Games to Watch
Phoenix Coyotes (19-16-4) at St. Louis Blues (21-12-5)
Phoenix arrives at the Scottrade Center in the early stages of a stretch of eight of 10 contests on the road. These 10 games could prove to be defining of the Coyotes season as they’re current 1-3-1 stint has pushed them three points out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Fortunately for Phoenix, they have played their best hockey in opposing arenas. In fact, they are a respectable 12-8-1 on the road, compared to a disappointing 7-8-3 at home. But, winning in St. Louis has been a tall task for any challenger. The Blues have won six of seven at home, and are amongst the leagues best overall at 14-3-2. These numbers may be encouraging to a group that ended 2011 on a very poor note. St. Louis dropped three straight, including two to division rival Detroit, to fall five points behind top-seeded Chicago. Tonight’s matchup should be a battle that comes down to the play between the pipes for each team. The Blues and Coyotes are ranked in the top 10 in goals allowed per game, but in the bottom third in goals scored. Similar to their only other contest this season — won by St. Louis, 3-2, on Dec 23rd — I see the first team to two goals winning.
Prediction: Coyotes 1, Blues 2
Calgary Flames (18-17-5) at Washington Capitals (20-15-2)
Calgary and Washington should both take some time to learn a thing or two about consistency. For starters, the Flames travel to the Verizon Center in the thick of a brutal three-game losing streak. However, this is just one of many streaks Calgary has experimented with over the past month. Beginning in early December, the Flames won three straight, then lost four, won four and finally fell into this current funk. The chief reason for this inconsistent play has been the lack of balance between offense and defense. When Calgary scores well (Sunday in Nashville), they don’t receive a strong effort between the pipes — or vice versa. Ironically, Washington is incredibly familiar with this type of play. The Capitals started the season 7-0-0 before stumbling along a bumpy path of positive and negative streaks to fall out of the playoff picture. But, their one advantage over the Flames this evening is the reemergence of superstar Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin has an almost unrivaled ability to change games by himself, which has been shown with his nine points during a recent six-game point streak. I expect another explosive performance out of him, as Washington rallies to its 4th straight victory.
Prediction: Flames 2, Capitals 4
Player to Watch
Kari Lehtonen, Goalie, Dallas Stars
Kari Lehtonen has finally recovered from his injury in late November and is back on the ice to help the Dallas Stars in their playoff push. Lehtonen, the seven-year veteran, has put together an impressive 14-5-1 record and is allowing only 2.36 goals per game in his 21 starts on the season. However, since returning on December 29th, Lehtonen has struggled a bit between the pipes. He has given up five goals in two starts, and is saving just below 90 percent of opponent snipes — Dallas is 1-1-0 in those contests with the defeat coming to the Blue Jackets. With that being said, I expect an inspired performance from the great netminder against a balanced Red Wing attack. Lehtonen will have the crowd behind him and the motivation of squaring off with a more than capable counterpart in Jimmy Howard. Therefore, he will not allow more than two goals tonight and the Stars will emerge victorious. Mark it down.
OMG Stat of the Night
Carolina Hurricanes Power Play/Penalty Kill
The Carolina Hurricanes are having a terrible season and a big part of it is the play of both the offense and defense when there’s a man in the box. Carolina is 26th in the NHL on both the power play and penalty kill. That leads to tonights statistic, which is that the Hurricanes have given up a power play goal in contests that they do not produce one on 15 different occasions this year. Not surprisingly, Carolina has lost EVERY one of these games. Failing to do the small things well always tends to haunt a team on the scoreboard.