Cross Checks: Dallas Stars
BOSTON -- These are anxious times for young goalie Jonathan Bernier, who waits by this phone to find out where he might continue his NHL career.
It’s time for him to go elsewhere and become a No. 1 goalie, something he can’t do with the Los Angeles Kings with star goalie Jonathan Quick in place.
“I’m still part of the L.A. Kings and it’s been a great ride, but I feel really confident and I want to get to the next level to get a real chance to hopefully be a No. 1 somewhere,” Bernier told ESPN.com over the phone Wednesday. “I’m sure the Kings will make the right decision. If I’m staying there, I’m staying there. If not, I’m ready for the challenge.”
General manager Dean Lombardi indicated to Bernier that he would try to accommodate him if it’s a deal that makes sense for the Kings. The whole trade talk scenario is a new experience for Bernier.
“It’s actually exciting,” Bernier said. “But I really can’t control anything. It’s up to Dean. If there’s the right trade for him, I’m sure he’ll make the right call.
"I spoke with Dean at the end of the season, and he told me he can keep me there but also feels he kind of owed me the chance to be somewhere else [as a starter]. So I guess we’ll know in the next few weeks.”
Sources indicate five teams are in the mix on Bernier, to varying degrees: the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers.
For the Wild, it really depends on what happens with pending unrestricted free agent netminder Niklas Backtrom. If they can sign him in short order, then they would bow out of the Bernier mix. But if it appears they can’t re-sign Backstrom, they can go harder after Bernier or other possible netminders.
The Flyers, meanwhile, have shown interest in Bernier but obviously still have Ilya Bryzgalov on their books. As one source told ESPN.com Wednesday, they’re only going to buy out Bryzgalov if they have a concrete Plan B in place in terms of a goalie coming their way, whether that’s Bernier, Backstrom or any other goalie.
SPEAKING OF BACKSTROM ...
GM Chuck Fletcher said Backstrom, 35, has fully recovered from sports hernia surgery. Backstrom was injured minutes before the start of Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks and did not play in the five-game series loss.
“We’ve had some conversations with his representation, and had a good meeting with Niklas before he went back to Finland," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I think clearly he would like to come to back to Minnesota. We certainly would like to have him back. So the will is there from both parties. Now we just have to find a way, with respect to term and the cap and how do we manage all of that."
One of the issues for the Wild is durability, given Backstrom’s injury and the health issues being confronted by backup Josh Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis prior to the start of the season.
Fletcher said he thought the lockout-shortened season was an anomaly, and with Harding missing time, they rode Backstrom hard. That shouldn’t be the case next season.
“I think it’s a fair concern, but certainly we believe Nik will be fully healthy going into camp -- and we hope it’s our camp,” he said.
Although there has been some speculation the Wild might use a compliance buyout on a player like Dany Heatley, who has one year remaining on a contract with a $7.5 million cap hit (but only $5 million in actual dollars), Fletcher said the team wasn’t thinking in general about using the compliance buyout option.
“It certainly isn’t our first choice,” Fletcher said.
The agent for Kris Letang and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero met Wednesday before the NHL’s general managers' meeting, but a resolution is far from certain at this point.
“We’ve agreed to have further talks,” agent Kent Hughes told ESPN.com after the meeting. “Not going to say more at this time.”
“He’s a very valuable player for our team, and ideally I’d like to sign him and get him extended," Shero told a media scrum after the meeting. "But we’ll see where that goes over the next few days and weekend, so we’ll see."
Again, as I stipulated in Tuesday’s blog, I don’t believe Letang will take a whole lot less than $7 million a year in a new deal, and I suspect that message was reaffirmed by Hughes in Wednesday’s meeting.
My guess is the Penguins need that figure to be lower in order for Letang to fit into the cap puzzle moving forward.
The question now is: If Shero can’t get Letang signed over the next week or two, does he trade him or let him play out his final year in Pittsburgh?
“I think there’s a lot of speculation if we can’t have a deal next week what might happen,” Shero said. “But I can’t go that far. He’s under contract for another year. I think when we get into next week, we’ll cross that bridge and see what happens. But my focus is going to be trying to sign him.”
STARS COACHING UPDATE
Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, in a perfect world, will have his new coach in place by the June 30 draft. However, that’s not set in stone.
“I don’t want to have a set deadline, and all of a sudden it comes and goes,” Nill said after the GMs meeting. “There’s too many candidates out there. I want to make the right decision.”
While Nill would not name his candidates, it’s believed Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella are near the top at this point.
In light of Joe Sakic’s comments that the Colorado Avalanche might not pick Seth Jones with the first overall pick, one wonders what kind of impact that might have on other teams drafting behind the Avs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, are drafting third overall, and clearly their number one need is a defenseman. However, GM Steve Yzerman says he doesn’t believe in drafting on need only.
“We believe in taking the best player available,” Yzerman said after the GMs meeting. “That’s been our philosophy. Your needs change from year to year. When these kids are available to play, your needs may be entirely different for various reasons. So that’s a rule of thumb we’ve had.”
Would he move his pick up or down?
“We’re quite comfortable with the third pick, but we’re open to any scenario which we think makes us a better organization,” Yzerman said.
Asked generally whether he would use his buyout options, Yzerman responded Wednesday: “It’s something to consider. … Given that we finished in 28th place, we should be looking at every possibility of improving our team and what are options are. Other than that, I can’t say much.”
New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello remains committed to trying to re-sign power forward David Clarkson before he hits the UFA market July 5.
“We’ll do everything we can to sign him,” Lamoriello said Wednesday. “We’re not looking to do anything else.”
Contract talks have been ongoing. One thing Lamoriello has traditionally not done is trade a pending UFA’s rights during this time period, like the Islanders recently did with Mark Streit.
“You never say you’ll never do something, but we have not philosophically believed in that,” Lamoriello said. “If a player said he didn’t want to play [in New Jersey], that’s another story. You never know, but that’s never come across us.”
