Jet City Ice helps you make the most of your limited TV hockey time with our picks for the upcoming weekend.
New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens
When: Saturday, 11/23, 4:00pm PST
Where: NHL Network
It’s “All Premier League, All The Time!” on NBCSN this weekend, so we’re back to the NHL Network for our regular cable offering. Fortunately they have a decent match-up on the schedule, as we see the Rangers facing off against the Canadiens. Montreal is 5-2-3 in their last 10, and their 11-6-5 record is good for 27 points and 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. The Habs are hurting lately however, with the loss of Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron to injury contributing to their recent slide. Goaltender Carey Price is taking 80% of the starts and holding down the fort with a .911% save percentage, assisted by a competent blueline corps limiting his shots against to a manageable number every night.
The Rangers are also somewhat in the dumps of late, with their recent skid highlighted by a 9-3 beat-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning last week. Russian sniper-wunderkind Artemi Panerin tops the scoresheet most nights; but 2019 second-overall draft pick Kappo Kaako appears to have found his scoring touch and is now looking quite dangerous. The bright spot in the rear guard is youngster Tony DeAngelo, contributing 15 points in 18 games and maintaining a respectable plus-minus while doing so. Sadly, it appears the Rangers’ weakness is the goaltending duo of Alexandar Gregoriev and (King) Henrik Lundqvist, at age 37 a mere shadow of his former self, clinging desperately to a 3.31 GAA in his 12 starts thus far. New York will be limping into Montreal after a game at Ottawa on Saturday, so we’ll see if they have enough energy to steal a win and keep themselves above the .500 mark.
Possible Future Seattle Players: On the Habs I think Seattle GM Ron Francis will take a long look at defenseman Brett Kulak. He plays much larger than his 6’2”, 190 lbs. frame suggests — just ask Bobby Ryan, who ran into Kulak and wound up in the dressing room for repairs. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman with a very good first pass and above-average speed, and carries a cap-friendly AAV of $1.85 million. Montreal has blueliners Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, and Karl Alzner on the books at twice Kulak’s salary and upwards, so he’ll likely be left unprotected if he isn’t moved before the draft.
From the Rangers, there is a lot of juicy talent up and down their roster — hardly any of it signed past 2021. New York has just 4 draft-eligible players signed through to the 2021-22 season, so it’s difficult to project who Seattle might have to choose from. But the dark horse here is an Empire State Building-sized left winger by the name of Tim Gettinger currently riding the bus for the Hartford Wolfpack. At 6’6” and 220 lbs. you would expect the kid to be lumbering around the ice like his skates weren’t sharpened. But he’s fleet of foot, and has demonstrated a scoring touch both in Juniors and in Hartford. Now: his last season in the AHL he put up 27 points in 64 games — but logged a minus-20 in the process. Needless to say, the kid needs work. But with his size and speed and the right coach, there could be tremendous upside.
NHL Center Ice/NHL.tv
Edmonton Oilers vs. Arizona Coyotes
When: Sunday, 11/24, 5:00pm PST
We recommended the Edmonton/Dallas game last week, and it did not disappoint. Three assists from Connor McDavid wasn’t enough to keep Edmonton from falling to the Stars 5-4 in OT. I expect this game to be even hotter, as the Pacific Division first-place Oilers land in the desert to take on the second-place Coyotes. League-wide the Oilers’ one-two punch of McDavid and Leon Draisatl still sit in first and second in both points and assists, with only Boston’s David Pasternak ahead of them in goals. Towering Swedish defenseman Oscar Klefbom has established himself as the play-maker of the blueline, racking up 16 assists and sitting third on the team in points. And goalie Mikko Koskinen is staying hot, boasting an 8-1-2 record in his 11 starts. All the pieces are there, and Edmonton’s 14-6-3 record shows that they’re being put to proper use — Thursday night’s 5-1 manhandling by the Kings notwithstanding.
But whereas the Oilers have their stars and their supporting cast, In Arizona it genuinely is a team effort. Their lineup rarely wavers from one game to the next, 12 out of 21 skaters have seen action in every game thus far, 7 players have at least 10 points, and their two netminders are splitting the games roughly 60-40. Noteworthy among Coyotes forwards are Conor Garland with his team-leading 10 goals, and otherwise unremarkable Christian Dvorak who boasts a positively insane 62.7% face-off win percentage. Everyone on the blue line is chipping in, with the lowest plus-minus among defensemen being a minus-1. If there is a star of the show it has to be goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who leads the league in both goals against and save percentage with a 1.93 GAA and .935% SVG. Arizona is going to be a formidable challenge for Edmonton to overcome, and I expect quite a game on Sunday.
The only wrench in the works is that this is the second of back-to-back games for both teams. So while this could be one for the ages, it’s possible that instead we see two exhausted squads playing the equivalent of hung-over pond hockey and praying for the final buzzer. Let’s hope not.
Possible Future Seattle Players: On the Oilers I have my heart set on Darnell Nurse, as we covered last week. But if he gets protected or traded, Seattle could do worse than Alex Chaison. Another forward with good size, his primary asset is a deceptive quick-release wrist shot that has goalies bamboozled. He is difficult to move off the puck, which is why Edmonton frequently uses him as the garbage collector in front of the opponent’s net. And despite his size he is quick up and down the ice. He’s a lock for 70 games and 25+ points per season, and could be a consistent contributor on a newly-hatched Seattle lineup.
From Arizona, let me put a bug in your ear: Tyler Steenbergen. Yes, he’s just 21. Yes, he hasn’t played a single game in the NHL yet. Yes, his AHL numbers last year were nothing to get worked up about. And no, he does not have what you would call an imposing physique. But in his last year in Juniors playing for Swift Current, he put up 102 points in 56 games, then followed it up with a point-per-game performance in the playoffs helping lead the Broncos to their first championship in 25 years. His favorite place to score from is… anywhere the opponent’s goal is in view. He is a shoot-first forward, picking impossible corners, performing up-close dekes, teeing up one-timers, top shelf, five-hole, forehand, backhand, it doesn’t matter. If I’m Ron Francis, I am more than willing to spend a draft pick on the kid and give the coach in Palm Springs a crack at crafting him into an NHL sniper. With that kind of scoring potential, who wouldn’t?