For the first time in a while, we have a busy Friday schedule – something I think we can all enjoy. Per usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Buffalo and Philadelphia at Toronto [TVAS]) with Los Angeles at Ottawa (RDS) trailing half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Washington at Chicago and tonight’s co-nightcaps, Winnipeg at Colorado and Dallas at Edmonton, get underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.
Lauri Korpikoski might be making his first return to Edmonton, the city he represented a season ago, but I’m more interested in the Flyers–Leafs game.
6-6-2 Philly enters the contest on a two-game win-less skid, most recently falling 3-2 in a shootout to Detroit. The Flyers are a strong offensive team, but almost out of necessity as they’ve given up the second-most tallies in the league.
The fault lies nowhere along the blue line. The Flyers‘ defense allows only 27.5 shots to make it to the cage per game, led by Radko Gudas‘ 22-block efforts.
No, the goals against rest solely on the goaltending. Be it Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth (they’ve both started seven games apiece) in net, they’ve combined for a measly .875 save percentage and 3.39 GAA.
As expected, the goaltending struggles have extended into the penalty kill. Only 79.1% of opposing extra-man opportunities have been nullified by the Flyers, which ranks ninth-worst.
To put things bluntly, it is these two players holding this squad back. Many fans thought Neuvirth, who turned 28 in March, could continue to improve and potentially take over the starting job, but it appears last season was simply a break from his usual performance. It will be interesting to see if they try to work the trade market to bolster the back-end of a strong skating team.
The best way to accent how good Philadelphia has been on offense is their power play. They’ve been successful on 28.3% of attempts, the second-best rate in the league. Claude Giroux has led the way on the extra-man opportunities, notching nine points with six assists. Completing the plays has been Wayne Simmonds, who has buried four power play goals.
Hosting them this evening are the 5-5-3 Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re another team that has struggled to keep the opposition from burying the puck at will.
Frederik Andersen has a 5-3-3 record, which is almost impressive given the fact that he has a season .897 save percentage and 3.41 GAA. What gives him a little bit of a pass in comparison to Mason and Neuvirth is that Toronto does not have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him.
The defense allows 33.3 shots against per game, and only Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev and more than 20 blocks, with 28 and 22 respectively. Based on what Andersen was able to achieve last season in Anaheim with a good defense, Toronto would be wise to make a concerted effort to build up their blue line as they try to climb the table in the future.
Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs are capable of shoring up the defense when they want to, but apparently for only two minutes at a time. Their penalty kill ranks ninth-best in the NHL, an impressive stat given their play at even-strength.
One facet of the Maple Leafs offense that has worked particularly well has been their power play. Led by William Nylander‘s seven power play points on three goals, Toronto has been successful on 22.9% of their extra-man opportunities to rank seventh-best.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (11 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Jakub Voracek (15 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Nylander (eight assists, half of which were on the power play, and three power play goals for 12 points [all lead the team]).
Vegas has picked the Leafs to win with a -103 line, but I think Philly walks away with the victory in this one. Since neither team can keep the puck out of their own net, the Flyers offense should be able to best Nylander and Auston Matthews‘ efforts.
- Harry Lumley (1926-1998) – Apple Cheeks (seriously, that was his nickname!) played 803 games over his 16 seasons. Most of his time was spent in Detroit‘s net, where he earned a 163-105-56 record and won the 1950 Stanley Cup.
Just as I expected, Dallas took advantage of a Calgary team that has struggled to keep points off the board to earn a 4-2 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day.
Korpikoski (Radek Faksa) struck the first goal for the Stars on a snap shot with 7:29 remaining in the first period. That lead doubled 3:04 later when First Star of the Game Jamie Benn (John Klingberg and Faksa) buried a backhand. It was the final goal of the first period, so Dallas took a two-goal shutout lead into the dressing room for first intermission.
Calgary returned with a vengeance in the second frame, scoring both their goals within 3:31 of returning to the ice. Second Star Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star Brett Kulak and Sean Monahan) takes credit for both goals, the first struck 1:33 into the period. 1:58 later, he (Kulak and Michael Frolik) tied the game at two-all with a tip-in goal, the final tally of the second period.
Benn’s (Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel) power play wrister 7:20 into the final period proved to be the game-winning goal. Dallas‘ lone insurance goal was an empty-netter courtesy of Roussel (Justin Dowling) with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.
Dallas‘ victory is only the second by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series in the last six days. It pulls the roadies within seven points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 18-11-3 record.