January 18 – Day 100 – Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (and the 100th day of NHL play!)

With yesterday’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals clinch the season series at 3-1-0 with a lone game remaining.

It was actually the Blueshirts who scored the opening goal, as Chris Kreider fired a goal after Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello both notched their 17th helpers of the season.  The Caps waited until only 1:59 remained in the first period to level the score, as Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal after assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov.  The one-all tie held into the intermission.

The Caps struck only 7:18 after resuming play with another power play goal, this one from Marcus Johansson, with assists from Nicklas Backstrom (his 29th helper of the season) and Matt Niskanen, earning them a lead they would not give up.  Only 1:02 later, First Star of the Game Justin Williams scored his first of three goals on the afternoon, assisted by Third Star Taylor Chorney and Andre Burakovsky (his 11th helper of the season).  Second Star Chris Kreider tried to stage a Rangers comeback with 2:32 remaining in the second after assists from Rick Nash (his 19th helper of the season) and Derek Stepan, but New York was not able to score another goal in the contest.  The 3-2 lead held into the third.

Williams scored goal no. two 4:51 after resuming play, assisted by Kuznetsov (his 28th helper of the season) and Burakovsky.  He completed the hat trick at the 18:09 mark after an assist from Kuznetsov, setting the score at the 5-2 final.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 42-19-9, favoring the home squad by 31 points.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the NHL is putting on five games.  The action gets started at 7:30 p.m. eastern when Edmonton visits Florida, followed half an hour later by two more (Pittsburgh at St. Louis [NBCSN/TVAS] and Colorado at Winnipeg).  9 p.m. eastern brings with it the opening puck drop of Buffalo at Arizona (BELL TV), followed by this evening’s nightcap, Ottawa at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. eastern (RDS).

Colorado at Winnipeg represents the only divisional matchup of the night, and there are no games between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

The game I’m most interested by is the Pittsburgh at St. Louis, and it’s not only because I like both of these teams.  Pittsburgh has the opportunity to move ahead of Montréal for the second wild card position with a win, but it will be against a Blues team led by one of the best goal scorers in the league.

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknown-1

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s game will be Pittsburgh‘s seventh in the Game of the Day series, with their most recent appearance being a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blackhawks on January 5.  They own a 3-2-1 record when the focus of our attention.  St. Louis has been featured in the series seven times before tonight, and own a 4-3-0 record in such games.  Their most recent showing in such games was a 3-1 loss on New Year’s Eve to the Wild.

The 21-16-7 Pittsburgh Penguins currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, but have opportunity to move into eighth with anything better than a loss this evening.  To do so, they will lean on a top-10 defense as measured by goals against.

Thanks in part to Ian Cole’s team-leading 78 blocks, the Pens have limited the opposition to 1344 shots against, of which 15-11-5 Marc-Andre Fleury and co. have saved 92.5% for only 105 goals against, seventh-fewest in the NHL.  The Pens have been especially strong on the penalty kill, where they’ve killed 83.92% for only 23 goals against.

The defense has needed to be good to cover up for issues on the offensive end.  Although the squad has 1376 shots to their credit (led by Patric Hornqvist’s 136 shots), only 7.4% have found the back of the net for 102 goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 19 tallies), fourth-fewest in the league.  Although the offense as a whole has been very poor, the power play has only been slightly below average, as they’ve scored on 18.88% for 27 goals (led by Malkin’s nine tallies).

Pittsburgh‘s most recent game was a five-goal shutout victory over the Hurricanes yesterday.

The 26-15-7 St. Louis Blues currently sit in third place in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.  The Blues pair a slightly above-average offense with a slightly-below defense, measured by goals scored/against, respectively.

The Blues have fired a strong 1447 shots so far this season (led by Vladimir Tarasenko’s 168), but only 8.2% have found the back of the net for 118 goals (led by Tarasenko’s 24 tallies), 12th-most in the league.  The real potency of St. Louis‘ offense has been the power play, where they’ve scored 20.74% for 28 power play goals (led by Tarasenko’s eight tallies).

Even with Alex Pietrangelo’s 87 blocks, the Notes have allowed 1406 shots to reach 18-10-3 Jake Allen and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.2% for 119 goals against, 14th-most in the league.  The Blues definitely clamp down on the penalty kill, where they’ve killed 85.53% for only 23 goals against.

St. Louis‘ most recent game played was a 4-3 win over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Some players to watch include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (three shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Malkin (43 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Olli Maatta (+17 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (five shutouts [second-most in the league] and 18 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (45 points [fifth-most in the league] and 24 goals [fifth-most in the league]).

Since they are playing at home, I think the more balanced game will prevail in this one.  Don’t plan on the Pens joining the playoff picture, as I’m picking the Blues to earn the victory.

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