With the All-Star festivities approaching, this week in the NHL is noticeably shorter. Here are a few important matchups, and some things to watch for:
After going 10-2 in December, the Blackhawks are 5-4 so far in January. The teams split the two earlier season contests as this rivalry has heated up. Look for Khabibulin in net for the 'Hawks, despite the solid play of Cristobal Huet in the 2-1 (OT) win vs. St. Louis on Saturday. I expect Niklas Backstrom to continue to get the bulk of the work between the pipes for the Wild.
The Hurricanes have dropped five in a row, and need to make a turnaround soon if they are going to challenge the Penguins, Panthers, and Sabres for the final few playoff positions. The Penguins, fresh off a dominating performance vs. the New York Rangers, look to make it three straight wins after the bruising loss to Washington last week.
Subplot here is another game of Staal vs. Staal. On Saturday, Jordan Staal faced off against brother Mark (Rangers); on this night he gets to see brother Eric and the Hurricanes.
Two huge Eastern Conference games precede the All-Star break. First up, the powerful Canadiens, winners of eight of their last 10 games, head to Jersey. The Devils have played well lately, taking four of five and getting solid work from Scott Clemmensen.
Later on that evening, the Boston Bruins, fresh off their loss to Washington, look to make a statement against rival Toronto. The Bruins are 3-1 vs. the Leafs this season and have only lost back-to-back road games once this campaign. The Maple Leafs have dropped seven of 10 and could use a big win to boost their confidence.
Enjoy the games!