Wednesday was a light schedule, so you know what that means: gobs and gobs of hockey tonight. The action commences at the usual 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Buffalo and Winnipeg at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by another pair (Florida at Toronto and Nashville at Ottawa [RDS]). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of our third pair (San Jose at St. Louis and Boston at Minnesota), with Colorado at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. A final pair drop the puck at 10 p.m. (Arizona at Vancouver and New Jersey at Anaheim) with Edmonton at Los Angeles (SN360) getting underway half an hour later. All times eastern.
- San Jose at St. Louis: In a thrilling six-game series, the Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals by beating St. Louis.
- Arizona at Vancouver: Radim Vrbata took a two-year hiatus from playing with the Coyotes from 2014-’16. You remember correctly, he played for Vancouver.
- Edmonton at Los Angeles: In addition to the more historic than current rivalry between the clubs, Milan Lucic makes his first return to the Staples Center after calling it home a season ago.
In the spirit of playoff rematches from a season ago, we’re off to the Gateway to the West.
The Sharks swim into St. Louis (Yeah, just ignore it. It’s bad.) with a 9-7-0 record, which is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. Before losing in Carolina Tuesday night, the Sharks were riding a three-game winning streak.
While they’ve certainly been let down by their offense, San Jose has found their nine wins on a solid defense.
Martin Jones has started 14 games already this season to an 8-6-0 record. He has a .913 save percentage and 2.2 GAA to his credit, which ranks 16th and 11th-best among goaltenders with at least seven appearances.
These are not numbers one would expect from a netminder that was two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. Why has he been able to find wins?
I’d argue it is his blue line. Led by Justin Braun‘s 35 blocks, the Sharks allow only 25.7 shots per night to reach the net, the second-lowest rate in the NHL. Of course, knowing that Jones is facing far fewer shots than most goalies and still not performing well is a bit distressing, but at this point a win is a win!
That defensive success has continued to the penalty kill, where the Sharks rank third-best in the league by negating 89.5% of their infractions. They’ve also done well to limit opposing extra-man opportunities, facing only 38 power plays so far this season (2.4 per game).
Playing host this evening are the 8-6-3 St. Louis Blues. Although neither the offense nor defense has been anything near impressive, the thing that concerns me as an admittedly-biased Blues fan is the decline in defense and goaltending.
Last season, St. Louis allowed only 197 goals – 2.4 per game. So far this year, they’ve allowed 2.8 per game. You’d think that four-tenths of a goal isn’t much, but at this rate the Blues will allow 30 more goals by season’s end than they did a year ago.
Manning the net this season is 6-3-3 Jake Allen, who has a .901 save percentage and 2.49 GAA to his credit, which ranks 12th and 23rd-worst among the 42 netminders with six or more appearances.
None of that blame may be placed on St. Louis‘ defense. Led by Colton Parayko‘s 31 blocks, the Blues have allowed only 26.3 shots to reach net, the third-lowest average in the league.
Just like San Jose, that defensive success has continued to the Blues‘ penalty kill. Only 10.3% of opposing power plays have found the back of Allen’s net, the second-lowest rate in the league.
Offensively, the Blues have found much of their success on the power play. Led by Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, both of whom have nine power play points, St. Louis has connected on 22% of their extra-man opportunities, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.
The last time these teams met, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was awarded to the Sharks for besting the Blues in six games. It should have been expected given that the Sharks won the 2015-’16 season series 2-1-0.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (18 points [tied for sixth-most in the league] on 12 assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and San Jose‘s Jones (one shutout [tied for ninth-most in the league] and eight wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]).
St. Louis comes into tonight’s game slightly favored at -110. Since the Sharks are on the tailend of a long eastern roadtrip, I’ll stick with Vegas’ decision.
- The Western Pennsylvania Hockey League (1896-1910) – This league was the first of it’s kind, allowing players to be paid for their services and be traded between clubs.
- Dennis Maruk (1955-) – The California Golden Seals drafted this center 21st overall in the 1975 NHL Entry Draft. Not only was he a part of the merge with Minnesota, he returned to the North Stars for the final six seasons of his career.
The Penguins were nothing short of whipped in yesterday’s Game of the Day, falling 7-1 in Washington.
Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Jay Beagle) didn’t wait long to open the scoring, but he did choose the most difficult circumstances. He potted a backhand shot while the Capitals were short-handed 7:32 after the opening puck drop. The eventual game-winning goal was struck almost 10 minutes later by First Star Nicklas Backstrom (Oshie and Matt Niskanen), who scored a snap shot with 2:30 remaining in the period. Oshie (Backstrom and John Carlson) struck again with eight seconds remaining in the first frame to set the score at 3-0.
Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Backstrom) scored an insurance goal in the second period, as did Justin Williams (Oshie and Backstrom), Alex Ovechkin (Andre Burakovsky) and Backstrom (Nate Schmidt and Brooks Orpik) in the third.
The Penguins did get on the board with a tally from Phil Kessel (Nick Bonino and Justin Schultz) with 3:32 remaining in the game, but it was far too little too late to make any sort of an impact on the tone of the contest.
Third Star Braden Holtby saved 25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%) to earn the victory, while Matthew Murray takes the loss after saving 12-of-14 (85.7%). He was lifted for Marc-Andre Fleury with 24 seconds remaining in the first period after taking Evgeni Malkin‘s stick to the face. Fleury saved 20-of-25 (80%) for no decision.
The Capitals‘ victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 22-12-4, favoring the homers by 10 points over the roadies.