Ovechkin encourages Kessel; Sharks, Blackhawks battle atop West (Puck Previews)

Back by popular demand, here are your Puck Previews: Spotlighting the key games in NHL action, news and views as well as general frivolity. Make sure to stop back here for the nightly Three Stars when the games are finished.

I made this. I'm not sure why.

Preview: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. ET

The last time the Rangers were in New Jersey, they were eliminated from the Eastern Conference Final by Adam Henrique's overtime tally. Think they remember that? Well, yes, since it was brought up quite a bit in the leadup to this match. "The last time we played them was a special, special series," said Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur draw back into the creases after getting last weekend off in favour of their backups.

Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders, 7 p.m ET

The Penguins have won 3 straight since their defeat at the hands of the Islanders a week ago, largely on the strength of their offence. They scored 14 goals in that trio of contests, so it would appear that they're beginning to round into form. I that's the case, they'll pose a larger challenge for the Islanders than the last time around. The Islanders will be helped by Evgeni Nabokov, who's had some impressive success against Pittsburgh: he's 10-2-0 with a 1.70 GAA and two shutouts versus the Penguins in his career. If he allows 2 or fewer in this contest, it will be the 10th straight time he's done so.

Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET

Both the Capitals and the Maple Leafs come into this one struggling mightily, so the good news is that someone has to win this game. And maybe they can encourage one another? Alex Ovechkin has already started, with this morsel of wisdom for the goalless Phil Kessel: “I just wanna give him advice like don’t listen nobody. Just play your game." The Leafs might have the edge, both because they've been the better of the two teams, and because, while they've struggled, their struggles haven't really come on the road. A win versus the Capitals would push them to 4-1-0 away from the Air Canada Centre, their best record to start a season since 1998.

Preview: Chicago Blackhawks at San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

In 18 games, the Blackhawks and the Sharks have a combined 1 regulation loss. Can the Blackhawks stave off their inevitable first regulation loss a little longer? Both clubs have been strong out of the gate, with 7 wins in their first 9 on the strength of some standout offensive performers. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane are all among the top 20 in NHL scoring -- there will be lot of firepower in this game. The Hawks may get Dave Bolland back in time for this one. That would be nice. Bolland can help to battle some of San Jose's offensive punch.

Check out previews and updated scores for all of today's games on the Y! Sports NHL scores and scheds page. For tonight's starting goalies, check out Left Wing Lock.

Evening Reading

• From a source close to Don Fehr: "Don is very happy in his current role and has absolutely no plans to leave the NHLPA. In the future, should the basketball players seek his guidance due to his vast sports union experience, there is little doubt Don would provide that, but he won't be leaving his position at the NHLPA." [Liz Mullen]

• A young Zack Kassian stars in one of the worst Subway commercials you will ever see. [PITB]

• Rob Zombie will be visiting the Flyers tonight in preparation for his Broad Street Bullies film. [The Hockey Writers]

• The injuries to Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger are really going to hurt the Oilers on faceoffs. Like, a lot. [Edmonton Journal]

Puck Daddy Reader Comment of the Day: Facebook commenter Mike Engel, on the tale of the horse-man:

Neigh-sayers be damned, funny story! I'd be hot to trot too, if I had a horse mask. And if he and his family had fun, isn't that the mane objective?

Bold Prediction: Buoyed by Alex Ovechkin's kind words, Phil Kessel finally gets off the schneid tonight.

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