December 12 – Day 66 – The Return of Smith and Savard

The insurance goal in a 2-0 shutout may not always be the most important goal, but it was last night when Chicago beat Winnipeg in the United Center.

The winning goal was scored quickly, when First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews, assisted by Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw, scored at the 4:34 mark on their first power play opportunity of the contest.

The aforementioned insurance goal did not come until the 10:36 mark of the second period on another Winnipeg penalty.  Teuvo Teravainen and David Rundblad assisted, you guessed it, Second Star Patrick Kane to his 25th-straight point.  This point tied him with Sidney Crosby’s own 25-point streak during the 2010-’11 season.

Second Star Corey Crawford (14-7-2) earned his third shutout and 14th win of the season by saving all 25 shots faced, while Connor Hellebuyck (4-1-0) earned the first loss of his career by saving 29 of 31 (93.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 21-9-5, favoring the home squad by 17 points.

Per usual, today’s Saturday schedule is a busy one, with 20 teams in action.  The action gets started early in the TD Garden when Boston hosts Florida at 1 p.m. eastern (SN1).  Four games are getting started at the typical 7 p.m. eastern (Los Angeles at Buffalo [Bell TV], Ottawa at Montréal [CBC/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay [NHLN] and the New York Islanders at Columbus).  The next games don’t get started until an hour later at 8 p.m. eastern (Dallas at St. Louis and Colorado at Nashville), followed an hour later by Carolina at Arizona.  The New York Rangers and Calgary drop the puck at 10 p.m. eastern (CBC), with the final game of the evening, Minnesota at San Jose, getting started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Five of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Florida at Boston, Ottawa at Montréal, New York at Columbus, Dallas at St. Louis and Colorado at Nashville), and three are between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Ottawa at Montréal, Dallas at St. Louis and Minnesota at San Jose).

Today marks the first game back in the TD Garden for Reilly Smith, so let’s head to Boston for their afternoon matinee with the B’s.

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The Boston Bruins traded Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers this off-season in exchange for Jimmy Hayes.  During his two seasons in Boston, he was a consistent offensive threat as he ranked top-five in goals and top-six in assists in both campaigns.  He was especially important in Boston‘s special teams unit as well, as he notched a total of 18 power play assists, including 10 last season.

So far this season, Smith ranks first in power play goals (three); third in goals (seven); fourth in shots (55); fifth in points (14); and sixth in assists (seven), +/- (+1) and hits (40), and has been an integral addition to a Panther squad that has intentions of playing hockey instead of golf this April.

Maybe more significant than Smith returning to the Garden this afternoon is not so much his presence, but the presence of a man he also represents.  Smith was not the only contract that Florida has taken on – they are also currently paying Marc Savard’s salary.  Savard hasn’t stepped foot on the ice since the 2010-’11 Stanley Cup Championship season, and it is almost 100% certain that he never will again due to post-concussion syndrome.

During his playing days in Boston, he played a total of 304 games, scoring 74 goals (25 in 2008-’09) and 231 assists (74 in 2006-’07) for 305 total points (96 in ’06-’07).  Just like Smith, he represented a strong force on Boston‘s power play team as he notched a total of 29 goals (10 in ’06-’07) and 102 assists (39 in ’06-’07).

Currently, Florida sits outside the playoff picture, trailing Boston by only a lone point for the second wild card spot.  They play a strong defensive game with a resurgent Roberto Luongo in net.

Luongo (10-10-3) and co. have only given up 70 goals so far this season, a total that trails the league average by seven tallies.  Especially impressive about this is that 866 shots have found their way to goal, which exceeds the league average of 849, and the goalies have combined for a 92.4% save percentage.

Offensively, the Panthers have notched a total of 72 tallies on 824 shots (8.7%), led by Jaromir Jagr’s nine goals.

The opposition will test that defense, as they like to play a very strong offensive game.  So far this season, the Boston Bruins have scored 87 goals, led by Brad Marchand’s 13 tallies.  What’s most impressive about this high number is they are doing it on much fewer shots, made evident by the strong 10.7% shooting percentage.

Especially potent has been the Bruins‘ power play.  A total of 23 goals have been scored with the man-advantage (led by Loui Eriksson’s six tallies).  While that 23 is good, it’s made even better when it’s presented next to the lowly 77 penalties committed against the Bruins.  For those of you not doing that math, the Bruins are scoring on 29.87% of their power play opportunities.  The Panthers would be very wise to avoid the box at all costs.

Defensively, the Bruins are still a force to be reckoned with.  Although the defense and Tuukka Rask (10-7-3) started slowly this year, they’ve given up only 75 goals so far this season.  The 783 shots that Torey Krug doesn’t block (47 so far this season) have been saved 90.9% of the time.

The biggest shortcoming of this defense has been their penalty killing abilities.  Boston has given teams 103 opportunities, and has been scored on 22 times.  That 78.64% kill rate needs to improve if Boston wants to get out of a wild card position and as far away as possible from their division-leading rivals.

Some players to keep an eye on in today’s game include Boston‘s Rask (three shutouts [tied for second in the league]) and Florida‘s Aaron Ekblad (80 shots, +7, and two game-winners [all lead team])

I think Boston‘s offense will be too much to handle for Florida‘s defense, so I predict that the Bruins will have the potential to move into the third division spot should Montréal beat Ottawa this evening.