This week NHL fans will have the opportunity to watch five nationally televised games on NBCSN, including the annual Bridgestone Winter Classic in Queens, New York. Additionally, NHL.tv will be offering two free games to non-subscribers.
Each year since 2008 the NHL has hosted an outdoor game known as the Bridgestone Winter Classic. This year's event, being held at Citi Field, will feature an Eastern Conference matchup between the New York Rangers (20-13-5) and the Buffalo Sabres (10-20-8).
Although the Sabres have only won three of their last ten games and sit last in the Eastern Conference, goaltender Robin Lehner has posted a .928 save percentage over his last nine games. Fifth among NHL goalies. 21-year-old Jack Eichel is on his way to a career year, but despite his production and a new coaching staff, the Sabres are on pace for an abysmal 57 point season.
Despite an unimpressive roster, the New York Rangers will head into the game sitting fourth in the Metropolitan Division. Having won five of their last ten games, they will look to start the new year off on the right foot. Both media and fans are calling for backup goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to see more playing time as 35-year-old starter Henrik Lundqvist continues to see an unsustainable workload. Goalie depth is key if a team is looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Note: Keep an eye on the start time as changes in weather and sun glare can cause delays.
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (19-17-3) will faceoff with the Philadelphia Flyers (16-14-8) in a heated rivalry commonly known as the Battle of Pennsylvania. As I am writing this, the Penguins are currently losing to the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 1-3 with 10-minutes remaining in the game. Another likely loss in what has been an inconsistent season led by defensive struggles due to some key injuries.
300 miles east of Pittsburgh, the Flyers have had struggles of their own. Although having just handed the league leading Tampa Bay Lighting what was only their second loss in the month of December, coach Dave Hakstol and his crew are currently sitting four points out of a wild card spot. The team will look towards their veteran leadership in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek with hopes of lifting themselves into a playoff spot. Both players are on pace for 99-point seasons.
The Los Angeles Kings are having a season to remember despite sitting behind the Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division. While their top line has been remarkable in terms of production, the second group of Marian Gaborik, Adrian Kempe, and Tyler Toffoli have started to gell into something special. They tallied for a combined two goals, five assists, and nine shots in their game on Saturday versus the Vancouver Canucks.
The Oilers have picked up the pace, posting a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games (as of this writing), after what was a horrible start to the season. They are currently sitting five spots and seven points outside of a wild card spot in the Western Conference. Connor McDavid leads the team with 45 points having scored 14 goals and 31 assists in 38 games.
Wednesday, January 3: Chicago Blackhawks vs New York Rangers (5:00 PM PST)
The New York Rangers (20-13-5) will go head-to-head against the Chicago Blackhawks (18-14-5) in their second nationally televised game of the week.
The Blackhawks will begin the new year with a tough January schedule as they lineup against five top-ten teams. Although having one of the most impressive core groups in the league consisting of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, and Artem Anisimov (placed on the injured reserve with an upper-body injury Friday), the group has continued the trend of veering towards the middle of the pack. This is a team with the ability to turn the page, but a playoff run needs to begin now.
Sunday, January 7: Boston Bruins vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4:30 PM PST)
The Boston Bruins (21-10-6) have had an impressive start under new head coach Bruce Cassidy after longtime coach Claude Julien returned to Montreal. All eyes have been on rookies Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, and Jake Debrusk, but 22-year-old Danton Heinen has made a case of his own with 26 points through 33 games.
With David Krejci returning after missing a few games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, the Bruins power play was back in full force going 3-for-4 in their 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. In fact, they outscored their opponents by 16-6 in their last four games. This team is proving their value as their youth movement is being complemented by veteran talent returning from injury.
During the month of December they outscored their opponents 49-26. This will be a true test for a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins squad who will be coming off a back-to-back versus the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes.