Brooks Laich’s return to Washington was almost a successful one, as the Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Capitals by only a score of 3-2.
Washington scored two of their three goals in the first period, all in the span of 28 seconds. Taylor Chorney’s first goal of the season was also the Caps‘ first of the night, scored at the 18:15 mark. His wrister was assisted by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 46th helper of the season). Alex Ovechkin doubled Washington‘s lead with a slap shot (his 41st tally of the season), assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie.
The lone goal of the second period pulled the Maple Leafs back within a goal, scored at the 1:37 mark courtesy of Nikita Soshnikov’s first tally of the season, assisted by Nazem Kadri (his 23rd helper) and Matt Hunwick.
Toronto leveled the score at two-all only 8:16 into the third period, courtesy of a Colin Greening snap shot, assisted by Peter Holland (his 17th helper of the season) and Connor Carrick. The Capitals‘ winner found the back of the net at the 9:31 mark when Matt Niskanen scored on the power play, assisted by Backstrom (his 43rd helper of the season) and Oshie.
Philipp Grubauer earns the win after saving 27 of 29 (93.1%), while Jonathan Bernier takes the loss, saving 20 of 23 shots (87%).
Washington‘s win is the second in the row for home squads, setting the season record at 63-34-13, 34 points better than the roadies.
It’s a busy Thursday in the greatest hockey league in the world, as 24 teams are in action this evening. Eight of those teams drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (the New York Rangers at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Chicago at Boston, Calgary at Buffalo and Edmonton at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more games (Tampa Bay at Ottawa and Minnesota at Toronto). 8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of two games (New Jersey at Nashville and the New York Islanders at Winnipeg), with another couple trailing an hour later (Florida at Colorado and Anaheim at Arizona). San Jose at Vancouver drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern, and this evening’s nightcap, Montréal at Los Angeles, gets its start at 10:30 p.m. eastern.
Four of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (New York at Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay at Ottawa, Anaheim at Arizona and San Jose at Vancouver), and two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (New York at Pittsburgh and Chicago at Boston). The New York–Pittsburgh game is also a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Tonight’s game is New York‘s 17th in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they own a 9-5-2 record. Their most recent in the series was February 21, a 1-0 overtime win over the Red Wings. Pittsburgh has been featured 11 times before tonight, and own a 3-7-1 in such games. Their most recent was February 24, a 5-1 beat down in Boston.
The 37-20-6 New York Rangers currently occupy second in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. To get to that position, they’ve played the sixth best offense in the league, paired with the ninth best defense.
Although he is still out on injury, Rick Nash’s 149 shots still leads the Blueshirts, who have only 1822 to their credit. A solid 9.7% of those attempts have found the back of the net for 180 goals (led by Derick Brassard’s 22 tallies), sixth most in the league. The most impressive part about New York‘s game is that most of that success has occurred at even strength, as their 17.44% success rate, good for only 30 power play goals, ranks seventh worst in the league.
Led by Dan Girardi’s 148 blocks, the Blueshirts have allowed only 1864 shots to reach 31-16-4 Henrik Lundqvist and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 159 goals against, the ninth fewest in the league. Yet again, the Rangers‘ special teams let them down, as their 77.78% kill rate is fifth worst in the league.
New York is currently riding a three game win streak, with their most recent being a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jackets on Monday. While a win tonight would pull the Rangers within 16 points of the Capitals, it more importantly has the opportunity to increase their lead over the Islanders to seven points.
The 32-22-8 Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit in fourth in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the second wildcard position. They’ve achieved that position by playing the 10th best defense, paired with the 14th worst offense.
Even with Kris Letang’s 90 blocks, the Pens have allowed 1900 shots to reach 26-14-6 Marc-Andre Fleury and co., of which they’ve saved 92.2% for 160 goals against, 10th fewest in the league. When a man down, Pittsburgh‘s defense has improved their play, killing 83.51% of their penalties for only 32 power play goals against, the seventh best rate in the league.
Led by Phil Kessel’s 201 shots, the Penguins have fired the puck 2035 times, but only 8.1% have found the back of the net for 167 goals (led by Sidney Crosby’s 25 tallies), 14th worst in the league. That lack of success has followed Pittsburgh to the power play, as their 18.18% success rate, good for only 36 goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 10 extra man tallies) is 13th worst in the league.
Pittsburgh‘s most recent game was a 3-2 loss in Washington on Tuesday. With a win today, Pittsburgh does not improve their position in the standings, but they do draw within a point of Detroit for the first wildcard position. That being said, a loss does put them at risk of having only a one point lead over the ninth place Flyers.
The Penguins and Rangers have met only once this season, a three goal shutout victory in Pittsburgh for the Blueshirts. They also met in the playoffs last season, where New York won 4-1.
Some players to keep an eye on include New York‘s Lundqvist (31 wins [tied for third most in the league], four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league] and .924 save percentage [tied for eighth best in the league]) and Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (60 points [tied for eighth most in the league]), Fleury (five shutouts [tied for second most in the league] and 26 wins [tied for eighth most in the league]), Chris Kunitz (+25 [third best in the league]) and Olli Maatta (+23 [tied for sixth best in the league]).
To be honest, even with the Pens having home ice for the night, they have no business beating the Rangers. I expect a relatively easy New York win.