January 2 – Day 84 – Rangers in the Magic City

The Boston Bruins didn’t seem to show up until the final period of the Winter Classic, and the Montréal Canadiens took advantage to claim a 5-1 victory in Foxboro, Mass.

Only one goal was scored in the first period, and it occurred in the second minute of play.  Assisted by Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin, David Desharnais scored a wrister to give the Habs a one-goal lead, but the real story of the first period was Montréal‘s commanding defense (or Boston‘s poor offense, depending on how you want to look at it).  Montréal owned the shots statistic by 11, as they held Boston to only three.

Just like the first period, the Habs owned the second period as well.  They scored their first of two goals of the period at the two-minute mark, when Brian Flynn and Mark Barberio (his first helper of the season) assisted Paul Byron to a wrister, the game-winner.  Montréal‘s third goal came with 2:40 remaining in the period when Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec assisted First Star of the Game Brendan Gallagher to a wrister of his own.

The Bruins gave their fans a ray of hope with a goal after 3:56, when Adam McQuaid and Ryan Spooner assisted Third Star Matt Beleskey, setting the score at 3-1.  That optimism was short-lived though, as Gallagher and Plekanec assisted Pacioretty to a goal only 4:53 later to regain the three-goal lead.  The final goal of the game was courtesy of Byron with 1:32 remaining in the game, assisted by P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu.

Second Star Mike Condon, a Mass. native, improves his record to 11-9-3 after saving 27 of 28 (96.4%), while Tuukka Rask’s record falls to 14-10-3 after saving only 25 of 30 (83.3%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 32-16-6, favoring the home squad by 22 points.

Today’s Saturday schedule is a busy one, as there are a total of 12 games taking place.  The three matinee games gets started at 1 p.m. eastern when Detroit visits Buffalo (BELL TV), followed at 4 p.m. eastern by the remaining two (Arizona at Edmonton and Philadelphia at Los Angeles).  Beginning at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern is seven total games (St. Louis at Toronto [CBC], Minnesota at Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers at Florida, Dallas at New Jersey, the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh [NHLN/TVAS/SN], Nashville at Carolina and Washington at Columbus).  After those games are complete, the final two games of the day get started at 10 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Colorado [CBC/TVAS] and Winnipeg at San Jose [SN]).

Four of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Detroit at Buffalo, Arizona at Edmonton, New York at Pittsburgh and Washington at Columbus), while two involve teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (New York at Florida and Dallas at New Jersey).  Since Florida and New York‘s records are almost identical, we’ll assume the game to be the more competitive of the two (that’s exactly how this works, right?) and focus in on Sunrise, Fla.

New York Rangers LogoUnknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

This will be New York‘s 10th time featured in the Game of the Day series, which ties them with Chicago for the most appearances this season.  They own a 6-2-1 record when being featured, with their most recent being a 5-2 victory in Tampa Bay on Wednesday.  Florida has been featured twice before today, and host a 1-1-0 record.  Their last game in the series was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Senators on December 22.

The 21-13-4 New York Rangers currently occupy third place in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.  They play a strong game on the offensive end of the ice, which you can read about here.

The Blueshirts‘ most recent showing was their 5-2 victory in Tampa Bay, which was featured as the Game of the Day on Wednesday.  You can read a quick-and-dirty recap of that game here.

The 21-12-4 Florida Panthers currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  They utilize one of the best defenses in the league, measured by goals against, to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the division.

The Panthers couple defensive pairs that have allowed only 1061 shots to reach the crease (led by Captain Willie Mitchell’s 51 blocks) with Roberto Luongo and co. who saves 92.6% of those attempts (a rate that leads the league average by 1%) for only 83 goals against.  Probably the biggest hole in the defense is their penalty kill, but even then it is technically better than average.  Florida has killed exactly 80% of opponents’ power plays, which leads the average team by .5%.

The offense has not been quite as good as the defense, due in part to not getting many shots on net.  Of their 1055 shots (led by Aaron Ekblad’s 93), 9.1% have found the back of the net for 96 goals.  Just like the defense, Florida‘s special teams still have room to improve, as they’ve only converted 17.83% for 23 goals (led by Aleksander Barkov’s four).

The Panthers are riding a league-leading seven-game winning streak, with their most recent a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Tuesday.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Florida‘s Luongo (16 wins [tied for sixth in the league] and .926 save percentage [ninth in the league]) and New York‘s Henrik Lundqvist (17 wins [fifth in the league]).

Especially since they are at home, I am leading towards a Florida winner.  They are the hottest team in the league right now, and I believe that their defense will be able to handle New York‘s offense.

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