Maple Leafs-Blues, Stars-Lightning Highlights Weekend Schedule

Each Friday, NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will bring readers three games he’s looking forward to this weekend:

Nashville Predators vs. Boston Bruins
(Saturday, 1 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, NESN, BSSO, ESPN+, NHL LIVE)

The Central Division-leading Predators (24-12-2) are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 12-2-1 in their last 15 games. They are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabers on Thursday and will be looking to put that behind them. Nashville has four players who have scored at least 30 points (defender Romain 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 last eight games, including four straight wins, and look great. Cheeky David Pastrnak has scored seven goals in his last four games and striker Brad Merchant scored eight goals in their last five games. Goalie Tuukka Rask made his season debut Thursday with 25 saves in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Boston’s only problem is getting more consistency from the second-line center spot, which has been an issue this season without David Krejci, who plays this season in his native Czech Republic.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. St. Louis Blues
(Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, CITY, BSMW, NHL LIVE)

Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell and center Auston Matthews each was named to the Atlantic Division team for the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas on February 5. Everyone deserves it, having contributed greatly to 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 also improved; cheeky Ilya Mikheev has scored four goals in his last five games and crosses Alexandre Kerfoot has scored nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his last five games. This will be a very big test for the Maple Leafs (23-9-3).

The Blues (22-10-5) are the youngest, fastest and most dynamic team. Centers Jordan Kyrou (37 points; 14 goals, 23 assists in 33 games) and thomas robert (28 points; four goals, 24 assists in 30 games) have excelled so far this season. Cheeky 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 recovers players from the COVID-19 protocol, including Tarasenko, center Brayden Schenn, cheeky David Peron and defenders Scott Perunovitch and Colton Parayko. They also got some good goalkeepers, led by Jordan Binington (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 after a five-game losing streak. Their first line of Joe Pavelsky, Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson accounted for 44.2% of their goals scored this season (42 goals out of 95). Goalie Jake Oettinger (9-2-0, 2.20 GAA, .923 save percentage in 12 games) looks great after starting the season as the No. 3 goaltender behind Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin. Dallas will try to turn things around on the road, where they are 4-10-1 this season.

Center Brayden Point (25 points; 14 goals, 11 assists in 25 games) and striker Nikita Kucherov (11 points; four goals, seven assists in seven games) each came back from injury for the Lightning (25-9-5) and never seemed to be gone. Goalie Andrei Vasilevsky is having another Vézina Trophy-type season (21-6-3, 2.18 GAA, .924 save percentage, two shutouts). Cheeky Steven Stamkos leads them with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games, and they’re also getting plenty of production from their support players, including the forward Ondrej Palat (30 points; 15 goals, 15 assists in 38 games), center Antoine Cirelli (23 points; 11 goals, 12 assists in 34 games) and striker Corey Perry (20 points; 10 goals, 10 assists in 39 games).

Robert M. Larson