Let’s take a look at Sunday’s games, including a couple slightly odd start times. All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) though, of course.
Philadelphia @ NY Islanders
The Devils gave the Flyers a good fight Saturday afternoon, but Philly proved to be up to the task. That’s good news, too, because the Bullies need to win against the East’s weakest teams if they want to keep pace with the ridiculously hot Penguins in the Atlantic. Such logic would obviously extend to beating up on the wayward Islanders as well.
Ottawa @ NY Rangers
Perhaps before this game both teams can trade their best Wade Redden jokes, since he won’t be around to get all bummed out before he sees his latest paycheck. The Senators are on a three game losing streak, including a kick to the groin via Dany Heatley and the Sharks as well as Brian Elliott losing a dual shutout shootout with Ryan Miller and the Sabres. On the other end, the Rangers come into this one with a smile on their faces after handling a home-and-home with the hated Islanders.
Calgary @ Chicago
This used to be a one-sided but interesting rivalry like the one the Blackhawks currently have with the Canucks. Unfortunately it isn’t what it once was because the Flames have regressed from a flawed, disappointing contender to a disconcerting waste of money (and the waning prime years of Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff). Then again, the Flames recently routed the Blackhawks by a score of 7-2 and Chicago is clearly struggling with being the defending champions/losing useful support players this season.
Still, the Flames are now only a win tie-breaker ahead of the Oilers for the bottom spot in the West, so this is the kind of game the ‘Hawks simply need to win.
Phoenix @ Anaheim
Of all the NHL’s divisions, the Pacific might be the strangest (and also might be the most competitive). Each of its five teams has a legitimate reason to believe they will make the playoffs once we reach April. I get the feeling that if you spliced the best of these two teams (the Coyotes’ tight defensive scheme, the Ducks’ robust set of power forwards and veteran scorers + whichever goalie you prefer between Jonas Hiller and Ilya Bryzgalov) you’d get one scary team. Of course, the Ducks defense + Coyotes offense combo would be “Kathy Bates naked in a hot tub in About Schmidt” scary …
St. Louis @ Vancouver
This is a prime example of “two teams heading in opposite directions” as the Canucks seem like they are back to being Stanley Cup contenders (four game winning streak, strong Northwest Division lead) while the Blues are starting to look like cellar dwellers (lost five in a row, last place in the Central).
Of course, this is a) hockey and b) the Western Conference, so there aren’t many gimmes. The Canucks should be angry with themselves if they lose this one, but that doesn’t mean they should take the Blues lightly.