One of the Sidney Crosbyís defining features is that he always shows up in big games. On national TV against the Leafs, Crosby finished with two points, six shots on goal, three hits and 16 faceoff wins. He now has 10 goals in just nine games this season despite being labeled as a playmaker for most of his career. At 3.89 shots per game, heís shooting at a much higher frequency than last year (3.10) or the year before (3.08). Like Wayne Gretzky when he jumped from 55 goals to 92 goals during the 1981-82 season, heís taken those famous words to heart: ďYou miss 100 percent of the shots you donít take.Ē
The truth is, Crosby is the most all-round player in the league, and thatís what makes him the best. He canít hit like Dustin Byfuglien, shoot like Alex Ovechkin or skate like Connor McDavid, but he has no apparent weaknesses and seems to improve every single year. Itís too bad that he was robbed of nearly two full seasons due to concussions, but at this rate heís going to leave McDavid, Mark Scheifele, Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and whoever is silly enough to think they have a chance of winning the Art Ross in the dust.
At the end of the rink, Carey Price just posted his 10th straight win and second shutout of the season with a 5-0 win over Detroit. Itís ridiculous just how much better he is than the competition, and not since Dominik Hasek has the NHL seen someone so dominant. Care to see how the best player in the world fares against the best goalie in the world? The Penguins host the Canadiens on Dec. 31.
Kings (PP: 27, PK: 21) at Jets (PP: 21, PK: 20), 2:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Peter Budaj (7-5-0, 2.07, .912), Connor Hellebuyck (5-4-0, 2.80, .906)
Key Injuries: Andy Andreoff (upper body), Marian Gaborik (foot), Anze Kopitar (upper body), Brayden McNabb (collarbone), Jonathan Quick (groin), Jeff Zatkoff (lower body), Joel Armia (undisclosed), Bryan Little (lower body), Shawn Matthias (lower body), Mathieu Perreault (undisclosed), Drew Stafford (upper body), Mark Stuart (upper body)
Injuries to key players will prevent this game from living up to its true potential, but this matchup will certainly test Winnipegís mettle. The Kings defense continues to be one of the toughest in the league, and you can bet that Darryl Sutter will be skating Drew Doughty for half the game Ė he hasnít done that since Oct. 22, so itís about time Ė most likely against Patrik Laineís line. Kopitar is questionable for the game, and if he does sit out thatís a huge boon for Mark Scheifele, whoís been magnificent despite his struggles in the dot. Budaj has been hot and cold so far, but five of his seven wins have come from teams below .500.
Canadiens (PP: 8, PK: 18) at Blackhawks (PP: 12, PK: 30), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Al Montoya (3-1-1, 3.15, .908), Corey Crawford (7-3-2, 2.01, .935)
Key Injuries: Artem Anisimov (upper body), Tyler Motte (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body), Artturi Lehkonen (upper body), Zach Redmond (foot)
The Habs elected to start Carey Price yesterday against Detroit, which is an odd decision (despite the 5-0 shutout win) considering the Blackhawks have one of the leagueís best offenses and Montoya is coming off a 10-0 loss, so it looks like Michel Therrien is making Montoya take another one for the team. More good news for Chicago: Joel Quenneville said Friday that Anisimov has a ďgood chanceĒ of returning. Good news for Montreal: the Habs have been providing their goalies with a ton of goal support, and feature a top-10 offense after being just above average last year, and Shea Weber should be salivating for power-play opportunities with Chicagoís atrocious penalty kill. Good and bad news: Alex Galchenyuk is proving to everyone heís a capable No. 1 center, but has only won less than 40 percent of his face-offs and will have to face Jonathan Toews. Itíll be tough to produce when youíre already at a clear disadvantage right after the puck is dropped
Rangers (PP: 9, PK: 14) at Oilers (PP: 16, PK: 4), 9:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Antti Raanta (3-0-0, 2.32, .926), Cam Talbot (8-5-1, 2.53, .920)
Key Injuries: Drake Caggiula (undisclosed), Brandon Davidson (undisclosed), Mark Fayne (undisclosed), Matt Hendricks (lower body), Zack Kassian (undisclosed), Iiro Pakarinen (leg), Kris Russell (undisclosed), Josh Jooris (upper body), Antti Raanta (concussion)
Henrik Lundqvist takes a break after playing last night in Calgary, which is good news for Connor McDavid, who mustered just one assist and finished with a minus-3 rating in his only career game against the Rangers. Coming off a game last night may spell trouble for the Rangers defense going against a very quick and dangerous Oilers offense, but Raanta has also been quite good this season. The Rangers are much deeper than the Oilers, and stubborn line matcher Alain Vigneault may lean on Brandon Pirriís line with Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast to give them the extra edge. Itíll be interesting to see which line Oscar Klefbom is tasked to go up against; despite leading the Oilers in ice time per game, he continues to struggle and will face either Derek Stepanís 1A line or Mika Zibanejadís 1B line.
