All the games in the NHL this week will be indoors so we shouldn’t have any sun and melting ice issues. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t intriguing matchups featuring top teams with future Seattle Kraken on display.
Our two headline games feature key clashes in the Discover Central Division. That division is turning out to be very competitive, at least at the top. Heading into this week it’s the Florida Panthers who are leading but only by one point over the Carolina Hurricanes. The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning? They’re right there as well, in third place, just three points out of first.
Waiting in the wings are the Dallas Stars, who have four games in hand on the top teams and will still be heard from. This week’s games will play with the standings.
Carolina Hurricanes versus Tampa Bay Lightning
When: Thursday, 4 P.M., ESPN+, NHLTV
These two have already split a pair of games over the weekend and Monday night. They will meet again Thursday and are both playing good hockey. Two evenly matched clubs usually spell good hockey and that’s what we should see here. Both teams are deep and both can score goals while playing entertaining hockey.
Tampa will not want to take too many penalties as the Hurricanes power play is cooking along at 29.1 percent. Putting them up a man is like cooking with gas, we think. We’re not big cookers. The Lightning aren’t slouches on the power play either, clocking in at 25.5 percent. Discipline will be key and this game could come down to a special teams battle.
Players to watch
The Lightning are deep and are led in scoring by the pair of Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. There is no surprise there, nor is it surprising that defenseman Victor Hedman has matched the two forwards in scoring. He’s not their marquee name but winger Ondrej Palat is off to a strong start and giving Tampa Bay a great deal of secondary scoring.
Carolina has depth to match up with any team in the league. The Hurricanes’ top line is headlined by Sebastian Aho and the young dynamo – yes, he’s officially been labeled as a ‘dynamo’ – Andrei Svechnikov. That pair are two of the league’s up-and-coming stars and their play this year is as expected. But Carolina is getting a great contribution from former Florida Panther Vincent Trocheck. After some big years early in his career – which includes a pair of 20-goal seasons and one where he potted 31 – Trocheck’s production has fallen into the 10-goal level. His shooting percentage early on is 18 percent which is higher than his career average but closer to those big scoring years. The Hurricanes are banking on him keeping it up that high. If he does, he’ll be an x-factor in Carolina down the stretch.
The Seattle Kraken watchlist
Both of these teams have depth which will be good for Ron Francis and the Seattle Kraken. Tampa Bay has some cap issues and plenty of talent, which means Seattle will be able to pick a good player at the Expansion Draft. Their forward group is where the bulk of the Expansion meat lives. Watch players like Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, and former Spokane Chief Tyler Johnson.
There is meat and fruit, and whatever analogy you prefer with the Hurricanes as well. They are going to lose a good player thanks to their depth. Seattle may be able to snare some youth from Carolina starting with young defenseman Jake Bean – a former Tri-City American. Bean is finally getting NHL playing time and is producing. A fellow Tri-City alum, Morgan Geekie, was recently recalled to Carolina and is another young gun to watch, if in the lineup. If those two aren’t your fancy, keep an eye on defenseman Haydn Fleury as a potential Kraken.
Dallas Stars versus Florida Panthers
When: Thursday, 4 P.M. NHLTV
Everybody had the Florida Panthers leading the Central at this stage of the season. Right? Probably not, but there they are. They recently took two of three from the Lightning which was followed up with a win over Carolina. They appear to be real, as long as they aren’t playing the Detroit Red Wings who somehow have managed to beat Florida a couple of times already.
Dallas has had to deal with Covid and an all-time winter storm this season. Those issues caused a number of postponements which have led to games in hand within the division. That hasn’t stopped them from playing some good hockey, however, and they are very much in the Central Division hunt.
Players to watch
Florida is playing great defense and getting goaltending while allowing 2.82 goals per game. That must mean that goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is living up to the Brinks Truck load of a contract the Panthers delivered to him, right? Nope. It’s not Bobrovsky but rather 26-year-old Chris Driedger. The former Calgary Hitmen goalie is sporting a .929 save percentage – Bobrovsky is at .889 – and has put the Panthers on his back. He came into the season with just 15 games under his belt. Is he a flash in the pan or have the Panthers stumbled upon a star goalie?
The Stars for the most part are the same club that went to the Stanley Cup Final last fall. Leading the way is 36-year-old center Joe Pavelski who seems to have found the fountain of youth in Texas BBQ. Widely written off as past his best by date, Pavelski leads the Stars in scoring and has, in fact, not slowed down. He’s only five goals away from matching last year’s total and is shooting an impressive 26.5 percent. That’s miles above his career average, but its not too far off the 20 percent he shot in 2018-2019 with San Jose. He notched 38 goals that year and while he may regress some this season, do not rule out another big campaign from Pavelski.
The Seattle Kraken watchlist
There is more than one way Florida handles their Expansion Draft list but there is the potential for some interesting options. Driedger may be playing himself into consideration for the Kraken but also keep an eye on scoring forward Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Anton Stralman.
Dallas is in pretty good shape Expansion-wise. There is a possibility that Pavelski would be exposed, and he is playing well enough for consideration. Same with goalie Anton Khudobin, who most likely will be exposed.
Other notable NHL games on the radar
Toronto Maple Leafs versus Edmonton Oilers: Saturday, 4 PM, NHL Network. The Maple Leafs have emerged as one of the top teams in the league while the Oilers have found their sea legs. Plus, an Auston Matthews-Conner McDavid matchup is too juicy to pass up.