November 10 – Day 29 – Great Stars of fire

The bartender just walked by. He asked if anybody wanted another hockey game. Considering how good yesterday was, I got a whole round for tonight. Hope that’s okay.

In all seriousness, we have quite a selection of games this evening, starting with three at 7 p.m. (Columbus at Boston, Minnesota at Pittsburgh and Anaheim at Carolina), followed half an hour later by four more (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/SN360], Vancouver at Detroit, the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay and San Jose at Florida). St. Louis at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., and tonight’s co-nightcaps get underway an hour later (Dallas at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Los Angeles at Montréal: Tom Gilbert played the last two seasons in The City of Saints, but now he works in The City of Angels.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Semifinals from last year.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Carter Hutton heads back to Nashville, where he played the previous three seasons, and with a chance to play to boot.
  • Dallas at Calgary: Jiri Hudler spent four seasons in the Saddledome, but now he wears white in that building.

We haven’t watched the Stars yet this season, so let’s head to Alberta with them.

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Hudler joined Calgary before the 2012 season via free agency, and the center’s impact was noticed immediately in the lockout-shortened season as he notched 27 points.

His final full season with the Flames was easily the best campaign of his career. In 78 games played during the 2014-’15 season, he narrowly missed averaging a point a game with 76 to his credit.

This was also the season that Calgary qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. Although his club fell in the Western Conference Semifinals, it was no fault of Hudler’s. He continued his success with eight points in 11 games, split evenly between goals and assists.

Following his career year, Hudler was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy, the first Flame since Joe Mullen of the 1989 Stanley Cup winning team to earn the honor.

He was traded from Calgary to Florida at last year’s trade deadline, but was not offered another contract this off-season. He signed with Dallas in August, only 21 days before the start of the season. He has not had the start to the season that he would’ve liked, with no points, or even a shot, to show for an hour’s work. He has been facing an illness so severe that he was placed on injured reserve, but he has the chance to be activated this evening.

Those Stars enter the night riding a 4-6-3 record, a far cry from their expectations entering this campaign. While the goaltending is on par with last season’s (be careful, I don’t want you to read that as good), it has been Dallas‘ offensive drought that has caused their current predicament.

So far this season, the Stars have managed only 33 goals in 13 games, the 11th-worst scoring average in the game. Dallas‘ struggles can’t be pinned on Tyler Seguin, who has 14 points to his credit evenly split between goals and assists, but the rest of the team – including great forward like Jamie Benn – has yet to break the 10-point mark.

While I wasn’t planning on thoroughly discussing Dallas‘ defense, there’s one major pitfall that must be acknowledged: the penalty kill. The Stars‘ 75% kill rate ranks fourth-worst in the league. When paired with a team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net at even-strength, they are not doing themselves any favors by committing 52 penalties – four per game!

The Flames play tonight’s game with the same record as the Stars but with the added note of riding a two-game losing skid. That’s where the similarities end though, as Calgary‘s inability to prevent the opposition from scoring is putting them in quite a hole.

Having already allowed 50 goals against this season, the Flames give up an average of 3.57 tallies against per game – tied for the third-worst rate in the NHL with Philadelphia. The blame rests solely on the goaltenders, who have been under no more or less pressure than the average netminder in the league in terms of shots faced per game. Brian Elliott has started nine games so far this season for a 3-6-0 record. In those games, he’s saved a poor 88.7% of shots faced for a whopping 3.33 GAA to rank worst and third-worst in the league, respectively, among the 24 goalies who have appeared in as many contests.

Offensively, the Flames badly need to focus on one important aspect of their game: the power play. Successful on only 8.3% of attempts, Calgary ranks dead last in the NHL in the category. On the bright side, it means that most of their goals have come against more difficult conditions, so at least they have that going for them.

Ahh, Caddyshack.

Continuing the thread of special teams, you would be wise to assume the Flames‘ penalty kill is equally as bad as their power play given the goaltending situation. For those who had second-to-last in the league, you win bonus points, as the Flames have stopped 72.4% of opposing extra-man advantages to rank better than only Chicago‘s horrendous efforts on the kill.

Some players to keep an eye on include Calgary‘s Michael Frolik (nine points on five goals [both lead the team]) and Dallas‘ Seguin (seven goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Las Vegas favors the home team with a -125, but I don’t like that the NHL’s most potent offense last season is coming to town to face one of the worst goaltending situations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Stars start getting things pulled together against a prone opponent.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Saleski (1949-) – This right wing was the 64th overall selection in the 1969 NHL Entry Draft. He ended up playing 543 games in the league, all but 67 of which were with the team that drafted him: the Philadelphia Flyers, including the 1973-’74 and ’74-’75 Stanley Cup winning teams.
  • Mike Leclerc (1976-) – On the opposite wing, Leclerc was drafted 55th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim. He ended up playing 341 games over his career, 85.3% of which were with the club that drafted him.
  • Kristian Huselius (1978-) – Another left winger like Leclerc, Huselius was drafted 47th overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, the club he spent 38.8% of his career with.

The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in the first overtime game in our Game of the Day series since October 28.

Columbus struck quickly last night, scoring both their regulation goals within the opening 5:30. Second Star of the Game Boone Jenner (Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson) takes credit for the first goal with a snap shot only 1:23 after the opening puck drop. 4:06 later, Brandon Saad (Ryan Murray and Third Star Jack Johnson) scored a snapper of his own to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead, which held into the first intermission.

Anaheim‘s comeback began with 2:39 remaining in the second period when Rickard Rakell (Cam Fowler and Josh Manson) scored his fourth goal of the season. It was the lone tally of the second period, meaning Columbus still had a one-goal lead going into the final 20 minutes of play.

That lead lasted only 1:25 after resuming play before Nick Ritchie (Joseph Cramarossa) scored a wrap-around to level the score for the Ducks.

Three-on-three overtime lasted only 1:21 before First Star Zach Werenski (Alexander Wennberg and Saad) scored the winner with a wrister.

Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), while John Gibson takes the overtime loss saving 15-of-18 (83.3%).

With that victory, Columbus improves the home squads’ record in the DtFR Game of the Day series to 18-10-3, favoring the homers by nine points over the roadies.

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