense if it did.

Saturday: Phoenix at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)

The Ducks have won nine straight. In terms of points in the standings, they were the NHL’s best team heading into the Christmas break. Yet there remain skeptics that they’re an elite squad. That’s because, in terms of a possession stat like Corsi, they’re middle of the pack. One key to their success this season? Timely sharp-shooting. With the score close five on five, Anaheim is converting on a league-high 11.1 percent of its shots. The Ducks do have their share of snipers — which probably accounts for part of that particular statistic — but in a game like hockey, as hard as it can be to maintain an attitude of equanimity, you have to wonder about the role of good luck. (And yes, we just used the word equanimity.)

Sunday: Pittsburgh at Columbus (6 p.m. ET)

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Blue Jackets are 6-3-1 in December despite missing their Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, and sniper Marian Gaborik. They’ve also been without winger Nathan Horton all season. Lately, a couple of youngsters, 21-year-old forward Ryan Johansen and 20-year-old d-man Ryan Murray, have really raised their games, and that bodes well for the present and future in Columbus. We wrote about Johansen here. As for Murray, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft has played in the neighborhood of 23 minutes in recent outings — not bad for a rookie.

Sunday: NY Rangers at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Thumbs up for the job Jon Cooper has done coaching the Lightning, winners of five straight, in the absence of Steven Stamkos. Sure, it helps Tampa Bay has received good goaltending from Ben Bishop, and Cooper fully admits that. But it’s not like the Lightning are just sitting back and letting Bishop lock it down for them. Take Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win versus Carolina in which the Lightning outshot the Hurricanes, 50-27. In that case, it was Justin Peters who “stole a point,” according to ‘Canes coach Kirk Muller. If the Lightning are healthy for the playoffs, they could do some serious damage.

After healthy scratch, Severson vows to play ‘next 80 games’

Jimmy Hayes, Damon Severson
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Damon Severson was a healthy scratch on Saturday.

It’s the last game he wants to miss this season.

“I had a good chat with a few people and just pretty much said, ‘I want to be in the next 80 games,’” Severson said, per The Record. “I sat out my game and that’s all I want to be out for for the year.”

Severson is one of the Devils’ most important young players. But this is also the 21-year-old defenseman’s sophomore season, and that’s when slumps can occur.

Hence, the early message he was sent by the coaching staff.

Severson is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when New Jersey hosts Nashville.

“He doesn’t have to be perfect,” coach John Hynes told reporters. “We’d just like to see him have a high compete level. We know he’s ready to go. We had a couple of good meetings with him. He’s in a good spot mentally. I know he’s ready to roll.”

Virtanen to make NHL debut tonight versus Kings

Jake Virtanen
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Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when his Canucks meet the Kings in Los Angeles.

The 19-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Vancouver’s first three games of the regular season. He had two goals and two assists in six preseason games.

“I can’t wait,” he told reporters. “My energy is high. I want to get a couple of hits on my first shift.”

Big and physical with goal-scoring ability, the consensus is that Virtanen will remain in the NHL and not be returned to junior after he’s played nine games. That consensus could always change based on his play, of course.

The Canucks — who won last night in Anaheim — did not have a full skate this morning, so it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup. The best guess is rookie Jared McCann, who’s been playing third-line center.

If McCann does come out, the Canucks could move Brandon Sutter to third-line center and Virtanen could take Sutter’s spot on the first line with the Sedin twins. Or, there could be more extensive line juggling.