November 2 – Day 27 – All defense, all the time

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the Winnipeg Jets and the Montréal Canadiens ended in a 5-1 victory for the home squad.

The Habs opened the scoring at the 6:34 mark of the first with a shorty from Third Star of the Game Paul Byron, assisted by Torrey Mitchell and Jeff Petry.  The game-winner came almost 10 minutes exactly from Second Star Tomas Fleischmann, assisted by First Star David Desharnais and Alexei Emelin.  The two-goal shutout held into the first intermission.

Thirty-five seconds after dropping the puck in the second, Fleischmann scored his second of the night, assisted by Dale Weise and Desharnais.  Two and a half minutes later, the Canadiens set the score at 4-0 with a tally from Desharnais, assisted by Fleischmann and Nathan Beaulieu.  Montréal ended their offensive onslaught at the 17:51 mark when Lars Eller, assisted by Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, fired his power play goal past Ondrej Pavelec.  The five-goal shutout held into the second intermission.

Finally, the Jets got on the board at the 13:57 mark of the final period when Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers assisted Chris Thorburn to his second goal of the season.

The Mike Condon Era (albeit only a week or so long) got off to a good start as he earned his fourth victory in as many starts by saving 18 of 19 (94.7%), while 4-1-0 Michael Hutchinson earned his first loss of the season after saving five of nine (55.6%).  Pavelec replaced him after Desharnais’ goal and saved 16 of 17 (94.1%) for no decision.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 16-7-3, still favoring the home team by 13 points.  Montréal improves to 4-0-0 when featured in our series, while Winnipeg falls to 0-1-1.

After a busy holiday weekend, there are only three games on the schedule this evening.  Beginning at 7:30 p.m. eastern at the Air Canada Centre are Dallas and Toronto (TVAS), followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Chicago (NHL Network).  The nightcap gets its start at 10 p.m. eastern when Philadelphia visits Vancouver.

None of tonight’s matchups involve divisional rivals or two teams qualifying for the playoffs, but given the expectations for the Hawks, their game against the Kings provides for an interesting game.

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After losing their first three games by a combined score of 12-2, the Los Angeles Kings have won seven straight games (their last victory a 4-3 win over the Predators on Saturday) to propel them to first place in the Pacific Division.  Their strength: the defense and goaltending.

So far this season, the Kings‘ defense has only allowed 295 shots on goal (led by Alec Martinez’ 19 blocks), a total that trails the league average by 24 attempts.  Even better is the goals against total (21) that trails the NHL average by eight tallies.  Put those numbers together, and you’ll find Jonathan Quick and his backup, 1-0-0 Jhonas Enroth, owning a 93.2% combined save percentage, exceeding the league average by 1.8%.  Even on the penalty kill, the Kings have found success.  Although their seven power play goals against is on par with the league, they’ve held that number even though they’ve faced five more man-advantages.  Their 82.93% kill rate bests the league average by 1.73%.

Los Angeles‘ offense has been working overtime to cover up their early season shortcomings, made evident by the 24 goals they’ve scored so far this season.  Center Tyler Toffoli leads the team by five tallies with nine goals to his credit.

Probably the biggest struggle for this squad has been putting shots on goal, as well as getting them into the back of the net.  They’ve only managed 305 shots so far, which trails the league average by 15 shots.  Bring into account their 7.9% shot percentage that trails the league average by 1.2%, and we find a team that, should they resolve these issues, becomes a serious threat in the Western Conference.

Turning our attention to the home side, we find a 6-5-0 team that hasn’t quite found the success yet that they’ve grown so accustomed to in seasons past.  Similar to Los Angeles, they’ve had to rely on their defense and goaltending for almost every point in the standings they’ve earned so far.  They enter the game on a two-game losing streak, their most recent a 5-4 loss in Minnesota on Friday.

Goaltender Corey Crawford (5-3-0) and his backup, 1-2-0 Scott Darling, have only allowed 24 goals this season, trailing the league average by five tallies, but they’ve received a lot of help from Niklas Hjalmarsson (24 blocks) and the Hawks‘ defense.  Because of their efforts, Crawford and co. have only faced 307 shots and saved 92.2% of them, both numbers that are better than the league average.  Even on the penalty kill, the defense has been strong.  On 30 attempts, opponents have only scored five times (two less than average), giving the Hawks a 83.33% kill rate that leads the league average by 2.13%.

The offense has only scored 24 goals this season, which trails the league average by five goals.  It has not been due to effort, though, as the offense has notched 348 shots, 28 over the league average.  But, because of that number, their 6.9% shot percentage trails the league average by 1.2%.

Although the standard offense may not be up to standard, the power play lines earn DtFR Gold Stars, as they have eight goals to their credit with a 20% power play success rate.

Last season, Chicago won two of three games against Los Angeles, but the more famous recent series occurred during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Kings beat the Hawks in seven games in the Western Conference Finals en route to the four games to one routing of the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Chicago is favored at -125 at home, but it is hard to ignore a Kings team looking for their eighth straight victory.  I think I’m picking the Hawks to win, but it should be an excellent game.

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