By Garrett Perry, Curtis Ng and Nic Carafa
Each day, THN gives you five things to watch out for in the games ahead. There are five games on tap tonight from Pittsburgh, Washington, Calgary, Vancouver and Anaheim.
1) What the….Sedin’s?
The Vancouver Canucks play of late has coach John Tortorella up in arms. The team is winless in its past five games (0-3-2) and is coming off a 3-2 shootout loss at the hands of the basement dwelling Florida Panthers. Perhaps more puzzling is the team’s offensive struggles, having only managed six goals over the course of their current five-game losing skid. The dynamic duo of the Sedin’s have just two points in their past six games combined, a concern that has optioned Tortorella to juggle his lineups, splitting the siblings up. Their recent struggles have them sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings, with a large hill to climb if they hope to make up any ground. The good news for the Canucks is that they’re hosting the ailing Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, who are without stars Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton due to injury. The Blue Jackets have experienced their own struggles of late, so look for the Canucks to get the offense going early and right the ship.
2) Backup game savers
If there has been one reoccurring theme this year, it’s been the importance of backup goalies. Whether it’s the occasional nod during back-to-back games, or to keep a team afloat when injuries strike the crease, a good backup goalie can never be overlooked. Tonight’s tilts feature three backups in action, the first having taken the reins following an injury to No. 1 goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The Islanders have been looking to Kevin Poulin for stability in the crease, but have been met with mixed results. He owns a 3-6 record, accompanied by a 2.79 GAA and .898 SP, not good enough for a team that relies heavily on their masked man. As for spot starts, both Scott Clemmensen and Peter Budaj are expected to see action tonight as the Panthers and Canadiens give their No. 1’s a night off. Florida will hope its recent success will carry over into Clemmensen’s hands, as he looks for his first win of the season, having gone 0-1-1 with a 3.09 GAA in his first three appearances. Lastly, Budaj will be making his fifth start of the season for the Canadiens, carrying an impressive 3-1-0 record, a 1.48 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage that has coach Michel Therrien feeling confident.
3) Niedermayer night in Anaheim
Former Ducks’ defenseman Scott Niedermayer is going to be honored at the Honda Center tonight to commemorate his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take some of the attention away from two struggling teams at the moment – for roughly 30 minutes at least. When the puck drops, that’s a whole different story. On one hand, the Tampa bay Lighting have given up 21 goals in their past four games, while only scoring seven – it doesn’t take an expert mathematician to tell you that’s not good. On the other, the Ducks (along with the Oilers and Jets) have played 24 games so far this season, the most the NHL. Their 5-3-2 record over the past 10 games has given teams like the Coyotes and Kings the chance to take advantage of the games they have in hand. Let’s hope their 8-0-1 home record can help these Ducks stay above water.
4) Malkin 15-game goal drought
What’s more interesting: the fact that Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games – the last time was on Oct. 17 against Philly – or the fact that he is still producing a point a game with 22 in 22? Only three of those points are goals. Deryk Engelland has two goals, for crying out loud. So yeah, probably the first thing is more interesting. He does have 12 assists in his past nine games. Since Malkin last scored, the Penguins are a mediocre 8-7-0 and have been very streaky, with a four-game winning streak and two three-game losing streaks. The team also isn’t scoring as many as a group this year, having only scored five goals in a game twice in 22 games. During last year’s shortened season, Pittsburgh scored five or more in 13 games. The Pens are getting goals from non-Crosby players and they’re enjoying being tops in the Metropolitan Division, so it’s not like they’re starving for offense. Still, Malkin’s “return” will be welcome.
5) Florida’s three wins in November have come against Ducks, Avs and Canucks
The Florida Panthers are a pretty bad team that has only six wins so far, but five of them have come against Western Conference teams. To add to the weirdness, win No. 6 came against the Penguins. Their three wins in November have come against very strong Western teams: the Ducks, the Avs and the Canucks. They’ve lost to practically everyone, yes, but losing twice to the Edmonton Oilers and once to the Buffalo Sabres is completely unacceptable. What’s going to happen against Calgary tonight? The Flames are a Western team, but they are a really bad Western team, so this game really could go either way.