Game Day Preview: West is best

There are seven games on the NHL schedule tonight, including a few showdowns between some of the NHL’s top teams – all of whom happen to be from the Western Conference.

By Nicholas Carafa, Garrett Perry and Curtis Ng

There are seven games on the NHL schedule tonight, including a few showdowns between some of the NHL’s top teams – all of whom happen to be from the Western Conference.

BLUE JACKETS (6-10-1) at BRUINS (11-5-1)
Columbus suffered a 3-1 loss at home to Boston about a month ago and are in Boston tonight to even up the season series. More importantly, the Jackets are hoping to scrape together a win so they don’t fall to 1-5-1 for the month of November. The Bruins are on a three-game winning streak, including Monday’s 3-0 shutout of the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. While Boston is still three points back of the Bolts, the Jackets are two points back of the 13th place Philadelphia Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t anywhere close to his Vezina numbers last year, owning a pedestrian .909 save percentage and a mediocre 2.84 goals-against average. Tuukka Rask might win the Vezina this year if he keeps it up. He leads the league with a .948 save percentage and is second with a solid 1.52 goals-against average.

Adam McQuaid is day-to-day, but will likely be unavailable for tonight’s game.
(Boston Globe)

Nick Foligno has missed four games for personal reasons, but is expected to be in the Jackets’ lineup tonight. (

Player to Watch: Brandon Dubinsky. He has two goals and seven points in his past four games and the Jackets will be counting on him to continue producing.

KINGS (11-6-1) at ISLANDERS (7-9-3)
The New York Islanders ended a four-game skid with a 3-1 win at home on Tuesday against Nashville, but they still have major ground to cover to get back to a respectable record. Los Angeles is in a little trouble, having lost Jonathan Quick to a hamstring or groin-related injury during Tuesday’s OT loss to Buffalo. Ben Scrivens will get the start, while Martin Jones has been called up from the American League to back him up. Evgeni Nabokov’s save percentage is sub-.900, while young Kevin Poulin is putting up decent numbers. Coach Jack Capuano hasn’t announced the starters for tonight yet, but don’t be surprised to see Poulin, who earned the win against the Preds on Tuesday, get the call.

LA is getting hit hard by injuries. Including Quick and Jeff Carter, who went on IR a couple weeks ago, the Kings will lose defenseman Matt Greene as well. He is also expected to be placed on IR with an upper-body injury. (LA Times)

John Tavares had a nasty run-in with the boards in Tuesday’s game against Nashville and didn’t skate on Wednesday. With Thomas Vanek already out with an upper-body injury, losing Tavares will, um, hurt that much more. (NY Newsday)

Player to Watch: Mike Richards. Three goals and nine points in his past five games.

DUCKS (15-4-1) at LIGHTNING (13-5-0)
No Steven Stamkos? No problem. Before everyone gets ahead of themselves, it’s only been one game. The ill effects of missing a 40- to 50-goal scorer has yet to rear its ugly head for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Anaheim Ducks will come into the Tampa Bay Times Forum tonight without their leading scorer and captain Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks may also be without goalie Jonas Hiller who is suffering from the flu, so rookie sensation Frederik Andersen may get the call tonight. Andersen proved to everyone he is human after he lost his first game against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night. There goes his bid for an undefeated season. At the other end, the Lightning have the league’s leader in wins, Ben Bishop (12). It’ll be a battle of the NHL’s elite and hottest teams tonight, the Ducks and Lightning have gone 8-1-1 and 8-2-0 in their past 10.

Stamkos and St-Louis have been one of the league’s best pairings since Stamkos entered the league in the 2008-09 season. St-Louis, a 15-year veteran, will have to carry most of the offensive load for the team until Stamkos is healthy enough to return. (Tampa Bay Times)

The Ducks haven’t lost too often this season and their latest one against the Panthers may have been because they took the team a little too lightly. (CBS Sports)

Player to Watch: Ben Bishop. Bishop is having a career year (.930 SP and 2.02 GAA), and has won five games in a row. Bishop is one of the biggest surprises in the NHL so far this season and the Lightning may have to lean a little heavier on the Denver native now that their leading scorer is out long term.

