December 19 – Day 73 – Texas-sized showdown

Yesterday’s Game of the Day saved all the action for the final period, as Ottawa scored three goals in the final 11:38 to secure the 4-2 victory over San Jose.

The Sharks struck first, but not until the beginning of the second period.  Ottawa‘s Mark Stone was still serving time in the sin bin from a first period penalty when Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski assisted Joe Thornton to a power play goal at the 29 second mark.  San Jose‘s lead held only 4:17 though, as Third Star of the Game Bobby Ryan scored his 11th tally of the year to level the game at one-all, which held into the second intermission.

Things really started heating up in the third.  Ottawa broke the tie at the 8:22 mark when Dave Dziurzynski and Cody Ceci assisted Jean-Gabriel Pageau to his ninth of the season.  The eventual game-winner came from First Star Chris Wideman at the 13:06 mark, assisted by Curtis Lazar and Shane Prince.  The Senators‘ onslaught continued 2:45 later, when Second Star Erik Kalrsson set the score at 4-1, assisted by Mike Hoffman and Ryan.  The Sharks tried to mount a comeback with a goal at the 17:36 mark, courtesy of Burns, but it was too little too late.

15-9-3 Craig Anderson earns the win after saving 31 of 33 (93.9%), while Alex Stalock’s record falls to 2-5-0 after saving 31 of 35 (88.6%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 27-10-6, favoring the home squad by 26 points.

Today’s schedule consists of 10 games, with the action getting started at 1 p.m. eastern when Buffalo hosts Chicago (SN).  The other matinee game gets begins at 3 p.m. eastern when Calgary visits St. Louis.  The evening’s action gets started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern with five matchups (Los Angeles at Toronto [CBC], Anaheim at New Jersey, Carolina at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia at Columbus and Montréal at Dallas [NHLN/TVAS]), followed an hour later by Minnesota at Nashville.  The New York Islanders visit Arizona at 9 p.m. eastern, trailed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap: Edmonton at Colorado (CBC).

Three of tonight’s games feature divisional rivalries (Carolina at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia at Columbus and Minnesota at Nashville), and a total of three are between current playoff qualifiers (Calgary at St. Louis, Montréal at Dallas and Minnesota at Nashville).  Since most throughout North America should be able to watch two division leaders square-off, let’s focus in on the American Airlines Center.

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So far this season, Montréal is a perfect 5-0-0 when being featured in the Game of the Day series, but they aren’t the only ones unblemished – Dallas is also undefeated, but has only played in two games.

The Canadiens enter tonight’s game riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent game occurring Thursday against the Kings, who beat them 3-0.  Don’t let that shutout give you the wrong impression, though.  The Habs play a strong game on both ends of the ice, but they are particularly deadly when they have the puck on their stick, which has led them to first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.

Montréal has put 1048 shots on goal this season (led by Captain Max Pacioretty’s 138), well above the season average with only one more game played than most.  Exactly 100 of those attempts have found the back of the net (9.5%), 16 more than the league average (led by Pacioretty’s 14).  While not an extreme strong suit of the Canadiens‘, their power play is still a force to be reckoned with.  On 113 opportunities, they’ve scored 22 times.  While the 19.47% success rate is impressive, what should be more alarming for the Stars is earning 113 opportunities.  If Dallas wants to win, it will be necessary to not give Montréal these easier opportunities.

Even when defending, the Canadiens have still been one of the best in the league.  10-2-0 Mike Condon and the defense have only allowed 75 goals so far this season.  While this is an impressive number (it trails the league average by nine), it has come on only 908 shots.  The reason backup Condon has found success has not entirely been his quality play, but also that his defense, particularly Tom Gilbert and his 58 blocks, have stepped up to lighten his workload.

One of the better penalty kills in the league will be on display this evening in the Habs.  On 107 opposing opportunities, they’ve allowed only 14 tallies – that 86.92% kill rate leads the league average by 5.78%.

Montréal is good, but they are going up against what is currently the best team in the NHL in the Dallas Stars.  Similar to Montréal, Dallas employs solid play on both ends of the ice, but definitely prefers to play offense.  Their most recent showing was a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Flames on Thursday.

Per the usual, more shots usually equals more goals.  It’s no different in the Lone Star State, where Dallas has put the puck on net 1035 times so far this season, led by Tyler Seguin’s 130, for a league-leading 107 tallies (led by Captain Jamie Benn’s 20).  Especially potent for the Stars has been their power play.  They’ve scored 22 goals (led by Benn’s eight) on 102 opportunities, for a 21.57% success rate that leads the league average by 2.71%.

Defensively, the Stars haven’t been as strong as Montréal.  So far this year, 12-5-2 Antti Niemi and co. have given up 82 goals on 915 shots.  Fortunately for Niemi, who’s 90.9% save rate isn’t exactly on par with most of the league, Johnny Oduya’s team leading 67 blocks has done wonders to keep his workload as light as possible.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Dallas‘ Benn (20 goals [tied for the league lead], 41 points [third in the league], 21 assists [tied for seventh in the league] and +13 [tenth in the league]), Jason Demers (+14 [tied for sixth in the league]), John Klingberg (26 assists [third in the league]) and Seguin (42 points [second in the league], 25 assists [fourth in the league] and 17 goals [tied for fourth in the league]) & Montréal‘s Alexei Emelin (91 hits [leads team]), Pacioretty (138 shots and 14 goals [both lead team]), Tomas Plekanec (27 points [leads team]) and P.K. Subban (21 assists and +9 [both lead team]).

This should be an exciting matchup, probably one of the best we’ve had in the series in a while.  Although they are slumping and on the road, I’m picking Montréal based on their stronger defense and emotionally using this game against a tough opponent to rejuvenate their squad.

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