October 31 – Day 25 – Hockey Halloween

The Minnesota Wild still remember getting swept in the Western Conference Semifinals by Chicago last season, but the defeat stings a little less tonight as they beat the Hawks 5-4 in front of their home fans at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild were firing on all cylinders from the opening puck drop, made evident by Ryan Suter and First Star of the Game Mikko Koivu assisting Third Star Jason Zucker to the opening goal only 18 seconds into the game.  They only held the one-goal lead until the 4:06 mark though, as Second Star Jonathan Toews scored a shorty to level the game.  The Blackhawks continued to press, taking a one-goal lead of their own 6:27 later via a Brent Seabrook power play tally, assisted by Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane.  Similar to Minnesota though, their lead was short lived, as Ryan Carter and the Wild tied the game again at the 14:52 mark, assisted by Erik Haula and Chris Porter.  Minnesota capped the wild first period with another goal with less than a minute remaining, credited to Charlie Coyle and assisted by Marco Scandella and Koivu, to set the score at 3-2 going into intermission.

It was another two-goal period for the Blackhawks in the second, but not after Jared Spurgeon scored a power play goal, assisted by Thomas Vanek and Scandella, at the 3:01 mark.  The 4-2 lead held until the 10:47 mark, when Toews scored his second of the evening, assisted by Ryan Garbutt.  The Hawks struck again 2:55 later, when Erik Gustafsson and Trevor Daley assisted Artem Anisimov to his fourth goal of the season to level the score at four, which held into the second intermission.

The only goal scored in the third, and thus the game-winner, belongs to Nino Niederreiter, assisted by Zucker and Koivu.  He notched the winner at the 32 second mark, and goalie Devan Dubnyk was able to preserve the lead in the remaining 19:30 to earn the victory.

Dubnyk improved his record to 7-2-0 by saving 25 of 29 (86.2%), while backup goalie 1-2-0 Scott Darling earns his second loss of the season after saving only 25 of 30 (83.3%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 15-6-3, still favoring the home squad by 13 points.

The NHL has 10 games on the Halloween schedule, and all the wise kids are heading to their local stadium instead of hitting the streets for the best treat of all: hockey, obviously.  That being said, there’s a few teams getting their games over before the evening festivities begin.  The first action of the day gets started at 1 p.m. eastern when the New York Islanders take the Northeast Corridor Line to face New Jersey at The Rock (SN).  At 3 p.m. eastern, San Jose visits Dallas, followed an hour later by the final afternoon game: Nashville at Los Angeles.  Starting at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time are five games (Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC/NHL Network], Detroit at Ottawa [TVAS], Boston at Tampa Bay, Washington at Florida and Winnipeg at Columbus [SN360/SN1]), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis.  The final game of the evening gets going at 10 p.m. eastern when Calgary visits Edmonton (CBC/TVAS).

Based on it being Halloween, I can already tell you how all of these matchups are going to go:

  • New Jersey will beat the Isles because a Devil is way scarier than the Gorton’s Fisherman.  Probably a billion goals to -5.
  • Same for the Sharks over the Stars, as the only stars that are scary are the crazies in Hollywood.
  • Speaking of Hollywood, let me know when you see a horror movie featuring a king as the monster; on the flip side, Predator has five total movies, and he even scares Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Predators over Kings, easy.
  • A winged wheel might be scary (like, bad dream scary), but not as scary as a Roman general.  Those guys didn’t mess around.  Ottawa wins this one.
  • I’m leaning towards a bruin being scarier than lightning, simply because I’ve spent less time near bears than I have been outside during a lightning storm.  Definitely means Boston will pull out the win.
  • Who’s scarier: the American government or panthers?  I’ll leave this one up to you.
  • I think Jets win on principle… and having advanced technology.  If the South had jets against the Union, America may not be the same, and that’s the scariest thought so far.
  • The outdoors against blues music?  Especially in Minnesota, the great outdoors wins every time (Hey, I’ve lived in the south too long.  I’ve acclimated and can’t handle much under 30° anymore), especially since all the music can do is make you sad.
  • An oiler‘s worst fear near his product is fire.  Calgary is super scary to Edmonton.

Anyways, tonight’s matchups feature five divisional rivalries (the Isles at New Jersey, Detroit at Ottawa, Boston at Tampa Bay, Minnesota at St. Louis and Calgary at Edmonton) and three games between two squads currently qualifying for the playoffs (Nashville at Los Angeles, Boston at Tampa Bay and Minnesota at St. Louis).  However, even with those in mind, tonight marks the return of Phil Kessel to his old stomping grounds of six seasons.

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Kessel’s Penguins are currently riding a three-game win streak, with their most recent victory being a result of weathering 24 third period Buffalo shots to secure a 4-3 win.  While offense is usually the first thing to come to mind when thinking of a squad with both Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have strongly relied on their defense (especially Ian Cole, who has 27 blocks so far) and 5-4-0 Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to achieve their 6-4-0 record.  The Pens have given up 20 goals so far this season, six under the league average.  Even when a man or more down, the Penguins have still found a way to keep the opposition off the board, as they’ve only given up four power play goals (two less than the league average) to maintain an 87.1% penalty kill rate, exceeding the league average of 81.46%.  Fleury’s .937 save percentage also exceeds the league average by 2.2%.

