Let’s take a look at today’s nine games. As always, the start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).
Atlanta @ Edmonton
The Thrashers are four points behind the eighth-place Hurricanes, so they need to win games like these. It’s as simple as that. They’ve gone a disconcerting 3-9-4 in their last 16 games, so you never know with Atlanta right now.
Ottawa @ Toronto
Two trade-altered teams who seem to have “punted” away their seasons face off in this game. The Maple Leafs might still be holding onto to some slim playoff hopes, but both clubs must be looking toward 2011-12 deep down.
New Jersey @ Carolina
The Devils took the two teams’ last game earlier this week, but this should be an interesting test. The Hurricanes have reason to take New Jersey more seriously as Ilya Kovalchuk & Co. come into this game on an undeniable tear. Both teams are in the second half of back-to-back games this weekend, as the Devils shut out the Rangers while the Canes outlasted the Flyers Friday night.
Los Angeles @ NY Islanders
The Islanders probably look up to the Kings, a team that is being very patient as they grow from cellar dwellers in previous seasons to playoff contenders for the last two. That being said – and with all due respect to John Tavares – the Islanders don’t have a player on Drew Doughty’s level. Maybe another lottery pick could change that?
Florida @ Tampa Bay
Are the Panthers still mixed up about being buyers or sellers during the trade deadline? Surely someone could give them something for Tomas Vokoun, unless they would rather get Bouwmeester’d again. Meanwhile, the Lightning “bought” Eric Brewer, so it will be interesting to see how the aging veteran fits into what Tampa Bay is trying to do.
Anaheim @ St. Louis
The Ducks have a loose grip on the eighth spot in the West, while the Blues are either starting an unexpected run back to the middle of the bubble or they’re ruining their tanking opportunity.
Phoenix @ Nashville
Despite their reputations for overachieving (or at least grinding out a lot of wins with low amounts of marquee talent), it’s still surprising that the Coyotes are third in the West and first in the Pacific while the Predators are in fourth. Then again, Phoenix could roll way back down to the lower seeds in the span of a couple games (or even one).
Dallas @ Vancouver
The banged-up Stars could be one loss away from a disturbing fall from the top of the Pacific to being out of the West’s playoff picture. They’ve lost three in a row and only won two in their last 11 games and seem lost lately. Playing against the Canucks won’t make it any easier to find themselves either.
Colorado @ San Jose
The Sharks could end the night in a place that was once quite familiar: first place in the Pacific. They only trail the Coyotes by one point and actually have one more win. San Jose will face a drastically different Avalanche team, as the club will no longer have Craig Anderson in net nor will they have Chris Stewart crashing opponents’ nets. Yup, the Sharks would regret it if they drop this one.