As we head into another jam-packed weekend of NHL action, I thought I’d take a look at a few things to ‘Watch For’ as all teams are now rounding into their routines, and battling for crucial points in this shortened NHL campaign.
Any losing streak of three or more games, any injury to a top-six forward, or top-two D-man could be lights out. Health, goaltending and bounces are all part of getting to the playoffs in a 48-game schedule. Here’s a a few things I’ll be keeping an eye on this weekend and beyond.
The Leafs of all teams in the East, need to get back to the post-season. This week they locked up one of their important pieces – Joffrey Lupul – with a new contract. Lupul was pegged as crucial to any success that the ‘Buds’ would have as they come together under Randy Carlyle. A new deal in hand, Lupul goes out and celebrates his new found wealth with a broken arm!
Midway through the second period of an important win over the Penguins, Lupul took a Dion Phaneuf shot off the right forearm. LEAF LUCK. Lupul will miss at least six weeks with the injury, thus Toronto is already down an important skater. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the ‘Boys in Blue’ can react to the loss. Matt Frattin was called up from the Marlies to replace Lupul, and had three points in a bad loss to the Isles. Next stop Broadway – and a big tilt against the Rangers. This game will be one to watch.
Scotty Hartnell – he of the crazy flowing red locks – and he of the 37 goals last season is out for the count. Hartnell, like Lupul, was hit by a teammates shot (Kimmo Timonen), and is gone for four-to-eight weeks with a broken left foot. The Flyers are already missing Danny Briere (wrist), and he’s 50/50 for this weekend. With both Hartnell and Briere out, this could be a tough patch for the Flyers.
Ilya Bryzgalov has looked shaky, but was good Thursday in a win over the much-hated rival Rangers. At 1-3 through the first week of the condensed season, it’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the dream start. Without one of their main goal-scorers, and of course physical lightning rod, it’s hard to see how Philly will fare. Keep an eye on the men in orange for the next five games or so – it could get interesting! For Flyer fans, they hope it doesn’t get ugly. The club plays the Panthers Saturday, and the Lightning Sunday, and this back-to-back set on the road is definitely something to watch for.
It seems that at the start of each and every season, the San Jose Sharks are being talked about as contenders in the West. This season is different. Not many pundits are calling the Sharks number to be anything other than a fringe playoff team. I would agree that the apex of the current group of men in teal may have been two or three season ago, but they never found the ultimate playoff formula for success. But, in saying that, I do believe a shortened regular season could be better for ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton and the Sharks.
This is a team that has been very good through the regular season, yet seems to wane in the post-season. Less games in the campaign may mean that these guys peak in the playoffs. Yes, Thornton played in Switzerland during the lockout, but that league isn’t as physically gruelling, and the travel less harsh. Joe is off to a fantastic start leading the NHL as I write this with nine points in just three games (1G, 8A). His old running-mate Patrick Marleau is also on fire with eight points (6G, 2A). Keep an eye on these grizzled veterans. There’s plenty to prove for them both, and this short dash could be the strange advantage they need to finally get over the playoff hump. San Jose hosts the Avs Saturday, and the Canucks on Sunday. These should be two beauty games.
Enjoy all the weekend action from wherever you’re watching or following along on-line. There are so many intriguing races, match-ups, and of course plenty of drama for all 30 NHL teams as we rocket towards the playoffs. No matter who you cheer for, or who your favourite player is, let’s just all be glad that hockey is back where it belongs – on the ice!
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