Breaking Down the 6 Can't-Miss Games on NHL's Weekend Schedule
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Many teams have already played at least one-third of their games on the 48-game schedule.
It's no longer about the start of the season. The NHL is approaching the middle of this truncated season and teams are playing to establish their strengths and solidify their possible playoff status.
There are many games and weeks to go, but most coaches and general managers have a pretty good idea of what their teams are all about at this point in the season.
This weekend's games can help solidify or dissolve those opinions.
Here's a look at six can't-miss games on this weekend's schedule.
San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks, Feb. 22
Care to make it 17?
The Chicago Blackhawks have been rolling since opening day, registering at least one point in their first 16 games.
The Blackhawks have not tasted a regulation defeat and have only lost three games via shootout so far.
They have already victimized the Sharks twice, including Feb. 15 at the United Center. This game features another confrontation between Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Joe Thornton of the Sharks. In the Feb. 15 game, these two team captains dropped the gloves and went at it.
The much bigger Thornton won the battle, but the Hawks used the fight as a rallying point and rolled past San Jose 4-1.
The Sharks don't want to lose a third straight game vs. Chicago and they should come with their best effort.
New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Feb. 23
The season is starting to reach a critical stage for the New York Rangers. This team was expected to dominate the Eastern Conference, but it is stumbling along with an 8-6-2 record.
It's no longer just an ordinary start, the Rangers are playing uninspired hockey and appear to lack confidence.
After a 3-1 loss at home to the Montreal Canadiens, head coach John Tortorella said his team had played one of the worst games he had ever been associated with (per the Daily News): "It was two bad teams playing, and we were worse than they were."
Tortorella may have attempted to get a shot in at his team, but he also slighted the Canadiens with his remarks.
The Habs have been one of the best stories of the season and are sitting atop the Northeast Division at this point.
Look for a much better game than the meeting at Madison Square Garden earlier this week.
Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 23
The games are vital for all teams, but the Red Wings look at the standings and see themselves on the outside looking in at the 17-game mark.
The Red Wings have 17 points and are just a point out of the playoffs, but they are coming off a regulation home loss to Columbus (Feb. 21) and that's not acceptable.
Mike Babcock's team can't give points away, especially at home. It will certainly be a lot tougher to come away with points against the Predators than the Blue Jackets.
Head coach Barry Trotz's team may not have the firepower of some of the other Western Conference teams, but the Preds always play hard for 60 minutes. With Pekka Rinne playing superbly in goal—1.67 goals-against average and .935 save percentage—the Predators have a chance to go into Detroit and steal a win.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Ottawa Senators, Feb. 23
The Maple Leafs and Senators are both in the middle of the playoff mix and that makes this game one that is must-see for the weekend—and not just for Canadian fans.
Both teams have been impressive. Head coach Randy Carlyle has the Maple Leafs playing impressive defense and the team appears much more resilient than previous Maple Leaf teams.
Former Flyer James van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs with 11 goals while speedy Phil Kessel has a team-high 15 points.
The Senators have been hit with devastating injuries to Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, but this team has not folded and decided to feel sorry for itself. The Sens have won three games in a row since losing Karlsson to an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Senators goalie Craig Anderson (sprained ankle per CBS Sports) was forced out of the Feb. 21 game vs. the Rangers after a collission and his status for this game has not been determined.
Vancouver Canucks at Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 24
The Red Wings will get tested here, playing their second game in less than 24 hours against a top opponent.
That would be difficult under any circumstances, but the Red Wings are not the powerhouse they have been in the past.
Rookie Damien Brunner has an array of offensive moves and leads the team with eight goals, while veteran Henrik Zetterberg leads the team with 17 points. Jimmy Howard has been ordinary to this point. He has a 3.08 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
The Canucks have been solid once again this season. Roberto Luongo has been stellar in goal with a 1.63 GAA and .934 save percentage.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in a five-way tie for the team lead in goal scoring with five tallies.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins, Feb. 24
This game has the potential to be one of the most exciting and perhaps the highest-scoring game of the weekend.
Steven Stamkos scored his 11th goal of the season in Tampa Bay's 4-2 loss to Boston on Feb. 21 and he is likely to lead the league in goal scoring again this year. Veteran Martin St. Louis is having a stellar year with 22 points.
Sidney Crosby is healthy again and has scored 25 points. Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are both explosive scorers who give the Penguins the ability to dominate any game.
Curiously, the Penguins are just 3-4-0 in their home games this season. Stamkos & Co. will try to give the Penguins another home loss in this game.