Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at TD Garden
The Carolina Hurricanes will begin their December slate with a return engagement from last season’s Eastern Conference Final in Boston. Currently riding a seven-game winning streak that has vaulted them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the Bruins are showing themselves to once again be among the elite in the NHL, and a real threat for another deep run in the postseason.
Both sides of the puck have been incredibly friendly for the B’s, as they currently rank second in offense and defense, sporting an impressive plus-34 goal differential through 27 contests. The offensive charge has been led by incredible work from resident pest Brad Marchand (43 points), as well as David Pastrnak (42 points). The blistering pace for each player has them on track to best each of their career highs in production, all while joining in on what has become a highly efficient defensive team. Control of pace and space has been the trademark of the Bruins this season. They possess a unique blend of size, speed, skill and toughness that has been the recipe which allows them to have very few matchup problems on a nightly basis.
Goaltending has continued to be a strength in Boston this season as Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak each continue to get significant work, with each carrying a save percentage of .930 or better into the week. While Rask has shown that he is a player capable of carrying a playoff run, the ability to share the relative load in the regular season with someone as capable as Halak has provided a great luxury to the Bruins as they look to play into the early summer yet again in 2020.
In order for the Hurricanes to challenge the Bruins on Tuesday, getting off to an early lead is imperative. The B’s are consistently tough to play against, but chasing the game (particularly on the road) against this team is a fool’s errand. If the Canes can get out on top early and avoid the penalty box for what has become such a potent Bruins power play (31.65%), the Canes can give themselves every chance to take yet another contest from an Atlantic Division foe.
Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
After a very wobbly start that saw them drop to 4-10-1, the San Jose Sharks have steadied themselves and, as winners of 11 of their last 13 games, have pushed themselves into the top-three of the Pacific Division standings. The Sharks will begin a four-game eastern road trip in Raleigh on Thursday night as they return the visit that the Canes made to Silicon Valley in October. In that matchup, Evander Kane did the majority of the damage that did in Carolina, netting a hat trick in the first period en route to a 5-2 win.
While the recent hot stretch has buoyed the Sharks playoff hopes once again, the background details still appear ominous. Despite pushing their record to 15-12-1 the Sharks still have a negative goal differential (minus-9), and their defensive work still places them in the bottom part of the league, giving up 3.25 goals per game still. Their charge has been led, in part, on the back of a tremendous run of success in overtime hockey, as the Sharks have won five consecutive contests that have ended in either OT or the shootout. That would be considered unsustainable by most observers, and if the Sharks are hoping to remain relevant into the new year, they will require more dominant play in the first 60 minutes each night.
The defensive work has left much to be desired, but the efforts from Martin Jones (.896) and Aaron Dell (.890) in net have cost a Sharks team that is in the top one-third of the league in fewest shots allowed. On offense, Kane has been helped by some of the usual Sharks suspects, and captain Logan Couture leads the way in scoring with 28 points. Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson each have chipped in 21 points from the blueline, and Tomas Hertl has added 23 points. The lineup is balanced in terms of forward production, but simply seems a bit shallower than in the past, and not as robust on the top line has Sharks fans have grown accustomed to.
If the Sharks are to make the postseason for the fifth consecutive season, it will take sharper effort on defense to move them towards the middle of the pack in goals allowed, and provide a productive but less explosive offense more margin for error.
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
What seemed to be a team destined for a coaching change, wholesale changes, and a possible rebuild just two short weeks ago when the Canes visited the Minnesota Wild, has now turned into a team that has their sites set on competing for a chance at a playoff berth. Dating back to a November 14th win over the Arizona Coyotes, the Wild have tallied at least a point in each of their last nine contests (6-0-3), including their OT loss to the Canes on November 16th.
While there remains plenty of work for the Wild to do to be considered actual postseason contenders, the recent hot streak has at least pushed the wolf away from the door for the time being. In the interim, the Wild are having to deal with the loss of goalie Devan Dubnyk as he has left the team to assist his wife in pressing medical issues at home. In his place, Alex Stalock will take the bulk of action in net, as the 32-year-old vet is set to see the most action of his career this season.
Offensively, the Wild have been able to attribute their recent run to more production on the offensive end. In the nine game points streak, the Wild have notched three or more goals in all but one contest. If they can continue that level of production, they will certainly given themselves a chance on a nightly basis.
The balanced attack of the Wild continues to be led by former Canes captain Eric Staal. The veteran has only 19 points, but that is good for tops on the roster currently, as the Wild spread the scoring with 14 players with eight or more points.
The Wild will not wow you with speed or skill. They don’t possess a single line that can devastate you offensively or frustrate and shut down your time line. What they possess is a patient group, and if a team is unable to capitalize on the quality chances they receive, they are able to position themselves to take advantage. If the Canes can finish their chances when given them, their talent and speed advantage can and will carry the day. If they misfire and allow the Wild to hang around in the game, Minnesota has show a knack for making teams pay recently.