In comparison to both their defense and Penguins teams in the past, the offense has been fairly lackluster.  The club has only tickled the twine 20 times, six goals below the league average.  Part of the problem has been the poor results on the power play.  In 32 attempts, the Penguins have only scored three goals (three below average), for a 9.38% power play.  What’s most frustrating for the team is their lack of offensive success hasn’t entirely been their fault.  Pittsburgh has shot the puck 315 times in 10 games, 31 more times than the league average, but has only scored on 6.3% of their shots.

Although the Pens‘ offense may not be quite on par, Kessel himself is having a decent start to the season.  He has six points (second on team) with four goals (tied for the team lead), all of them on even-strength (he leads the squad in that category) and two of them game-winners (second best on team), on 35 shots, another stat he leads the team in.

His ex-team, the 1-5-2 Toronto Maple Leafs, are still struggling to get their skates under them on both ends of the ice.  Offensively, they’ve only managed 19 goals so far this season, seven below league average.  Especially offensive offense has been played on the power play, as the team has only managed two goals with the man advantage, compared to the league average of six.  Their 8.7% success rate trails the league average by 9.84%.  All of this is a direct result of the low number of shots the Leafs have put on goal.  Only 264 pucks have been fired toward the net, 20 below average, and their shot percentage trails the league by 1.8%.

After seeing those numbers, people in Toronto might hope that the defense has tried to pick up some of the slack, but that has not been the case.  Toronto has allowed 28 goals this season, two over average.  Nine of those scores have been on the penalty kill, three higher than the league average, and their 71.88% penalty kill shows it, as it trails the league average by 9.58%.

Probably the best thing Toronto has going for them is their shots against.  They’ve only allowed 229 shots to reach Jonathan Bernier, but he and James Reimer have only been able to save 89.1% of those attempts, which trails the league average by 2.4%.

The only time the Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs during Kessel’s tenure was during the 2012-’13 season, which ended with the epic overtime collapse at the hands of the Bruins after having a 4-1 lead before the 9:18 mark of the final period during Game Seven.  During that year’s regular season, he led his team in goals (20), assists (32), points (52), even-strength goals (14), power play goals (six), game-winners (four), power play assists (15) and shots (161).  He followed up his impressive season to lead the Leafs in goals (four), even-strength goals (three) and game-winners (two), but it was not enough to stop the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.

Both of these teams are going in opposite directions, so I fully expect Kessel’s new squad to take care of business and earn their fourth-straight victory.

Oh, and penguins are scarier than leafs, mostly because at least a bird has more chance of causing harm than a leaf.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #14- Don’t Let Us Frighten You

Instead of writing what the Down the Frozen River crew talked about this week like usual, I’m not going to write anything about the subject matter- therefore forcing you to listen to the entire episode! Trick or treat.

For the record, we recorded this yesterday, but life sometimes delays how quickly we get this edited and up on this site.

Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter– your thoughts might make it on our show!

October 30 – Day 24 – Western Conference Semifinal Rematch

Head Coach Dan Bylsma’s return to the Consol Energy Center ended poorly, as his Buffalo Sabres fell 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Pens opened the scoring only 56 seconds into the game, as Sidney Crosby and First Star of the Game Ben Lovejoy assisted Pascal Dupuis to his first goal of the season.  Pittsburgh followed up that early goal with another at the 7:16 mark, when Crosby and Olli Maatta provided the helpers to Second Star Patric Hornqvist.  The two-goal lead held until the 14:25 mark, when Jamie McGinn, assisted by Tim Schaller and Rasmus Ristolainen, fired a shot past backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, followed 2:15 later by a Nicolas Deslauriers goal, assisted by Third Star Ryan O’Reilly and Ristolainen, to set the score a two-all, which held into intermission.

It was all Pittsburgh in the second period.  Lovejoy broke the tie at the 8:18 mark, assisted by Evgeni Malkin.  Malkin’s line had only just begun, as he is responsible for the game-winner 6:39 later, assisted by Hornqvist and Phil Kessel.

Just as Pittsburgh controlled the second, Buffalo dominated the third.  In fact, the Sabres put 24 shots on goal in the final period, compared to a lowly four for Pittsburgh.  One of those shots, this one fired by Matt Moulson and assisted by O’Reilly and David Legwand, broke through in the 18th minute to set the final 4-3 score.

Chad Johnson’s record fell to 3-6-0 with tonight’s loss.  He saved 25 of 29 shots (86.2%), while Zatkoff saved 50 of 53 (94.3%) to earn his first win in his first start of the season.

After tonight’s game, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 14-6-3, favoring the home squad by 11 points.

Tonight’s schedule is another busy one, as there are nine games on the Friday schedule.  Four of those games get started at 7 p.m. eastern (Philadelphia at Buffalo [Bell TV], Toronto at the New York Rangers [SN360], Columbus at Washington and Colorado at Carolina), followed half an hour later by two more (Ottawa at Detroit [RDSI] and Boston at Florida).  Chicago and Minnesota drop the opening puck at 8 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by Montréal at Calgary (RDS).  The final game gets started at 10 p.m. eastern between Vancouver and Arizona.

Five of the nine games tonight are divisional rivalries (Columbus at Washington, Ottawa at Detroit, Boston at Florida, Chicago at Minnesota and Vancouver at Arizona), and only one is between teams qualifying for the playoffs (Vancouver at Arizona).  But, only one is a rematch from last season’s playoffs: the ChicagoMinnesota matchup.  Since it’s also a divisional matchup, we’ll look a little further into that one.

