The NHL is offering Seattle more chances to get to know the league this week.
Following a three-day break for the holidays, the league will kick off with four nationally televised games over the next three days. All four games will be available on NBCSN.
After dropping their last two road games to the struggling Arizona Coyotes and red-hot Vegas Golden Knights, the Washington Capitals (22-13-2) will look to rebound in a division match-up against the New York Rangers (19-13-2) at Madison Square Garden. The top 5 teams of the Metropolitan Division are separated by only five points and both units will be looking for a win as they fight for a playoff spot.
Since the beginning of the season, Rangers fans have been calling for the firing of head coach Alain Vigneault who has been with the team since 2013. Vigneault has received a lot of criticism for what many view as his poor decision making and mishandling of star players including center Mike Zibanejad and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Zibanejad, having just recently returned to the ice following a concussion, was limited to one shift in the third period as coach Vigneault continued his routine of shifting lines throughout the game. Zibanejads’ limited ice time comes just days after first-year Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk was sat for the final 7:28 in their 4-3 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Although seeing what I imagine is an unsustainable workload, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been in top form stopping 150 shots of 160 over the last four games. Vigneault and his team will look to relieve the pressure on Lundqvist by finding a way to put the puck in the net without committing too many players forward. If they fail to do so, I see Washington walking away with two points.
Thursday, December 28: Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals (5:30 PM PST)
The Washington Capitals (22-13-2) will return home for the first time since December 16th to play a streaking Boston Bruins squad (19-10-5) who have won their last four games with a goal differential of +11. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has gone 8-0-1 in his last nine games which was enough to earn him NHL first star of the week.
Normally, the Capitals would have flown to New York yesterday prior to their first game against the Rangers, but the league has not permitted them to travel until this morning. The team will then have to quickly turn around and make a return flight home for this game. A very unfavorable situation. Having struggled with back-to-backs so far this season, losing 5 of 7, the group will look to their veteran players for leadership.
Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin leads the league in shots with 165, but will be challenged by Bruins 20 year-old sensation Charlie McAvoy who is averaging just over 23 minutes a game and has a total of 19 points while playing in the top defensive pairing.
Thursday, December 28: Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings (7:00 PM PST)
Heading into their inaugural season, it was expected that the Vegas Golden Knights would form a natural rivalry with the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are currently sitting at the bottom of the league so the Golden Knights have been forced to look elsewhere. Queue the Los Angeles Kings.
Both teams are sitting top three in the league and have been in a constant battle for first in the west.
Although the Kings (22-11-4) have gone 2-3-1 in their last six games, they haven't lost at home since November 22nd. Their top line of Alex Iafallo, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown have shaped up to be one of the most dominant lines in the NHL this year. Defenseman Drew Doughty is third on the team in points (26) and averages a remarkable 27:03 average time on ice. Only 11 seconds behind league leader Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild.
The Vegas Golden Knights will look to go 2-0 against the Kings so far this year in what has been an absolute stunner of an inaugural year. Before the start of this season, oddsmakers had them finishing last. At just shy of the halfway mark, they are 23-9-2, sitting first in the Western Conference, and second in the league. Although this ragtag group of players with nothing to lose have fought as a single unit to take down team after team, it hasn’t been without its perils.
There was no question before the expansion draft that three-time Stanley Cup champion, and future hall-of-famer, Marc-Andre Fleury would be leaving Pittsburgh for Las Vegas. What wasn’t expected was that after 34 games, he would be third on the depth chart in games played. With their top three netminders going down due to injury, the Golden Knights were left to work with Maxime Legace of the Chicago Wolves (AHL) and 19 year old Dylan Ferguson of the Kamloops Blazers (WHL). When all is said and done, goalie coach David Prior may very well be this seasons MVP for the Golden Knights.
You do not want to miss this game.
Friday, December 29: Nashville Predators vs Minnesota Wild (7:00 PM PST)
Last year, the Nashville Predators (21-9-5) sprang into the spotlight of hockey fans around the globe. I doubt anyone will forget the electric atmosphere surrounding Nashville as they took the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to six games in the finals. While they have carried that momentum into the 2017-18 season, discipline could become their downfall.
It is well known that the Predators are a tough team, but they have allowed at least four power-play opportunities in 26 out of 35 games so far this season. They had two penalties and gave up three goals in the first five minutes against the Carolina Hurricanes on December 21st. Two days later, in their last game before the break, a tripping call on Ryan Johansen sent the Dallas Stars on a three goal streak in a game which Nashville would eventually lose in a shootout.
If they are able to regain control of the penalties and can maintain their play throughout the second half of the season, expect the Predators to make a good push in the playoffs.
The Minnesota Wild (18-15-3) have been very inconsistent this year while sitting in the bottom half of the league and one point out of a wild card spot in the west. They have struggled to hold onto leads going into the third period and have fallen victim to a pile of injuries, including starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk who has missed the last six games due to a lower-body injury.
Nashville should have no issue getting a win.