February 6 – Day 114 – Playoff preview?

Pittsburgh‘s Floridian road trip got a poor spot, as they dropped yesterday’s Game of the Day against Tampa Bay 6-3.

That being said, it was actually the Penguins that got the first goal of the game.  It was a Patric Hornqvist wrister off assists from Chris Kunitz (his 13th helper of the season) and Derrick Pouliot after 4:53 of play.  The one-goal shutout held exactly 6:57 before Anton Stralman leveled the game with a wrister of his own, assisted by First Star of the Game Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn (his 16th helper of the season).  Tampa took the lead with 1:26 remaining in the period when Killorn earned a tip-in, assisted by Johnson and Nikita Kucherov (his 23rd helper of the season).  The 2-1 score held into the intermission.

Only 6:04 after resuming play, Second Star Ondrej Palat earned the Bolts their third goal with a wrister, assisted by Third Star Steven Stamkos.  Pittsburgh got back within a goal exactly two minutes later when Sidney Crosby scored his 21st of the season off assists from Kunitz and Hornqvist, but the Lightning regained their advantage 1:11 later when Johnson snapped a goal after assists from Kucherov and Victor Hedman (his 25th helper of the season).  The 4-2 lead held into the final period.

Only 55 seconds after returning to the ice, the Pens got back within a goal when Matt Cullen fired a snap shot off the assist from Phil Kessel (his 18th of the season), but it would be the last for Pittsburgh.  At the 15:55 mark, Palat scored his second of the night after assists from Stamkos (his 19th helper of the season) and Vladislav Namestnikov, followed 2:01 by Ryan Callahan earning his 10th assist of the season by helping Anton Stralman to the final goal of the game, setting the score at the 6-3 final.

Ben Bishop earns the win by saving 27 of 30 (90%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss, saving only 10 of 14 (71.4%).  He was pulled after Johnson’s eventual game winner in the second period and replaced by Jeff Zatkoff, who saved 13 of 14 (92.9%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 51-24-9, favoring the home squad by 38 points, due in part to the home teams winning the last three games.

As with most Saturdays, this one is a busy one.  The action gets started at 1 p.m. eastern with two games (Washington at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Philadelphia [NHLN]), with two more starting an hour later (Edmonton at Montréal and the New York Islanders at Detroit).  Three games get started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa and Pittsburgh at Florida), with three more starting 60 minutes later (Minnesota at St. Louis, San Jose at Nashville and Chicago at Dallas [NHLN]).  Finally, the co-nightcaps drop the puck at 10 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Vancouver and Winnipeg at Colorado).

Eight of today’s games are divisional (Washington at New Jersey, New York at Philadelphia, Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa, Minnesota at St. Louis, Chicago at Dallas, Calgary at Vancouver and Winnipeg at Colorado), and four are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Washington at New Jersey, New York at Detroit, San Jose at Nashville and Chicago at Dallas).  Two of today’s games are also rematches of last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinals: MinnesotaSt. Louis and CalgaryVancouver.

I know the last three games have all been in the Eastern Conference, but the WashingtonNew Jersey game could be a preview of a first round matchup for this postseason, so we have to keep an eye on that.

Washington Capitals LogoNew Jersey Devils Logo

 

 

 

 

Today’s game will be Washington‘s 11th in the DtFR Game of the Day Series, where they own a 7-3-0 record.  Their most recent was just this last Thursday, a 3-2 victory over the Islanders.  New Jersey has not seen time in the series since January 8 when they hosted Boston, but lost 4-1.  That game, their third in the series, set their record at 1-2-0 in such games.

The 36-9-4 Washington Capitals are currently the best team in the NHL.  They lead the Central Division by 15 points over the New York Rangers, nine points over Florida and two points over Chicago.  In addition to playing the best defense in the league (as measured by goals against), they also have the second-best offense.  A more detailed account of their play may be found in Thursday’s Game of the Day.

Washington‘s most recent game was that victory over the Isles.  Turning that lone win into a streak with this evening’s game has the potential to expand the Caps‘ lead over the Blackhawks in the Presidents’ Trophy race to four points.

The 26-20-6 New Jersey Devils currently sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough to qualify them for the second and final Eastern Conference wildcard position.  They’ve given up the sixth-fewest goals in the league, but the offense has been brutal to watch, scoring the third-fewest tallies.

Thanks in part to Adam Larsson’s 93 blocks, the Devils have allowed only 1489 shots to reach 23-15-5 Cory Schneider and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.5% for 118 goals against (sixth-fewest in the league).  Although the defense as a whole has been strong, the penalty kill has not been much more than average.  It is the 11th-best in the league, killing 81.82% for 30 extra-man goals against.

The offense has been nothing to write home about.  Even with Kyle Palmieri’s 127 attempts, the Devils have only fired 1268 shots so far this season, of which a solid 9.2% have found the back of the net (led by Palmieri’s 20 tallies).  The offense has been led by the 10th-best power play in the league, successful on 19.39% of attempts for 32 extra-man goals (led by Palmieri’s seven).  There is one major downfall of the power play though, and that’s short-handed goals – the Devils have given up seven so far this season, three more than the league average.

Jersey lost a 3-2 shootout in Toronto on Thursday, and would probably be very interested in keeping it from becoming a losing skid.  A win this afternoon has the potential to move them into the first wildcard spot, which they would certainly appreciate to get as far away from the Capitals in the playoffs as possible.

These teams have only met once this season, with Washington winning 5-3 at the Verizon Center.  After today’s game, they will play one more time during the regular season, two weeks from today.  Should the standings hold as they stand before play today, this will be an  Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

Some players to watch in today’s game includes New Jersey‘s Schneider (2.03 GAA [third-best in the league], four shutouts [tied for third-most in the league], .929 save percentage [sixth-best in the league] and 23 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (+18 [10th-best in the league]), Braden Holtby (31 wins [most in the league], 2.07 GAA [fifth-best in the league] and .928 save percentage [seventh-best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+25 [best in the league], 36 assists [third-most in the league] and 51 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (29 goals [second-most in the league] and +21 [sixth-best in the league]).

Although the Devils do have the advantage of playing at home, I do not think it will be enough to stop the incredible Caps.  Expect Washington to continue their trek to the Stanley Cup Finals.

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