St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has his hands full this summer, with key restricted free agents Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk to bring under contract.
“It’s funny you can sign guys a year before you have to sign them, but when it’s two weeks before it takes a long time,” Armstrong said.
But he made it clear to other GMs: Don’t bother trying to poach those players with an offer sheet.
“With the new ownership group we’re financially solid," he said. "These are core players, and we want to pay them fairly. I’m not concerned at all about an offer sheet, because we’re going to match anything on those guys because they’re good enough players."
“We’ve called it cloudy, but I think it’s a good cloudy," Armstrong said. "Jake doesn’t need waivers next year, so he can go down, and a fourth year in the American league won’t kill him. Last year Jaro, every time he got ready to get going, the groin went. Brian had such a terrific ending to the season with a less-than-memorable start. We might be best served to come back with all three and let the chips go where they are. But we’re going to continue to debate that internally."
It’s clear, though, that Allen’s development is going to be important moving forward.
“The one thing is we need Jake to get ready, because both those guys (Halak and Elliott) are unrestricted after the year’s over,” Armstrong said.
Speaking of goaltending, the Calgary Flames’ goaltending situation remains in a state of flux. GM Jay Feaster said Wednesday he’s still unsure whether veteran netminder Miikka Kiprusoff will retire.
"I don’t think anything’s changed from the where he was at the end of the season," Feaster said. "I think if we forced to make a decision right now he’d say that he’s finished playing. We’ve said we’re going to give him time, and that’s what we’re going to do."
To prepare for Kiprusoff’s potential departure, the Flames signed Joey McDonald to a one-year extension after acquiring him from Detroit during last season. They traded for the rights to former Tampa Bay prospect Karri Ramo and will sign him in July, Feaster said. They also acquired the rights to Swiss netminder Reto Berra and signed him to a contract.
After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and being forced to trade captain Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Flames are desperate to return to the postseason dance and respectability.
“We’re looking at everything right now," Feaster said. "As I’ve said, we have three picks in the first round; we have cap space.
"I think it’s unique in that we certainly have an ownership group that’s willing to spend to the cap. We’re looking at guys that might be compliance buyout victims or however you want to call that. Looking at free agency and looking at making trades, too."
The GM did say he wasn’t contemplating any compliance buyouts at this point in time.
NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell says GMs also agree to implement a two-minute penalty for fighters who remove their helmets before a fight. So it would be a five-minute penalty for fighting, plus two more minutes for the helmet violation. The new penalty is pending Board of Governors approval.
BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and agent Kent Hughes, who reps star blue-liner Kris Letang, are slated to meet here in Boston on Wednesday, a source told ESPN.com.
It only makes sense because Hughes lives in Boston and Shero is in town for the NHL's general managers meeting.
It could potentially be a pivotal meeting in terms of what transpires on the Letang front. The blue-liner has one year left on his deal, but Shero’s usual M.O. is not to wait it out. Just look at the Jordan Staal situation a year ago. After Staal, who had one year left on his deal, rejected a contract extension from the Penguins, Shero dealt him quickly thereafter.
It could be that Shero will get the ball rolling on trade talks if Letang rejects whatever offer might be coming from the Penguins' GM.
And know this, I don’t think Letang signs for any less than $7 million a season.
Wednesday’s meeting, therefore, will be a compelling discussion either way.
Daniel Briere will be an unrestricted free agent soon, with the Philadelphia Flyers deciding to buy him out.
A source told ESPN.com that Briere and Paul Holmgren met last week, at which time the Flyers' GM informed the veteran center of the team’s decision. No bitter feelings, though, as I’m told Briere feels Holmgren handled it with class.
The buyout will wipe out Briere’s $6.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.
What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers will buy out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a decision that has been met with mixed opinions within the Flyers front office.
The decision is whether to do it now or wait one more year, when they can still get a cap-friendly buyout.
Perhaps what might push the Flyers into buying out Bryzgalov now is the availability of young netminder Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.
My TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie, reported during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday night that the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Islanders were most interested in Bernier.
One source told ESPN.com Tuesday that five teams have serious interest in Bernier, the list cut down from the nearly dozen clubs that poked around about him.
Could the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks simply swap coaches this offseason?
We know Alain Vigneault will be the new Rangers bench boss, the official announcement imminent. But what about John Tortorella?
He has interviewed in Vancouver, and a source told ESPN.com that the Canucks were impressed with Torts. He is among the final four candidates for the Canucks' coach gig vacated by Vigneault. The others are John Stevens, Scott Arniel and Lindy Ruff.
The intensity that Torts brings and the accountability he would demand from players are elements that impressed Canucks brass.
Stevens would be a more cerebral coach, his defensive work on the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings not to be overlooked. Ruff is a stud candidate, of course, and Arniel is viewed by some in the industry as a guy who deserves another shot after what happened in Columbus.
Another potential candidate is Dave Tippett (whose deal is up), depending on what transpires with the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership front. If Tippett were to become available, my guess is both Vancouver and the Dallas Stars would want to talk to him.
Give agent Bill Zito a lot of credit. When he signed his client Tuukka Rask to just a one-year deal a year ago, some people criticized him. The gamble, though, was that Rask would excel in his first full season as Boston Bruins starter with Tim Thomas gone -- and boy, oh boy, has that been an incredible decision by Zito.
Zito and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli talked about an extension back after the lockout-shortened season began in January, but then mutually decided it would be better to wait until after the season was over to pick it up again regarding the star netminder, a restricted free agent.
On the heals of the Penguins locking up star center Evgeni Malkin a year before he was due to become a free agent, the Detroit Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk, while the Sharks have agreed to a five-year extension with Logan Couture worth $6 million a year.
A couple of thoughts on each deal: First in Detroit, where I wonder what the Datsyuk signing means for pending UFA center Valtteri Filppula. In a weak UFA class, Filppula can likely fetch north of $5 million on the open market, and I think that coin is too rich for Detroit. Expect the Wings and Zito, also Filppula’s agent, to meet next week at the draft though.