Stars (PP: 17, PK: 27) at Canucks (PP: 30, PK: 6), 4:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Kari Lehtonen (3-4-2, 2.96, .899), Jacob Markstrom (4-2-1, 2.23, .915)
Key Injuries: Cody Eakin (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (illness), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jason Spezza (lower body), Jannik Hansen (ribs), Anton Rodin (knee), Chris Tanev (lower body)
The Stars are without just about every member of their top-six not named Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin, and the Canucks just donít really have a top-six. But with noted sieve Lehtonen between the pipes, the Sedins and co. should be able to get a few pucks behind him. Goaltending has been a strong suit for Vancouver and Markstrom gives them a definite edge in that department, but holding off Benn and Seguin will be difficult. The Canucks have also just returned from a brutal six-game road trip where they went 1-5, and may still be trying to find their legs in an afternoon matchup.
Wild (PP: 19, PK: 5) at Senators (PP: 28, PK: 8), 5:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Darcy Kuemper (1-1-0, 4.00, .871), Craig Anderson (7-3-0, 2.18, .931)
Key Injuries: Zac Dalpe (knee), Zach Parise (foot), Marco Scandella (ankle), Andrew Hammond (lower body), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Chris Wideman (upper body)
Anderson has been nearly unbeatable, but other than two straight one-goal losses the Wild offense has been very good, scoring at least four goals in each of their past four wins Ė not altogether surprising for a team coached by offensive guru Bruce Boudreau. Charlie Coyle has been a force for the Wild, too, with five points in his past six games and is averaging over 18 minutes per game since the end of October.
Bruins (PP: 22, PK: 12) at Avalanche (PP: 15, PK: 22), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Zane McIntyre (0-2-0, 4.03, .859), Semyon Varlamov (3-6-0, 3.47, .882)
Key Injuries: Noel Acciari (lower body), Anton Khudobin (upper body), Kevan Miller (hand), Frank Vatrano (foot), Blake Comeau (groin)
Neither McIntyre nor Varlamov are expected to fare well in this one. Varlamov still hasnít settled in a month into the season, and with a couple more strong starts from Calvin Pickard, Varlamov could lose his job. The pace at which these two teams play at can be terrifying, and with both teams featuring leaky defenses and explosive forwards, goals should be aplenty. This is the type of game where struggling offensive defensemen Torey Krug and Tyson Barrie can find their stride.
Mikko Rantanen, RW, Avalanche Ė This should be an easy decision. The 10th overall pick from the 2015 draft, Rantanen is yet another young stud to come out of Finland, which is producing (arguably) the best generation of players theyíve ever had. He scored his first NHL goal Friday after 17 games and cautious observers donít think heíll be able to contribute much this season, but going against the grain can sometimes provide some pleasant surprises Ė donít forget Rantanen put up 60 points in 52 games in his first pro season with AHL San Antonio. Heís the real deal, a must-have in keeper leagues, and 20 goals should be a very attainable goal playing with some very talented forwards.