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NHL Games Of The Week, February 16-21

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH

Los Angeles Kings at Washington Capitals

The last time we checked on the Los Angeles Kings in this column, they had just fallen to one of their arch-rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, by a 4-2 score in their last game before a seven-game road trip.  Since hitting the road, they’ve been up-and-down on this trip, going 2-2-0 in the first four games.  They bludgeoned the Bruins 9-2, fell to the Islanders 5-2, edged the Rangers 5-4 in overtime, and got shut out 1-0 by the Devils.  Although the Kings have maintained their position at the top of the Pacific Division, the red-hot Ducks are closing on them fast, as L.A’s lead stands at only five points.  The Kings are only 4-6-0 in their last 10 games and they haven’t won back-to-back games since January 17-19th.  The Capitals are still atop the NHL standings, but saw their five-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday night in a 4-3 loss in Dallas when they fell behind 4-0 in the second period before rallying with three third-period goals to make the score more respectable.  The second period of that game was arguably Washington’s worst period of the season, and it came in a place where they’ve not had much success over the last 20+ years.  Since the Stars arrived in Dallas in 1993, the Capitals are just 3-13-0 in Big D.  Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 35th goal in the loss, as the Caps will look to rebound in their first meeting of the season against the Kings.  This game marks the beginning of a stretch where they will play eight out of their next 10 at home.  L.A. will close out their road trip with games in St. Louis and Nashville.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH

Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues

After getting dominated 5-1 at home by the Chicago Blackhawks on February 6th, the Dallas Stars have reeled off four wins in a row, including a crucial 3-2 overtime victory in Nashville to start a three-game road trip on Monday night.  That victory came on the heels of a 4-3 victory over the league-leading Capitals in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would show.  Mattias Janmark knotted the overtime winner at the 3:49 mark against the Predators, keeping the Stars tied with Chicago for first place in the Central Division with 79 points.  After struggling in January, it looks like the Stars have regained their mojo for the time being.  The Blues, who reside in third place in the Central, are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and are currently six points behind the Stars and the Blackhawks for first place in the division.  The Blues hit the road for a pair of games in the Sunshine State and came away with a 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers and a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, making them 3-0-1 in their last four games.  Brian Elliott was outstanding in goal for the Blues on Sunday, making 37 saves in the win over the Lightning.  Since filling in for the injured Jake Allen in early January, Elliott has held down the fort for St. Louis, allowing more than two goals just twice in his last nine starts.  The Blues are also getting healthy for the first time all season, as Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz recently returned to the lineup after missing extended time due to injuries.  This will be the fourth of five meetings between these division rivals, with St. Louis winning two out of three previous meetings, including one in a shootout.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17TH

Chicago Blackhawks at New York Rangers

These two Original Six franchises will square off for the first time since the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Opening Night at the United Center.  Heading into Monday night’s game against the Maple Leafs at home, the Blackhawks had lost three in a row and were just 4-5-1 in their previous 10 games.  A date with Toronto was just what Chicago needed, and the Blackhawks feasted on the inferior competition, blitzing the Leafs and jumping out to a 7-0 lead before giving up a pair of meaningless goals in the third period of a 7-2 win.  Patrick Kane led the way for the Hawks, scoring his 34th goal of the year and tacking on three assists, as seven different Chicago players scored.  New York is catching their stride at the right time, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and maintaining their spot at second place in the Metropolitan Division with 70 points.  This will be New York’s first game since an emotionally-charged 3-1 victory at home over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, a game that took place just eight days after the teams’ previous meeting when the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds concussed the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh with a punch to the head.  Sunday’s contest featured a pair of first-period fights, one of them involving Simmonds against Dylan McIlrath that saw Simmonds suffer a cut above his left eye.  Henrik Lundqvist came within 9.7 seconds of a shutout but still earned the win with 21 saves, while Derek Stepan scored a pair of goals in the third period.  One of those was a power play goal, and it marked the second straight game in which the Rangers have scored with the man-advantage.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18TH

San Jose Sharks at Florida Panthers

This will be the second game of a five-game road trip for the Sharks, who begin the trip on Tuesday night in Tampa for a contest with the Lightning before making their way to Sunrise for this game.  San Jose is 3-2-1 since the All-Star break and enters the week with 63 points, just one shy of the Anaheim Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division and six behind Los Angeles for first place.  The Sharks picked up an important 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night at home, increasing their lead over Arizona to seven points in the division.  Four different players scored in the victory, as the Sharks got off to an early 2-0 lead and never looked back.  Martin Jones made 22 saves for the Sharks.  The Panthers continue to hold the top spot in the Atlantic Division with 70 points, but a 2-3-1 stretch heading into Monday’s home game against Pittsburgh saw their lead in the division become less ironclad over the last several days.  Just like their previous home game against the Penguins, the Panthers blew a late lead in the third period on Monday night, but this time, they were able to squeak out a 2-1 shootout win.  Nick Bjugstad scored Florida’s lone regulation goal, and also added a goal in the shootout.  Jussi Jokinen got the shootout winner and Al Montoya stopped 31 shots to give the Panthers the win, and they remain five points ahead of Detroit for second place in the Atlantic.  This will be the second and final meeting between Florida and San Jose, as the Sharks won the first match-up 5-2 in San Jose back on November 5th.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21ST

Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild

Typically I don’t include one team more than once in these weekly previews, but this week, I decided to include this game for a couple of reasons.  One of them is because this is the first of two outdoor Stadium Series games the NHL will be holding in the span of two weeks, as these division foes will meet at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.  The other reason is that it will be fascinating to see if the Wild can use this game as a springboard to turn their season around.  Since the calendar flipped over to 2016, Minnesota has gone a ghastly 4-12-4, but did manage to stop an eight-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory in Vancouver on Monday night.  The win momentarily stopped the bleeding, but that eight-game skid was part of a stretch of 13 losses in 14 games that cost head coach Mike Yeo his job.  The Wild let him go on Saturday night and promoted John Torchetti, who picked up his first win as interim head coach.  Torchetti, who was the head coach of Minnesota’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, will try to right the ship for a team that is trailing the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche by four points for the last wild card spot in the West.  The Wild wrap up their three-game road trip through Western Canada with games in Calgary and Edmonton before hosting the outdoor contest on Sunday.  This will be the third of five meetings between Minnesota and Chicago this season, with the Wild having won the first two match-ups.

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