This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
It's a busy 11-game slate for the NHL on Sunday, with plenty of matchups with playoff implications. The trade deadline is just a little more than a week away, so the stretch drive is starting as teams have to decide quickly if they're buyers or sellers.
Now would be a good time for a team to get hot so they can hopefully enter the playoffs with some momentum. The Rangers have a chance to see how well they stack up against the Eastern Conference favorite, the Senators can extend their winning streak and put themselves in position to vie for the division title, the Bruins and Maple Leafs can put themselves in playoff position, and the Ducks and Kings renew their rivalry.
There's a lot to cover, so let's get started.
The Capitals have lost to the Rangers in three of their past four playoffs, but there's no question the Caps are the better team this season. Because there's so much history between the two teams, and even with Braden Holtby taking a break, it'll still be interesting to see if the game will be close. The Rangers haven't had any trouble scoring lately, but Grubauer has been excellent in relief and if he plays well, it could give the Caps the option of resting Holtby down the stretch. Nicklas Backstrom has been unbelievable over the past month or so with 30 points in 21 games, including 12 in 6 games in February.
Jets (PP: 19, PK: 26) at Senators (PP: 23, PK: 8), 5:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Michael Hutchinson (4-10-3, 3.23, .894), Mike Condon (17-9-5, 2.48, .914)
Key Injuries:Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Bobby Ryan (illness), Andrew Copp (upper body), Marko Dano (lower body), Toby Enstrom (lower body), Tyler Myers (lower body), Ondrej Pavelec (concussion), Drew Stafford (illness)
The only all-Canadian matchup after celebrating Hockey Day in Canada last night, the implications for both teams can be pretty huge. If the Jets win, they'll pull within one point of a wild card spot, and if the Sens win, they'll be tied with the first-place Habs with 70 points and two games in hand. After some doubt at the beginning of the season, Guy Boucher's team has completely bought in, allowing the fewest goals in the division and have a penalty kill ranked in the top 10. Condon has been part of the reason why, and has played well enough for teams looking for a future No. 1 to give him some thought. This is the first time the two teams will meet this season, and Erik Karlsson will likely face Patrik Laine's line, which means plenty of blocked shots… or plenty of minuses.
Kings (PP: 21, PK: 6) at Ducks (PP: 12, PK: 7), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jeff Zatkoff (2-7-1, 2.95, .879), John Gibson (22-15-8, 2.32, .920)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Antoine Vermette (suspension), Matt Greene (undisclosed), Jordan Nolan (lower body), Jonathan Quick (groin)
It's a divisional matchup in which the teams' combined goal differential is just plus-1, even though the Kings need the two points much more than the Ducks, who sit comfortably in third place with an eight-point cushion. Both teams have struggled lately, with the Ducks offense lacking any bite and the Kings losing four of their past five games. It's tough to say which team has the upper hand, and it should certainly be a tight game, but given the recent records of both Zatkoff and Gibson, it could very well be a close high-scoring game. Last time the two teams met, Anze Kopitar was out of the lineup and Ryan Kesler was matched up against Jeff Carter, and it'll be interesting to see how Randy Carlyle deploys his lines. The Ducks may also want to keep an eye on Tanner Pearson, who has four goals and seven points in his past three games.
Red Wings (PP: 30, PK: 19) at Penguins (PP: 4, PK: 22), 3:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jared Coreau (5-3-3, 3.27, .893), Matt Murray (21-6-3, 2.26, .927)
Key Injuries:Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), Mike Green (illness), Jimmy Howard (knee), Gustav Nyquist (suspension), Olli Maatta (hand), Bryan Rust (arm), Justin Schultz (concussion), Conor Sheary (upper body)
About half a decade ago this would've been a can't-miss game, but so much has changed since then – namely, the Red Wings just aren't what they used to be any more. With an ailing defense, Detroit will have a very hard time keeping track of Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin, and even with the Penguins' own ailing defense, the Red Wings' division-worst offense and league-worst power play don't seem to be any threats at all. A loss wouldn't necessarily knock the Wings out of the playoff race, but it'll certainly make things next to impossible. Captain Henrik Zetterberg is doing his best with two goals and three assists in his past five games, but he's no longer at an age in which he can do it all alone.
Blackhawks (PP: 16, PK: 28) at Sabres (PP: 2, PK: 29), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Scott Darling (13-5-2, 2.24, .927), Robin Lehner (16-16-6, 2.49, .926)
Key Injuries:William Carrier (knee), Zemgus Girgensons (abdomen), Derek Grant (shoulder), Johan Larsson (wrist), Sam Reinhart (illness)
The last thing the Blackhawks want to do is go on the penalty kill, so maybe a note should be sent to Ryan Hartman to not jump into any fights without thinking first. The Sabres are a little banged up but still have Ryan O'Reilly, who can shut down just about any line in the league, and Jack Eichel has been very productive on offense with six assists in his past five games. The key to this game is probably Evander Kane, who will be a handful against any Chicago defenseman and also has a hot hand with four goals in his past four games. A win for Buffalo vaults them into a three-way tie for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. It's been a good year for teams transitioning from stockpiling assets to winning games.