As for Couture, the term (five years) is reflective of how San Jose has managed to keep its top players from signing those lifetime deals that other stars get around the league, which allows GM Doug Wilson to stay out of a payroll/cap jam. Other than Couture now, not a single player on the Sharks roster has a deal that extends past five years, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both signing shorter-term deals a few years ago.
Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray held a brief discussion with Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean about a contract extension last weekend and is expected to sit down with his coach next week at the draft. MacLean has one year left on his deal.
Murray has chatted briefly with captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is an UFA and undecided on whether to keep playing or not. In a perfect world, Murray would get an answer before Alfredsson goes back to Sweden for the summer next week, which would give the Sens the ability to hit trade talks/free agency with the knowledge of whether or not he’s back.
But if Alfredsson needs more time to think about it, Murray said it would be no problem at all. Meanwhile, other UFAs on the Ottawa roster include Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin and Mike Lundin, none of whom likely will get a contract offer from the Senators.
THIS AND THAT
Veteran agent Don Meehan expects to meet with Rangers GM Glen Sather in New York/New Jersey the week of the draft to talk extension for star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. That’s going to be an expensive re-sign.
The Carolina Hurricanes offered pending UFA Dan Ellis a new deal, but the veteran backup netminder informed them he was headed to market.
Speaking of the Hurricanes, they’ve gotten calls about their No. 5 overall pick for the June 30 draft, but the intention right now is to keep the pick.
Contract talks have been ongoing since the end of their season between the Kings and pending UFA blue-liner Rob Scuderi. The expectation is that veteran agent Steve Bartlett will meet in person with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on draft week. With Slava Voynov signing a six-year, $25 million deal Tuesday, Scuderi is now clearly the top priority.
No surprise at all but the expectation is that pending UFA center Derek Roy, who was dealt by the Stars to the Canucks at the deadline, is headed to market.
The NHL’s 30 GMs meet here Wednesday before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and while Patrick Roy will be handling trade discussions for the Colorado Avalanche, Greg Sherman will represent the franchise at the meeting.
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: My colleague Pierre LeBrun talked with Habs captain Brian Gionta this week about the team’s bounce-back efforts after a soft January. One of the players making a big impact is call-up Max Pacioretty, who has three goals and three assists in his past six games. The 22nd overall pick in 2007 will make life a little difficult for management when Mike Cammalleri returns from injury, but Pacioretty has impressed. He has been playing mostly with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec on the Habs’ top line, as Montreal continues to battle Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild: We have done a lot of talking about headshots and concussions and will continue to do so for the rest of the season and beyond. But it’s always nice to write about a player coming back after such a trauma. One of the reasons the Minnesota Wild woke up in seventh place in the Western Conference on Friday is because of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He has returned to form after missing 104 straight games recovering from concussion issues and has eight points in his past seven games, including a two-point effort in a big win against Colorado on Thursday. The Wild, meanwhile, have won six of seven.
Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers: If you’re wondering why all of the Norris Trophy talk has died down for former Chicago power forward Dustin Byfuglien, it may have something to do with the fact the big man has failed to deliver one single point in his past 12 outings. After looking like some crazy hybrid of Larry Robinson and Bobby Orr for the first half of the season, Byfuglien has had zero impact, at least in a positive way, in recent games. Yes, he misses defense partner Tobias Enstrom (broken finger), but the Thrashers need Byfuglien to return to form or they can kiss the playoffs goodbye (again).
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: Speaking of the Thrashers, former Atlanta franchise netminder Kari Lehtonen has been a rock for the surprising Stars this season, but the rock is showing some signs of cracking of late. Lehtonen has lost three of his past four starts and allowed 14 goals in those three losses, including a 6-3 loss against Boston on Thursday night in which Lehtonen came on in relief of Andrew Raycroft and gave up three goals. The Stars still lead the Pacific Division, but the issue with Lehtonen has always been one of durability and consistency. Can he continue to be the rock the Stars need him to be? Looks like we’re starting to find out.
A day after goalie fights took center stage, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break down Thursday's fight night in the NHL:
Burnside: Well, Thursday night was Bad Blood Night in the NHL. Three fights in the first four seconds of the Boston/Dallas game was the result of lingering bad blood between a number of players from both teams, including Steve Ott and Gregory Campbell, son of the NHL's lord of discipline. That means Colin Campbell won't be ruling on the devastating hit to the head Boston's Daniel Paille put on Raymond Sawada that sparked even more ugliness in a game won by the Bruins. Then there was Jay Rosehill, interim Toronto tough guy, taking on Carolina's Tim Gleason after Gleason's mildly controversial punchout of Nikolai Kulemin before the All-Star break. Perhaps even more surprising: the Leafs' second win since the break, prompting whispers of a run to the playoffs!
LeBrun: Scotty, the 1970s called and wanted back the first four seconds of that Stars-Bruins tilt. I used that line on Twitter last night; I love it so much, I had to use it again. Hockey players have the memories of elephants. Campbell was nailed by an Ott blindside hit in March 2009 when he was still playing for Florida. When the Panthers and Stars hooked up last season, Ott was already suspended for a separate incident and missed the game. Rain check, Campbell thought. And then, last night, they went at it, with Campbell even leaving his natural center position to line up on the wing beside Ott to drop the gloves. Love it.
Campbell got the worst of it, but good on him for doing the manly thing and defending his honor. Some things aren't lost in this game, after all. But really, Toronto's win aside, the real news of the night belonged to Paille, whose blindside hit cost him a match penalty under the new head shot rule. Paille is not a dirty player, but that was a dirty play. And yes, the NHL's Mike Murphy handled the Paille hearing Friday morning and the Bruins forward was suspended four games for that hit.
Burnside: Yes, Pierre, the Paille hit seemed to be a classic Rule 48 hit, and I thought it would be in the 6-10 game range. Of course, the league's handling of supplemental discipline often leaves me shocked, flabbergasted, aghast and weary.
