What to Watch: Hurricanes face Lightning, Panthers in Central battles

Marleau to break Howe’s record

San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights

Monday, 10 p.m. ET; NHLN, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCA, NHL.TV

Sharks forward Patrick Marleau is scheduled to play his 1,768th regular-season NHL game and pass Gordie Howe for most all-time.

Howe has been No. 1 in NHL games played for almost 60 years, since Nov. 26, 1961, when he overtook Ted Lindsay and became the first to reach 1,000.

Marleau will become the first player in the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB to dethrone a regular-season games played leader in more than 16 years, since Sept. 16, 2004, when Morten Andersen passed George Blanda in the NFL.

When will this happen again in the NHL?

Well, how much longer can Marleau go? Can anyone catch him any time soon?

Marleau is 41 years-old and an on an expiring contract. Next among active NHL players are Toronto Maple Leafs center Joe Thornton (1,669) and Washington Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara (1,598). Thornton is 41, Chara is 44. Each is on an expiring contract.

No other active player has reached 1,300 games.


Stat of the week

169 — The number of players who have appeared in the NHL this season as of Saturday who were born on or after Marleau’s NHL debut Oct. 1, 1997.


Battle atop the Central

Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning

Monday, 7 p.m. ET; BSFL, BSSO, NHL.TV
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET; BSFL, BSSO, NHL.TV

Carolina Hurricanes at Florida Panthers

Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, BSSUN, BSSO, NHL.TV
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; BSFL, BSSO, NHL.TV

The Hurricanes lead the eight-team Discover Central Division with 62 points, but this week will have a huge effect on a tight race.

Carolina is scheduled to play back-to-game road games at Tampa Bay, which is two points behind in third place, then two games in three days at Florida, which is one point behind in second place.

The top four teams in each division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and play each other in the first two rounds, seeded by order of finish. How important is seeding?

Well, if you’re the Hurricanes, you’d rather play the fourth-place Nashville Predators (6-0-0 against them this season) or the Panthers (5-0-1) than the Lightning (3-3-0).

If you’re the Panthers, you’d prefer the Predators (4-1-1) to the Lightning (3-2-1), and the Lightning to the Hurricanes (1-3-2).

If you’re the Lightning, you’d prefer the Predators (6-2-0) to the Hurricanes (3-2-1) or the Panthers (3-3-0).


Battle atop the East

Washington Capitals at New York Islanders

Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; MSG+, NBCSWA, NHL.TV
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, MSG+, NBCSWA, NHL.TV

The Capitals lead the eight-team MassMutual East Division with 62 points, but the Islanders (60) and Pittsburgh Penguins (59) aren’t far behind.

This is a matchup of one of the best offensive teams in the NHL against one of the top defensive teams. Washington is second in the League in goals per game (3.50); New York is allowing 2.31 goals per game, second fewest in the NHL. But you never know what you’re going to get.

Washington won the first three games this season 3-2, 6-3 and 3-1, each at home. New York won the last two 8-4 and 1-0, each at home.


Battle atop the North too

Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets

Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NHL.TV
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, SNP, NHL.TV

The Maple Leafs lead the seven-team Scotia North Division with 61 points, followed by the Jets (57), the Edmonton Oilers (54) and the Montreal Canadiens (47).

First place seems more important to Winnipeg than Toronto.

The Jets are 3-2-2 against the Maple Leafs, 2-5-0 against the Oilers and 6-2-0 against the Canadiens. It seems they’d rather avoid a 2-3 first-round playoff series against the Oilers.

The Maple Leafs are 4-3-0 against the Jets, 6-1-2 against the Oilers and 4-2-0 against the Canadiens.


Avalanche watch

Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues

Thursday, 8 p.m. ET; BSMW, ALT, NHL.TV
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC

The Avalanche are tied with the Vegas Golden Knights for first in the eight-team Honda West Division with 64 points.

But they have had three games postponed because of NHL COVID-19 protocol, including Tuesday against the Blues. Three players were listed as unavailable Sunday: goalie Philipp Grubauer, forward Joonas Donskoi and defenseman Bowen Byram.

Pending test results, the NHL expects the Avalanche to reopen their facilities for practice Wednesday and return to play against the Blues on Thursday.

This is a potential first-round Stanley Cup Playoff matchup. St. Louis is fifth in the West, one point behind Arizona Coyotes for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division. The Avalanche have gotten eight of a possible 10 points (4-1-0) in five games between the teams this season; the Blues have gotten two (1-4-0).

Video: What to Watch: Avs vs Blues on NBC

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