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The 6-3-0 Chicago Blackhawks have relied on their defense to find their early success.  Led by 5-2-0 Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson (23 blocks), the Hawks have only allowed 246 shots on goal, saving 93.5% of those attempts.  That converts into only 16 goals so far this season, eight below the league average.  Even when down a man, Chicago has still found a way to keep the opposition off the board, as they’ve only given up three power play goals on 25 attempts for a 88% penalty kill rate, 7.35% above the league average.

The offense, on the other hand, has not been quite as stellar. as they’ve only notched 19 goals so far, five below the league average.  That being said, the power play has scored just as many as the rest of the league (six), albeit on six more opportunities.  Therefore, Chicago‘s 16.67% power play trails the league average by 1.68%.

Turning our attention to the 6-2-1 home squad, we find a Minnesota team that leans on their offense for success.  They’ve scored 28 goals so far this season, seven of which are a result of the power play (one above the league average).  On 30 attempts, their 23.33% power play percentage leads the league average by 4.98%.  The most exciting facet of this offense has been their two shorties scored this season.  While not something the team can rely on, these tallies can certainly sway the momentum of a game in their favor, and it is beneficial to the squad to know they have that capability going forward.

While the defense hasn’t been as successful as the offense, it still has been fairly stout.  The squad has only given up one more goal than league average, of which only five have been on the power play.  This stat is slightly misleading though, as the team has only defended 23 power plays, giving them a 78.26% kill rate (3.39% below league average).

Probably the biggest shortcoming of this Wild team is their lack of shots.  Minnesota has only notched 245 shots on goal this season, 23 below the NHL average.  Fortunately for them, they’ve scored 11.4% of those shots (2.3% over the league average), but it may not be wise to rely on that percentage for long without increasing their shot count.

Last season, Chicago won the regular season series against the Wild 3-2-0 before sweeping them in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (two shutouts [tied for league lead], five wins [tied for fourth in the league], 1.76 GAA [tied for sixth in the league] and .938 save percentage [tied for eighth in the leauge]) & Patrick Kane (13 points [fourth in the league] on six goals [tied for sixth in the league]) and Minnesota‘s Devan Dubunyk (six wins [tied for second in the league] and one shutout [tied for sixth in the league]) & Zach Parise (seven goals [tied for second in the leauge]).

The line for tonight’s game reads -145 in favor of Minnesota, but given Chicago‘s success against Minnesota last year, I am weary of siding with Vegas in this one.

October 29 – Day 23 – Back to his Beginnings

I don’t know about you, but yesterday’s Game of the Day did not end as I expected, as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Verizon Center.  Phil Kessel, assisted by Evgeni Malkin and David Perron, notched the game winner at the 3:49 mark of the third period.

Washington waited to open the scoring until the 1:28 mark of the final period.  Karl Alzner assisted Evgeny Kuznetsov to his fourth goal of the season to give the Caps a one-goal lead, but it was short lived – only 24 seconds, in fact, as Nick Bonino and Olli Maatta assisted Beau Bennett to the game-tying goal.  Bonino also scored an empty netter with under two minutes remaining in the game.

Marc-Andre Fleury earned his fifth win of the season by stopping 33 of 34 shots (97.1%) to set his record at 5-4-0, while Braden Holtby takes the loss, his second of the season, after allowing two of 24 shots faced (91.7%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-6-3, favoring the home team by nine points.

Tonight’s schedule is another full one, with a total of eight games on the night.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games get started (Carolina at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [Bell TV]), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Tampa Bay.  Beginning at 8 p.m. eastern are two games (Anaheim at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas.  Finally, the night begins to see its end at 9 p.m. eastern when Montréal visits Edmonton (SN, SN360, RDS).

Of tonight’s matchups, three are divisional rivalries (Carolina at the Isles, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Chicago at Winnipeg) and only one game featuring two teams currently in playoff position (Vancouver at Dallas).

Those games being noted, there is another matchup that strikes my fancy, as it is the first return of an ex-coach to play against his ex-team.  That man is none other than Dan Bylsma, who is featured in the BuffaloPittsburgh matchup.

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I know, we watched Pittsburgh yesterday, but this is a significant return.  Although under slightly bizarre circumstances, Bylsma is the last coach to lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup.  Plus, it’s Game of the Day’s first opportunity to see Jack Eichel in action, so I shouldn’t hear any complainers.

Coach Bylsma returns to the home arena of the team he led to the 2009 Stanley Cup with only 25 regular season games coached after replacing Michel Therrien mid-season.  Winner of the 2010-’11 Jack Adams Award, Bylsma is the winningest coach in team history (252 wins, 20 more than Eddie Johnston), as well as the coach with the highest win percentage (67%).

As we all know, the reason for Bylsma’s departure from the Triangle was not his regular season success, but his post-season letdowns.  Under his direction, the Penguins improved every regular season until the 2013-’14 season, beginning in his first full season with a .616 point percentage that grew to .75 by the time of his release.  However, his postseason win-loss percentage is a different story.  During his tenure the team won the Cup, then fell in the conference semifinals, followed by falling in the conference quarterfinals twice in a row, improving to the conference finals, then finally the semifinals.  While some teams would love to make the playoffs on a consistent basis and make it past the first round most of the time, the Pittsburgh teams he coached were built to win, and only one cup did not satisfy ownership.