Beyond the hits and fights, the Boston/Dallas game also revealed a Stars team that seems to be on the verge of freefall. Dallas is 1-4-0 in its past five games and has given up 24 goals in those four losses. Dallas still leads San Jose by five points, but the Sharks are coming.
As for the Bruins, they just keep winning, although there is more than a little irony at play here given that their top center, Marc Savard, has never been right since being blindsided by Matt Cooke almost a year ago. A few weeks back, he was taken hard into the boards by former teammate Matt Hunwick on a clean play, but that was enough to sideline Savard again, and there are real concerns he may not play again this season.
LeBrun: Wow, six to 10? I think you're being a little harsh. My guess was 3-4 games.
Savard is being evaluated by doctors Friday and all the armchair quarterbacks expect his season will be shut down. Sad. And yes, you can't discount the irony. Credit Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference for telling it like it is, even though it involved a teammate.
"It's a bad hit, right? That's what they're trying to get rid of and you can't be hypocritical about it when it happens to you and say it's fine when your teammate does it," Ference told reporters after the game. "You hear it from every player after they do it; they feel bad. I talked to Danny and he feels bad. It's tough, that back-checking forward, to make those kind of hits. It's so hard to do it in a clean fashion with the new rules."
You can't have it both ways. Everyone and their mother in Boston wanted Cooke banned last season. Now, the shoe's on the other foot. Speaking of the shoe being on the other foot, Gleason is the one who got pounded after he KO'd Kulemin a couple of weeks ago. Gleason called Kulemin to apologize, but I guess that wasn't good enough. Give him credit for standing in there and doing his best against a tough guy like Rosehill. I texted Canes GM Jim Rutherford this morning and asked about it, but he said he wasn't angry. "No, that is the way it works," Rutherford said.
Burnside: Pierre, you are right on about Ference telling it like it is. It is the natural order in the NHL to defend your own and whine and complain when something bad happens to your guys. Think about the whining the Sharks did when Joe Thornton was suspended for two games for clipping David Perron as Thornton was coming out of the penalty box. Perron hasn't played since, and the Blues are going to miss the playoffs. So it's refreshing to hear Ference be honest about what was a dangerous play.
As for the suspension, that's the problem with the league handling its discipline like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, a surprise in every bite. As for Gleason and the Canes, two tough losses after all the positive buzz emanating from Raleigh during All-Star weekend. Even though the Thrashers can't win, they still hold onto eighth place in the Eastern Conference despite giving up a late goal and losing 4-2 to red-hot Calgary. You mentioned this last night, as well, but look at the Sabres! They have five games in hand on Atlanta (how does that happen, by the way?) and trail them by only six points. Wow.
LeBrun: Scotty, regarding the NHL's hockey ops and handling of discipline, it doesn't seem to matter what they do, people will criticize regardless. It's the toughest job in the game, and while I often disagree with their rulings, that doesn't mean I don't realize how hard a task they have. I know for a fact GMs and sometimes owners call them and scream murder when they're unhappy when one of their players gets suspended. I would not want that job.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes and Thrashers seem to be in a turtle race right now for the No. 8 slot, and that's opening the door for the Sabres. Buffalo is 7-3-0 in its past 10 games, and you can just feel the Sabres coming. Should be fun to watch. Unlike Paille's hit last night.
Barry Melrose says the Bruins' 6-3 win over the Stars was one of the best games of the season, and the fights in the game were about revenge and momentum, not violence.
Watch the Stars and Bruins battle...
Boston Bruins (28-15-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (24-5-6, 1.81 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (22-15-5, 2.70 GAA)
Preview: Two weeks after the Bruins finished a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes, Carolina tries to end the series with Boston on a high note. The Hurricanes got only two of their 76 shots past Tim Thomas in back-to-back losses to the Bruins on Jan. 17 and 18. Carolina is one point out of the eighth-seed in the East, while Boston leads the Northeast division.
Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-1 Chicago
Starting goaltenders: Marty Turco (10-10-2, 3.02 GAA) vs. Steve Mason (15-12-2, 3.20 GAA)
Preview: The Blackhawks begin a six-game road trip in Columbus after All-Star weekend featured four Chicago players, including game MVP Patrick Sharp. Heading into their final 32 games, the Blackhawks are tied for seventh in the West with San Jose and Colorado. Minnesota and Los Angeles are a point behind that group, and Columbus, tied for 13th, is five back.
Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4) at New York Rangers (29-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (23-11-2, 2.19 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (21-16-3, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers have lost four in a row to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden and haven't won a home game against the Penguins since Jan. 5, 2009. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight at MSG since a streak from Dec. 31, 1989 to March 17, 1991. Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin is ready to return, but the Penguins are 5-3-1 without Crosby and 2-1-0 without both Crosby and Malkin this season.
Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky (21-6-3, 2.42 GAA) vs. Dwayne Roloson (7-3-0, 2.25 GAA for Bolts)
Preview: The East's top two teams face off for the third time this season with the Flyers looking for their first win of the season against the Lightning. The Lightning have won five straight games and are in the midst of a 12-game home stand. The Flyers have won two straight and six of their last seven games. Philadelphia leads the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5) at Washington Capitals (27-15-9), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Carey Price (24-16-5, 2.36 GAA) vs. Semyon Varlamov (8-7-3, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have looked like a different team since getting stunned by the Canadiens in the postseason. They cruised through last season and won the President's Trophy, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Montreal. This season, the Capitals are 17th in the league at 2.71 goals per game, have been shut out seven times and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in goals and points.
Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1) at Minnesota Wild (25-19-5), 8 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA) vs. Niklas Backstrom (15-11-3, 2.52 GAA)
Preview: After an up-and-down season, the Kings went into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Kings now begin a 10-game road trip. The Kings are 5-8-0 in their past 13 road games. The Wild won four of five before the break and are currently tied with the Kings, but Minnesota is just 4-6-1 at home since the start of December.
Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9) at Dallas Stars (30-15-5), 8:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Cory Schneider (8-2-2, 2.35 GAA) vs. Kari Lehtonen (22-11-5, 2.57 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks and the Stars both lead their divisions, but Vancouver has dominated the series. Vancouver has outscored Dallas 11-2 in the two games. But the Canucks will now need to depend on defenseman Lee Sweatt more with an injury to Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the Canucks with 24 minutes of ice time per game and tops the defense with 32 points, is having back surgery and will be out indefinitely.
Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9) at San Jose Sharks (25-19-6), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Ilya Bryzgalov (19-12-6, 2.64 GAA) vs. Antti Niemi (13-13-3, 2.69 GAA)
Preview: The Coyotes will try to win their sixth straight away from home Tuesday night and end a six-game slide against the Sharks. Phoenix has limited its opponents to 1 for 17 on the power play during its run on the road. Veteran center Joe Thornton has two goals and three assists, and Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average in two wins over the Coyotes this season.
Tuesday: Flyers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
The third game in a mighty 12-game homestand for the Lightning, and they host the league’s best team (at least for our money). Tampa Bay could pull within two points of Philly for the top spot the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: The Bolts start the post-All-Star weekend schedule with their third straight win.
Tuesday: Canucks at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Stars will be hoping to avenge their 7-1 loss in Vancouver shortly before the break. We wonder if the Canucks will be spending a few nights in Big D before the game as the Stars did in Vancouver? Probably not. Still, this should be a good tilt between two division leaders.
Prediction: The Stars will even the score at home.
Wednesday: Sharks at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET
The Ducks have won seven of their past 10 games and continue to impress. Goalie Jonas Hiller was solid in the All-Star Game, and he’ll have to keep up his strong play against a Sharks team that would like to create some breathing room for itself in the playoff bracket. San Jose is 4-0-1 in its past five contests.
Prediction: The Ducks will continue their strong play and defeat the streaky Sharks.
Thursday: Wild at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
The Avs hit the break tied with San Jose for the last playoff berth, while the Wild were just one point back and have come on strong in recent weeks. This is the kind of game that’s going to hurt for the loser.
Prediction: The Avs will get their game going.
Friday: Sabres at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
The Sabres have some ground to make up if they want to revisit the playoff tournament in April, and they’ll visit a Penguins team still missing Sidney Crosby even though the Pittsburgh captain has been given clearance to begin light workouts. There’s a better chance Evgeni Malkin will be on the ice, but either way, these are the types of games the Sabres have to win.
Prediction: Crosby or no Crosby, the Pens will be too tough for the Sabres.
Last week: 3-2.
The timing is perfect, too. The Dallas Stars GM, sitting 30 rows up at Rogers Arena, was just beginning to explain to ESPN.com why his club has had such a surprisingly successful season when the players start yucking it up below him.
"I think the biggest difference is what you're seeing out there," Nieuwendyk said, pointing to the ice. "A group of guys that enjoy being around each other and playing hard for each other. We have talent and good goaltending, we have skill, but over half the battle is what you're seeing out here. These guys are having fun and don't want to let each other down. I think that's been probably our biggest thing."
Spend a few days with the Stars and you get the sense these players have been together for a decade.
"This is the closest locker room I've ever been part of. It's fun," leading scorer Brad Richards told ESPN.com.
Take this past weekend. The Stars had the unusual scheduling quirk of arriving in Vancouver on Friday night and not having to play until Monday. A players' dream and a coach's nightmare to have all that time off in such a great city. And it showed in Monday night's 7-1 loss to the Canucks.
Still, the time off was representative of how tight this team has become this season.
"Guys love being together," said Stars captain Brenden Morrow. "We had an off-day here and other than one or two guys who had family here, everyone was together. We haven't seen that too often in the past. It's pretty special."
It's a young team, younger than the Stars have had in a very long time. Which is why Nieuwendyk, one of the bright, young hires in the NHL, made the painstaking decision of parting ways with both Mike Modano and Marty Turco in the offseason.
Neither were easy choices, and not popular with all Stars fans, especially cutting ties with the longtime face of the franchise in Modano. But Nieuwendyk sensed his young core needed room to breathe and grow.
"No question," said Nieuwendyk. "And believe me, I don't have a bad word to say about either one of those guys. In fact, in Mike's case he deserves a statue in front of the arena. But sometimes it's time to make adjustments and even as painful as it is with players that have been with us for a long time, it's allowed these young guys to really have a voice. I think everybody always associated the Stars with Mike Modano. And that was great for so many years. But this is a new, young, fresh-looking team that's cutting its own path."
It's a team that's making a lot of pundits look foolish, too. You won't find anyone who picked the Stars last September to win the deeply talented Pacific Division. Not even the team's own GM.
"I probably wouldn't have thought we would have been here," Nieuwendyk said. "But funny things happen when you get this in place, where guys play hard for each other. You don't have to have the most talented team or the highest-priced team. There's a belief that's grown over the course of the year."
That confidence began to grow early in the season because of goalie Kari Lehtonen. Nieuwendyk's gamble, acquired late last season, is making him look good.
"Kari played pretty good the first 9-10 games of this season, that allowed us to get our feet underneath us," said coach Marc Crawford. "Our team gained a lot of confidence with the wins. And the biggest factor in those wins was Kari's goaltending. It allows you to build some confidence."
Richards remembers the opening of the season in New Jersey and Long Island when his team was outshot 77-50 but won both encounters.
"We were trying to find our way as a team," said Richards. "I remember the first two games, we got peppered. Kari stands on his head and suddenly we're 2-0 instead of 0-2. We got to 4-0-0 and you could see the confidence of the group. We just started riding that."
Lehtonen and backup Andrew Raycroft have both been solid, and that's given the blue-line corps room to maneuver. If there was indeed an Achilles Heel perceived by most before the season, it was the group of defensemen on this club.
But led by hard-nosed Stephane Robidas and the smooth-skating Trevor Daley, the group has excelled, forming a mobile unit that helps key the Stars' transition game.