Devils (PP: 24, PK: 15) at Islanders (PP: 26, PK: 20), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Keith Kinkaid (6-6-2, 2.59, .920), Jean-Francois Berube (2-2-2, 2.97, .904)
Key Injuries:Kyle Quincey (upper body), Cal Clutterbuck (lower body), Travis Hamonic (knee), Shane Prince (upper body)
The two teams are finishing their back-to-back home series and the Islanders will be looking to even things up after Cory Schneider made 40 saves last night in a 3-2 win. It will be the battle of the backups Sunday and with a winning lineup it's possible John Hynes sticks with the same guys, which means Mike Cammalleri stays in the press box. Pavel Zacha has been the player to watch for the Devils with three goals in five games while Andrew Ladd is finally back on the radar with three goals in three games.
Predators (PP: 17, PK: 13) at Blue Jackets (PP: 3, PK: 12), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Marek Mazanec (0-2-0, 4.72, .839), Sergei Bobrovsky (31-12-3, 2.17, .926)
Key Injuries:Lukas Sedlak (lower body), Cody McLeod (lower body), Miikka Salomaki (lower body)
Pekka Rinne allowed four goals in a loss to Minnesota last night, but Mazanec's numbers so far this season have been so ugly that Peter Laviolette may want to think twice. It won't be easy getting pucks past Bobrovsky, and the Predators' top snipers – Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Viktor Arvidsson – combined for a minus-7 rating and just one assist last night. Columbus has hovered around .500 since their 16-game winning streak, but after telling John Tortorella to cool off a little bit, seemed to have found their groove again with two straight wins.
Maple Leafs (PP: 1, PK: 9) at Hurricanes (PP: 22, PK: 1), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Curtis McElhinney (2-3-0, 2.52, .924), Cam Ward (21-17-7, 2.61, .906)
Key Injuries:Justin Faulk (illness), Mitch Marner (upper body)
Do you like goals? I see you nodding "yes." There's the odd chance that McElhinney or Ward turn in a superb performance, but with so much skill and speed on the ice at once, it's more likely to end up looking like a baseball score. Marner is out, but that still leaves Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen, which is basically a nightmare for any goalie. Toronto's two recent losses haven't helped their playoff bid and the Panthers, Bruins and Sabres have all put together winning streaks and climbed back into the playoff race, but a win would vault them from fifth to third in the division.
Lightning (PP: 6, PK: 21) at Avalanche (PP: 29, PK: 25), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Andrei Vasilevskiy (11-12-4, 2.76, .911), Calvin Pickard (10-18-1, 2.91, .907)
Key Injuries:Rene Bourque (lower body), Erik Johnson (leg), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Ryan Callahan (hip), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Steven Stamkos (knee)
The Lightning haven't been very sharp and as the season enters the stretch drive, and with Stamkos' return date yet to be set, there's good reason to believe Steve Yzerman will be looking to sell. However, the Lightning will have to play pretty poorly if they want to lose the Avs, and it just doesn't seem like a real possibility. Jonathan Drouin will be facing his former Mooseheads teammate Nathan MacKinnon, so at least this game has that going for it.
Bruins (PP: 14, PK: 2) at Sharks (PP: 20, PK: 16), 8:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Tuukka Rask (27-13-4, 2.27, .912), Martin Jones (28-15-5, 2.35, .913)
Key Injuries:Austin Czarnik (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (wrist), Joonas Donskoi (upper body)
This may be a potential Stanley Cup preview if each team's respective seasons have gone more according to plan, but there's still some interesting storylines here. Bruce Cassidy is unbeaten as the Bruins' bench boss, but the record for teams coming out of their bye weeks isn't very good (3-12-4), though he's had a week to prepare for this match. The Sharks lead the Pacific Division but their hold doesn't seem to be very tight, and have won just four of their past 10 games. Jones, in particular, hasn't been very sharp, and perhaps last year's workload and a long playoff run is taking its toll. The Bruins offense is quite good, so it'll be interesting to see how Jones responds and how much fight there is in Peter DeBoer's squad.
Flyers (PP: 11, PK: 18) at Canucks (PP: 28, PK: 24), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Steve Mason (16-17-6, 2.90, .900), Jacob Markstrom (10-11-3, 2.63, .910)
Key Injuries:Travis Konecny (lower body), Jordan Weal (upper body), Sven Baertschi (concussion), Derek Dorsett (neck), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Anton Rodin (knee)
The Canucks looked rusty in a 2-1 overtime win against the Flames last night, getting outshot and outplayed until Chris Tanev's heroics, and it may be more of the same against a more rested Flyers squad. The loss of Baertschi seems to have really affected the Canucks, who have scored just five goals in their past three games, but perhaps scoring will be a lot easier when shooting at Mason. Ryan Miller stood on his head to give the Canucks a chance, and Markstrom will have to put a similar type of performance in order to earn a win. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek have combined for just seven points in their past five games.
Martin Hanzal, C, Coyotes – With five goals in his past five games and as one of the top faceoff-winning centers in the league, the Coyotes would be crazy not to deal their impending free agent at the deadline for future assets – unless, of course, if the Coyotes choose to re-sign him before then, but there have been no indications that's going to happen. Hanzal's lack of production all season can be attributed to playing on a poor team, and he'll get an offensive boost with whichever playoff-bound team lands him. He's worth having while he's got the hot hand, and if he gets traded that's an added bonus.