Happy New Year!
The Centennial Classic featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings will kick off celebrations for the NHL’s 100th year, and will mark the first time an outdoor game will be played in Toronto.
If past history has been any indication, the spectacle alone will be worth watching, and even if the allure of outdoor games has diminished due to overexposure, the NHL will be putting marquee talents Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Dylan Larkin on center stage.
The Leafs and Red Wings faced each other in the 2014 Winter Classic, but the two teams have changed very much since. The last time, Mike Babcock was still coaching Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings, and Dion Phaneuf will still captain of the Leafs. Today, the Red Wings’ streak of 25 straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy, sitting eight points out of a playoff spot, while the Leafs – for the first time in a very long time – have legitimate reasons to think the franchise will return to its former glory.
Red Wings (PP: 30, PK: 14) at Maple Leafs (PP: 11, PK: 6), 3:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Petr Mrazek (9-8-3, 3.11, .896), Frederik Andersen (15-8-6, 2.47, .925)
Key Injuries: Justin Abdelkader (knee), Mike Green (upper body), Darren Helm (shoulder), Jimmy Howard (sprained MCL), Alexey Marchenko (shoulder), Riley Sheahan (upper body), Martin Marincin (lower body), Ben Smith (upper body)
Of the previous nine outdoor games played in January, only two games have finished with over five goals scored, and five games were decided by just one goal. Translation: Ice conditions tend to be subpar due to the unpredictable nature of the weather, which means scoring will be difficult because the puck will be bouncing all over the place. However, perhaps the novelty and excitement of playing in their first outdoor game will give the Leafs’ rookies a little pep in their step, so the likes of Marner and Matthews are still worthy of fantasy consideration – their speed should present lots of challenges for a mediocre Detroit defense.
Senators (PP: 21, PK: 13) at Capitals (PP: 17, PK: 3), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Mike Condon (8-4-3, 2.43, .915), Braden Holtby (15-8-4, 2.02, .928)
Key Injuries: Craig Anderson (personal), Andrew Hammond (ankle), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Zack Smith (abdomen)
Condon has allowed seven goals in his past two starts, both of which were losses and gets a tough assignment against the Caps, who managed to pump 6 goals past the Devils yesterday. It’s highly unlikely the Sens can shut down the Caps offense, so their best chance would be to contain them, but with both of the Caps’ top two lines playing well, it’s almost an impossible task. Mike Hoffman (four points in three games) and Mark Stone (two points in two games) have been carrying the offense but Holtby is as difficult to beat as any goalie.
Flyers (PP: 6, PK: 20) at Ducks (PP: 2, PK: 15), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Steve Mason (14-12-4, 2.78, .905), John Gibson (12-9-7, 2.58, .908)
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (head), Nicolas Kerdiles (concussion), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Nate Thompson (Achilles), Sami Vatanen (illness), Radko Gudas (upper body), Steve Mason (hand), Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Matt Read (oblique), Mark Streit (shoulder)
The Ducks blew a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver, but they were clearly the much better team. The Flyers should present more of a challenge – Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are much tougher to defend than any of the Canucks’ forwards. However, the Flyers have lost three straight and Ron Hextall said Mason was “nicked up” Friday against San Jose, and will likely be a game-time decision. If Mason is unavailable, Anthony Stolarz will be between the pipes. Discipline may be a big factor in this game, as both the Ducks and Flyers have been known to toe the line; both teams’ power plays should be reckoned with.
Mikael Granlund, LW, Wild – The Blue Jackets snapped the Wild’s 12-game winning streak but Granlund did all he could to keep it alive, scoring a goal and an assist for the second straight game. Granlund’s strong play has been a big reason why the Wild have fared so well this season, and with 29 points in 36 games he’s on pace to crack the 60 points for the first time in his career. After being taken ninth overall in the 2010 draft, Granlund has often teased with his talent and ability, and in his age 24 season it looks like he’s finally breaking out. He has three goals and three assists in his past three games, and is owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues.