Now that the NFL season is over and the NHL is able to really load up their Sundays from here on out, you'll probably have to get used to Monday nights like last night, which featured just two games (and only one of them was even remotely competitive). The NHL returns to a far more active schedule tonight, however, with a 9-game lineup, giving me plenty of games to shift through and tell you just which games are worth your time. So let's get to it.
In case you missed the inaugural edition, to recap I'm going to look at the schedule of the day and pick out four games. Those four games will be:
Marquee Match-Up: The biggest game of the night, the game you absolutely need to see, featuring the biggest stars and/or the best rivalries.
The Runner-Up: Basically the same criteria that applies to the Marquee, just not quite as big of a deal as the night's biggest game.
Under the Radar: This is a game that, for whatever reason, just wouldn't normally jump out at you if you're taking a quick glance at the day's schedule, but upon taking a closer look, this should probably be a great game.
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: With the Winter Olympics fresh on everyone's mind, I'm naming this dubious "award" after the Olympics' most craptastic event that NBC tried to push off on us all in lieu of actual figure skating. Please do yourself a favor, don't watch this game.
Once those four picks are done with, I'll go through The Rest and tell you which of those games just might be worth your time as well. Even if you don't have Center Ice, I'll make sure to note which (if any) of these games are available on national TV in the US & Canada.
I've also decided to try my hand at predictions as well. Nostradamus I'm not, so you're forewarned not to take any of these to your local bookie or anything.
Tuesday March 9th
Overall: Though there are nine games on tap for tonight, it's not a particuarly strong nine games. It took some real digging to come through with my Marquee games, and to be honest they were kind of a toss-up.
Marquee Match-Up: Vancouver Canucks (40-23-2, 82 points, 1st in Northwest, 3rd in West) at Colorado Avalanche (37-22-6, 80 points, 2nd in Northwest, 6th in West)
9:00 pm EST/6:00 pm PST
On a night that's not exactly strong with the marquee name value or rivalries, I'm leaning towards this battle for the Northwest division as my pick of the night. This is the game I'm most interested in watching, and I have no real strong feelings towards either team. But this is the only division in the Western Conference that is still really up for grabs, and just looking at both these teams and where they are in the standings should tell you just how important winning that division will be. Despite just two points difference, the Canucks sit in 3rd (with home ice) due to having the division lead, while the Avalanche sit in 6th, behind the Coyotes & Kings in the Western standings and just 7 points shy of 9th place Calgary (and more on them in a second). Furthermore, this could very easily be a first-round preview. Add it all up and you've got the recipe for a very important game tonight.
Prediction: Canucks 5-3
Runner-Up: Calgary Flames (32-24-9, 73 points, 3rd in Northwest, 9th in West) at Detroit Red Wings (31-22-12, 74 points, 3rd in Central, 8th in West)
7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST
Tonight's race for the Marquee really only came down to these two games, but I had a little bit of a hard time deciding just which one to rank above the other. In the end, I went with the divisional showdown, but that's not to take anything away from this battle. Calgary is exactly one point behind Detroit for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West, and neither team has games in hand on the other. This is one of those almighty four-point games, as Detroit has a chance to increase the gap with Calgary to 3, while Calgary has a chance to unseat Detroit and take that 8th playoff spot. Of course, no one would have predicted before the season began that the Flames & Red Wings would be battling it out for 8th in the Western Conference, which only makes this battle even more intriguing. After tonight's game, the two teams will meet one final time in Calgary next Monday, so you know the Flames would love to steal one on the road with a home date against the Wings still to come.
Prediction: Flames 5-4 in a Shootout
Under the Radar: Tampa Bay Lightning (27-26-11, 65 points, 3rd in Southeast, 11th in East) at Montreal Canadiens (32-29-6, 70 points, 3rd in Northeast, 7th in East)
7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST
National TV: RDS (Canada, French only)
There were a few games I considered for this one, but I'm giving the nod to the Lightning at the Habs, for a couple of reasons. First of all, there's the obvious playoff race. The Lightning are fading fast, now 5 points back of the Habs and 4 points back of the 8th place Bruins. A win here in regulation would be a big deal for the Lightning, especially considering they will still have 3 games in hand on the Habs at the end of the night. Secondly, the Lightning's two French-Canadian superstars, Vinny Lecavalier & Martin St. Louis both have a tendency to turn it way up whenever the Bolts play in Montreal. Add it all up and you have a game that will probably fly under the radar a bit (especially in the States) but could turn out to be a very good game.
