Hot and not
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Thornton returns from the All-Star break looking to continue a roll that has seen him collect 25 points in the past 19 games, overlapping with the Sharks' current 8-0-2 run.
Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
Gallagher is second on the Canadiens with 12 goals but has just one in the past nine games, while the team as a whole is averaging just 1.8 goals per game in its past 19.
Which is the best game on Tuesday's packed schedule?
@ESPN_Burnside: The NHL treats us to a monster Tuesday night with 12 games as we begin the post-All-Star segment of the season, one that always seems to go by in a blur. But if Tuesday's schedule is any indication, every night from here on out will provide us with key matchups and statement games. So, which one catches your eye to start the stretch? I know I'll be staying up late to watch the San Jose Sharks visit the Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks have been impressive of late and are 16-6-2 on the road, but the Ducks are finally becoming the team we all thought they could be. A win Tuesday would close the gap on the second-place Sharks, who lead Anaheim by five points, although the Ducks have a game in hand.
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Scotty, consider these notes from Ducks PR guru Alex Gilchrist: "Since Dec. 26 (resumption of play after the Christmas break), the Ducks are 10-3-1, the third-best mark in the NHL (.750 points percentage) ... the club also leads the league in PK% (94.0), fewest goals allowed (25), and ranks fourth in PP% (26.3) since the break.'' Yes, I think the Ducks are back, although they're playing differently, a new-look team in terms of style from the one we've known the past few years. The Ducks are more about grinding out low-scoring games. They feel that should serve them well come playoff time, if they make it, of course. After Tuesday night, they will take on the rival Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. Giddyup, Ducks.
@CraigCustance: I really felt like that Sharks surge right before the break flew under the radar. The Ducks have been receiving a lot of attention for their improved play, and the Kings are going to win that division, but the Sharks aren't all that far out of first. Their goal differential is the fourth-best in the Western Conference, and that power play is one of the best in the league. I had a chat with one player during the All-Star break who, like the rest of us, still isn't sure what to make of the Sharks. They tend to run hot and cold, and it would go a long way toward building up some believers if they stay hot after the break. I'm with Scott; that's the game of the night.
@ESPNJoeyMac: Seeing the Ducks up close in their last game before the All-Star break made me a believer that they are better than the standings indicate. I expect Anaheim to have a strong stretch run en route to a postseason berth. And, once the Ducks reach the playoffs, there's no reason not to believe they can go on a deep run. I picked Anaheim to come out of the West in our preseason poll, so I would be ecstatic to be right at least once. You're right, Scotty, that there are a ton of games to get excited about Tuesday night. I'm covering the Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins game, and I'm interested to see how both teams come out of the break. Boston currently sits in a playoff spot, and it's games like Tuesday's in which the Bruins need to come away with two points. It's going to be a busy month with the stretch beginning and the trade deadline looming, and I'm ready.
Around the league
The Chicago Blackhawks were unsure of league rules when captain Jonathan Toews fell ill just before the All-Star break and opted out of the game, so they will be without Toews when they face the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday.
Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid has been cleared to return to the lineup and said he is feeling "anxious" and "excited" to get back into game action after missing three months with a broken collarbone.