It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means: a light NHL schedule. Don’t worry though, most off tonight’s offerings are quality matchups.
We start at 8 p.m. with Pittsburgh visiting the New York Islanders (NBCSN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Toronto at Calgary (SN). Finally, at 10:30 p.m., San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) drops the puck.
- Pittsburgh at New York: We’ve already featured this rivalry once this season. It’s usually a good one.
- San Jose at Los Angeles: Another rivalry, but this one cuts a little deeper this season given these squads met in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The added “oomph” of the playoff rematch takes us to the City of Angels!
Only seven months ago, these teams were battling in the First Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Obviously, the Sharks won as they represented the Western Conference in the Finals, but their 4-1 victory over the rival Kings surprised many, given that Los Angeles had home ice advantage. But San Jose actually dominated the season series with a 3-1-1 record, three points better than the Kings head-to-head.
Nowadays, those Sharks are 13-9-1 and sit atop the Pacific Division. To earn that position, they’ve played some excellent defense and goaltending to allow only 49 goals, tied for the fourth-fewest in the game.
At 20 starts, Martin Jones has been between the pipes for almost every single game the Sharks have played so far this season. Over his 1148 minutes, he’s earned an 11-8-1 record on a .919 save percentage and 2.09 GAA, the 13th and (t)seventh-best rates, respectively, among the 34 netminders with 10 or more appearances.
A GAA that is significantly better than its associated save percentage is indicative of a great defense, and this instance is no different. Led by Justin Braun‘s 46 blocks, the Sharks have allowed 25.9 shots to reach Jones per night, the second-lowest average in the league.
Unsurprisingly, this success has continued to the penalty kill, where San Jose ranks ninth-best. Braun continues to lead the effort with 12 shorthanded shot blocks, and that has guided the team to effectively limiting opposing power plays 84.9% of the time.
The skating tenants of the Staples Center are 12-9-1, good enough for only fourth place in the Pacific Division. Similar to their NorCal rivals, the Kings play a great defensive game, allowing seventh-fewest goals against in the NHL at 53.
The main headline this year has surrounded Los Angeles‘ crease not being patrolled by Jonathan Quick. He is still expected to need another month of rehabilitation, leaving the net to Peter Budaj. Already on course for his most starts in a season since his days in Colorado, the Slovak has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him to set a 12-6-1 record – yes, he’s been in net for each and every one of the Kings‘ points. He’s done that with a .917 save percentage and 2.04 GAA, the (t)17th and eighth-best efforts, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with nine or more appearances.
Once again we have a decent goalie playing with an excellent defense. Leading the charge in only his second season (after a rookie season where he played only 22 games with the senior squad) has been Derek Forbort, with an impressive 52 blocks to his name. The entire blueline’s effort has led to the Kings allowing only 25.5 shots-against-per-game, the lowest in the league.
Where Los Angeles is really lacking is on their power play. Successful on only 12.1% of attempts, they rank third-worst in the NHL. Five different players have three man-advantage points to their credit, but it’s been Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli leading the goal-scoring charge with only two power play-goals apiece.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (12 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] on a 2.04 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Toffoli (+12 [tied for fifth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (21 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Jones (11 wins, including two shutouts [both tied for sixth-most in the league]).
Bets are off in Vegas, which is always a good sign. I’m leaning towards San Jose winning tonight’s contest on the road not only because they won the first meeting this season 2-1, but based on their power play – I believe it to be better than the Kings‘ penalty kill. We’ll see if that holds true.
- Jason Pominville (1982-) – This right wing was selected by Buffalo in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s currently playing in Minnesota. He was an All-Star in 2012, the same season he was traded.
Tom Rowe may not have turned the Panthers into winners overnight, but they were good enough to force a shootout in Chicago before falling 2-1.
Only 35 seconds after returning to the ice from the second intermission, Jaromir Jagr (Jonathan Marchessault and Aaron Ekblad) took advantage of a Niklas Hjalmarsson hooking penalty carried over from late in the second period with a power play wrister to level the game at one-all.
Neither team was able to score a winner in either the remaining time in regulation or three-on-three overtime, so we were off to the Game of the Day series’ second shootout in four days.
- Up first was Patrick Kane for Chicago, but his shot was saved by Roberto Luongo.
- Vincent Trocheck went next, but he did even worse than Kane – his shot wasn’t even on frame and did not require a Corey Crawford save.
- Second Star of the Game Artemi Panarin was the first to strike shootout blood, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead.
- Aleksander Barkov‘s tying attempt was saved by Crawford.
- Panik sealed the victory for Chicago with another goal.
First Star Crawford earned the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), while Third Star Luongo saved 32-of-33 (97%) in the shootout loss.
That home victory extends the hosts’ lead to eight points in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a record of 28-16-7.