Wednesday night was full of unbelievable hockey across the league. Defense was nonexistent, however, as the six teams combined for 25 goals.
In Edmonton, Carolina’s offense remained deadly. One night after igniting the scoreboard with six goals in Calgary, the Hurricanes abused Devan Dubnyk and the Oilers, 5-3. Five different Carolina attackers recorded a goal and Cam Ward saved 22 of the 25 shots sent his way to preserve the victory. It was truly a shocking performance from the ‘Canes.
SImilarly, Ottawa was upended, 5-3, by an insane third period display by the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin scored his 9th goal of the year as part of a four-goal rally by Washington, who trailed 2-1 through 40 minutes. It was the first time this season that the Capitals scored four in a single period.
Finally, arguably the best game of the night was played in Buffalo. The Sabres jumped out to a 3-1 lead through one period, but the feisty Flyers offense wouldn’t be denied. Philadelphia scored three in the second, and then added one from Claude Giroux in overtime to seal a challenging win, 5-4.
While Wednesday was good, the 12 games on Thursday should definitely be better. All six division leaders will be in action, while a number of other contenders will look to gain ground in the playoff hunt.
Game of the Night: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers
An old adage states that defense wins championships. The Philadelphia Flyers are out to prove that wrong in 2011-2012.
The fact is, the Flyers (16-7-3) aren’t a good defensive team. But, they don’t need to be when they possess an offensive attack that is unmatched by any of their opponents. Philadelphia averages 3.6 goals per game (1st in NHL) and converts on nearly 20 percent (6th in NHL) of its power plays. And, it helps to possess the sensational center Claude Giroux, who is amongst the league leaders with 36 points.
Simply put, with this offense, the Flyers are winning. Winning at a rate that will put them into contention at seasons end. They hold the NHL’s top road record at 10-3-1, and have won five of their last six games. This success has propelled them to only one point behind the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tonight, Philadelphia will return to the Wells Fargo Center with an opportunity to capture sole possession of first place in its first of several crucial matchups with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh has been just barely over .500 in its last 10 contests, at 5-4-1. They arrive fresh off of a tough defeat to the Bruins on Monday. Tim Thomas stifled the Penguins’ offense, and Boston cruised, 3-1. Also, superstar Sidney Crosby is unavailable yet again in this crucial battle of Pennsylvania rivals.
Like sharks, the Flyers smell the blood in the water, and they are ready to attack. They have waited two long months for an opportunity to show their worth in the Eastern Conference and I expect an excellent display tonight.
While this should be a close game, I can’t envision Pittsburgh stopping the hot streak of the Flyers. Without Crosby, the Penguins will likely be overwhelmed in the end.
Prediction: Penguins 3, Flyers 4
Other Games to Watch
Florida Panthers (15-8-4) at Boston Bruins (17-8-1)
I recently wrote about the Panthers unlikely rise to power in the Eastern Conference, one year after finishing dead last. In this article, I hinted at the lack of media attention given to a team that is worthy of admiration from all those who follow hockey. Well, here is yet another opportunity for Florida to make a statement. They have wins over the Penguins, Rangers, Sharks and Capitals in the last three weeks, so why not add another big one to the list. Obviously, this won’t be an easy task. The Bruins were finally defeated in regulation on Tuesday in Winnipeg, which ended a 15-game point streak. Boston is solid on offense and defense and has won eight straight in the TD Garden. However, I like the Panthers to pull it off. Perhaps it’s my love for the triumph of an underdog, or maybe its too much faith in a noticeably less talented group. Regardless, I’ll take the risky choice.
Prediction: Panthers 3, Bruins 2
Minnesota Wild (18-7-3) at Los Angeles Kings (13-10-4)
For anyone still expecting a collapse in Minnesota, don’t count on it. The Wild have won 10 of their last 12 contests and five straight to emerge as the top team in the NHL standings. But tonight could be full of team accomplishments that haven’t been reached in half a decade. It was five years ago that Minnesota last won six straight games, and they have never won six in-a-row on the road. Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Kings. Despite being the worst offensive team in the league, I think the Kings pose an intriguing threat to the Wild. Each of these clubs rank in the top five in goals allowed per game, and are in the top 10 on the penalty kill. Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick (11-7-4, 2.01 GAA) should single-handedly keep this one close to the end — maybe even steal a victory.
Prediction: Wild 1, Kings 2
Phoenix Coyotes (15-9-3) at Detroit Red Wings (16-9-1)
Two straight nail-bitters have lifted the Coyotes to first place in the tight Pacific Division. Phoenix won in Chicago in a shootout on Monday, followed by holding onto a one-goal victory in Nashville on Tuesday, pushing their road record to 9-4-1. To continue their streak, they will have to beat the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit is 8-2-3 in front of its home crowd, and should come prepared to play after losing two consecutive games in Colorado and St. Louis. However, this game has more significance after the postseasons of the past two years. The Red Wings have eliminated the Coyotes in both seasons, and you can bet that Phoenix will be anxious to make a statement tonight. However, while I believe that the Coyotes may finally be able to take down Detroit in a seven game series, it shouldn’t happen tonight. The Wings will end their losing streak in their home building.
Prediction: Coyotes 2, Red Wings 4
Player to Watch
Daniel Sedin, Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin is as good of a player as you will find in the NHL, and he is a huge part of the recent success in Vancouver. Sedin has 33 points (12 G, 21 A) and is +10 when on the ice for the Canucks. In fact, in his last four contests, he has recorded 8 points and picked up a hat trick in Colorado to lead his club to a 3-1-0 mark during the stretch. At this current pace, Sedin would reach 100 points for the second consecutive season, and eclipse at least 70 for the seventh straight year.
Tonight, Vancouver plays a tough contest in Montreal. The Canadiens are 10th in goals allowed per game, and 2nd on the penalty kill. However, they have struggled recently, losing three straight and allowing eight goals during that period. If this trend continues, expect Sedin to record at least one point before the clock hits zero.