When you look at the turns the Rangers and Capitals have seen this season, it’s crazy to think that both teams were considered Stanley Cup challengers. When they face off against each other tonight (7:30 p.m. ET on Versus) their roles are a bit different. After all, the Caps were the chic pick to make a run at the finals while the Rangers were more of a dark horse. Now those roles are quite different.
The Rangers have won five in a row and 12 of their last 16 games heading into tonight and they’ve been doing it because their superstars have played as such. Marian Gaborik has 22 goals, Brad Richards is playing the part of playmaker to a “T” and Henrik Lundqvist has been lights out in goal. Take those performances and match them up with getting great play from guys like Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan and you’ve got a team that looks poised to make a deep run in the postseason.
We’re sure John Tortorella can find something to be grumpy about somewhere.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have been a mess. They’ve lost 9 of their last 14 games, have been plagued by brutally inconsistent play all over the ice, and frustrated their fans like crazy. After all, going from a great performance to one where the team looks completely unmotivated makes the Caps look very average.
With as much talent as the Caps have, seeing guys like Tomas Vokoun, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin all struggle the way they have is maddening and it’s not helping Dale Hunter look like the savior as head coach. A win tonight for Washington would be a nice start for them, but to make it count they have to string them together in bunches. Doing that against this year’s Rangers is asking a lot.
When we tell you that tonight’s game between Dallas and St. Louis from the Scottrade Center (7:30 p.m. ET) is a battle between teams looking to climb to the top of the Western Conference, you’re probably checking your calendar to see what year it is.
Not helping matters there is that Ken Hitchcock is behind the bench for one of the teams, only this time it’s for the resurgent St. Louis Blues. With a 14-3-4 record since taking over, there’s no reason to think that Hitchcock won’t wind up a Jack Adams Award finalist at season’s end.
You could argue about who the guy is that’s benefited the most from Hitchcock’s arrival. Goalie Brian Elliott has had a Vezina-worthy season for the Blues while T.J. Oshie has taken his game to a new level, leading the team in scoring along with Alex Steen. (Update 11:53 a.m.: It’s fitting then that Jaroslav Halak gets the start tonight just to spite our story-building. Thanks, Hitch.)
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars aren’t doing so badly themselves. We’ve gotten a healthy dose of them lately on Versus and by now we know all about how well Glen Gulutzan has done as their coach. We’ve also gotten to see rookie sensation Richard Bachman carry them in goal since Kari Lehtonen went down with a groin injury. They’ll need him to be sharp tonight, giving up even one goal to the Blues could prove to be enough to win.
It’ll be up to Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson to do their part and make sure the Stars don’t get blanked by the defensively tougher Blues. If nothing else, Hitchcock’s arrival to St. Louis has helped them stop being pushed around. Steve Ott and company will look to make things really uncomfortable tonight.
It could prove to be a big night for the Flyers as they head to take on the Stars in Dallas (7:30 p.m. ET on Versus). The NHL’s co-leading scorer Claude Giroux is shaping up to be ready to play tonight after missing time with a concussion. Giroux has missed four games but hasn’t relinquished his scoring lead to Phil Kessel, Henrik Sedin or the red-hot Evgeni Malkin.
Seeing Giroux rejoin his linemates Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr should give the Flyers a spark as they’ve dropped two games in a row. Getting drubbed by Boston is one thing, losing in a shootout to Colorado is something else entirely. Ilya Bryzgalov (or Sergei Bobrovsky) are going to have to be sharper to take out the Stars.
As we saw on Monday night, Dallas can be tough and score goals on top of all of that. While beating the lowly Ducks is expected of a team sitting atop the Pacific Division, doing it with your third string goalie makes it more special. Richard Bachman has been outstanding in usurping the top job while Kari Lehtonen is out with a groin injury. The Flyers should prove to be his biggest test yet, however.
It’s straight-forward that the Stars will need big games out of their top guys in Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, and Brenden Morrow to counteract the barrage that the Flyers will throw at them. Eric Nystrom could stand to show up with more of his sandpaper and goal scoring too.
Guys we’d love to hear mic’d up but the FCC would hate: Steve Ott and Maxime Talbot. Here’s to hoping HBO has Talbot wired for this game because the amount of chatter between these two is worthy of its own mini-series.
The Blackhawks come into tonight’s game in Pittsburgh against the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET) riding high on a five-game winning streak and winner of seven of their last eight. The main man behind Chicago’s success? None other than goalie Ray Emery.
Emery has won all five games in their latest streak and while taking the starting job away from Corey Crawford seemed to be a long shot when the season began, Emery’s played so well he’s relegated Crawford to the bench. Not bad work for a guy a lot of people thought were washed up.
Helping make life easier for Emery of late has been Patrick Sharp who’s been tearing things up so much he’s vaulted into the goal scoring race with 17, three behind Steve Stamkos. His 35 points put him one behind Marian Hossa for the team lead. Oh yeah, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane aren’t half bad either.
If there’s someone to put an end to Chicago’s winning ways, it’s Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was one of the NHL’s stars of the week after blowing up huge against Buffalo over the weekend. Malkin is just three points off the NHL scoring lead that sees Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux on top of things. Having James Neal to feed passes to helps. Expect to see Marc-Andre Fleury get the call in goal tonight for Pittsburgh.
You couldn’t have two teams having more drastically different seasons than Anaheim and Dallas facing off tonight on Versus (8 p.m. ET).
Dallas has overcome an injury to their starting goalie Kari Lehtonen and found a young stud in his stead in Richard Bachman. Meanwhile, young forward Jamie Benn is a rising star and Loui Eriksson continues to be quietly one of the most productive forwards in the league. Having things shake out this well is a blessing for the Stars and a lot of that credit belongs to new head coach Glen Gulutzan.
In Anaheim, however, things haven’t gone so smoothly.
As you know, the Ducks fired Randy Carlyle recently, replacing him with Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau hasn’t quite been able to work his magic with a Ducks team that is suffering from poor performance all over the ice. Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan are having a down seasons, Corey Perry hasn’t single handedly put the team on his back and carried them the way he did last season, and Jonas Hiller has looked rough in goal. The only guy stepping things up is 41 year-old Teemu Selanne who is leading the team in points.
All this does is shape things up for Dallas to continue rolling along tonight unless Boudreau’s message has started getting through to the rest of the Ducks.