Five things to watch: Bryzgalov makes humongous big start for Oilers

There are two games on the NHL schedule tonight between Ottawa-Vancouver and Edmoton-Nashville. We give you five things to watch, including Ilya Bryzgalov’s first start since signing with the Oilers.

By Nicholas Carafa, Garrett Perry and Curtis Ng
There are two games on the NHL schedule tonight between Ottawa-Vancouver and Edmoton-Nashville. We give you five things to watch, including Ilya Bryzgalov’s first start since signing with the Oilers.

Humongous big opportunity for Bryzgalov
With Richard Bachman injured and Jason LaBarbera allowing three or more goals in five of his six appearances, it was time for a change. The Oilers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov on a one-year, $1.7-million contract and hope he’ll provide some stability in net. Bryzgalov makes his first start for the Oilers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville tonight, which will be his first since April 25, when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. After the Flyers admitted their mistake and bought his contract out, Bryzgalov joined the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL on a tryout, but didn’t earn a contract. Things seem to have worked out for him, though, since he’s back in the NHL. Perhaps not surprisingly, Bryzgalov has already made a relief appearance for Edmonton, replacing Devan Dubnyk on Monday after the latter allowed four Blackhawks goals before the game was half done. Oddly enough, he was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week that same day. Dubnyk has an .891 save percentage and a 3.32 goals-against average.

Heritage brewing
Tonight’s matchup between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators is a reminder of the past and a precursor of what’s to come. The two teams will meet in this year’s Heritage Classic on March 2 at BC Place. It will mark the first time an NHL game has been played in a retractable-roof facility. The Canucks will become just the third Canadian team to host a regular season game outdoors, following in the footsteps of the Edmonton Oilers in 2003 and Calgary Flames in 2011. There is a rivalry between these two teams, although long forgotten, that traces as far back as 1915. The Vancouver Millionaires, as they were known back then, had won the championship of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. While in the East, the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey Association had just celebrated a league title of their own. The rival leagues agreed to a best-of-five series between their respective champions, with Lord Stanley being awarded to the victor. The Millionaires went on to sweep the series and claim hockey’s top prize. This year’s Heritage Classic will recall some of the earliest history of our game and the Stanley Cup tradition.

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Marek’s the man in Music City
The Nashville Predators have been without franchise goalie Pekka Rinne for almost a month now because of an E. coli infection in his hip, but after going through a few options they seem to have found their man: Marek Mazanec. The 22-year-old was the Preds’ sixth round pick in the 2012 draft and has won five of his past six starts. He’s only allowed eight goals over than span, putting together an impressive 1.34 GAA and .955 SP. Since it is American Thanksgiving, I guess you could say GM David Poile is thankful for Mazanec – he has been able to keep the team in the playoff mix.

Canucks looking to continue dominance over ‘Pesky Sens’
Even though the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators haven’t met in nearly two years, the Canucks hold the historical advantage heading into tonight’s matchup. They have won nine of their past 10 meetings versus the Sens, who definitely brought the pesky back after overcoming two deficits in a 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals last night. Tonight’s game is the first of a three-game road trip for the boys from Van City, who are hoping this trend against Ottawa holds up because they haven’t been playing too consistent as of late. A 2-4-4 record over Vancouver’s past 10 games has dropped them out of a playoff and wild card position in the Western Conference. Should we cue the classic John Tortorella post-game antics soon if things don’t turn around?

Special and not-so-special teams
The Canucks are in desperate need of offense. They’re 3-4-4 in November and have scored more than two goals just three times during that stretch. One possible explanation is the Canucks’ horrendous power play, which is 28th in the league at 11.6 percent. They’re 6-for-43 so far this month, including a bad 1-for-8 effort against the Kings on Monday. Ottawa’s power play is a respectable 10th, operating at a 20.9 percent efficiency. The penalty kill, on the other hand, is a completely different story. While the Senators are a mediocre 21st at 79.3 percent, the Canucks are by far the best in the league at 89.5 percent, almost three full percentage points better than second-place New Jersey.