COYOTES (13-4-2) at BLACKHAWKS (12-2-4)
The Chicago Blackhawks have become somewhat of an afterthought so far this season, with all the success surrounding Tampa Bay, San Jose and the team they’re playing tonight, the Phoenix Coyotes. The reigning Stanley Cup champs have compiled an impressive 12-2-4 record so far this year and maybe a key to their success is staying disciplined. Only the New Jersey Devils (144) have fewer penalty minutes than the Hawks (150). Seven of the Hawks’ 12 wins have come at the Madhouse this year, so Mike Smith can expect a busy night. No big deal, he’s only faced a league-high 555 shots.

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The Hawks may have a lot to smile about 18 games into the season, but defenseman Michal Rozsival may have a little harder time doing it after he took a puck to the mouth Sunday versus Edmonton. (Daily Herald)

The Phoenix Coyotes don’t want to be making a habit of coming back late in games, but whatever they’re doing is clearly working. The team is sitting second in the Pacific Division right now. (AZ Central)

Player to Watch: Patrick Sharp. Sharp has 16 points on the year and in his past three games, he’s managed six assists and seven points. With Stamkos most likely out for Sochi, Sharp’s name could come up as someone to replace him. There’s some extra motivation for you.

AVALANCHE (14-3-0) at BLUES (11-2-3)
This is a battle between second-place Colorado and seventh-place St. Louis, but for those unfamiliar with the Western Conference, don’t be fooled – the Blues’ 25 points would have them second in East. The Blues have earned nine of a possible 12 so far this month and with a win tonight, would pull to within a point of the Central-leading Avalanche. The Avs are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes and lost 6-4 against the Nashville Predators last week. That makes November, not even half done, automatically twice as bad as October, during which they only suffered one loss.

In related news, lifelong Avalanche Milan Hejduk told a Czech newspaper he’s retiring. How long before his No. 23 is retired by the Avs? (Denver Post)

Jaroslav Halak gets the start tonight. Also, Kevin Shattenkirk has four goals and seven points in nine career games against his old team. (St. Louis Today)

Player to Watch: Alexander Steen. The last time he didn’t have a point in a game was Oct. 15 against the San Jose Sharks. It was also the only time this entire season.

STARS (9-7-2) at FLAMES (6-9-3)
The Stars ride into the Saddledome looking to cap the sweep of Alberta against the Flames. This is the second game in as many nights for the Stars, as they are coming off a 3-0 victory over the Oilers on Wednesday night, which saw Kari Lehtonen earn his 23rd career shutout in a 22-save performance. The streaking Stars are winners of four straight on the road, while the Flames head in to tonight’s contest winless in their past four games. This is the second of three meetings between these teams, as the Stars doused the Flames in a 5-1 victory on Oct. 24 in Dallas. The Flames will be hoping to get off to a better start, as they have been slow out of the gate in recent games.

Since coming back from a groin injury that sidelined him for five games, Kari Lehtonen has invoked confidence in his teammates. (Dallas Morning News)

The Calgary Flames are looking to put their slow starts behind them. (Calgary Herald)

Player to Watch: Michael Cammalleri. The veteran sniper netted the tying goal in the Flames 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, giving him four goals in his past three games. In his past four home games against the Stars, the winger has five goals and 10 points.

SHARKS (11-2-5) at CANUCKS (11-7-2)
This will be the fourth and final meeting between these two fierce regular and post-season rivals, as the Canucks look to begin a season-long six-game homestand in winning fashion. The Canucks got the monkey off their back last Thursday in San Jose, beating the Sharks 4-2, to help snap a nine-game losing streak against them that included the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canucks enter tonight’s affair with a league-best penalty kill, which is operating at 89.4 percent and has killed 22 straight penalties. Good news, considering both of the Sharks special teams units rank top 10 in the league and their power play has gone three for their past eight. It should be a hard-fought game, as both teams look to make up ground in the highly competitive Pacific Division.

Jannik Hansen was in the lineup for practice, but won’t play against the Sharks tonight. (The Province)

San Jose coach Todd McLellan believes his team can correct the issues that have been causing the Sharks to give up leads. (San Jose Mercury News)

Player to Watch: Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Swedish duo has gone three straight games without a point for the first time since January of last season. Prior to this, Henrik was riding a 12-game point streak and Daniel a seven-game point streak. Look for the brothers to get back to what they do best, which is creating offense.