The 8 questions about tonight's Hockey Night In Canada games

Greg Wyshynski
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CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, brought to you by Yahoo! Sports Canada, will stream three interesting games for your Saturday night hockey pleasure: The Toronto Maple Leafs at the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET); the Montreal Canadiens at the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET); and the San Jose Sharks at the Edmonton Oilers (10 p.m. ET).

(Ed. Note: HNIC streams available to Canadian readers only; but everyone can check out Hockey Night on Y! Sports for the New York Rangers at the Boston Bruins at 7 p.m. and the Los Angeles Kings at the Colorado Avalanche at 9 p.m.)

Here are eight questions we have entering the HNIC games tonight:

1. Can the Leafs' top line play uglier?

Coach Ron Wilson is playing early psychological games with his top line, having benched both Phil Kessel(notes) and Tyler Bozak(notes) in recent games for motivation. Those two, and Kris Versteeg(notes), need to take the "dirtier route" according to Wilson, via James Mirtle:

"We need that line to compete a little bit harder on nights when it's going to be difficult," Wilson said. "Because they are going to be closely monitored by the other team.

"Get to the front of the net, get your nose dirty, score an ugly goal. We have to figure out how to do that."

The offense carried the Leafs to an undefeated start, averaging four goals per game; they've score one in each of their last two, both losses.

2. Will Kerry Fraser say something outrageous?

The well-coiffed former NHL referee is promoting a book and will be on HNIC after an Elliotte Friedman report on concussions. Fraser has been critical of the League lately for its policies on hits to the head; how pointed will his comments be on HNIC?

3. Will Mike Richards(notes) begin showing up for the Flyers?

Chuck Gormley of the Courier-Post writes that the Flyers are off to a rough start (2-3-1), and that Richards' lack of production is one factor: "The Flyers are still looking for captain Mike Richards to score his first goal of the season. Richards had six goals through six games last season en route to a career-high of 31 but has none on 15 shots this season and is a minus-3."

4. Are the San Jose Sharks reuniting their mega-line?

David Pollack of Working The Corners reports that Todd McLellan has reunited Joe Thornton(notes), Patrick Marleau(notes) and Dany Heatley(notes) on one line after having them split up to start the season. McLellan said it's how they "potentially" could look against the Oilers. The trio is a combined minus-13, but have 5 goals.

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5. Can Shawn Horcoff(notes) continue the stats smackdown?

Yes, Edmonton is such a hockey town that their players get name-checked at WWE events. As for Horcoff, the Oilers forward has three goals and an assist so far this season, but David Staples said his production goes beyond that:

So far, even though Horcoff plays a far more difficult defensive position than anyone on the ice save for the regular defencemen, his scoring chances true plus/minus is tied with Ales Hemsky(notes) at a team-best plus-16.

Horcoff has helped to create 19 scoring chances at even-strength and has been a culprit on just three against, the same numbers as Hemsky, but Hemsky plays a less difficult defensive position, making it less likely he will pick up minus marks.

In both cases: Happy and healthy starts for two key Oilers.

6. Can Lars Eller(notes) get rolling for the Habs as a center?

Interesting lineup move for Jacques Martin for the Canadiens: Shifting struggling rookie Lars Eller to center on a fourth line with Travis Moen(notes) and Mathieu Darche(notes). From Pat Hickey of Habs Inside/Out:

Eller said yesterday that he feels more involved when he's at centre and Martin is hoping the move will produce some offence. Eller, who was acquired from St. Louis in the trade which sent Jaroslav Halak(notes) to St. Louis, is still looking for his first point as a Canadien.

Like we said ... interesting. In the sense that Martin moved Eller to center on a line that wouldn't appear to kick-start anyone's offense. Why not put him at the pivot with a couple of offensive aces and see what comes of it?

7. Will Mike Fisher(notes) step up in Spezza's absence?

Jason Spezza(notes) is expected to be out tonight with groin issues, and Mike Fisher will skate in between Daniel Alfredsson(notes) and Milan Michalek(notes). Mr. Underwood picked up a helper on Alfredsson's empty-netter last night; can he make the most of this chance?

8. Finally, where will the Rick Rypien(notes) conversation lead?

Ron MacLean writes that the Hot Stove discussion on Rick Rypien's 6-game suspension for contact with a fan could include "on-ice behaviour, class inequality, natural impulse, historical change, psychological need, even the media." Sounds ... involved.

(Ed Note: Canadian readers can watch these games live via Hockey Night in Canada Presented by Y! Sports Canada tonight)