"When you get saves that makes everyone else better around you," said Nieuwendyk. "But I tell you, I look around the league, I'll put our group of seven D-men up against a lot of teams'. They're a hard-working group with different elements."
It's also a motivated group with a chip on its collective shoulder.
"When you talk to hockey people, some of them still don't think we're a good group," said Robidas, one of the toughest players in the league. "We don't have a big star on D. We don't have a Lidstrom, or a Duncan Keith; we're not that type of team. We rely on seven D-men. When everyone kind of thinks you're not good enough, you want to prove people wrong. And really, that's not just our mentality as D-men but the whole team."
Ugly losses Friday in Calgary and Monday in Vancouver might raise eyebrows for people who still don't believe this team is for real. The Stars no longer worry about defending their legitimacy to critics. They've got bigger goals than that.
"We have the confidence now that we believe we should be there and we want to challenge for the top in the West," said Richards.
We've gotten this far in this story and not really touched on Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner who is having a monster year. One of the league's premier playmakers, he reminded of his all-world talent again Monday night when he faked a shot, froze Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and deftly dropped a backhand into the open side. Marvelous.
Richards can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"I've said from the beginning, we want to sign Brad Richards," said Nieuwendyk. "I think Brad Richards is good for the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Stars are good for Brad Richards. We want to sign him."
Unlike Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta last season, the Richards situation has not proved a distraction to this point. The GM and the player have kept the lines of communication open and understand the factors at play.
It all sounds like a situation that will iron itself out after the season, whether that means Richards stays or goes. In the meantime, the star center and the GM hope for a long playoff run.
"I know one thing: It's fun coming to the rink every day," said Nieuwendyk.
Monday: Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m. ETWith the Canucks winless in four and the Stars breathing down their neck in the race for top seed in the Western Conference, this stands as a big game for both clubs.
Prediction: Look for the Canucks to break the streak although it may take extra time.
Tuesday: Montreal Canadiens at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:30 p.m. ETNo love lost between last year's Eastern Conference finalists. Watch for P.K. Subban to continue to rub the Flyers the wrong way. Philly is coming off a big win in Chicago on Sunday, so there could be a bit of a letdown.
Prediction: The Flyers continue to set the pace atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Tuesday: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ETTwo teams that have been up and down all season. The Blackhawks are back in the middle of the playoff pack, and the Wild are just outside the bubble. Neither team can afford too much backsliding.
Prediction: The Wild come up big on the road.
Wednesday: Washington Capitals at Atlanta Thrashers, 7 p.m. ETThe Thrashers were humbled 7-1 by Tampa on Sunday, while the Capitals have been on a tear since the end of December. The Thrashers need to stop the bleeding as they've fallen into eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are feeling heat from Carolina and Buffalo.
Prediction: The Caps keep rolling and the Thrashers keep falling.
Wednesday: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ETThe Sharks have suddenly won four in a row and began the week in the top eight in the Western Conference. The Kings, meanwhile, are looking to get on that kind of roll and will need to if they want to avoid the monumental disappointment of missing the playoffs.
Prediction: Sorry Kings, the Sharks continue to make life miserable in L.A.
New York Rangers (28-19-3) at Washington Capitals (27-14-8), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Martin Biron (7-4-0, 2.33 GAA) vs. Braden Holtby (4-2-1, 2.79 GAA)
Preview: Coming off his first hat trick of the season, Alex Ovechkin looks to end his drought against the Rangers and avenge the Capitals' most lopsided defeat of the season, a 7-0 loss to New York. Ovechkin has not scored in his past three games against the Rangers, the longest drought of his career against New York. While the Capitals are hoping for more production from Ovechkin, the Rangers are looking for the same from Marian Gaborik. After ending his eight-game goal drought with a four-goal outburst against the Leafs, Gaborik has no points in his past two games.
St. Louis Blues (22-18-7) at Colorado Avalanche (24-18-6), 9:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Colorado
Starting goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak (17-15-5, 2.58 GAA) vs. Peter Budaj (11-7-3, 3.12 GAA)
Preview: As Colorado tries to avoid a third consecutive loss, it will need to continue its recent luck against St. Louis. The Avalanche have won five consecutive games against the Blues, their longest win streak against St. Louis since the franchise moved from Quebec at the start of the 1995-96 season. All-Star center Matt Duchene has a five-game point streak against St. Louis and is one point shy of 100 in his two-year career.
Nashville Predators (27-15-6) at Calgary Flames (22-21-6), 9:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Calgary
Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-11-4, 2.08 GAA) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (18-18-2, 2.84 GAA)
Preview: The Predators are an NHL-best 10-2-0 since New Year's Eve, helping them vault from 12th place in the West to fourth. But their hot streak has not helped them against the Flames recently. Calgary is 7-2-0 against Nashville since the start of the 2008-09 season. A Predators win Monday night would give Nashville 10 wins in January, which would be the just the sixth time in franchise history they have won 10 games in a month.
Dallas Stars (29-14-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-9), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Kari Lehtonen (21-10-5, 2.49 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-7, 2.35 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks are winless in their past four games, but have pushed the past three games beyond regulation to hold on to their lead in the West. Vancouver has won six of seven against Dallas, including all three meetings at Rogers Arena. But Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is 6-0-1 in January with a 1.70 GAA average. Lehtonen will need to continue his strong play to shut down the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler, who has 26 goals, which is already tied for his single-season career high.
Boston Bruins (27-14-7) at Los Angeles Kings (25-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Los Angeles
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (23-4-6, 1.83 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (20-14-1, 2.22 GAA)
Preview: The Bruins have picked up at least one point in their past nine road games heading into Monday night's matchup in Los Angeles, but they will need to overcome an injury to Marc Savard to improve their streak. Savard returned to Boston to be evaluated after being checked into the boards and leaving the game on Saturday. The Kings are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Dec. 21-27. With Tim Thomas' save percentage currently at .945, the Bruins goalie is trying to become the first with a save percentage of .940 or better heading into the All-Star break having played at least 20 games.
