Welcome to the NHL On Tap. Three NHL.com writers will share what they are most looking forward to on the schedule each day. Today, their choices from the two games Sunday.
Vegas for Valentine’s
Can’t go see a show on Valentine’s Day? I’d say the next best thing is watching the Vegas Golden Knights host the Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN), a preview of their Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday game Feb. 20 at Lake Tahoe. The Golden Knights have the best points percentage in the Honda West Division (.792; 9-2-1 in 12 games) and have won four of their past five (4-1-0). The Avalanche have the second-best points percentage in the West (.682; 7-3-1 in 11 games). But more than that, Vegas boasts one of my favorite players to watch in the NHL, especially with his wild goal celebrations. Mark Stone might not be at the top of a lot of lists of NHL stars, but he really makes the Golden Knights go. Stone, who scored a goal in a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, leads Vegas with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 12 games, which has him tied for 13th in the League in points per game (1.36). And his defense continues to be exceptional, so much so that he might be one of the few wingers this season who could compete for the Selke Trophy voted as the best defensive forward in the NHL. I’ll be tuning in to see what Stone can do against the stingy Avalanche, who are third in the League in goals against per game (2.18). — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
MacKinnon back for Avalanche
The best Valentine’s Day present the Colorado Avalanche could get is top-line center Nathan MacKinnon back in the lineup at the Vegas Golden Knights after he missed one game with a lower-body injury. The Avalanche also could have forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Devon Toews back from injuries for their first game since Feb. 2 because of COVID-19 protocols, but its MacKinnon who drives the Avalanche. He was off the ice for three days after getting injured against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 31 but has been skating since Thursday and looked ready to go at practice Saturday. MacKinnon leads Colorado with 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 10 games, and his sublime offensive skill combined with strength, tenacity and speed in a 200-foot game makes him arguably the most complete player in the NHL. The Avalanche and the Golden Knights are two of the top three teams in the West (along with the St. Louis Blues), and the first of eight games between the teams this season will have a little extra energy with MacKinnon back in the lineup. — Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Capitals return, seek to snap skid
The Washington Capitals return after three games were postponed last week due to NHL COVID-19 protocol. They have not played since a 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7 and are hungry to snap a three-game losing streak. And what better way to do it than a Valentine’s Day matinee against one of their biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, at PP&G Paints Arena (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TVAS, SN)? Speaking of returns, forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana, and defenseman Justin Schultz each are expected to be back in the Capitals lineup after missing games due to injury or being in COVID-19 protocol, giving them a full roster for the first time since a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 19. An Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby matchup is always must-see TV, but don’t forget Nicklas Backstrom. The Washington center is tied for 10th in the NHL with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 12 games. Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin appears to be breaking out of a slump, scoring a goal in each of the past two games and four points (two goals, two assists) in the past five games. If Malkin scores the winning goal today, he’ll tie Mario Lemieux for second on Pittsburgh’s all-time game-winning goals list with 74, four behind Jaromir Jagr (78). — William Douglas, staff writer
Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, TVAS, SN)
The Penguins are 2-0-0 (a 4-3 shootout win on Jan. 17 and a 5-4 overtime win on Jan. 19) against the Capitals and are scheduled to play them four times the rest of February.
Colorado Avalanche at Vegas Golden Knights, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN, SN)
This is the first of four straight games between the Avalanche and Golden Knights, including the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday game Feb. 20 at Lake Tahoe.
Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers, postponed