6 Offensive Matchups to Watch During This Week's NHL Schedule
There's a certain excitement that goes with high-scoring games that often takes NHL hockey to a new level.
There's tension in a scoreless game between two top-level teams that are playing in a key contest, but when the goals are coming fast and furious there's a level of joy that is not often reached in the low-scoring games.
Those who love the high-scoring games might be wise to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins on a regular basis. They are averaging a league-best 3.65 goals per game and are more likely to get involved in a shootout—not the kind used to break ties at the end of regular-season overtime—but the kind that brings fans out of their feet repeatedly.
Here's a look at seven games (six different matchups, one repeated) that could light up the scoreboard.
Boston Bruins at Pitttsburgh Penguins, March 12 and March 17
These are two of the more powerful and best Eastern Conference teams. No insult to the first-place Montreal Canadiens, but it seems likely that one of these two teams will be in the fight for the Eastern Conference championship.
The Bruins and Penguins meet twice this week, with both meetings in the Steel City.
The Penguins are all about outscoring opponents. Head coach Dan Bylsma looks up and down his bench and sees goal scoring galore, led by Sidney Crosby but it certainly doesn't stop there. Even with Evgeni Malkin (upper body injury) out of action, the Penguins are going to threaten the net with Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang with nearly every shift.
The Bruins base their game plan on strong defense, but don't think for a second that head coach Claude Julien doesn't have skilled offensive players. Brad Marchand is one of the top snipers in the league this season, while linemate Tyler Seguin is getting hot after a slow start. When Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton start pounding bodies in the offensive zone, scoring chances follow.
Zdeno Chara and rookie Dougie Hamilton can bring it from the blue line.
While Tuukka Rask has been stellar in net for the Bruins, Marc-Andre Fleury is quite vulnerable in the net (2.71 goals-against average and .902 save percentage) and he will get lit up on occasion.
Los Angeles Kings at Phoenix Coyotes, March 12
There is no love lost between these two teams. The Kings defeated the Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals and there is plenty of physical tension every time they take the ice.
There is also the potential for a high-scoring game whenever they get together.
The Kings had a typical Stanley Cup malaise at the start of the season, but they have been much better over the last month, with eight win in their last 10 games as of March 11, and have been filling up the net.
Few NHL players have ever had the stat line that Kings forward Jeff Carter has put together this year. Carter knows how to put the puck in the net and has scored 17 goals. The problem is that Carter has distributed all of two assists.
Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown are also a threat to score for the Kings.
The Coyotes are going to look to Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette for their scoring needs.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs, March 14
There's plenty of tension in Toronto as the Maple Leafs appear to be approaching the tipping point of their season.
Throughout the first half of the year, the Maple Leafs have been playing impressive hockey for head coach Randy Carlyle, much as they did for Ron Wilson a year ago.
There are differences in the two approaches as Carlyle's Maple Leafs are more physical and play better defense than Wilson's, but the Leafs need to keep winning over the second half of the season if they are not going to blow their chance to return to the playoffs as they did a year ago.
They have plenty of offense to challenge the Penguins in Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
The Maple Leafs may feel they have to get into a run-and-gun game with the Penguins. While that would be exciting for the fans, it might not be the best strategy for winning this game.
Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche, March 14
The Chicago Blackhawks went through their first 24 games of the season before they finally lost a game in regulation.
Their streak stopped March 8 in Colorado, and they subsequently dropped their next game March 10 at home against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Blackhawks gave up six goals in both losses.
As a result, there is temporary panic in Chicago, where talk shows are buzzing about these recent losses to the 12th-place Avs (tied) and 14th-place Oilers.
Look for a return to form by the Blackhawks shortly. They have too much scoring talent in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, although Patrick Sharp's shoulder injury will likely keep him out for another week following this game.
The Avs may not win consistently, but they can put the puck in the net thanks to Matt Duchene, P.A. Parenteau, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly. The Avs have the team speed to give the Blackhawks quite a bit of trouble, as they proved in their 6-2 victory over Chicago last week.
Detroit Red Wings at Vancouver Canucks, March 16
The Red Wings and the Canucks have been the standard bearers in the Western Conference for many years, but both teams have appeared to taken a dip this year.
The Red Wings lost back-to-back games over the weekend to the Columbus Blue Jackets, meaning head coach Mike Babcock is going to have to wake his team up and rebuild its psyche. The Canucks are no longer dominating the Northwest Division, as they lost a March 10 game at Minnesota and the Wild have moved into the division lead (because they have more wins than the Canucks).
Despite both teams' troubles, there is still star power on both rosters. The Red Wings will look to Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and rookie Damien Brunner for goal scoring.
The Canucks will come at them with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows.
Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals, March 17
The Sabres and Capitals are not especially high-scoring teams—both are in the bottom half of the league in goals per game—but neither team is especially tight defensively and that could lead to a high-scoring game.
The Sabres pulled the plug on Lindy Ruff last month and are hoping that interim coach Ron Rolston can light a fire under them that triggers an unlikely run to the playoffs. Thomas Vanek is a sensational talent who can fill the net, but he is also a streaky player who tends to disappear when he is not on one of his runs.
Vanek has scored 13 goals for the Sabres and is joined in double figures by Cody Hodgson, who has scored 10 goals. Jason Pominville has nine goals and 19 points for the Sabres.
The Capitals have been much more competitive after an atrocious start. Mike Ribeiro has been their most consistent player with nine goals and 28 points. The disappointing Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer have nine goals each for the Caps.
Ryan Miller has struggled in the net for the Sabres while Braden Holtby has been an inconsistent goaltender for the Caps. He has a 2.96 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage, but he does have three shutouts to his credit.