'Hockey Night in Canada': 5 Storylines
Maple Leafs face Coyotes, aim to continue road success; Canucks visit Sharksby John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor
The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to stay perfect on the road against Western Conference teams when they visit the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in the first game of a "Hockey Night in Canada" doubleheader on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, SNO, FS-A, NHL.TV). The Maple Leafs are 9-0-0 away from home against Western teams this season, including victories against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
In the second game, the Vancouver Canucks visit the San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, SN360, SN1, CITY, NBCSCA, NHL.TV). The Sharks are battling the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division, and the Canucks are among several scrambling for a wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the West.
Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on:
Toronto's road show
The most realistic hope for the Maple Leafs (36-18-3) entering the final seven weeks of the season is to play well enough to hold on to second place in the Atlantic Division and earn home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round; the League-leading Tampa Bay Lightning are 15 points ahead of them. But Toronto has been much more successful away from home this season than at Scotiabank Arena. They are 19-7-2 on the road, second to the Lightning, but 17-11-1 at home. Toronto is 3-1-0 entering the fifth game of a six-game trip that ends at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. The Maple Leafs have already swept a three-game swing through California in November, won a game at Tampa Bay in January and will try for their 10th win without a loss against Western Conference teams when they play the Coyotes.
Matthews keeps rolling for Maple Leafs
It took center Auston Matthews 187 games to score his 100th NHL goal and get started on the next hundred. He scored twice and had an assist in Toronto's 6-3 win at Vegas, giving him back-to-back three-point games. Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, who grew up cheering for the his favorite players -- Coyotes forwards Shane Doan and Daniel Briere -- has seven goals in his past nine games. He has 27 in 43 games this season and is on pace to surpass his rookie total of 40, despite missing 14 games earlier in the season with an injured left shoulder. The scariest thought for opponents: Matthews is still just 21 and has plenty of room for his body (and his game) to grow. But the Coyotes have done well against Matthews, limiting him to three points (two goals, one assist) in five games.
Video: TOR@VGK: Matthews extends lead with second goal
Coyotes hanging around
Arizona (25-27-5) is in a pack of teams scrambling to find a way into the playoffs in the West. The Coyotes didn't help their chances on Thursday, when they failed to follow up on a 5-2 win at Vegas and lost 4-0 at home to the surging Blues. Their biggest problem has been offense; second-year center Clayton Keller is their top scorer with 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists), and forward Alex Galchenyuk is the top goal-scorer with 12. Injuries have taken a big toll, with starting goalie Antti Raanta out for the season and a half-dozen others sidelined for lengthy stretches. One player who has stepped up is backup goalie Darcy Kuemper, who is 8-3-2 in his past 13 starts and has played well enough to keep Arizona a chance to win each night.
Sharks have plenty of bite, even without Karlsson
Though they're coming off a 5-1 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals on Thursday, the Sharks have turned SAP Center into one of the toughest ports of call for visiting teams in the NHL. San Jose is 18-5-4 at home and hadn't lost in regulation on its own ice since Dec. 20. Overall, the Sharks had won six in a row before the loss to the Capitals, and they've pulled even in points with the Flames in the race for the top spot in the division. They should get a boost at some point soon when defenseman Erik Karlsson returns from a groin strain that has kept him out for nine games; coach Peter DeBoer can afford to be extra cautious with the two-time Norris Trophy winner because the Sharks have played so well.
Video: SJS@VAN: Kane pads Sharks' lead with second goal
Canucks looking for revenge
This is the second game between the Canucks (26-26-7) and Sharks this week. San Jose went to Vancouver on Monday and rolled to a 7-2 victory on a night when the Canucks had to start 19-year-old goalie Michael DiPietro, who had been called up from junior hockey because of injuries. Starter Jacob Markstrom has played the past two games, losing 1-0 at the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and making 35 saves in a 4-3 shootout win at the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. DiPietro is back with his junior team after the Canucks acquired Marek Mazanec in a trade with the New York Rangers to be Markstrom's backup, but expect coach Travis Green to keep the memory of what happened six days earlier fresh in his players' minds.