Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday's games

Washington (5-3-0) at Carolina (4-3-0), 7 p.m. EDT

The good news for the Hurricanes is they've yet to lose a game at home. The bad news is we're just days from Halloween and this is Carolina's first game at RBC Center.

Actually, more good news for Carolina is it earned more points from its extended road trip than it lost. One old sports adage I've heard is go .500 on the road and win most of the home games and you're good to go. So the Hurricanes have that going for them. Which, you know, is nice.

The worst news of all for the Hurricanes is Alex Ovechkin doesn't have a point in three straight games, not that he's not trying (19 shots and well over 23 minutes per game in those last three.) So you know it won't be long before he rips off a two-goal, five-point outing (minimum.) Nicklas Backstrom, not surprisingly, has also struggled at the same time as Ovechkin. Alexander Semin is coming off a hat trick but those were his first points in three games.

Still, going to sleep on this offense is asking for trouble, and Cam Ward will have to channel his inner Tim Thomas, who shut down Washington twice last week. Can he do it? Sure. Will he? Probably not. He's allowed fewer than three goals in a game just twice this season in six starts.

Eric Staal, meanwhile, either gets two points in a game or none. In seven games, he's been held scoreless in four while netting two each in the other three. Carolina needs more consistency from its captain.

Washington 5, Carolina 2

Atlanta (3-4-1) at Rangers (4-2-1), 7 p.m.

Defense and goaltending have allowed New York to win three straight games, conceding just four goals in that time, and helping the Rangers tread water until Marian Gaborik returns to spark New York's still-listless offense. Henrik Lundqvist has strung together two straight excellent outings, perhaps finally shaking off a rusty start.

The Thrashers? They're bummin'. Atlanta has lost three straight games after a good beginning to the season. The penalty killing is poor and the goaltending has regressed. And the offense? Ugh. We all knew Chris Thorburn couldn't be counted on, and we suspected the same for Anthony Stewart (no goals for Thorburn in four straight, none in three for Stewart) and Niclas Bergfors isn't living up to last season's promise. Nik Antropov has just one assist in seven games.

Pretty much the only thing going right for Atlanta right now is Ondrej Pavelec is back on the ice and will go on a conditioning assignment in the minor leagues.

New York 3, Atlanta 1

Pittsburgh (5-3-1) at Tampa Bay (5-2-1), 7:30 p.m.

This is one of the marquee games of the night, certainly in the East. It pits last season's co-Richard Trophy winners against each other, and it helps that both teams are playing well.

And we could see a lot of goals. The Penguins start Marc-Andre Fleury, who finally got a win, and so far it hasn't mattered who the Lightning have had between the pipes. Steven Stamkos is having a better start to the season than Sidney Crosby, with eight goals and 14 points to Crosby's six and 11.

The Penguins had a four-game winning streak snapped at St. Louis. Three of Pittsburgh's top six point producers are defensemen.

The Lightning have been up-and-down over the past two weeks, losing one, winning one, losing one, etc. If that trend continues, they'll win tonight as they lost to Nashville on Sunday. Tampa Bay is banged up, however, and could be missing several key regulars. Martin St. Louis is a Penguins killer (not literally, because that would be cruel, but he does well against Pittsburgh.)

Pittsburgh 5, Tampa Bay 4

Islanders (4-2-2) at Montreal (5-2-1), 7:30 p.m.

Did anyone have this game pegged before the season as one to watch? Both teams are off to excellent starts. One's doing it with offense primarily and the other with goaltending.

New York has a bunch of players scoring goals, from John Tavares to Matt Moulson to P.A. Parenteau. The goaltending has been a mixed bag. Dwayne Roloson has been stellar (1.65 GAA, .942%) but Rick DiPietro has gotten the bulk of the action and he's been less great, winning just two of his five starts. Obviously the Islanders want DiPietro to get back to form, but in a situation similar to Pittsburgh's, shouldn't they rely on their backup a little bit more since he's playing significantly better?

The Canadiens' story basically begins and ends with Carey Price. He's still started every game and he's the key reason Montreal ranks sixth in goals against per game. Montreal certainly isn't getting any production from its power play, which now ranks last after Florida scored once on Tuesday. Andrei Markov's return appears imminent, which should immediately boost that by about 10 percent. Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec have been very good, Brian Gionta has been very bad.

Montreal 3, New York 2

Los Angeles (6-2-0) at Chicago (5-4-1), 8:30 p.m.

This is the game that rivals Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay for star power. You'll notice the Blackhawks have won only half their games so far, which includes two straight defeats.

Something happened to Chicago. I don't know if it's the loss of Brian Campbell (injury), the trade of defenseman Brent Sopel, or the massive turnover among the bottom two forward lines. But a season ago, the Blackhawks allowed the fewest shots per game. Now they're ranked 25th. The goaltending has been competent - not stellar, not horrible - but Chicago is spending much more time in its own zone this season.

Marian Hossa's torrid start to the season has turned into three straight pointsless outings. Patrick Sharp continues to be the player mainly carrying the offense at this point. Those two are the only Blackhawks with more than two goals.

The Kings are many people's darlings to dethrone Chicago. Hard to argue, since LA has won five of its last six games. They've been doing some of that without Drew Doughty, a consensus Norris Trophy favorite, who remains out with a concussion. We're starting to see more of Anze Kopitar (three goals, five points in last four) and Jonathan Quick would be an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy. Jonathan Bernier, however, will be in the net tonight for his third start. He's been OK in the first two, but Quick has responded to the challenge and Bernier will have to start being sensational to steal more playing time.

Los Angeles 4, Chicago 2

New Jersey (2-6-1) at San Jose (3-3-1), 10:30 p.m., NHL Network

I used the following line once before but it bears repeating. Who would have thought these two teams would have only 12 points in 16 games between them?

Shall I just let the numbers speak? The Devils are last in goals per game. The power play is 29th. They're 25th in goals against per game. Dainius Zubrus is a fine hockey player but it's a problem when he's your leading scorer (tied with Ilya Kovalchuk with six points.) New Jersey has scored exactly one goal in a game an astounding five times in nine contests. Two goals twice. All but one of those games was a loss.

Are the Sharks any better? Well, a little, but San Jose is looking for its first win at HP Pavilion. A great road trip (two wins, 10 goals) ended on a sour note with a shutout in Calgary. Antero Niittymaki has out-played Antti Niemi by a mile so far. Many of San Jose's stars are playing OK but not great.

I don't think anyone in the Bay Area will be watching this game anyway, not with the Giants hosting Game 1 of the World Series against Texas. (Greatest. World Series. Ever. By the way.)

Texas 4, San Francisco 2 San Jose 3, New Jersey 1 (Changed my WS pick at 6:30 pm EDT.)

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