By Garrett Perry and Curtis Ng
Each day, THN gives you five things to watch out for in the games ahead. With 10 games on tonight, there is a lot to keep an eye on, from Nazem Kadri returning to the Leafs, to the Flyers finding their wings, the Coyotes trying to keep a hot start going, and more.
1. Kadri “back strom” suspension
Nazem Kadri will re-enter the Leafs lineup tonight after finishing up a three-game suspension for flattening Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom last Wednesday. With all due respect, Kadri’s brief absence wouldn’t have been a big deal if the Leafs weren’t already missing centermen Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland. Desperate for help down the middle, Toronto called up their old pals, the Anaheim Ducks, to swing a trade for young center Peter Holland. The poor guy was traded on Saturday morning and that night was centering Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk in a game against Buffalo. Trevor Smith and Jerred Smithson have filled in admirably, but as bodies return, they will likely be sent back to the Marlies.
2. Alexander the ‘OK, I guess’
In his first 18 games of the season, Alexander Steen was held without a point just once, and that was in Game No. 5. Since his silly 13-game point streak ended on Sunday in a 4-1 loss against Washington, Steen has gone on an epic two-game scoreless streak. His team’s record during that long drought is a modest 1-1-0. The Blues only have three regulation losses and Steen failed to score in two of them. Despite his current “slump,” Steen is still on pace to score 70 goals this season. Not bad, considering his career high is 24 with 51 points.
3. It’s a Marek-cle
Pekka Rinne had hip arthroscopic surgery in May and was fine until late October when he developed a bacterial infection. Rinne was supposed to be out for only four weeks, but the timetable has become uncertain. The loss of their franchise goalie was supposed to kill the Predators, but they’re hanging in there. Sure, they’re 12th in the Western Conference, but they’d be eighth in the East. Carter Hutton became the de facto starter for the Preds, but struggled, giving up three or more goals in each of his past six appearances. Hutton is sporting an .891 save percentage and a 3.39 goals-against average. In came 22-year-old Marek Mazanec, Nashville’s sixth round pick in 2012. In five games, Mazanec has a 2-2-0 record, but more interestingly, has a .927 save percentage and a 2.45 GAA. Looks like it’s his job to lose.
4. The Flyers aren’t Claude anymore
Don’t look now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are rolling out of their first quarter slump with an offense that is starting to fire on all cylinders. In just over a week, the Flyers have doubled their season win total, finishing on top in four of their past five contests. During that stretch, they’re averaging 3.6 goals a game and have been getting stellar goaltending from Steve Mason. With a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Flyers moved to within two points of the third-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, a spot that would secure a playoff berth. The Flyers will try for their fifth consecutive win at the Wells Fargo Center as they welcome the struggling Buffalo Sabres, who own a league-worst 11 points and have just two regulation victories on the season. Keep an eye on monkey-relieved Claude Giroux. The captain has two goals, three assists, and a plus-5 rating in the past five games.
5. Radim-ing qualities
It comes as no great surprise the Phoenix Coyotes are one of the best teams in the NHL through the first quarter of the season, but their offensive play has raised a few eyebrows. The Coyotes currently sit fourth in the NHL with 3.29 goals per game, a telling difference from the 2.52 average (21st) they had just a year ago. Moreover, their power play is operating at 22.4 percent and they have five players with six goals or more, which includes a team-leading 10 from captain Shane Doan. Following a four-day layoff, look for the Desert Dogs to be well-rested and hungry to extend their home unbeaten-in-regulation streak to 11 games against the equally potent Colorado Avalanche. Keep a tab on the always-dangerous Radim Vrbata of the Coyotes, as he enters tonight’s game with one goal and seven points in his past five games.