November 24 – Day 43 – I’m thankful for hockey

On behalf of Down the Frozen River, allow me to wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving. Unless you’re Canadian, because I’m 43 days late.

Oops.

All I’ve heard this week is about how Thanksgiving is about food, family and football. While these things may be true, you and I both know they’re missing one vital thing: hockey. Luckily for us, the NHL has us covered with two games tonight – Carolina at Montréal (NHLN/RDS/SN360) and Boston at Ottawa (RDS2). Both drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. eastern time.

One game is between two quality Atlantic Division rivals. The other features the team fifth from the bottom in the Eastern Conference standings. You tell me which one we’re watching.

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Welcome to the Canadian Tire Centre the 11-8-0 Boston Bruins, a team that has been led by their defense and goaltending so far this season, which is surprising giving last season’s effort.

At 228 goals, the Bruins allowed the 12th-most goals against in the league last year. This season, they allow only 2.32 per game – the fifth-best rate in the NHL. That success starts with 11-3-0 Tuukka Rask, who has a 1.57 GAA on a .942 save percentage, the third and sixth-best effort, respectively, among the 44 netminders with seven or more appearances.

Part of the reason Rask has found such success is the blueline playing in front of him. He has faced only 27.3 shots per game this year, the fourth fewest in the league. In comparison, the Bruins allowed 30.4 a season ago. That three-shot improvement has been headlined by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 41 blocks, trailed closely by rookie Brandon Carlo‘s 38. A defensive specialist, the youngster has been a fantastic call-up effectively straight from the juniors (he played only six games at the end of the year in Providence).

As could be expected, the Bruins‘ defensive success has carried to the penalty kill, where they tie for seventh-best in the league with a 85.7% success rate.

Where Boston falters is on the power play. Led by David Krejci‘s five power play points (even though David Pastrnak has three goals on the man-advantage), the Bruins rank ninth-worst in the NHL with the man-advantage, as they’re successful on only 14.8% of their attempts.

The 11-7-0 Senators are the third-best team in the Atlantic Division, and just like Boston, I’ve been most impressed with their defense and goaltending, as they’ve only allowed 49 goals against, which ties for 11th-fewest in the NHL.

9-4-0 Craig Anderson has been the man between the pipes most often for the Sens, earning a .928 save percentage for a 2.32 save percentage – the 11th and 17th-best effort among those 44 goaltenders mentioned earlier with seven or more appearances.

In comparison to Rask, it doesn’t seem like he’s anywhere near as successful. But that’s too easy an answer. Anderson faces 31.6 shots-per-game, the sixth-highest rate in the NHL, and second-highest among clubs that would qualify for the playoffs if they started today. To put it plainly, this blueline simply is not cutting it. The top-three defensemen (Cody Ceci [42], Captain Erik Karlsson [53] and Dion Phaneuf [41]) may have over 40 blocks to their credit, but the rest of the team has yet to break the 24-block mark. Their efforts need to improve soon, or else General Manager Pierre Dorion may be forced to make a move if he wants his team to qualify for the postseason.

One facet of the game where Ottawa certainly has the advantage is on their penalty kill. Pairing with Boston‘s poor power play, Ottawa has the fourth-best penalty kill, nullifying 86.4% of their infractions. Of course, Jean-Gabriel Pageau remains a scoring threat on the penalty kill, as he had nine short-handed points last season to lead the league.

Boston regains the advantage when the Senators earn the power play. Led by Mike Hoffman‘s two power play goals, Ottawa has found the back of the net on only 10.5% of their extra-man attacks – the second-worst rate in the league.

Some players to keep an eye on include Boston‘s Chara (+12 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Pastrnak (10 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Rask (11 wins [tied for most in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league], on a 1.57 GAA [third-best in the NHL] and a .942 save percentage [seventh-best in the league]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (two shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL] among nine wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

This should be a fantastic game, and not just because the other game probably won’t be as good. Vegas doesn’t have a line marked for this one, but I’m favoring the Bruins to pull off the road upset.

Hockey Birthday

  • Keith Primeau (1971-) – This center was the third-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit. In 2000, his first season in Philadelphia, he ended the longest overtime playoff game in NHL history by burying a game at the 92:01 mark. Yes, you read that right: that’s over a game-and-a-half of play.
  • Christian Laflamme (1976-) – A defenseman, he was drafted 45th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, where he spent most of his eight seasons.

I expected New York to put the whipping on the Penguins at Madison Square Garden, but the opposite happened, with Pittsburgh winning 6-1.

The lone goal of the first period was the only shot that got past Matthew Murray. 4:22 into the game, Rick Nash (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) scored a power play wrister to give the Blueshirts an early lead.

The Penguins began their five-goal second period onslaught only 2:02 after returning to the ice with a wrist shot from Scott Wilson (Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel and Third Star Nick Bonino). 2:56 later, First Star Sidney Crosby (Ian Cole) gave Pittsburgh a lead they would not yield.

Kessel (Bonino), Crosby (Kris Letang) and Conor Sheary (Crosby and Carl Hagelin) all added insurance goals in the second, and Matt Cullen (Justin Schultz and Eric Fehr) notched another in the third.

Murray earns the victory after saving 16-of-17 shots faced (94.1%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the loss, saving 13-of-17 (76.5%). He was replaced following Crosby’s second goal after 32:57 of play by Antti Raanta, who saved 19-of-21 (90.5%) for no decision.

Pittsburgh‘s victory is the fourth-straight for the visiting teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. It pulls the roadies within seven points of the homers, who have a 24-14-7 record.

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