Prediction: Habs 3-1
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: New York Islanders (26-31-8, 60 points, 5th in Atlantic, 14th in East) at Philadelphia Flyers (34-26-4, 72 points, 3rd in Atlantic, 6th in East)
7:00 pm EST/4:00 pm PST
National TV: Versus (US)
Ah yes, for the first time and I'm sure not the last, my worst game of the night also happens to be the only game picked up on national TV here in the good 'ol US of A! But Versus only has themselves to blame for this one: inexplicably this will be the second time the Flyers-Isles have aired on Versus this season, despite the fact that the Flyers are carrying an unbelievable FIFTEEN GAME winning streak over the Islanders into tonight's contest! The last time the Islanders were in Philly they looked lifeless, and that was at a time they were playing MUCH better hockey overall than they are right now. The Isles have faded from their surprising form earlier in the season, as many young teams tend to do, and are currently all but out of the playoff race. This should be yet another one-sided romp for the Flyers in this incredibly one-sided "rivalry", and you should almost definitely take a pass on watching it.
Prediction: Flyers 5-1
Bruins @ Maple Leafs, 7:00 pm EST: Whoa, didn't these guys just play each other? Well, that game went to a shootout, so who knows, this one could provide some excitement too. But expecting the Leafs to get up for a game these days has proven to be a bit of a crapshoot: the same week they were taking the Bruins to a shootout in Beantown, they were also losing at home, 5-1, to the Carolina Hurricanes. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
Predators @ Thrashers, 7:00 pm EST: Talk about two teams that desperately need points: the Thrashers are coming off their collapse against Vancouver and have seen their playoff cushion evaporate to just 2 points over 9th place Calgary, while the Thrashers decided the best way to celebrate being in the top 8 in the East was by losing two in a row, which now sees them in 10th and 3 points out again. Funny thing about desperation: it tends to bring out a hell of a hockey game. Verdict: Probably Worth Your Time
Panthers @ Wild, 8:00 pm EST: I literally have absolutely nothing to say about this game. I can tell you they're both hockey teams and they're both allegedly still in their playoff races. Yeah, that's about it. Okay, I know that's weak, but YOU try finding something to write about a game between the FLORIDA FRIGGIN' PANTHERS and the MINNESOTA FRIGGIN' WILD. Thought so. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Senators @ Oilers, 9:00 pm EST: Now are you starting to see why I said tonight's lineup was kind of weak? Boy, between that last game, this one, and one more still to come, there was more competition for the Ice Dancing "award" than anything else tonight. The Sens are very good, the Oilers are very bad, nothing to see here, move along please. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Blue Jackets @ Ducks, 10:00 pm EST: Ever watch Robot Chicken? Okay, ever see that skit they did parodying those Fox specials with "World's Most One-Sided Fist Fights"? Several of the "fights" from that skit, including a man reaching down into a stroller and repeatedly punching a baby, were more competitive than last night's Kings-Jackets game. After 40 minutes, the Kings had more goals (six) than the Jackets had SHOTS ON GOAL (five). When have you EVER heard of that happening? I guess my point is, tonight's game can go one of two ways: either the Jackets will come out pissed off and take it out on the Ducks, or they'll come out and get slaughtered again by an Anaheim team that really, really needs the 2 points to keep their playoff hopes alive. If it's the former, it might be a fun game to watch. But if it's the latter, well, it'll be fun if you're a Ducks fan, suicidally depressing if you're a Jackets fan, and utterly uninteresting for everyone else. Hey, at least the Jackets won't be able to use the usual built-in "we just played a game last night, we're tired" excuse if they lose tonight. Using that excuse actually requires PLAYING IN THE GAME THE NIGHT BEFORE. Which, you know, they didn't. Okay, I'm done. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
And that's it for tonight, ladies and gents. I'll be back, perhaps with some early rumblings from the first two days of the GM meetings. Enjoy the hockey.