By Ryan Boyd, Featured Writer
In just a few days, the NHL has changed so much. Some teams have capitalized on their opportunities while others have found themselves dropping precipitously in the standings.
This constant game of leap frog has benefitted the likes of the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins who have moved into outstanding shape in the league. All three teams have built lengthy winning streaks that they hope to continue tonight.
However, the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars have not been as fortunate on the ice. They both have dropped four straight and no longer sit in first place in their division.
With that being said, the theme of tonight (if you haven’t already caught on) is streaks. Almost every club that plays tonight has either won or lost three consecutive games. Therefore, it will be interesting to see who continues the streaky play.
Game of the Night: Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers
It may be a danger time in Edmonton.
After an unbelievable 8-2-2 start to the season, the Edmonton Oilers (9-7-2) have quickly began falling off the face of the earth. In fact, the Oilers have dropped four straight and five of their last six.
Most recently, Edmonton was pounded at home Thursday night by Ottawa, 5-2. The Senators scored three times in the first period including on their first two shots against goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin has been great most of the season, but was pulled from net as Ottawa cruised to victory.
During the recent struggles for the Oilers, defense has been a major concern. Edmonton has given up 24 goals over their stretch of five losses when they typically allow just over two a game.
Bad defense coupled with poor scoring (26th in the league) has been an obvious combination for failure. The Oilers top attackers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, have only picked up a total of six points over the last five games.
Naturally, Edmonton hopes that continuing the current home stand can help fix their problems; but, the Chicago Blackhawks (12-5-3) are the opposite of a pushover.
Chicago arrives at Rexall Place with the most points in the NHL and riding a streak of four wins in its last five games. This streak includes a runaway victory against Edmonton less than a week ago at the United Center.
The success over the Oilers is something the Blackhawks have enjoyed for a long period of time. They haven’t lost in Edmonton in their last seven trips.
To make matter worse, Chicago boasts one the most talented offensive groups in the league putting up 3.4 goals per game (2nd). It is led by the excellent combination of Marian Hossa (22 points) and Patrick Kane (21 points) who beat the Oiler defense regularly last Sunday for four points.
If Edmonton hopes to end its losing streak, it will need better goaltending and a sense of urgency on the offensive end.
Other Games to Watch
Boston Bruins (10-7-0) at New York Islanders (5-8-3)
This is a must see game simply because of how scary the Boston Bruins have recently become. The defending champions have put together seven consecutive victories and have outscored their opponents by more than three goals per outing during the streak. Boston now possesses statistically one of the best offenses (3rd) and best defenses (6th) in the NHL. New York, on the other hand, finally ended a lengthy losing after beating Montreal Thursday night. They will have to have a similar effort tonight if they want any chance at all.
St. Louis Blues (10-7-1) at Minnesota Wild (11-5-3)
It is a battle between two teams who have played quite well in the past few weeks. The Minnesota Wild have won three straight and eight of their last ten to move five points ahead of the second place Oilers in the Northwest Division. Stingy defense continues to be the name of the game for the WIld who are allowing a league best 1.9 goals per game. Conversely, the St. Louis Blues have responded in a big way since their head coach was fired. The Ken Hitchcock led Blues have posted a 4-0-1 record with wins over both Detroit and Chicago to solidify themselves as a competitor in the Western Conference.
New York Rangers (10-3-3) at Montreal Canadiens (8-8-3)
Don’t look now, but the New York Rangers are making a case to be the best team in the NHL. The Rangers have not lost in November and sit only two points out of first place in the very competitive Atlantic Division. Netminder Henrik Lundqvist (7-3-3, 2.13 GAA) leads a strong defense that is backed up nicely by the leagues 10th best offense. However, there is no reason to sleep on the Montreal Canadiens – especially at home. The Bell Centre is a notoriously hostile arena and at times the Rangers have looked beatable on the road. If the Canadiens can get ahead early, they may end New York’s winning streak.
Player to Watch
Center Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
Believe me, I know that defense wins championships. I also know that the Wild have been quite successful even as the 27th best offense in the league. However, it is time for the offense to play its roll in the teams success and it starts with Mikko Koivu. Koivu has certainly had a respectable start to the 2011-2012 season with 10 assists and a total of 11 points, but he is on pace to be well below his output of the past few campaigns. With only one goal scored thus far, he is only in line to put four shots in the back of the net compared to 22 and 17 in 2010 and 2011. Also, his projected point total is set to be below 50 for the first time in three years.
Fortunately, Koivu may have some chances tonight with the St. Louis Blues in town. While the Blues do have a very impressive defense at full strength, they have struggled on the penalty kill. In fact, St. Louis ranks 23rd in the NHL killing only 79.4 percent of opponents chances. Expect a low scoring game in this battle, but if the play gets sloppy and the Blues are in the box often, Koivu should have his way on ice.