March 31 – Day 168 – Staal comes home

With two successful shootout goals, the Flyers held home ice to beat Washington 2-1 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The first two periods were just like I like them – scoreless.  It wasn’t until 41:28 had ticked off the clock that Alex Ovechkin connected on a power play snap shot, assisted by Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 54th helper of the season) and Justin Williams.  With 5:28 remaining in regulation, Brayedn Schenn leveled the game for the Flyers, assisted by Claude Giroux (his 43rd helper of the season) and Wayne Simmonds.  Neither side could find the net again during the remaining time, nor the five minutes of overtime, sending us to a shootout.

Washington got to shoot first, but T.J. Oshie’s attempt was denied by Third Star of the Game Steve Mason.  Nick Cousins was up next, and scored on a backhander.  Kuznetsov danced around a bit before getting almost all the way to the goal line and tried to bang one off the far post, but Mason make a quick glove save to end that attempt.  Second Star Sam Gagner gets the unofficial game winner, going five hole on First Star Braden Holtby to secure the bonus point.

Mason earns the win after saving 29 of the 30 shots he faced (96.7%), while Holtby take the shootout loss, saving 33 of 34 (97.1%).

With the third straight home win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 77-43-18, favoring the home sides by 37 points over the roadies.

This Thursday, we have 10 games on tap for you to choose from.  40% of them drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Toronto at Buffalo [BELL TV], Columbus at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Pittsburgh [NHLN/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina), followed half an hour later by two more (Montréal at Tampa Bay [RDS] and New Jersey at Florida).  Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] starts at 8 p.m. eastern, with Arizona at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later.  Finally, our co-nightcaps drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose).

Over half of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Toronto at Buffalo, Columbus at New York, New York at Carolina, Montréal at Tampa Bay, Calgary at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose), but only Nashville at Pittsburgh is between playoff qualifiers.  Also, the MontréalTampa Bay game is a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Semifinals.

The game that stands out the most this evening actually has nothing to do with the standings, but everything to do with the return of a beloved player.

New York Rangers LogoCarolina Hurricanes Logo

 

Tonight’s game will be New York‘s 22nd in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 11-7-3 record, with their most recent being Sunday’s home 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins.  Carolina has been featured four times before this game, and own a 1-1-2 record in such contests, with their most recent being February 23’s 3-1 home victory over the Flyers.

Drafted by the Hurricanes second overall in the 2003 Entry Draft, Eric Staal has only recently joined the second team of his career at this season’s trade deadline.

Over 12 years in Carolina, Staal played 909 games, scoring 322 goals and adding 453 assists for 775 points.

No doubt the best year to be a Cane was during the 2005-’06 season when they won the Stanley Cup.  During that playoff run, Staal scored nine goals (tied for second most on the club) and 19 assists (led the team) for 28 points, the most for Carolina.  Arguably his most important goal was his only game winner of the postseason, an overtime power play tally, his first his playoff career, that saved the Canes from going down three games to none in Montréal.  With that new found momentum, Carolina won the next three games following to win that series 4-2 and eventually hoist the Cup.

That success wasn’t isolated to the playoffs though, as he scored 45 goals during the regular season, as well as 55 assists, for 100 points flat, all categories he led (ok, tied for the lead in assists with Cory Stillman) for his club.  Those sophomore numbers have also been the peak of his career, which he achieved with cool 16.1% shooting rate.

Before joining the Rangers this February, he notched 23 assists, a total that still ranks fourth most on the team this season.  His production has improved since making the move to Manhattan, as he already has three goals and two assists to his credit after only 14 games played.

The 43-24-9 New York Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division as well as the Eastern Conference.  To get there, they’ve played solid offense backed by the 12th best defense.

Even with Derek Stepan’s 176 shots, New York has fired the puck only 2158 times, but 10% have found the back of the net for 219 goals (led by Derick Brassard’s 27 tallies), the fifth best offense in the NHL.  The Rangers prefer to keep things even-steven, as their power play, successful on 19.32% of their attempts for 40 extra man goals (led by Brassard’s eight power play tallies) ranks only 12th best in the league.

Even with Dan Girardi’s 187 blocks, the Blueshirts have allowed 2303 shots to reach 33-19-7 Henrik Lundqvist and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92% for 199 goals against, the 12th fewest in the league.  If you thought New York was concerned about their power play, you haven’t seen the other side of their special teams.  Madison Square Garden is the home of the fourth worst penalty kill in the league, neutralizing only 77.93% of their infractions for 49 power play goals against.

The Rangers last played Sunday when they fell to the Pens, which ended their winning streak at three.  A win is very important for New York, as they are still very much competing with Pittsburgh for second in the division and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

The  33-28-16 Carolina Hurricanes are seventh in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.  The Canes play the 15th worst defense, paired with the fifth worst offense.

Led by Ron Hainsey’s 118 blocks, Carolina has allowed only 2112 shots to reach 21-16-10 Cam Ward and co., of which they’ve collectively saved only 90.8% for 208 shots against, the 15th most in the league.  The worst part about that stat is that most of those goals come at even strength, as the Hurricanes‘ 84.38% kill rate that has allowed only 30 power play goals against ranks fifth best in the entire league.

Led by Jeff Skinner’s 239 shots, the Canes have fired the puck 2312 times, with 8% finding the back of the net for 187 goals (led by Skinner’s 26 tallies), the fifth fewest in the league.  A major contributor to that issue is certainly their power play, which ranks eighth worst after finding success on only 16.67% of attempts for 38 goals (led by Justin Faulk’s 12 power play tallies).

Carolina last played Tuesday to a 2-1 shootout loss in Brooklyn.  The Canes are technically still alive for the playoffs, but trail the Flyers by seven points with only five games remaining.

New York has already won the season series against the Hurricanes, but would like to complete the season sweep with a fourth win this evening in Raleigh.

Some players to keep an eye on include Carolina‘s Skinner (26 goals, 22 of which were at even strength and seven were game winners, for 47 points on 239 shots [all lead the team]) and Jordan Staal (+6, 20 even strength assists, two shorthanded assists and 156 hits [all lead the team]) & New York‘s Lundqvist (33 wins [tied for sixth most in the league], four shutouts [tied for seventh most in the league] and .922 save percentage [eighth best in the league]) and Ryan McDonagh (+27 [tied for fifth best in the league]).

There’s no doubt in my mind that New York, especially with the help of their offense, will win this game.  That being said, they will get cheered at least once by the Hurricane faithful when the 12-year Carolina alumnus takes the ice.