Each Friday, NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will provide readers with three games he is looking forward to that weekend:
Nashville Predators at Boston Bruins
(Saturday, 1 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, NESN, BSSO, ESPN+, NHL LIVE)
The Predators (24-12-2), who lead the Central Division, are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, having gone 12-2-1 in their past 15 games. They are coming off a 4-1 loss against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and will look to put that behind them. Nashville has four players who have scored at least 30 points (defenseman Roman Josi, 38; center Matt Duchene, 34; center Mikael Granlund, 33; center Ryan Johansen, 30) and one of the best goalies in the NHL in Juuse Saros, whose 20 wins are second in the League.
The Bruins (21-11-2) are 7-1-0 in their past eight games, including four straight wins, and look great. Forward David Pastrnak has scored seven goals in his past four games and forward Brad Marchand has scored eight goals in his past five games. Goalie Tuukka Rask made his season debut Thursday with 25 saves in a 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. The only issue Boston has is getting more consistency from the second-line center spot, which has been an issue this season without David Krejci, who is playing this season in his native Czech Republic.
Toronto Maple Leafs at St. Louis Blues
(Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, CITY, BSMW, NHL LIVE)
Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell and center Auston Matthews each was named to the Atlantic Division squad for the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Feb. 5. Each is deserving, having been a huge part of Toronto’s success this season. Campbell is tied for third in the NHL with 20 wins and Matthews is tied for second in the NHL in goals with 24. Secondary players have stepped up as well; forward Ilya Mikheyev has scored four goals in his past five games and center Alexander Kerfoot has scored nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his past five games. This will be a really big test for the Maple Leafs (23-9-3).
The Blues (22-10-5) are the younger, faster, more dynamic team. Centers Jordan Kyrou (37 points; 14 goals, 23 assists in 33 games) and Robert Thomas (28 points; four goals, 24 assists in 30 games) have excelled so far this season. Forward Vladimir Tarasenko (34 points; 14 goals, 20 assists in 34 games) has been good when healthy. It will be interesting to see if St. Louis gets any players back from COVID-19 protocol, including Tarasenko, center Brayden Schenn, forward David Perron and defensemen Scott Perunovich and Colton Parayko. They’ve also gotten good goaltending, led by Jordan Binnington (11-7-3, 2.90 goals-against average, .910 save percentage, one shutout in 21 starts).
Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning
(Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW+, ESPN+, NHL LIVE)
The Stars (18-13-2) are 5-1-0 following a five-game losing streak. Their top line of Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson has accounted for 44.2 percent of their goal scoring this season (42 of 95 goals). Goalie Jake Oettinger (9-2-0, 2.20 GAA, .923 save percentage in 12 games) has looked great after entering the season as the No. 3 goalie behind Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin. Dallas will try to turn its fortunes around on the road, where it is 4-10-1 this season.
Center Brayden Point (25 points; 14 goals, 11 assists in 25 games) and forward Nikita Kucherov (11 points; four goals, seven assists in seven games) each has returned from injury for the Lightning (25-9-5) and looks like he never left. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is having another Vezina Trophy-type season (21-6-3, 2.18 GAA, .924 save percentage, two shutouts). Forward Steven Stamkos leads them with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games, and they’re also getting a lot of production from their support players, including forward Ondrej Palat (30 points; 15 goals, 15 assists in 38 games), center Anthony Cirelli (23 points; 11 goals, 12 assists in 34 games) and forward Corey Perry (20 points; 10 goals, 10 assists in 39 games).