Games to Watch
St. Louis Blues (21-10-4) at Detroit Red Wings (22-12-1)
Last night I highlighted a contest between two Northwest Division rivals, so I figured I’d continue the trend this evening with an intriguing matchup at Joe Louis Arena. The Blues and Red Wings prepare to do battle for the third time this season, but for only the first on Detroit’s ice. St. Louis captured the first two games of the series by a combined two goals, and stand one point ahead of the Wings in the Central Division. But, winning a third straight will prove to be a highly daunting task, as Detroit commands its home ice. The Red Wings are 13-2-1 and have won 10 consecutive games in their arena, dating back to November 3rd. During the streak, Detroit has outscored its opponents 51-15. Therefore, I put the hopes of the Blues in the hands of the NHL’s top netminder, Brian Elliott. He did not start between the pipes Monday — likely to be saved for tonight — so he will be well-rested for the Wings 5th ranked offense. However, I just can’t envision a defeat for a motivated squad in Detroit… Unless Elliott has an outstanding performance (which he has been known to do).
Prediction: Blues 2, Red Wings 3
Toronto Maple Leafs (18-13-4) at Florida Panthers (18-11-7)
The Panthers are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, that’s undeniable. They have built an astounding six-point advantage in the Southeast Division and look fully capable of making a run come playoff time. However, the last three contests have not treated them very well. Florida dropped two one-goal affairs leading up to a miserable 8-0 defeat to the Bruins heading into Christmas. So, they now set their sights on a positive outcome following the much-needed break. An opportunity will come tonight at the BankAtlantic Center against the recently hot Maple Leafs. After dropping five of six and falling seven points behind Boston in the Northeast Division, Toronto has responded with wins over the Sabres and Islanders. The Leafs relied heavily on offensive production (as they typically do) in both contests, recording a total of 10 goals. With that being said, I believe it is this same attack, led by Phil Kessel’s 41 points, that will need a strong showing to beat the Panthers. Florida has a number of options on both the offensive and defensive side of the rink, so scoring will be a necessity for Toronto to compensate for its disappointing goaltending.
Prediction: Maple Leafs 3, Panthers 4
Player to Watch
Evgeni Malkin, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
There’s big news concerning a player in Pittsburgh, and no; it’s not Sidney Crosby. In just 28 games played, Evgeni Malkin has emerged as one of the NHL’s top threats on the offensive end of the ice. He has recorded 25 assists and 40 points, which both rank amongst the top 10 scorers in hockey. More recently, he has been on an absolute tear during the Penguins three-game winning streak. This includes nine points, six helpers, and a hat trick on December 17th against the Sabres. In all, he has picked up 17 points in the clubs 10 contests this month. Pittsburgh is 6-4-0 thus far.
Not surprisingly, Malkin should be in a wonderful position to continue his exceptional play with the Hurricanes coming to town tonight. Carolina posts the leagues 20th ranked defense, 26th ranked penalty kill, and has already allowed six goals in two prior meetings with the Penguins. Malkin recorded an assist in each game, and could do much more this time around. The Hurricanes are forced to travel to Pittsburgh after winning a battle in New Jersey on Monday, and could be fatigued against a very dangerous Penguin offense. I expect no less than two points from Malkin, and yet another win for his club.
OMG Stat of the Night
Avalanche Excellence in OT/SO
I mentioned this earlier in the season, and now I feel as if I must elaborate with the trend continuing. After upending the Lightning on December 23rd, the Colorado Avalanche have now won 13 of their last 14 (9-1 this season) contests that required extra time. Perhaps even more impressive is the Avs dominance in the shootout. Colorado is undefeated (6-0) so far this year, and has only lost one in its last 18. Believe me, clubs across the NHL realize that this is a team you want to put away in regulation. Keep this in mind tonight as the Avalanche do battle with the Jets at the Pepsi Center.