The Buffalo Sabres are currently 3-6-0 coming off a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday.  While folks in Upstate New York may be excited to usher in the Eichel Era, there have been some growing pains so far this season.  The team has scored four goals less and given up five over the league average.  The offensive production may be more due to bad luck though, as the Sabres have put 283 shots on goal so far this season, 21 over the league average, but only 6.7% of those attempts are finding the back of the net.

Probably the most exciting part about this Sabres team is their power play.  The special teams have accounted for nine goals so far this season (three over the league average) on 36 opportunities, giving them a 25% success rate that exceeds the league average by 6.39%.

Sadly, this positive comes with its own negative, as the penalty kill is vastly inferior to the rest of the NHL.  Buffalo has given up seven power play goals so far on only 23 opportunities (seven under the league average), giving them an atrocious penalty kill percentage of 69.57%, 11.82% under the league average.  Fortunately for the Sabres, they have been limiting penalties to a minimum to avoid man-down situations as much as possible, but penalties do happen and this statistic may be a monkey that hangs on the squad’s back for the entire season.

As explained yesterday, Bylsma’s old team is leaning heavily on Fleury and the defense, and there has been no indication that Jeff Zatkoff will see his first playing time tonight, although I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he did, given that Fleury has played every minute of all nine games this season.

Some players to watch in this one include Buffalo‘s Jake McCabe (two even strength goals [leads team] and 40% shot percentage [leads team]), Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads team], five assists [leads team], four power play assists [leads team]) & Sam Reinhart (+2 Corsi rating [leads team] and three even-strength assists [leads team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Malkin (seven points [leads team], four assists [leads team], three even-strength assists [leads team], two game-winners [leads team] and 13.6% shot percentage [leads team]) and, should he play, Fleury (five wins [tied for third in league], one shutout [tied for sixth in the league], 1.9 GAA [eighth in the league] and .936 save percentage [ninth in the league]).

Conventional wisdom points to the Penguins being favored in this one, but I think Pittsburgh‘s poor power play provides the Sabres a way to keep this one closer than expected.

October 28 – Day 22 – More capitals than you think…

Yesterday’s Game of the Day, contested between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues, was our second straight shutout victory for the home squad, as the Notes beat the Bolts 2-0.

Scott Gomez’ goal, assisted by Colton Parayko and Troy Brouwer at the 15:59 mark of the first period, was his first with St. Louis and the eventual game-winner.  The lone insurance goal was an empty netter scored by Brouwer, assisted by Alex Pietrangelo, with only 41 seconds remaining in the game.

First star of the game Jake Allen earned the win by stopping all 26 Lightning shots, while Ben Bishop lost his yearly homecoming game by allowing only one goal on 23 shots (95.7%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-5-3, still favoring the home squad by 11 points.

After a busy 10 game schedule yesterday, the writers at Down the Frozen River invite you to sit back, crack open your beverage of choice and relax this evening, as there are only three games on the schedule tonight.  Instead of frantically checking your phone every five minutes to check scores, you can chill out, knowing that all three games will be on national TV in their home nation.  The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. eastern when the Calgary Flames visit the Canadian capital to take on the Senators (TVAS, SN1).  The capital theme continues half an hour later, when Pittsburgh visits the American capital to play division rival Washington (NBCSN).  Finally, at 10:30 p.m. eastern, the squad representing the capital of Tennessee, the Nashville Predators, will visit the county seat of Santa Clara County (So, like, the capital of Santa Clara County?  YES, THE CAPITAL OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY!) to play the San Jose Sharks (NBCSN).

Of these three, one is a divisional rivalry (Pittsburgh at Washington), and none that features two teams that are currently qualifying for the playoffs (San Jose fell out of position last night with Vancouver‘s win over Montréal).  Therefore, I expect the PittsburghWashington game to be the best game of the night.

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The rivalry between these two squads is well documented.  In fact, this season is the tenth anniversary of the rebirth of the rivalry, as both teams’ captains began playing for their respective teams during the 2005-’06 season.  In their history, the Penguins own the all-time series at 131-110-16 but, as should be expected, the Capitals own a better record when playing in front of their home crowd (63-58-9).

We first take a look at the visiting team.  While offense is usually the first thing to come to mind when thinking of a squad with both Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have strongly relied on their defense (especially Ian Cole, who has 25 blocks so far) and Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to achieve their 4-4-0 record.  The only goalie to put on the pads for Pittsburgh so far this season, he’s given up 16 goals so far this season, six under the league average.  Even when a man or more down, the Penguins have still found a way to keep the opposition off the board, as they’ve only given up four power play goals (one less than the league average) to maintain an 84.62% penalty kill rate, exceeding the league average of 81.43%.  Fleury’s .932 save percentage also exceeds the league average by 1.7%.

In comparison to both their defense and Penguins teams in the past, the offense has been fairly lackluster.  The club has only tickled the twine 13 times, nine goals below the league average.  Part of the problem has been the poor results on the power play.  In 28 attempts, the Penguins have only scored two goals (three below average), for a 7.14% power play.  What’s most frustrating for the team is their lack of offensive success hasn’t entirely been their fault.  Pittsburgh has shot the puck 261 times in eight games, 16 more times than the league average, but has only scored on 5% of their shots.