Los Angeles Kings fans need some good news these days, so I'm here to deliver some.
I'm told the team is on the verge of signing blueliner Jack Johnson to a multiyear extension, a deal that could be announced as early as Sunday or Monday. Look for the deal to be six or seven years in length and worth between $4 million and $4.5 million per year.
[UPDATE: Later on Saturday night, the Kings announced they signed Johnson to a seven-year deal that will carry into the 2017-18 season. The team did not officially disclose financial terms.]
Meanwhile, Kings fans keep wondering what their team will do on the trade front. I mentioned before this season that Patrik Elias is a player they've coveted; but I'm told the veteran, skilled winger will not waive his no-movement clause at this point, so he appears to be off the list.
Calgary Flames interim GM Jay Feaster has also said he will not trade Jarome Iginla. Check another name off Los Angeles' list. Brad Richards? I can't see the Dallas Stars moving him (see more on him below); the acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner sends a message they're going for it this season. Check another one off L.A.'s list.
But there is still time before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, and the key is to watch which teams believe they're no longer in the playoff race seven weeks from now and which players they're willing to introduce to the market. But it may just be that the big-name, top-line winger the Kings yearn for just isn't available before Feb. 28.
Panthers and Vokoun
It's been assumed for so long the Florida Panthers would auction off star goalie Tomas Vokoun by the trade deadline. While that is still a possibility, you might be surprised to know GM Dale Tallon has also reached out to the Czech native's agent to talk about a contract extension.
"It's preliminary at this point, just trying to get a feel for it. We'd like to sign him at the right number," Tallon told ESPN.com on Saturday.
"We've had some discussions with Florida, they're ongoing, and we'll see what happens," Vokoun's agent Michael Deutsch told us Saturday.
Vokoun is earning $6.3 million this season (a $5.7 million cap number), and I suspect the Panthers would like to get him at a cheaper price. If contract talks fail to produce an extension, he could be moved before Feb. 28.
Stars and Richards
So, what now for the Dallas Stars? Well, the Brad Richards situation looms large. The team has not yet made a contract offer to their leading scorer and pending unrestricted free agent, but I'm told they will approach his veteran agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports, at some point in the near future and begin the feeling-out process.
Next to leave New Jersey?
Jason Arnott is the next big name to possibly move out of New Jersey because he's the only real UFA of note left on the roster (Andy Greene is the team's other UFA). Arnott is in total charge of his situation thanks to a no-movement clause. Arnott is a competitive player who wants to win badly, so a move to a contender will likely be welcomed on his part.
The NHL has retained the services for former WNBA president Val Ackerman as a consultant. She's had a few meetings with the NHL so far as the league continues to explore the merits of possibly launching a women's pro league at some point. I love the idea. Girls hockey has exploded over the past decade, especially in Canada. Let's give girls something to aspire to in terms of a pro career. There are a couple of pro leagues out there, but a new league under the NHL umbrella would legitimize the women's game like never before. Will it happen? Too early to tell.
More updates ...
• Several teams have kicked the tires on Maple Leafs defenseman Francois Beauchemin, but Toronto has not received any concrete trade offers. Beauchemin's limited no-trade clause called for him to hand the Leafs a preseason list of 12 teams he'd be willing to go to, which he did.
• I had a rival team executive tell me Saturday he believed winger Mason Raymond might be on the market in order for Vancouver to alleviate its cap issues, but a Canucks source said that was totally false and Raymond wasn't going anywhere.
• Despite all the injuries in Detroit (top-four defenseman Brad Stuart being the latest, out 6-8 weeks with broken jaw), Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Saturday that Detroit wasn't planning on shopping for help and hoped the answer would come from within.
• Defenseman Mike Commodore, who requested a trade and then cleared NHL waivers, left the Blue Jackets from their road trip Saturday and returned to Columbus to await his fate.
"We are trying to work out a trade for Mike over the next few days," Jackets GM Scott Howson told ESPN.com via text Saturday. "Failing that, he will be assigned to the AHL."
Commodore is signed through 2012-13 with a $3.75 million cap hit.
The Devils traded Jamie Langenbrunner to the Stars on Friday for a conditional draft pick. Which team won out? How will the trade affect Brad Richards' status in Dallas, or Zach Parise's future in New Jersey?
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break it all down in their Daily Debate:
Burnside: Well, my friend, it was an interesting morning in the NHL. New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner was shipped back to Dallas, acquired by Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who once upon a time was traded along with Langenbrunner from Dallas to New Jersey. But I digress!
Let's start with the Devils, who continue to solidify their place as not just the worst team in the NHL this season, but also maybe the worst team in franchise history. President and GM Lou Lamoriello said this morning the Devils had no interest in re-signing Langenbrunner (set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1) and believed it was better to try out some younger players on the power play and penalty kill.
There are a lot of permutations, but look for the Devils to ultimately get a second-round pick from Dallas. That’s not much for a guy who has won two Cups (one in Dallas, one in New Jersey) and was the captain of the U.S. team that won silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
I thought it pretty funny when you asked Lamoriello if Martin Brodeur might be approached about a move. The GM simply answered: "No."
LeBrun: Yes, Lamoriello could not have been more clear with me when I asked that question. Figured it had to be asked. But with the way Brodeur has played this season and with another year left on his deal at $5.2 million, a team would really have to base its desire on his Hall of Fame career, not his first-half struggles.
So the question is, who does New Jersey move next? The obvious target is Jason Arnott, who is also UFA on July 1. Arnott controls his fate with a no-movement clause. The Devils, meanwhile, should get a second-rounder as you said unless Langenbrunner doesn't re-sign with the Stars. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk indicated today he is interested in keeping the veteran.
Burnside: Moving Langenbrunner, and any other pieces of driftwood from the Devils' lineup, does open up some salary-cap space that could allow Lamoriello to re-sign restricted free agent Zach Parise, who has been injured for most of the season. Parise is an obvious choice to replace Langenbrunner as captain, but the big question is whether he has any intention of re-upping with the Devils. It’s hard to imagine he would want to, given the sorry state of the franchise.
