January 16 – Day 98 – It’s another homecoming for an ex-Shark

Second Star of the Game Bo Horvat loves to play the Carolina Hurricanes.  When they played in Vancouver last week, he had two goals, including the game-winner.

Guess what he did tonight?

Just notch two goals, including the overtime game-winner to secure the Canucks‘ 3-2 victory.

The story was more than Horvat though.  Linden Vey scored his first goal of the season after 13:14 of play to give Vancouver the lead, but Third Star Kris Versteeg was able to level the score with 1:33 remaining before intermission with a power play goal, assisted by Jaccob Slavin and Jordan Staal (his 12th assist of the season).  The one-all tie held into the second period.

Horvat scored his first goal of the night 9:32 after resuming play, assisted by Taylor Fedun and Matt Bartkowski (his ninth helper of the season) to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead that would hold into the second intermission.

Vancouver was beginning to feel certain about their victory, but John-Michael Liles had other ideas.  After assists from Andrej Nestrasil and Victor Rask (his 17th helper of the season), he leveled the score at two-all, which held to the end of regulation, forcing the three-on-three overtime period.

Horvat waited 3:25 before scoring his winner, assisted by Radim Vrbata (his 10th assist of the season) and Christopher Tanev.

First Star of the Game Jacob Markstrom improves his record to 7-5-4 after saving 38 of 40 (95%), while Cam Ward’s record falls to 14-11-5 after saving 19 of 22 (86.4%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 40-19-9, favoring the home squads by 28 points over the road teams.

For a Friday night, the schedule was relatively light with only six games.  Don’t worry though, the NHL has our back, as there’s a solid 10 on deck today.  The action gets started at 1 p.m. eastern when the New York Rangers visit Philadelphia (SN), followed an hour later by New Jersey at Arizona.  The final matinee begins at 4 p.m. eastern when Ottawa visits Los Angeles.  Four games drop the puck at the normal starting time of 7 p.m. eastern (Toronto at Boston [CBC], Washington at Buffalo [BELL TV], Colorado at Columbus and Montréal at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS/SN]), followed an hour later by Minnesota at Nashville.  10 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of Calgary at Edmonton (CBC/SN), followed half an hour later by Dallas at San Jose, this evening’s nightcap.

Four of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (New York at Philadelphia, Toronto at Boston, Minnesota at Nashville and Calgary at Edmonton), while two other matchups represent meetings of teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Montréal at St. Louis and Dallas at San Jose).

The game that strikes me most is the DallasSan Jose matchup, and it’s not just because of how both teams are doing this season.  The Sharks have already welcomed Todd McLellan back to The Tank this week, so what hurts seeing another old friend?  How about the goaltender for most of McLellan’s tenure, Antti Niemi?

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Tonight’s game will be Dallas‘ sixth appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 4-0-1 record.  Their most recent showing in the series was the day after Christmas, a 3-2 shootout loss in St. Louis.  San Jose has been featured much more recently, as they beat the Oilers 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday to improve their series record to 2-2-0.

Niemi spent a total of five seasons in San Jose before having his signing rights traded to Dallas this offseason.  With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, he was always good for 60+ games and 31+ wins per season, with his best being his 39-17-7 2013-’14 campaign, when he 91.3% for 149 goals against.

Excluding last season, Niemi’s Sharks always qualified for the playoffs, with his best performance certainly being the 2012-’13 where he saved 93% of the shots that came his way.

So far this season, Niemi has helped to lead his 29-11-4 Dallas Stars to second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.

Measured by goals scored, Dallas is the best offense in the NHL this season.  Led by Tyler Seguin’s 166 shots, the Stars have fired the puck 1419 times this season, of which 10.4% have found the back of the net for 147 tallies, led by Jamie Benn’s 25 tallies.  Special teams have certainly contributed to that success, as Dallas scores on 22.46% for 31 power play goals (led by Benn’s 11).  The biggest problem for the power play has actually been the defense, which has given up five short-handed goals so far this season.

Niemi was an excellent add for this team,  as the Stars‘ defense is not exactly anything spectacular.  Even with Johnny Oduya’s team-leading 93 blocks, Dallas has allowed 1279 shots to reach 16-8-4 Niemi and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.2% for 114 goals against, 13th-most in the league.  The defense does clamp down when facing the power play, as they’ve killed 81.25% for only 24 power play goals against.  What improves this special teams unit is their six shorties this season.

Dallas is currently riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 4-2 loss in Anaheim last night.  A Stars win tonight puts them back the division and conference lead, as they win the games played-tiebreaker over Chicago.

The 22-18-2 San Jose Sharks are currently in third place in the Pacific Division and eighth in the Western Conference.  Similar to Dallas, the Sharks play a more offensive game, but they are backed by a stronger defense than tonight’s opposition.  You can read more about the Sharks‘ play here.

San Jose is currently riding a four-game win streak, with their most recent being the 2-1 shootout victory over the Oilers on Thursday.  A Sharks victory this evening increases their lead over Vancouver for the third division spot to two points, while a loss loses one of San Jose‘s three games in hand over rival Canucks.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Dallas‘ Benn (53 points [second-most in the league], 25 goals [third-most in the league], 28 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league] and +17 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), John Klingberg (32 assists [third-most in the league]), Niemi (three shutouts [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Seguin (51 points [third-most in the league], 24 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league] and 27 assists [ninth-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Martin Jones (four shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] and 19 wins [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Joe Pavelski (22 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league] and 43 points [tied for seventh-best in the league]).

Although I’m picking the Sharks to win this game tonight due to their current steak and playing on home ice, you can never count out a team like the Dallas Stars, who have aspirations of a Stanley Cup on their mind.