Turning our attention to the home side, we find a 6-1-0 Capitals side that we at Down the Frozen River think has the potential to represent the Eastern Conference in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.  Washington is a well rounded team that is a threat to score on one end of the ice, and has full capabilities to stop the opposition on the other end.

Beginning with the offense, the Capitals have scored 29 tallies so far this season, seven goals above league average (Ovi leads the way with five goals this season).  Seven of those goals have been on the power play.  What’s most remarkable is they’ve had extra-man success (two more goals than league average) on significantly fewer opportunities (six less, to be exact).  What the kids that can do quick math have figured out before I tell you is that Washington‘s power play percentage is much better than the rest of the NHL’s.  We’re talking so good, that the Caps score on almost a third of their man-advantages (31.82%, to be exact).  The league averages only 18.57%… for sake of argument, we can almost claim that Washington scores two power play goals for every one scored by the average hockey team.  Or, in other words, the Penguins would be very wise to not commit any penalties.

The biggest fallback of this offense?  They don’t put as many shots on goal.  They’ve only fired 207 pucks so far this season, 38 under the league average.  But, they score seemingly all the time, which has given them a 14% shot percentage, 5% over the league average.

So, if the offense is so good, opposing teams should just get into a barn-burner with the Caps and hope for the best, right?  Bad idea, mostly because Washington doesn’t share very well: the Caps are the only ones allowed to score.  In addition to their successful offense, the Capitals have only given up 18 goals this season, which is four under the league average.  Specifically on the penalty kill, the Caps have given up one fewer goal (four) than the league average, and on fewer opportunities too. Their 83.33% penalty kill rate exceeds the league average by 1.9%.  And its not just Goaltender Braden Holtby, either.  The defense has also held their opposition to only 167 shots, 76 under the league average.  Karl Alzner has led the charge in blocks, with 18 to his credit.

Tonight was also supposed to be the return of RW Eric Fehr to the Verizon Center, but he is still in the final stages of recovery from elbow surgery and does not expect to return until this weekend.  He played nine of his 10 seasons with the Caps (spent the 2011-’12 season in Winnipeg), and signed as a free agent with the Pens this offseason.  His return will be postponed to January 24.  In replacement, we get to celebrate Kris Letang’s 500th game of his career.

Last season, the Caps won the season series 3-1-0 after shutting out the Penguins twice.  The Pens‘ lone win was a 4-3 thriller in Washington, with Chris Kunitz scoring the winning goal.

Some players to watch in this one include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (one shutout [tied for sixth in the league] and four wins [tied for eighth in the league]) and Washington‘s John Carlson (eight assists [tied for seventh in the league]), Holtby (five wins [tied for second in the league]) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 points [tied for fifth in the league] and eight assists [tied for seventh in the league]).

Although the Penguins may have won their last game in this arena, I fully expect Washington to beat the Penguins easily, as the Pittsburgh offense will not be able to keep up with Ovechkin and the Capitals.

October 27 – Day 21 – Return home to Mound City

For the second game in the row, Jonathan Toews (assisted by Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook) scored the overtime winner, this one at the :51 mark, to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 1-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Corey Crawford took the win after stopping all 39 shots the Ducks sent his way to elevate his record to 5-2-0, while Frederik Andersen’s record falls to 0-3-2 after giving up the lone goal on 24 shots (95.8%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 12-5-3 for the home team, nine points ahead of the roadies.

After a couple days straight of only three games on the schedule, it’s a busy Tuesday in the NHL with 10 games to be contested.  The first three games will get their start at 7 p.m. eastern (Arizona at Boston, Columbus at New Jersey and Buffalo at Philadelphia [TVAS/BELL TV]), followed half an hour later by two more matchups (Carolina at Detroit and Colorado at Florida).  Another triplet of games drop the opening puck at 8 p.m. eastern (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN/SN1], Edmonton at Minnesota and Los Angeles at Winnipeg [TSN3]) with an Anaheim at Dallas chaser 30 minutes later.  Finally, the evening’s nightcap gets started at 10 p.m. eastern when Mighty Montréal visits Vancouver (RDS).

Columbus at New Jersey is the only divisional rivalry being played tonight, but has the competition of two games between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Tampa Bay at St. Louis and Los Angeles at Winnipeg).  Of these three, only one is being broadcast nationally in both nations, plus Ben Bishop will return home to play before his hometown fans, so the game at the Scottrade Center will be our Game of the Day.

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Starting with the road side, we find a Tampa Bay team coming off an overtime shutout loss to the Bluesarchrivals (bad pun intended) that has found early success this season.  Currently, the Bolts and their potent offense have 12 points to their name with a 5-2-2 record, which is good enough for second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference (of course, second is as good as first in that division since Montréal doesn’t look like they’ll ever lose).  That offense has scored 27 goals this season, exceeding the league average by five tallies.  They’ve put 243 shots on net so far (exceeding the league average by four), and scored on 11.1% of those attempts (dwarfing the league average by 2.1%).  One player responsible for this success is Captain Steven Stamkos, who leads the team in total goals (five) and power play goals (two), and is tied for the lead in both even strength goals (with Vladislav Namestnikov, three) and game-winners (with Jason Garrison, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat, one).

Netminder Bishop (5-2-1) has also had a solid start to his season, as the Lightning have only given up 24 goals so far (two over the league average).  The team’s collective save percentage of .915 is exactly on par with the rest of the league.

