January 21 – Day 103 – Rematch, Pt. II

In yesterday’s Game of the Day, the Colorado Avalanche spoiled Jamie McGinn and Ryan O’Reilly’s return to the Pepsi Center, beating the Sabres 2-1.

It was actually the Sabres who scored the opening goal of the game, but it did not occur until 36:38 had ticked off the clock.  It was a power play goal, courtesy of an Evander Kane wrister, who was assisted by Jack Eichel and O’Reilly (his 23rd helper of the season).  Buffalo‘s one-goal lead held into the second intermission.

The Avalanche leveled the game at the 9:23 mark of the third, courtesy of an Second Star of the Game Alex Tanguay backhander, assisted by Carl Soderberg (his 24th helper of the season) and First Star Francois Beauchemin.  Tanguay returned the favor with only 32 seconds remaining in the game with his 15th assist of the season, this one to Beauchemin, who banged home the game-winner.

Third Star Semyon Varlamov improves his record to 17-12-3 after saving 27 of 28 (96.4%), while Robin Lehner’s record falls to 0-2-0 after saving 33 of 35 (94.3%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 44-20-9, favoring the home squad by 33 points over the roadies.

A light Wednesday gives way to a busy Thursday, with 10 games taking place.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern with four games dropping the opening puck (Vancouver at Boston [SN360], Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS], Philadelphia at Pittsburgh and Calgary at Columbus), followed half an hour later by two more (Carolina at Toronto and Chicago at Tampa Bay [TVAS]).  Nashville at Winnipeg gets started at 8 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by Edmonton at Dallas.  9 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of San Jose at Arizona, and this evening’s nightcap, Minnesota at Los Angeles (SN), gets started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Three of tonight’s games are between division rivals (Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Nashville at Winnipeg and San Jose at Arizona), while three/four are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Chicago at Tampa Bay, San Jose at Arizona and Minnesota at Los Angeles).

Tonight’s selection poses a tough choice for our Game of the Day, as you know I try to favor players returning to their old stomping grounds and last year’s playoff matchups.  Matt Bartkowski is making his first appearance in the TD Garden wearing a white sweater after spending the last five seasons with the Bruins, and Jarret Stoll’s return is even bigger as measured by seasons spent with a team, as he played seven seasons with Los Angeles before joining the Wild earlier this month.  Lastly, Chicago at Tampa Bay is a rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Finals.

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No team has been featured more in the DtFR Game of the Day series than the Chicago Blackhawks, as tonight is their 14th appearance.  They own a 8-4-1 record in such games, with their most recent being a 3-2 victory over the Predators in the United Center on January 12.  The Tampa Bay Lightning have been featured five times before this game, and own a 2-2-1 record in the series.  Their most recent showing in the series was a 5-2 loss to the Rangers the day before New Year’s Eve.

The 32-13-4 Chicago Blackhawks are the hottest team in the NHL right now, made evident by their position at the top of the Western Conference standings.  The play one of the top offenses in the league, with their defense only steps behind.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 177 shots, the Hawks have fired a whopping 1523 shots so far this season, with 9.4% finding the back of the net for 143 goals (led by Kane’s 30 tallies), third-most in the league.  Just like the offense as a whole, the power play has been nothing short of exemplary, scoring on 23.3% of opportunities for 33 goals, led by Kane’s 14 man-advantage goals.

It’s almost a shame Chicago‘s offense has been so good this season, because it casts shadows on their defense.  Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 97 blocks, Chicago has allowed 1488 shots to reach 27-10-2 Corey Crawford and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.7% for only 111 goals against, sixth-fewest in the league.  The biggest hole in the Blackhawks‘ defense is the penalty kill, but Bolts fans shouldn’t be too excited – it’s still above average, completing the kill 82.09% of the time for only 24 goals against.  The penalty kill also has four goals of their own, one more than the league average.

Chicago has won their last 12 games, and has yet to lose this calendar year.  Their most recent game was a 4-1 win in Nashville on Tuesday.  A win tonight gets Chicago within three points of the league-leading Washington Capitals (73 points), although the Caps still have four games in hand.

The 25-17-4 Tampa Bay Lightning obviously made some New Year’s resolutions, as their 2016 surge has paid off with not only a playoff position, but a divisional spot.  They’ve used a top-10 defense to get them back in the playoff picture, and their offense is not far behind.

Thanks in part to Victor Hedman’s 76 blocks, the Bolts have only allowed 1291 shots to reach 18-13-3 Ben Bishop and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 108 goals against, sixth-fewest in the league.  Similar to Chicago, Tampa‘s most glaring defensive deficiency has been their penalty kill, but their’s is slightly below the league average, killing 80.43% for 27 goals against.

Tampa Bay has fired 1318 shots this season (led by Steven Stamkos’ 135 attempts), of which 9.3% have found the back of the net for 123 tallies (led by Stamkos’ 20 goals).  The power play has been below average, scoring on only 17.95% for 28 goals (led by Stamkos’ nine extra-man tallies).

Tampa is also streaking, as they’ve won six-straight.  Their most recent showing was a 6-4 victory over the Oilers on Tuesday.  A Bolts win tonight puts them within a point of the division-leading Panthers.

We all know how last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, but these two have met more recently then that.  It was October 24 when Tampa traveled to the Windy City, and both played an entire 60 minutes without a goal.  Jonathan Toews was responsible for the game-winner, but a scoreless regulation game screams of an exciting, defensive game.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game includes Chicago‘s Crawford (six shutouts [best in the league], 27 wins [second-most in the league] and .931 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Kane (71 points [most in the league], 41 assists [most in the league], 30 goals [most in the league] and +24 [third-best in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (45 points [tied for eighth-most in the league] and 29 assists [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Bishop (1.97 GAA [second-best in the league], .927 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the league] and 18 wins [tied for ninth-best in the league]) and Stamkos (20 goals [tied for ninth-best in the league]).

I predict this to be another great game between these two squads, but I do believe that Chicago will get out of The Big Guava with two points.