The NHL sees two big battles on Thursday night.
On the Canadian front, the Montreal Canadiens, one of the league’s top teams, finish up their Western road swing against the surging Vancouver Canucks. The Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings visit Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Winnipeg Jets get a boost to their offence.
Here’s what you need to know:
Habs, Canucks on hot streaks
Two of the NHL’s surging teams square off at Rogers Arena as the Canadiens (8-2-0) conclude their road trip against the Canucks (6-3-0). Montreal has won four of its last five games and is tied with the Anaheim Ducks for the league’s best record. After getting shut out in Edmonton, Montreal rebounded in Calgary, defeating the Flames 2-1 in a shootout. The story of the game was goaltender Carey Price, who saved the Habs with a 37-save effort. Price has also been dominant against the Canucks. Since surrendering seven goals on Oct. 7, 2009, Price is 5-0-1 with a sparkling .959 save percentage against Vancouver.
The Canucks have yet to figure out how to stop Montreal in recent years on home ice, losing three straight at Rogers Arena. But the team, winners of three of its last four games, is off to a good start on the strength of the offence. Last season the Canucks managed only 2.3 goals per game — their lowest total ever — and ranked 28th in the league. This campaign has seen a completely different team. Vancouver is averaging 3.3 goals, its most since scoring 3.4 per game in 1995-96. The offence is led by the top line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and new addition Radim Vrbata, who have each posted 11 points and are a combined plus-6. Vrbata and Henrik Sedin are on five-game point streaks.
Jets get Kane back
Winnipeg will get one of its most talented players back in time to face the Devils. Evander Kane returns to the ice for first time since injuring his knee in the season opener against Arizona. The Jets (4-5-0) have won three of their last four games, including a 4-3 road win against the New York Islanders. Most of that success in New York was due to the team’s 2-for-4 power-play efficiency, but this unit is only 3-for-32 on the season. The Jets hope the addition of Kane will give their power play a big boost. He’s expected to be on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
New Jersey could be a perfect opponent for the Jets. The Devils (4-3-2) have allowed goals on 33.3 per cent of power plays (14 of 42) this season, including a 44.0 per cent clip during a 1-3-2 stretch. In Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the potent Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey surrendered three power-play goals on seven chances.
Sens host offensively challenged Hawks
The Senators (5-2-1) return home after splitting a mini two-game road trip. Ottawa dropped a 2-1 decision to Chicago before beating up on Columbus 5-2 Tuesday night. Forward Clarke MacArthur had three points, including a pair of goals, while goaltender Robin Lehner was outstanding between the pipes, stopping 36 shots to improve to 3-0-1 with a 2.18 GAA.
The Blackhawks (5-3-1) are in the midst of a 1-3-0 stretch. In their 1-0 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday, Chicago couldn’t get one puck behind goaltender John Gibson despite firing 38 shots in his direction. But the team has won nine of 12 games against the Senators. Goaltender Corey Crawford sports a 2-0-0 record versus Ottawa with a 1.92 GAA. Maybe a trip to the nation’s capital will help improve an offence that ranks near the bottom of the league with Chicago only averaging 2.3 goals per game. The problem centres around the Blackhawks’ best and highest paid players — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — who have only managed a combined 13 points in 18 games.
Sid the Kid welcomes Champs
This is what the NHL loves to showcase: two of the league’s best teams playing at a high level. In a heavyweight tilt, the Stanley Cup champion Kings face the NHL’s best player as they visit the Penguins. Despite losing in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Kings are 6-0-2 in their last eight games. Los Angeles forward Tyler Toffoli is tied for third in NHL scoring with five goals and eight assists. This game features the classic battle of offence vs. defence. Behind goaltender Jonathan Quick and a stellar blue-line, Los Angeles is only allowing 1.67 goals per game. The Penguins (5-2-1) are scoring at a 4.12 clip. Of course, Pittsburgh is led offensively by Sidney Crosby, who ranks second in NHL scoring with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists).Evgeni Malkin has nine points in five career games against Los Angeles, all ending in wins for the Penguins.