Will 11 games on the docket, nearly every NHL team is playing Thursday night. Here’s the inside scoop on what to be on the lookout for:
By Garrett Perry, Josh Elliott and Curtis Ng
Blue shirts and jackets going through wear and tear
Injuries have been a huge problem for the Blue Jackets and Rangers this season. Former Ranger Marian Gaborik has been out for a month with a knee injury and might be out for a couple more weeks. Several top players for the Jackets are out, including Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), James Wisniewski (upper body) and Nathan Horton (shoulder surgery). The Rangers’ Marc Staal got concussed again on Saturday while their captain, Ryan Callahan, was lost to a knee sprain on Tuesday. The former’s concussion is “not serious”, if that’s possible, while the latter is gone for four to six weeks. The Blueshirts are starved for offense; after 32 games, Brad Richards leads the team in goals (nine) and points (24). They’re 28th in the league with a paltry 2.19 goals per game.
Little Stromer Boy
After a legendary 10-game losing streak, the New York Islanders finally won a game on Tuesday, surprisingly, against the San Jose Sharks. Even nuttier, the game was at the SAP Center and the Islanders were down 2-0 heading into the third. The Isles were supposed to return to the post-season again after putting up a good fight against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins last year in the first round. However, they’re 10 points out of third in the Metropolitan Division and won’t make that ground up unless they start getting better goaltending and better special teams – they’re dead last in goals allowed per game (3.41) and penalty killing (71.3 percent). The team’s in need of a shakeup, and something of the sort occurred yesterday when the Islanders called up Ryan Strome from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American League. The 20-year-old was their first pick (5th overall) in the 2011 draft and will make his NHL debut tonight against the Coyotes. Strome is the leading scorer in the AHL with 33 points in 23 games, and although he could provide a spark, he isn’t exactly what the team needs right now, which is goaltending and defense.
Shoot ‘em up
The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators will complete their home-and-home series tonight, and if you’re the Sens, you don’t want the game going to a shootout. Buffalo won the last game 2-1 in the shootout Dec. 10, and while they sit last in the NHL standings, they are a perfect 4-0 in shootouts this year. In fact, goaltender Ryan Miller is the all-time leader for shootout wins with 46. The Sens, meanwhile, are coming off back-to-back-to-back shootout decisions and have just one win in six of the tiebreakers in 2013-14.
A handful of players face their old teams for the first time tonight, and you can bet their homecomings won’t be as heartwarming as Jarome Iginla’s a few nights ago. Rick Nash faces Columbus for the first time this season and Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov return to New York in tonight’s game between the Rangers and Blue Jackets. Though it is the second meeting of the season between the two teams, it’ll be Nash’s first game against the Jackets since the trade because he was injured earlier in the season. Danny Briere faces the team that bought him out last summer as the Canadiens cruise into Philadelphia, while surprise goal-scoring machine Alexander Steen (21 goals, tied for second in the league) will look to light the lamp against the team that gave up on him as his St. Louis Blues host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Although they currently sit last place in the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers have shown signs of life. After going 11-18-3 to start the season under new coach Dallas Eakins, the Oilers have reeled off seven wins (7-3-1) in 11 games. The young Oilers offense has been a factor, scoring 40 goals over their recent stretch, perhaps showing signs of maturity. The odds will be heavily tilted against the Oil tonight, as they host the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Bruins, a team they haven’t won against since October of 2000. Since then, the Oilers have gone 0-7-3 against Beantown. To help put things into perspective, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov were just seven years old the last time the Oliers beat the Bruins.
The Bruins will, however, recognize one familiar face. After spending over six seasons in Boston and winning a Stanley Cup with them in 2011, Oilers defensemen Andrew Ference will face his former team for the first time. “Ferknuckle”, as the Bruins dubbed him, was named the 14th captain in Oilers history, after signing a four-year contract with his hometown team in July.