March 5 – Day 142 – Freeway Face-Off

For the second straight day, my prediction was incorrect, as the New York Rangers won in Washington 3-2.

New York got on the scoreboard first, only 5:47 into the contest.  Jesper Fast’s wrister was true, assisted by Dan Girardi (his 15th helper of the season) and Ryan McDonagh.  Thanks to a Karl Alzner tripping penalty, the Blueshirts doubled their lead with a power play snap shot from Keith Yandle, who was assisted by Derick Brassard (his 25th helper of the season) and First Star of the Game Derek Stepan, which they held into the intermission.

Just as the Rangers scored two goals in the first frame, Washington did in the second.  10:58 after resuming play, Third Star Jay Beagle’s wrister found the back of the net, his seventh tally of the season.  With only 40 seconds remaining in the period, T.J. Oshie’s scored on a wrister of his own, his 19th tally of the season.  The game would come down to the final 20 minutes, as the two-all score held into the second intermission.

Only one goal was scored in the third, belonging to the Rangers only 17 seconds after returning to the ice from the dressing room.  New York‘s winner came courtesy of a Stepan wrister, assisted by McDonagh (his 23rd helper of the season).

Second Star Antti Raanta earns the win after saving 32 of 34 (94.1%), while Braden Holtby takes the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).

With New York‘s win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 64-35-13, favoring the home squads by 34 points over the roadies.

It’s a wildly busy Saturday in the NHL, as 11 games will be played in the span of approximately 12 hours, with the first of those matchups dropping the puck at 1 p.m. eastern (Minnesota at Buffalo).  3 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of a pair of games (Nashville at Colorado and Calgary at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Anaheim at Los Angeles.  The usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern features the beginning of five contests (Montréal at Winnipeg, Ottawa at Toronto, Carolina at Tampa Bay, Washington at Boston [NHLN] and Columbus at Philadelphia).  Florida at Arizona drops the puck at 9 p.m. eastern, trailed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Vancouver at San Jose.

Five of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Nashville at Colorado, Anaheim at Los Angeles, Ottawa at Toronto, Columbus at Philadelphia and Vancouver at San Jose), but only two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Anaheim at Los Angeles and Washington at Boston).

If you haven’t looked at the standings recently, you need to know that Anaheim and Los Angeles are currently tied at 80 points apiece for the Pacific Division lead.  To not feature this game would be blatantly disrespectful to hockey, and probably all of mankind.

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This afternoon’s game will be Anaheim‘s seventh in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 3-1-2 record.  Their most recent showing under our scrutiny was February 15, a 6-4 victory in Calgary.  Los Angeles has only been featured four times before today’s matinee, and own a 2-2-0 record in such games.  Their most recent was February 9, an incredible 9-2 victory in Boston.

The 36-19-8 Anaheim Ducks currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division (due to losing a regulation+overtime win tiebreaker to Los Angeles) and fifth in the Western Conference.  Although they had a rough start to the season, they’ve played the third best defense in the league, but it’s been supported by the sixth worst scoring offense.

Led by Hampus Lindholm’s 97 blocks, the Ducks have allowed only 1722 shots to reach 16-8-2 John Gibson and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.9% for only 147 goals against, third fewest in the league.  That incredible run of success has been led by the second best penalty kill in the NHL, which has neutralized 86.73% of their trips to the sin bin, allowing only 30 power play goals against.

Earlier in the season, it was the offense holding Anaheim back, although that doesn’t seem to be the case right now (more on that in a minute).  Led by Corey Perry’s 174 shots, the Ducks have fired the puck a decent 1935 times, but only 8.2% have found the back of the net for 161 goals (led by Perry’s 28 tallies), sixth fewest in the league.  The penalty kill has not been hampered by this lack of success though, as Anaheim‘s 22.8% success rate, good for 44 power play goals (led by Perry’s 11 extra man tallies), is the second best rate in the NHL.

Anaheim‘s 10 game winning streak is currently best in the league, two games stronger than Tampa Bay‘s eight game streak.  Their most recent showing was Thursday, a 5-1 victory in Arizona.  In addition to giving the Ducks a two point lead in the division over the rival Kings, Anaheim would also pull within three points of the dormant Blackhawks for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The 38-21-4 Los Angeles Kings currently lead the Pacific Division by virtue of the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker, and sit in fourth in the Western Conference.  They’ve gotten to that position by playing the bet defense in the league, paired with the 13th worst offense.

Led by Alec Martinez’ 145 blocks, the Kings have allowed only 1747 shots to reach 32-16-3 Jonathan Quick and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 145 goals against, the fewest in the NHL.  The key to besting Los Angeles has been to get them to commit a penalty, as their 81.42% kill rate, which has allowed 42 power play goals, ranks only 13th best in the league.

Jeff Carter’s 174 shots has helped lead the Kings to firing the puck a whopping 2054 times, but only 8.1% have found the back of the net for 168 goals (led by Tyler Toffoli’s 24 tallies), 13th fewest in the NHL.  While overall numbers might not be where they want them, the Kings have had decent success on the power play, where they optimize on 81.42% of opportunities for 40 power play goals (nine from Toffoli), the ninth best rate in the league.

Los Angeles‘ last game was Thursday, a 3-2 victory over the visiting Canadiens.  Just like Anaheim, a win this afternoon gives the Kings an official lead over their heated rivals, and they pull within three points of the Western Conference lead.

Anaheim currently leads the season series 2-1-0, with the most recent meeting occurring Sunday, a 4-2 victory for the Ducks on The Pond.

Some players to keep an eye on in this afternoon’s game include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (42 assists [eighth most in the league]), Frederik Anderson (2.22 GAA [eighth best in the league]) or Gibson (2.09 GAA [second best in the league]) and Perry (28 goals [ninth most in the league]) & Los Angeles‘ Anze Kopitar (+23 [tied for sixth best in the league]), Quick (32 wins [tied for third most in the league] and 2.18 GAA [sixth best in the league]) and Toffoli (+27 [tied for second best in the league]).

It’s a shame this game isn’t on national TV, because there’s a lot on the line for not only the Pacific, but even the Western Conference.  Although the Kings‘ offense has been better for the entirety of the season and they have home ice, it is hard to pick against the Ducks with their 10 straight wins.  I’ll take Anaheim on the road.

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