As for the Stars, this deal should help them in many ways. Nieuwendyk said he imagines Langenbrunner starting on a third line with Steve Ott and Adam Burish, plus it adds a right-handed shot from the point on the power play. Langenbrunner also kills penalties, something the Stars haven't done very well this season. If the Stars are going to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the West -- the Vancouvers, Detroits and Chicagos -- balanced scoring and dressing-room chemistry are keys, and Langenbrunner should help out in those areas.
LeBrun: Twice during his media call, Nieuwendyk talked about sending a “message” with this trade, that his team is doing all it can to be competitive now and for years to come. Exciting times if you're a Stars fan. Question is, how is a team operated/owned by bank lenders pulling this off? They recently signed Trevor Daley to an extension and now take on half of Langenbrunner's $2.8 million salary. Nieuwendyk said the lenders and the NHL have supported his efforts in making the team competitive. So what does this all mean for Brad Richards, UFA on July 1?
Burnside: I asked Nieuwendyk about Richards on the media call today. He said it has been his intention all along to try to re-sign Richards, but he also said this trade was isolated from that situation.
It's been an interesting season in Dallas with its ownership in a state of flux. But instead of being stripped to the bone (as we saw the Phoenix Coyotes do early on when the league took over control of the team and sought a new owner), the Stars have added what could be a key piece to a playoff run. Langenbrunner isn't cheap, so one has to wonder whether this will ultimately make the Stars a more attractive asset to a prospective buyer.
It's risky, sure, but maybe a Pacific Division title and the opportunity to win a round or two will spur on someone who wants to take this team off the lenders' hands. Bold move by Nieuwendyk and the folks who are holding the purse strings. This has been a good hockey market, and I think it can be again. This move is a step in the right direction.
LeBrun: The Stars are big winners with this move. Whether it's a second- or third-round pick, that isn't much to pay, and they certainly weren't the only team that could have used a veteran like Langenbrunner. A source confirmed to me last night that Philadelphia had interest, but a different source said Lamoriello never brought up the Flyers to the Langenbrunner camp, only Western teams. Lamoriello has never made a trade with the Flyers. Besides, you figure if you're going to trade your captain, you'd rather not have him haunt you in your own division.
An interesting 24 hours, and with more Devils moves likely to come before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Have a great weekend, my friend.
Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: It hasn’t been a banner season offensively for the venerable Coyotes captain, but Doan is lighting it up now with an eight-game points streak, during which he’s collected 13 points. The Coyotes, by the way, were back in the playoff bracket and just six points out of the Pacific Division lead with a game in hand as of Friday morning. Doan’s continued strong play will be crucial to the Coyotes’ playoffs hopes.
Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Another player whose first half wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for is Hornqvist, who led the Predators with 30 goals last season. The Preds have been up and down in 2010-11, but are currently on an up-swing with four straight wins. Hornqvist is also starting to roll with goals in four straight games, five goals in all, including two in a big win over Los Angeles on Thursday. As of Friday, the Predators were fourth in the Western Conference.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens: It’s been difficult times for the Habs of late. Defenseman Josh Georges is out for the season with a knee injury and the offense has gone south, as the team has fallen from first in the Northeast Division to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. There’s not much help coming from Kostitsyn, who has scored once in his past 16 games. Maybe the Habs got rid of the wrong Kostitsyn? Andrei’s brother Sergei is thriving in Nashville.
James Neal, Dallas Stars: While the Dallas Stars continue to lead the tough Pacific Division, it isn’t all warm and fuzzy in Big D. The Stars are hoping Neal will rediscover his scoring touch in the second half -- he has scored once in the past 12 games, even though he has a respectable 14 goals on the season. Neal had a breakout season in 2009-10 with 27 goals.
Monday: Dallas Stars at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET)First place in the tightly packed Pacific Division is on the line Monday night. The Stars have to be worried about the health of starter Kari Lehtonen, who has missed a couple of starts with soreness in his back. Andrew Raycroft likely will get the start if Lehtonen can't go. The Sharks will be looking for rookie scoring leader Logan Couture to keep up his good work.
Prediction: The Sharks jump into first with a win.
Tuesday: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET)Might be the best game of the week as the Penguins put their 12-game winning streak on the line. Captain and NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby has an 18-game point streak going, too. The Flyers, who have lost just once in regulation in their past 11 outings, can leap over the Pens to the top spot in the Eastern Conference as well as the Atlantic Division with a regulation win in this one.
Prediction: The Pens and Crosby keep streaks alive with an overtime win.
Wednesday: Atlanta Thrashers at Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET)With the Washington Capitals slumping, this game takes on even more meaning with the Southeast Division lead now within hailing distance of both the Lightning and the Thrashers. Atlanta has won eight of 10, and the Lightning are looking to find some consistency between the pipes after returning from the West Coast. The Bolts continue to be among the top scoring teams in the NHL.
Prediction: The Lightning, though still without Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Downie, will prevail at home.
Thursday: Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET)This is another matchup with divisional implications as the Bruins began the week just two points behind Montreal for first in the Northeast with two games in hand. Assuming Carey Price will face off against Tim Thomas, this tilt has Vezina Trophy possibilities, too. The Bruins and Habs represent two of the top defensive clubs in the league, so goals will be hard to come by.
Prediction: The Bruins come up big in Montreal to close the gap on the Habs.
Friday: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET)The Blackhawks have played better of late even without Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, who are on the injury shelf. Corey Crawford continues to do yeoman's work between the pipes for the Hawks, who are a curiously tepid 8-8 at home this season. Detroit remains the cream of the crop in the Western Conference and is one of the most dangerous road teams in the NHL. Chris Osgood finally returned from injury last week and should help give Jimmy Howard some much-needed rest.
Prediction: The Wings come up with a big road win, although it might take extra time.