Probably the worst aspect of this Tampa Bay team has been their penalty kill.  They’ve given up two more power play goals than the league average (seven and five, respectively) on two fewer opportunities.  As you can expect, their penalty kill percentage is showing it: their 72% kill rate is 9.41% below average.  If the special teams cannot figure out how to kill penalties better, Nikita Nesterov may find himself riding the bench, being scratched, or even worse, sent back to Syracuse if he cannot get his team leading 17 PIM down (he leads the second highest by nine minutes with only three games played).

Turning our attention to the 5-2-1 home squad, we find another team coming off another overtime loss, this one a 3-2 final against the Isles, but the Notes did manage to score two goals in the second period to earn a point in the standings.  They currently own the fourth position in both the competitive Central Division and Western Conference table.

While the Bolts may be more offensively-minded, the Blues have utilized a more balanced approach and relied on their defense and goaltending for success this season.  St. Louis has scored only one goal over the 22-goal league average, but have kept two more goals off the board than the rest of the NHL this season.  Tonight’s starter Jake Allen (Brian Elliott is recovering from illness) owns a 1-2-0 record with a .899 save percentage and 3.02 GAA.

Luckily for Tampa Bay, the Blues‘ major shortcoming so far this season has been the power play, as they only have four goals to show for 29 opportunities (13.79%, 4.8% below league average).

Inversely, the Blues have done very well on the penalty kill this season.  Although their kill percentage trails the league average by .16%, they’ve had to defend against five more than the typical team.  Should that stat continue, the Blues will be able to physically impose their will on a consistent basis to earn some man-advantages for themselves.

The Blues beat the Bolts in both games played last season, led by RW Vladimir Tarasenko’s two goals and Alexander Steen’s goal and two assists.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (leads squad in shots [36], points [nine]and goals [five]; tied for squad lead in even-strength goals [four], even-strength assists [four], power play goals [one] and game-winners [one]) and Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (five wins [tied for second in the league]).

This will be a tight game and one worth watching.  I’m inclined to give the advantage to the Notes in this one, simply because they’re playing at home.

October 26 – Day 20 – Are the Ducks quacks?

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the Calgary Flames and the New York Rangers ended in a 4-1 victory for the Blueshirts.  Although the Flames had a great start to the evening by posting a goal at the 3:06 mark of the first period, the Rangers were able to take the lead during second and never look back.

Jiri Hudler was responsible for the Flames‘ lone goal.  He scored his third of the season following assists from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

New York tied the game at the 12:03 mark of the second.  Oscar Lindberg was responsible for the tally, assisted by Kevin Hayes and Marc Staal.  They took the lead only 4:54 later, compliments of of Dan Girardi’s game winner, assisted by Emerson Etem and Jarret Stoll.  The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

During the third, Kevin Klein scored his second goal of the year at the 8:38 mark, followed by the final goal only 1:48 later by Derick Brassard, assisted by Jesper Fast and Ryan McDonagh.

Antti Raanta earned his second win in as many starts by stopping 22 of 23 (95.7%), while Jonas Hiller took the loss after stopping only 17 of 21 (81%).  He was pulled at the 12:01 mark of the final period and replaced with Joni Ortio, who stopped all five shots he faced.

The DtFR Game of the Day series still favors the home team by eight points, currently standing at 11-5-3.

Today is the second straight of only three games on the schedule.  First up at 7 p.m. eastern, the Flames hop on the B Train a day after playing the Rangers to face their opponent’s in-town rivals, the New York Islanders, at the Barclays Center.  Half an hour after that game gets underway, Arizona visits the Air Canada Centre to face Toronto.  Finally, Anaheim and Chicago round the night out in the United Center, with the opening puck dropping at 8:30 p.m. eastern (NHL Network).

It’s been a trip down memory lane this weekend for Chicago, as they hosted the Stanley Cup runners-up Saturday.  The throwback to last season continues tonight when the Western Conference’s runners-up come a-calling.

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Although the Ducks were only a victory away from earning the right to face the Lightning in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, they have looked nowhere near being considered contenders early this season.  The Ducks may literally waddle into the United Center tonight, having only a 1-5-1 record to show for their efforts.  Unlike division rival Calgary, whose plight was documented yesterday, the Ducks are right on par with the rest of the league in regards to goals against, as they’ve given up one less than the league average.  As I’m sure you’ve now assumed, the Ducks‘ concerns are with their forwards.  Anaheim has scored a grand total of six goals this season.  Yes, six goals over seven games.  What’s worse, they scored four of those goals in one game (10/18 against Minnesota).  Do the math, and that’s four times they’ve been shutout in seven games (they’re coming off one Saturday night at Minnesota).  In other words, not good.

One of the issues here is an ineffective power play.  In 19 opportunities, the Ducks have only scored a lone power play goal.  Their 5.26% power play percentage trails the league average by 13.28%.  Another issue is the number of shots the Ducks are putting on goal.  Anaheim‘s 193 shots are 40 below the league average.  You’d think that would help their shot percentage… think again.  Anaheim trails the league in that category too, as their 3.1% trails the NHL average by 5.9%.

Compare this to the team that rocked The Pond a season ago.  During the regular season, that squad scored 12 more goals than the league average, and allowed only two more than the average.  While the power play still was not on par with the rest of the NHL last season, it still exceeds this year’s effort as the special teams scored 15.68% of the time. Luckily, this year’s defense and goaltending is comparable, if not slightly surpassing last year’s excellent squad.

