Friday, October 8, 2010

What's on tap

A look at Friday's NHL action, featuring six games, including the debut of Alex Ovechkin:

Minnesota vs. Carolina in Finland, Noon EDT, Versus

Fresh off his two-goal performance in the opener, Brandon Sutter looks to continue his strong start as the Hurricanes seek to take four points from their trip to Finland. The Wild might have even more questions than before Thursday's game. The natives, they grow restless, Mr. Richards.

San Jose at Columbus, 3 p.m.

Afternoon hockey continues with a question of goaltending at the forefront. San Jose decided it had enough of Evgeni Nabokov and brought in first Antero Niittymaki and then Stanley Cup-winner Antti Niemi. Who will it be? Who knows. At least they have a monopoly on goalies named "Ant."

Steve Mason headlines the Blue Jackets and hopes his sophomore slump was only a slump and only during his sophomore season. The 2009 Calder Trophy winner looks to regain his rookie year form but has to do it against the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Columbus' offense is Rick Nash, and, well, Rick Nash.

Dallas at New Jersey, 7 p.m.

You're allowed to not watch this game. It might not be pretty, both in style points and the score. Dallas could be in for a rough season and New Jersey is, well, New Jersey. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk back in the mix, the Devils aren't about to engage in anything remotely resembling entertainment. Travis Zajac and Zach Parise will try to score anyway. Martin Brodeur is still Martin Brodeur. (But if you want to mess with him, just tell him it's the playoffs. Oh snap!)

The Stars do have some talented players in Loui Eriksson, James Neal and Brad Richards. But they grew to dislike Marty Turco so much they acquired Kari Lehtonen, who has struggled to stay out of the trainer's room and has shown little indication of being an NHL-caliber goaltender when he has. (Granted, he played for the Thrashers...)

Anaheim at Detroit, 7: 30 p.m.

Here is a much better game to watch, unless it's on Fox Sports Detroit. Then stay the hell away. Just trust me on that.

Anyway, this game features plenty of offensive talent, from Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan of the Ducks, to Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings. (Also keep an eye out for Jiri Hudler.)

Anaheim's Jonas Hiller and Detroit's Jimmy Howard, both bright young goaltenders, seek to stop those players.

Buffalo at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.

I'm amazed at how often I'm seeing "Ryan Miller is awesome!" type comments now that Miller had a banner season, winning a silver medal and the Vezina Trophy with terrific numbers. Don't get me wrong, he's good. But he's always been good. People just know his name now.

Anyway, he'll be tested this season after the Sabres lost defensive stalwarts Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder and replaced them with Shaone Morrison and Jordan Leopold. Whether that was an upgrade remains to be seen. Tyler Myers is worth watching and Derek Roy and Tim Connolly are a solid 1-2 punch at center.

The Senators have a goaltending problem. Brian Elliott played a huge part getting them to the 2010 postseason but struggled, whereas Pascal Leclaire fared well in two games. Jason Spezza hopes trade rumors are behind him, the ageless Daniel Alfredsson still gets things done, and newly signed Sergei Gonchar fuels what could be a potent power play.

Washington at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.

Dustin Byfuglien wants to play defense in the East. After opening against the Capitals, he might want to rethink things.

The last game on the schedule (how are there not even any games at 8 or 8:30?) features the Presidents' Trophy winners and owners of the most dangerous offense in the league, propelled by that Russian dude - OK, both Russian dudes, the Swedish Nicklas Backstrom and a host of others who at any point can make a team pay for a defensive lapse. Goaltender Michael Neuvirth could contend for the Calder Trophy.

The Thrashers, on the other hand, well... hey, the powder blue uniforms are pretty.

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