By Ryan Boyd, Featured Writer
Friday night played out a lot like I envisioned.
Detroit, led by 41 saves by Jimmy Howard, ended the ten game winning streak of the Bruins in an excellent showdown. The TD Garden crowd was treated to a thriller that was won by the Red Wings on the final shot of the shootout.
In Anaheim, the Blackhawks exploded on the offensive end with four goals in the decisive third period to secure a tough 6-5 victory. Perhaps it was closer than I forecasted, but nonetheless, Chicago came out on top.
Across the nation in Columbus, the Blue Jackets shocked many with a 5-1 stomping of the Sabres. But, was I surprised by the outcome? Of course not. Nationwide Arena is the one place where those pesky Jackets win hockey games.
And finally, Alex Ovechkin scored a goal and played relatively well despite a horrendous effort in net from the Capitals.
With all that being said, I’m anxious to take a look at tonights NHL matchups.
Game of the Night: Washington Capitals at Buffalo Sabres
This is a battle between two of the most highly talented clubs in the Eastern Conference. However, the one thing these two have in common is a current slump that has severely hurt their standing to this point.
Let’s start with the Washington Capitals (12-8-1).
Since starting the year with the best record in the NHL, Washington has fallen off the map. In their last 10 games, the Capitals have been a disappointing 3-6-1 and have played some of the worst defense in hockey. In fact, during the stretch, they are allowing an unmatched four goals per contest and have dropped to 27th in the league defensively.
The trend continued Friday as Washington was throttled by the New York Rangers, 6-3. Backup netminder Michal Neuvirth allowed all six goals and watched his goals allowed per contest statistic jump to an astronomical level of 3.81.
Interestingly, the Capitals highlight the importance of defense in any sport. They score more than three goals per game which is 3rd best in the NHL, but without solid play on the other end, they have been rendered helpless.
The Buffalo Sabres (12-9-1) have been only slightly better than Washington recently.
Buffalo was hammered by the worst team in the Western Conference Friday, 5-1, at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets scored all five of their goals over the first two periods and forced the Sabres to replace backup goalie Jhonas Enroth. This defeat marks the third straight for Buffalo who has dropped to third in the Northeast Division.
Contrary to the Capitals, the problems for the Sabres have stemmed from a multitude of injuries on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. Buffalo played without four forwards, two defensemen and outstanding goaltender Ryan Miller against Columbus. Naturally, this has been a key reason for the teams struggles.
Saturdays matchup will most likely come down to the play between the pipes. Washington should beat the depleted Sabres, but if their inconsistent defense appears again at the First Niagara Center, Buffalo will compete for the win.
Other Games to Watch
Vancouver Canucks (12-9-1) at San Jose Sharks (13-5-1)
The Canucks, similar to the Bruins, have once again made themselves relevant after a poor start to the season. Vancouver won its third straight Friday against the Coyotes in commanding fashion, 5-0. Defense has been the chief reason for their recent success as they have outscored opponents 10-1 during the streak. However, San Jose will pose a true test for the Canucks tonight at the HP Pavilion. The Sharks are leading the always competitive Pacific Division and have won an NHL leading four contests straight. During the string of victories, San Jose has conquered Western Conference contenders Detroit, Chicago and Dallas. If the Canucks want a chance to win, they will need to capitalize on the biggest weakness of the Sharks, the penalty kill (28th in NHL).
Philadelphia Flyers (13-6-3) at New York Rangers (11-5-3)
An afternoon division rivalry featuring two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference is sure to ignite the day of hockey in the NHL. The Flyers arrive at Madison Square Garden fresh off a 3-1 victory against the Canadiens Friday night. It was the second consecutive win for Philadelphia and fifth of seven overall. As expected, the Flyers wield the top ranked offense in hockey , which has carried them to the recent success. New York, on the other hand, has depended on stingy defense to put themselves in excellent position through only 19 games. Led by veteran Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers are the 4th best defensive unit in the league. This contest will obviously come down to the clash of titanic forces of offense versus defense.
Player to Watch
Brian Campbell, Defender, Florida Panthers
Defensive players are far too often over shadowed by their electrifying counterparts on the offensive end of the ice. However, Brian Campbell is proof that defenders can both score and play solid defense. He leads the NHL in points as a defender with 19 and also is plus six when he is on the ice. This combination has been a key reason why the Panthers have emerged as one of the better offensive and defensive teams in the league. At his current pace, Campbell would finish the year at plus 22 and have 71 points.
Tonight he faces off with Tampa Bay as part of a back-to-back affair. Florida was beaten at home in a thriller last night in overtime, 2-1. Considering the Lightning carry the NHL’s 25th ranked defense and have a hungry opponent coming to town, I like Campbell’s chances to have a big game. Expect an assist or two out of him depending on how potent the rest of the Panthers offense is early on.