So, what gives?  I think the loss of LW Matt Beleskey to Boston during free agency has a big part to do with it.  He scored 22 goals last season for the Ducks, third best on the team.  18 of those goals were during 5-on-5 play, where he also ranked third.  His four remaining goals were all on the power play, which tied for fourth on the team with Corey Perry.  Eight of his goals were game-winners, which led the team by two goals.  A goal scorer also brings with him shots, as he put 145 pucks on goal last season, placing him at fifth-best on the squad.  With those shots, though, came the second-best shot percentage (15.2%), trailing only Perry’s 17.1%.

Additionally, the power play might also be struggling due to RW Kyle Palmieri being traded to the Devils during the offseason.  He accounted for five power play goals last season, which tied for second on the team.

Turning our attention to the Stanley Cup Champions, we find a team that is settling into their groove and beginning to climb the ranks of the Western Conference.  Currently, the Hawks have a 5-3-0 record, giving them the second wild card position and fifth place in the conference.  Chicago enters the game on a three-game win streak, most recently shutting out the Lightning at home in overtime with a quick goal by Jonathan Toews.

Similar to Anaheim, Chicago‘s offense hasn’t been glitzy, but they’ve been winning by keeping opposing offenses off the board.  They’ve given up only 16 goals so far this season, five goals under the league average.  Where they’ve really shined offensively is on the power play.  In 33 opportunities, they’ve converted six for goals (18.18%), which have accounted for a third of their total tallies this season.  Probably what is most frightening about the Hawks in light of their win streak is their number of shots (249, 16 over the league average) compared to their shooting percentage (7.2%).  If and when they get that percentage up, even if its just to the 9% league average, their offense will be a significant threat to any goalie.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Frederik Andersen (.938 save percentage [tenth in the league]) and Chicago‘s Corey Crawford (one shutout [tied for fourth in the league], four wins [tied for seventh in the league] and 1.84 GA average [tied for ninth in the league]) & Patrick Kane (11 points [tied for fourth in the league] and five goals [tied for eighth in the league]).

I expect a defensive, competitive matchup tonight that will end positively for Chicago, probably 1-0 or 2-1.

October 25 – Day 19 – Not Quite a Hot Start

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between Tampa Bay and Chicago was a defensive thriller, as neither team was able to break through the opposing defense in regulation.  The Blackhawks finally scored at the 17 second mark of the 3-on-3 overtime when Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook assisted Jonathan Toews to his first goal of the season (cover of NHL ’16 curse, anyone? IT TOOK HIM EIGHT GAMES TO SCORE!).  His goal earned him second star of the game honors.

Obviously, both goalies were phenomenal in this one, as first star of the game Corey Crawford stopped all 21 shots he faced to improve his record to 4-2-0, while Kristers Gudlevskis stopped all but one of his 32 shots faced (96.9%), earning the remaining third star.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 10-5-3, still favoring the home team by six points.

Today is a much lighter schedule compared to yesterday, as there is only three games on the schedule.  The evening begins at 6 p.m. eastern when Minnesota visits Winnipeg, followed an hour later by Calgary at the New York Rangers (NHL Network, SN, SN1).  The final game of the night gets started at 9:30 p.m. eastern when Los Angeles visits Edmonton (SN, SN360, SN1).

Two of these three games are divisional rivalries (Minnesota at Winnipeg and Los Angeles at Edmonton), and the other features a team that many hockey fans (or, at least us at Down the Frozen River) are just waiting to turn it on and play like they did a season ago.

Since the Calgary Flames at the New York Rangers game will be broadcast throughout both nations, we’ll turn our attention towards Madison Square Garden.

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Let’s begin with the 2-5-0 road team.  This young squad, with the exciting way they played last season and getting their first experience in the playoffs in six years, including beating Vancouver in the first round, was expected to turn some heads this year and try to improve on their third place-finish in the Pacific Division.  So far this season, they’ve only accounted for two wins so far against the lackluster Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings (both of those victories required overtime to earn the bonus point).  They have four goals less than the league average (part of that problem is the number of shots the Flames have taken [189] is 18 less than the league average, and their shot percentage is even worse [7.9%, 1.2% less than average]), which doesn’t tell the complete story until paired with giving up eight more goals than the league average (the Flames have a save percentage of only 88.1%, 3.4% under the league average).  The Flames‘ penalty kill is also not on par, as they have only killed 78.26% of opponents’ power plays.

On the other side, they face a 5-2-2 team that is currently firing on all cylinders and well on their way to another successful season.  The Rangers are both scoring (three over average, in spite of the power play not finding early success (only scoring on 15%, 3.9% below average) and stopping (allowed three less goals than the average team, especially on the penalty kill, where they’ve killed 86.21% of opponents’ opportunities, 5.11% over league average) the puck to earn themselves second place in the competitive Metropolitan Division.  As is expected, Henrik Lundqvist is staking his claim as one of, if not the best goalie in the league, as he is leading his team to a 94.3% save rate, 2.8% better than the rest of the league.

Although the team write-ups may imply differently, it is in fact only Calgary that enters the matchup on a winning streak after beating Detroit on Friday.  The Rangers lost yesterday’s game against Philadelphia in a shootout.  In last year’s meetings, New York took both games by a combined score of 6-2, including a one-goal shutout via now-Oiler Cam Talbot.

