It’s Saturday, so you know what that means: lots of hockey!
Like always, we get glued to our televisions at 7 p.m. when eight pucks are dropped (Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders at Florida, Buffalo at New Jersey, Minnesota at Philadelphia, Toronto at Pittsburgh [CBC/CITY/NHLN], Washington at Carolina and St. Louis at Columbus), followed an hour later by two more (Boston at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville). Finally, the New York Rangers visit Calgary at 10 p.m. (CBC/SN1) to act as our nightcap. All times eastern.
- New York at Florida: It’s a rematch of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal a season ago between two teams still searching for their identity.
- Detroit at Montréal: Original Six alert.
- Anaheim at Nashville: Another 2015-’16 Quarterfinal rematch, but this one is in the Western Conference.
- New York at Calgary: If Josh Jooris weren’t on injured reserve, this would be his first return to the Saddledome since leaving the Flames. Guess he’ll have to wait until next year.
In a peculiar way, I’m drawn to the Eastern rematch from a season ago. Not only have we not featured the Panthers yet this season, but I want to get to the bottom of why they are not finding the success they were projected to have.
Probably the best explanation of the 5-7-2 Islanders is that they’re 1-2-2 in their last five game played. While the offense has been only average in comparison to the rest of the league, it has been the defense and goaltending that has been the major pitfall.
Jaroslav Halak has started nine games so far this season to earn a 3-4-2 record on a .903 save percentage and 3.03 GAA, which rank 25th and 26th-worst in the league, respectively, among all goaltenders to play this season. While these numbers are far from good, the skaters in front of him have not been providing him much help. Even thought Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey all have 32+ blocks to their credit, the Islanders have allowed 432 shots against, well over the league average.
One of the major reasons for the high shots against totals given the great efforts by those four blueliners is New York‘s inability to avoid the power play. Even though he hasn’t played since last Saturday due to a broken right thumb, Travis Hamonic leads a club that averages 10:55 in the box (tied for 10th-most in the NHL) with 23 penalty minutes. As would be expected by the taxed special team, the Isles have been burned by opposing power plays and allowed a goal on 24.1% of opposing attempts, the worst effort in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn is also home to one of the worst power plays in the league, as the Isles are successful on only 10.5% of their attempts.
Hosting them this evening are the 6-7-1 Florida Panthers, a team that has been only average this season. Unlike tonight’s opponent, what has probably been most impressive about them has been their defense and goaltending.
Roberto Luongo has started nine games this season to earn a 4-5-0 record on a .917 save percentage and 2.36 GAA to rank 12th and 15th-best, respectively, among goaltenders with seven or more starts to their name.
Part of the reason he and James Reimer have been able to find their success has been the blue line playing in front of them. Even though Michael Matheson leads the club with only 16 blocks, Florida has allowed only 401 shots to reach net, six fewer than the league average.
As stated before, these squads met up last year in the opening round of the Atlantic Division’s playoff bracket. After the clubs split the first four games, the Islanders won two double-overtime games in a row to advance to the Eastern Semifinals. It truly was an upset seeing as the Panthers were not only the Atlantic champion, but they had won the regular season series against New York 2-1-0.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Florida‘s Jon Marchessault (seven goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and New York‘s John Tavares (11 points on five goals [both lead the team]).
Florida is marked a -150 favorite by Vegas, and that’s a line I definitely agree with. Their offense should be more than capable of scoring on the Islanders‘ week defense.
- Denis DeJordy (1938-) – This goaltender played 316 games over his 11 NHL seasons, 62.7% of which were with Chicago. He earned a 124-128-51 career record, and won the 1966-’67 Vezina trophy.
- Mark Hunter (1962-) – This right wing was the seventh overall selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, but he spent 34.7% of his playing days in St. Louis. He hoisted the Stanley Cup once in his career, with the 1988-’89 Calgary Flames. Nowadays, he’s an assistant with the Maple Leafs.
- Bryan Little (1987-) – The 12th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by
AtlantaWinnipeg, this right wing has appeared in 614 games with the franchise. He scored a career-best 64 points in his 2013-’14 campaign.
- Adam Larsson (1992-) – This defenseman was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey. He was the Devil sent to Edmonton this off-season in the trade for Taylor Hall.
I picked Philadelphia to beat Toronto in last night’s Game of the Day. I got embarrassed, as the Leafs won 6-3 on a four-goal third period.
Toronto earned a 1-0 lead only 2:54 into the contest when Nazem Kadri (Star of the Game Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev) scored a wrister, but Philly pulled even 1:05 later when Wayne Simmonds (Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere) capitalized on a power play opportunity. The Flyers pulled ahead only 26 seconds after drawing even when Travis Konecny‘s (Radko Gudas and Michael Del Zotto) backhand found the back of the net. The final goal of the period wasn’t registered until only 52 seconds remained in the frame. Rielly (Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk) takes credit for the power play score with his first goal of the season to set the score at 2-2.
The Flyers returned to the ice intent on imposing their will, made evident by Mark Streit getting caught for tripping Zach Hyman and earning a seat in the sin bin two minutes into the frame. Philly responded well though, as Simmonds (Sean Couturier) scored a shorthanded snapper 53 seconds later to take a 3-2 lead. It was the lone score of the second period.
4:03 into the third period, Martin Marincin (Rielly and Kadri) scored his first goal of the season with a slap shot to pull the Leafs into a 3-3 tie. Another first goal of the season proved to be the eventual game-winner, as Hyman (Auston Matthews and Connor Carrick) scored a snap shot 4:31 later to take the lead. The Leafs didn’t look back, as they scored two insurance goals, courtesy of Leo Komarov and Marner (Rielly and Tyler Bozak), to secure the victory.
Toronto‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 19-11-3, favoring the home squads by nine points over the roadies.