Sunday evening played out exactly like most fans expected. The team that was noticeably better in each matchup protected its home ice and came away with the win.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks jumped out to a three-goal advantage over Calgary through two periods behind the glove of Ray Emery. Emery saved 22 of 24 shots to preserve the 4-2 victory. The defeat continued a streak of now 11 consecutive poor outcomes at the United Center for the Flames. Conversely, Blackhawk head coach Joel Quenneville became the second fastest to reach 600 career wins, and his team sits atop the NHL standings.
Just southeast of there, the Panthers used overtime to fend off the Hurricanes, 3-2. Florida battled back from a 2-1 deficit at the end of the second period and then celebrated three minutes into extra time as leading scorer Kris Versteeg (34 points) netted the winner. With the win, the Panthers build an eight point division lead and continue the difficulties for last place Carolina.
And finally, in St. Louis, the Blues used four third period goals to achieve a comeback victory over the slumping Blue Jackets, 6-4. Frustration continues to build for Columbus, who has now dropped three straight by a combined four goals, and sits at the bottom of the league. In contrast, St. Louis leaped Detroit to become second in the very competitive Central Division.
There will be 12 teams in action Monday night, four of which currently lead (or are tied) their division. So, let’s see what you should watch for:
Game of the Night
Minnesota Wild (20-8-5) at Vancouver Canucks (19-11-2)
Two Northwest Division rivals that are headed in seemingly different directions are set to be reunited tonight at Rodgers Arena.
Minnesota arrives crippled by recent injuries, which is a large part of its season-long three-game losing streak. In fact, in Saturday’s matchup with the New York Islanders, the Wild were without leading scorer Mikko Koivu and three other attackers. This had noticeable affects on an offense that already ranks among the worst in the NHL.
But, the Wild believe they can get back on track with the continuance of stingy play on the defensive end of the ice. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom made 35 saves in the disappointing 2-1 defeat to the Islanders, and is amongst the league leaders with 2.06 goals allowed per game.
However, beating the Canucks at home will be no easy task. Vancouver has won 10 of its last 13 and suddenly sits in sixth place in the current Western Conference standings. During this span, the Canucks have jumped up the statistical ranks to now possess the leagues fourth ranked offense, and ninth ranked defense.
Those numbers were put on full display Saturday, with Vancouver taking care of the Maple Leafs, 5-3. Roberto Luongo saved 26 of 29 shots, while the Sedin brothers combined for a goal and an assist to lead the winning effort.
Interestingly, the hot play of the Canucks isn’t the only reason that this contest doesn’t favor Minnesota. The Wild have lost eight straight road meetings in the series, dating back to January, 2009. Also, in Backstrom’s last three starts against Vancouver, he is 0-2-1 with nearly four goals allowed each game.
The Wild needs a low scoring affair if they hope to secure this road upset. The injuries on the offensive end make them even less of a scoring threat, so if the Canucks can get ahead early, they should win.
Call me crazy, but not only do I like Vancouver in this one, but I like its chances to claim the Northwest lead in the coming weeks.
Prediction: Wild 2, Canucks 3
Other Games to Watch
Philadelphia Flyers (20-8-3) at Colorado Avalanche (15-17-1)
This matchup became much more intriguing (at least in my mind) after the Flyers unbelievably bad effort Saturday against the Bruins. Philadelphia was shutout for only the second time all season (6-0), and it makes me wonder about the significance of the injury to Claude Giroux. It is no secret that the Flyers aren’t a good defensive team, so without a sustained offensive output, it could become a bumpy ride for the club. A trip to Colorado may not be as successful as some believe, either. The Avalanche have won five consecutive games at the Pepsi Center over very formidable opponents. The list includes the Devils, Blues, Red Wings, Sharks and Capitals — all of which are competing for playoff positioning. Admittedly, it is probably a safer choice to take the more talented Philadelphia squad in this contest; but I’m not convinced that they’ll be able to rebound on this night.
Prediction: Flyers 3, Avalanche 4
Detroit Red Wings (20-10-1) at Edmonton Oilers (14-15-3)
Edmonton has very quickly fallen off the map as a contender in the Western Conference. They have dropped three straight, and eight of 10 to find themselves fourth in the Northwest Division. A big part of the struggles has been the play on the defensive end of the ice. The Oilers now rank 14th in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and rely too heavily on a young offensive core to compensate for the decreasing success between the pipes. And, changing their fortunes tonight will be a tall task against a Red Wings team that has beaten them six straight times. Detroit has build one of the more balanced teams in the league with a defense that allows only 2.2 goals per contest (5th), and an offense that can put the puck in the net at an astounding rate (3.3 goals per game). Surprisingly, the Red Wings are currently third in the Central Division, so I expect a convincing victory to climb back into second tonight.
Prediction: Red Wings 4, Oilers 2