My players to watch in tonight’s game are Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (eight assists [tied for fifth in the league]) and, should he play, New York‘s Lundqvist (four wins [tied for sixth in the league] and .941 save percentage [eighth in the league])

I expect the Rangers to hold home ice in tonight’s matchup, but would not be surprised if the Flames try to build off recent momentum to try to jump-start their so far mediocre season.

October 24 – Day 18 – Rematch

Last night’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets ended poorly for the home crowd as the Bolts scored only half a minute into overtime to win the game 4-3.

Assisted by Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn gave Tampa Bay a first period lead at the 12:17 mark, but Winnipeg managed to level the score 4:11 later with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal, assisted by Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Pereault.  The one-all score held into the intermission.

Seven minutes into the second, the Lightning struck their second goal via Cedric Paquette, assisted by Erik Condra and Victor Hedman.  The Jets again held serve, scoring only 3:36 later when Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov assisted Drew Stafford to his third goal of the season.  Cue Lightning service game, as it only took 21 seconds before the Bolts regained their lead.  Assisted by Paquette and Hedman, Vladislav Namestnikov fired Tampa Bay‘s third goal of the game past Ondrej Pavelec.  The 3-2 lead held into the second intermission.

A little less scoring action in the third period, but it favored the loyal Manitobans.  Only 1:17 into the final period, Blake Wheeler scored the third game-tying goal for the Jets, setting the score at three-all.  Neither side was able to break through their opposition, so the game moved to 3-on-3 overtime.

Ondrej Palat wasted little time in ending the game for the Lightning.  At the 36 second mark, Steven Stamkos and Hedman assisted him to his second goal of the season, this one his first game-winner of the year.

The Bolts‘ Ben Bishop (ooh, alliteration!) made 33 of 36 saves (91.7%) last night for the win, while Pavelec took the loss by saving only 27 of 31 (87.1%) Lightning shots.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 9-5-3 in favor of the home team, who leads the roadies by five points.

Tonight is by far the busiest day we’ve had this week, with a total of a dozen games being played.  It’s like it’s a Saturday or something.  The action gets an early start this evening, as Anaheim and Minnesota are dropping the puck at 6 p.m. eastern at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  Beginning at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern are four games (New Jersey at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC and TVAS], Arizona at Ottawa and the New York Rangers at Philadelphia).  At 8 p.m. eastern, three more games get started (the New York Islanders at St. Louis, Pittsburgh at Nashville and Florida at Dallas), followed half an hour by Tampa Bay at Chicago (NHL Network and SN1), the first of two Stanley Cup Finals rematches this season.  At 9 p.m. eastern, Torts gets another shot at getting the first win for his new team when Columbus visits Colorado, followed an hour later by Detroit at Vancouver (CBC).  Finally, Carolina and San Jose drop the final opening puck of the night in The Tank at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

While there are two matchups that are divisional rivalries (Toronto at Montréal and the Rangers at Philadelphia) and four games between two teams that are currently qualifying for the playoffs (Coyotes at SenatorsRangers at Flyers, Islanders at Blues and Panthers at Stars), following Tampa Bay from the MTS Centre to the United Center for the rematch between the Bolts and Hawks is absolutely too good to miss tonight.

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We all know that last year’s Chicago team beat last year’s Tampa Bay team in six games to take the Cup, but a lot has changed between June 15 and October 24.

Beginning with the reigning champions, it was well documented during the off-season that the Hawks would have to make some major adjustments to get under the salary cap.  The squad traded away nine players, including Antti Raanta, Brandon Saad,  and Patrick Sharp and didn’t resign Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette.  They also lost Daniel Carcillo and Kimmo Timonen to retirement.

On the other side of the ice is a team that remained fairly consistent from last season.  The Bolts did not trade away any players this offseason, and only picked up one main addition during free agency: Condra.

Taking both of those factors into account, this season has slightly favored the 5-2-1 Lightning over the 4-3-0 Blackhawks.  Currently, Tampa Bay sits second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference compared to Chicago‘s sixth position in the Western Conference that fails to qualify them for the playoffs due to their deep division.

Some players to keep an eye on in this game include Chicago‘s Patrick Kane (10 points [tied for second in the league] and five goals [tied for third in the league]) & Artemi Panarin (six assists [tied for fifth in the league]) and Tampa Bay‘s Ben Bishop (four wins [tied for fourth in the league]) & Anton Stralman (+6 Corsi rating [tied for sixth in the league]).

Although the United Center will be rowdy tonight, I believe that the Lightning are capable of pulling off the upset.  Bishop will have a few days of rest, and the rest of the team will be looking for revenge against the team that defeated them.

Should be an excellent game.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #13- Torts, Goalies, and Other Essentials

The Down the Frozen River Crew talks about the latest in league standings, Winners and Losers, more surprises, other things, and makes several plugs for themselves. Also, Antti Raanta’s only played in 1 game (0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%), which is not considered by the NHL.com stats page to be leading the league in goalie stats, so you lucked out this time, Reto Berra.

Connor didn’t butcher any names, although he did talk about a keg in a machine instead of a cog… wonder what’s on his mind. Oh and Colby may or may have not spilled the beans on our next marketing campaign. Nick, as usual, did Nick things.

Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter– your thoughts might make it on our show! Please interact with us- seriously, tell us we’re idiots if you want, we can take it.