Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs (128, 5.5)
Similarity Central here at the Air Canada Centre. Teams that were red hot out of the box but have since cooled, square off with both hungry for a win that’s been at least a week in the making.
There’s a still long way to go before you can call them flukes, but the Maple Leafs, once the talk of the league, have hit a dry spell. Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Nashville was their third in a row and fifth in the last six games.
Toronto has only seven points this month and hasn’t scored more than three goals in a game since Nov. 3. That’s not going to get it done.
Tough to blame anything on forward Phil Kessel, but even he’s slowed down a bit. Going pointless against the Predators snapped a four-game point streak for the Maple Leafs’ leader.
Anyone who remembers the HBO series with the Capitals last season as coach Bruce Boudreau cursed his way through tough times, knows this team is capable of horrific slumps in the Alex Ovechkin Era. But they usually find their way out of them, especially in the regular season.
Well, they’re in one again. Thursday’s 4-1 loss at Winnipeg was the Capitals’ third in a row and fourth in the last five games. They are now under .500 on the road (4-5), and have yet to win a game on this current trip.
Ovechkin was firing blanks versus the Jets, as he landed five shots in 18:12 of ice time, only to come up empty. Ovechkin has been up and down this season, as he takes seven goals, 14 points, and a minus-3 rating into Saturday’s tilt.
Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf is off to a good start with two goals and 12 points, but his recent shifts have been counterproductive.
Phaneuf was a minus-3 versus Nashville, is minus-5 over his last five games, and has been a plus player just once all month.
He’s still blocking shots, with 14 this month alone, but goals are finding the back of the Maple Leafs’ net when he’s on the ice and that’s not a good sign for Toronto moving forward.
This is the first meeting of the season. Washington has won four of the last five in the series, and three of those games ended in a shootout. The Capitals have produced four straight unders.
Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers (112, 5.5)
Maybe we should call them the Chicago Back-hawks, because that’s exactly where they are: Back on everyone’s radar. This should be a delightful nightcap with plenty of skill and speed on both ends of that great Edmonton ice.
Leaving no doubts this year
Chicago appears intent on not waiting until the last week of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth, like it did last year. At this rate, Chicago may clinch a spot in February.
The Blackhawks, with 27 points before Friday’s game against Calgary, were atop the Central Division and the rest of the league on the strength of four consecutive wins. They had scored 21 goals during that stretch and started a hefty six-game road swing with an impressive 5-1 victory over Vancouver on Wednesday night.
Through Thursday, both Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane belonged to the 21-point club and they had posted eight and seven goals, respectively. If that keeps up, we may be looking at another long run in the Windy City.
Leaking a little Oil
Edmonton, a tremendous early-season surprise, has dropped off a bit. The Oilers have lost four straight and have five defeats overall in November.
Their defense and goaltending, impressive in October, has been a bit off this month, as Edmonton has allowed 20 goals during this skid.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin still has impressive statistics -- a .937 save percentage and a 1.74 GAA. But he has lost his last three starts and doubt appears to have crept in.
On Nov. 10, at Boston, Edmonton defenseman Cam Barker had the best game of his season. He fired six shots on net and had one block in a 6-3 loss.
Unfortunately for Barker, he won't be able to repeat that effort anytime soon.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-handed shot is scheduled to have ankle surgery and may miss three months. He has one goal and is a plus-3 this season.
Chicago has won the last three installments in this series, including a 6-3 home decision on Nov. 13. Three of the last four in this rivalry have gone under, and four of the last five Oilers’ games also have gone under.