First Star of the Game Bo Horvat scored twice in the third period to clinch the 3-2 Vancouver victory in Yesterday’s Game of the Day against the Carolina Hurricanes.
It was actually the Canes that struck first in this one, but it wasn’t until 28:02 had ticked off the clock. It was an important score for Carolina, as Jordan Staal earned his ninth assist of the season, helping Second Star John-Michael Liles to a short-handed goal, the first of the year for the squad. Vancouver leveled the score with 2:21 remaining on the clock when Adam Cracknell and Christopher Tanev assisted Third Star Sven Baertschi, the score that held into the second intermission.
The Canucks took their first lead of the game when Matt Bartkowski (his eighth assist of the season) and Alex Biega assisted Horvat 7:15 after resuming play. Their lead was short-lived though, as Noah Hanifin assisted Staal to his eighth goal of the season to knot the score at two. The game-winner came with only 1:06 remaining on the clock, courtesy of Horvat after being assisted by Baertschi (his seventh on the season) and Linden Vey on the power play.
These Swedish goalkeepers go way back, even before their NHL days. Eddie Läck began backing up Jacob Markstrom in 2009, when both played for Brynäs IF, and continued their relationship into the NHL, as both played in the Canucks‘ system. Markstrom got the advantage in this one, saving 26 of 28 (92.9%) to improve his record to 5-5-3. Läck’s record falls to 5-7-3 after saving 18 of 21 (85.7%).
Today’s Thursday schedule is an exciting one, with eight playoff teams in action. The festivities get started at 7 p.m. eastern when Washington visits the New York Islanders (TVAS/SN360), followed half an hour later by Florida at Ottawa (RDS). Philadelphia at Minnesota (NBCSN) gets started at 8 p.m. eastern, followed 30 minutes later by Winnipeg at Dallas. 9 p.m. eastern starts the Arizona at Calgary game, and this evening’s nightcaps start an hour and a half later (Toronto at Los Angeles and Detroit at San Jose).
Four of tonight’s games are between division rivals (Washington at New York, Florida at Ottawa, Winnipeg at Dallas and Arizona at Calgary), and Washington at New York represents the only game between two playoff qualifiers in addition to being an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch.
Take all that information into account, and I challenge you to take a guess as to which game we’ll watch…
Washington has been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series sixth times before this evening, and own a 3-3-0 record under such circumstances. Their most recent showing in the series was a 7-3 victory in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers on December 20. New York has been featured only one time before, a 4-0 victory over the Devils on December 13.
The 29-7-3 Washington Capitals are currently the best team in the NHL, leading the Metropolitan Division by 12 points, the Eastern Conference by nine points, and the league by a lone point. Almost every facet of their game works to a t, as they lead the league in goals against and are second in goals for.
Good defenses keep the puck off their goalie as much as possible, and that is exactly what the Caps are doing. Thanks in part to Karl Alzner’s 103 blocks, they’ve allowed only 1105 shots to reach 25-4-2 Braden Holtby and co., who’ve collectively saved 92.9% (leads the league average by 1.3%) for only 84 goals against, 21 below the league average and tops in the NHL. Washington‘s been even better on the penalty kill, where they’ve saved 84.21% of the 114 attempts they’ve defended (3.51% above the league average), allowing only 18 goals.
Another thing good defenses do is get the puck to their forwards, and these forwards are some of the best in the business as well. Led by Alex Ovechkin’s 192 shots, the Capitals have put the puck on net 1183 times, of which 10.3% have found the back of the net for 122 tallies (led by Ovechkin’s 21). They’ve been especially potent on the power play, scoring on 25.83% of their attempts for 31 goals (led by Ovechkin’s seven).
The Caps‘ most recent showing was a 3-2 victory in Boston on Tuesday.
The 22-13-5 New York Islanders currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference. Similar to Washington, the Isles play a very balanced game, but New York slightly favors the offensive end.
So far this season, New York has put 1191 shots on net (led by John Tavares’ 113), of which 9.2% have turned into goals for 110 tallies (led by Tavares’ 15), eighth-most in the league. Probably the biggest deficiency in the offense has been their power play. On 112 attempts, the Isles have scored 21 goals (led by Frans Nielsen’s four) for a 18.75% success rate that trails the league average by .55%.
What makes this Islanders team good is that the offense isn’t playing this well to overcome defensive or goaltending struggles. Although Calvin de Haan has 100 blocks to his credit, 1210 shots have still made their way to 12-6-2 Thomas Greiss and co., who have collectively saved 92.5% for only 97 goals against. And even though one special team has been struggling doesn’t mean that the other is. New York‘s penalty kill is great, killing 85.59% of 118 attempts for only 17 goals against.
The Isles‘ most recent game was a 6-5 victory over the Stars on Sunday.
Some players to watch in tonight’s game include New York‘s Greiss (.928 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) or Jaroslav Halak (2.09 GAA [seventh-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (25 wins [best in the league], 1.93 GAA [second-best in the league] and .932 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+18 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (21 goals [fifth-best in the league] and +15 [tenth-best in the league]).
Last season, these squads met in the first round of the playoffs, with Washington needing all seven games to knock off the Islanders. Both teams seem to have improved since then, making this game and the season-series all the better to watch.
It doesn’t matter where they play, it is tough to pick against Washington. The Islanders and their fans will put up a good fight, especially given how the playoffs went last year, but I think the Capitals can get out of the Barclays Center with two points.