December 31 – Day 77 – A streak must end in St. Paul

The day you’ve been worried about has finally arrived. After today, there’s no more hockey in 2016.

Fortunately, 2017 is right around the corner and has tons of hockey in store!

New Year’s Eve features 11 contests,  and the action starts at 1 p.m. with two games (Buffalo at Boston and Washington at New Jersey) dropping the puck, and Columbus at Minnesota gets underway at 6 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a trio of matchups (the New York Islanders at Winnipeg [SN], Montréal at Pittsburgh [CBC/TVAS] and Carolina at Tampa Bay), trailed an hour later by two more (the New York Rangers at Colorado and Florida at Dallas). The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with a pair of games (Vancouver at Edmonton [CBC/SN] and Arizona at Calgary [CBC/SN1/SN360]), with tonight’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles – waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Boston: Didn’t they just play this rivalry Thursday? Yes, yes they did.
  • Columbus at Minnesota: The game everybody is talking about. Both clubs have won at least their last 12 games, but one must lose today.
  • Florida at Dallas: Both Jason Demers and Colton Sceviour make their first returns to Texas after a combined seven seasons with the Stars.
  • New York at Colorado: Nick Holden is also making his first trip back to his old stomping grounds.
  • Arizona at Calgary: Josh Jooris played his first two seasons in the Saddledome before making his way to the desert.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: The Battle of California is even more exciting this season since these clubs met in last year’s playoffs.

Like I said yesterday, 2016 is going out with a bang. Even games not listed – CanadiensPenguins comes to mind – are going to be exemplary. What better way to celebrate the closing of the year than at your closest arena?

As far as our focus today, we have to head to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, truly the State of Hockey today.

Columbus Blue Jackets LogoUnknown-2

 

Please raise your hand if, before the season began, you expected this matchup to be played under these circumstances.

Just so you know, I’m going to call 90% of you liars.

For those that are unaware, Columbus comes to the Xcel Energy Center as winners of their last 14 games, rivaled only by the Wild and their 12-game winning streak. Both streaks are certainly impressive, but Penguins fans are pulling for the Wild this afternoon – and not just for the impact on the standings. During the 1992-’93 season, Pittsburgh closed the campaign on a 17-game winning streak, the longest in NHL history.

Columbus‘ streak has propelled them to a 25-5-4 record, the best mark in the NHL. While both sides of the ice have obviously been impressive for the Jackets, it’s been an impressive effort by the goaltender and good defense, allowing only 70 goals – tied for the fewest in the league (more on that later).

With a 23-5-2 record in 30 starts, Sergei Bobrovsky has been in net for most of the Blue Jackets‘ victories. He backs his impressive record with a season .934 save percentage and 1.95 GAA, ranking top-three in both statistics against 42 other netminders with 15 or more appearances.

Bobrovsky has been good on his own, but he’s also gotten good help from his defense. Led by David Savard‘s 63 shot blocks, Columbus allows exactly 30 shots per game to reach the goal crease, the 14th-lowest average in the NHL.

Offensively, nothing is finer than the Jackets‘ power play. They bury the puck on 28% of opportunities, by far the best rate in the entire league. Cam Atkinson deserves a lot of the credit, as his 17 power play points are tops in Ohio, but he splits the extra-man goal-scoring title with Nick Foligno – both have lit the lamp seven times.

Hosting today’s game are the 23-8-4 Wild, the second-best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. Just like Columbus, their incredible streak, as well as their impressive season, have been sparked by refusing to allow the opposition to score. Like Columbus, Minnesota has allowed only 70 goals.

Yes, you read that correctly. Both these teams come into this evening’s game allowing the fewest goals in the league. This contest is more than simply some win streaks. It’s about establishing defensive dominance

Starting netminder Devan Dubnyk enters tonight’s game with a 19-6-3 record on a .944 save percentage and 1.67 GAA – the best marks in the league among goalies with 14 or more appearances.

This is where the similarities between this evening’s opponents begin to diverge. Dubnyk does not have the luxury Bobrovsky does in a defense that keeps the puck off his crease. Instead, Dubnyk has to fend off 30.6 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest total in the game. Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon cannot take any credit for Dubnyk’s exhaustion, as they both have 62 shot blocks to lead the squad. Unfortunately, they’re also the only two defensemen with more than 50 blocks to their credit.

That hasn’t seemed to hold them back though. Specifically, the penalty kill is just as strong as ever, killing off 85.6% of opposing power plays – the fifth-best mark in the NHL. Spurgeon is joined by Mikael Granlund in leading the effort, as both have 10 shorthanded blocks to their credit.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include:

Columbus Blue Jackets:

  • Atkinson (35 points [tied for ninth-most in the league])
  • Bobrovsky (23 wins [most in the NHL] on a 1.95 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .934 save percentage [tied for second-best in the NHL], as well as three shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league])
  • Jack Johnson (+20 [sixth-best in the NHL])
  • Brandon Saad (+19 [seventh-best in the league])
  • Savard (+23 [tied for second-best in the NHL])
  • Alexander Wennberg (24 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league])

Minnesota Wild:

  • Dubnyk (1.67 GAA on a .944 save percentage, as well as five shutouts [all best in the NHL], for 19 wins [tied for second-most in the league])
  • Granlund (+18 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL])
  • Mikko Koivu (+18 [tied for eighth-best in the league])
  • Nino Niederreiter (+16 [10th-best in the NHL])
  • Spurgeon (+23 [tied for second-best in the league])
  • Ryan Suter (+25 [leads the NHL])
  • Jason Zucker (+23 [tied for second-best in the league])

Minnesota is marked a -124 favorite by Vegas, but this is shaping up to be arguably the best game we’ve had this season. Everything is on the line tonight in St. Paul. I like the Wild simply because they’re at home, but this should be a game for the ages.

Hockey Birthday

  • René Robert (1948-) – The right wing on Buffalo‘s French Connection line, Robert played most of his dozen NHL seasons with the Sabres. Although that corps had such success, Robert earned only two All-Star selections.

Led by First Star of the Game Aaron Dell‘s shutout, the Sharks bested the Flyers at the Tank 2-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The winning goal was struck with 3:31 remaining in the first period. It was a power play wrister from Second Star Patrick Marleau (Kevin Labanc and Marc-Edouard Vlasic), set up by Ivan Provorov‘s tripping penalty.

The game remained at 1-0 until 4:37 remained in regulation. Justin Braun (Joe Pavelski and Marleau) provided the insurance tally to ensure San Jose‘s victory.

Dell saved all 21 shots he faced for the shutout victory, the first of his young career. Steve Mason takes the loss after saving 11-of-12 shots faced (91.7%). Unfortunately, he only played one period before being injured. He was replaced by Anthony Stolarz, who saved 21-of-22 (95.5%) for no decision.

The DtFR Game of the Day now stands at 44-23-12, favoring the homers by 16 points over the roadies.

December 30 – Day 76 – Something’s Phishy

A light, four-game Friday is setting up an exciting end to the 2016 hockey calendar year. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Chicago at Carolina, followed half an hour later by Nashville at St. Louis (SN1/TVAS). Finally, two contests (Philadelphia at San Jose and Anaheim at Vancouver) close out the night, dropping the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

I know we’ve featured both teams already this week, but that FlyersSharks matchup is too attractive to pass up.

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Game two of Philly‘s three-game Western road trip brings them to The Tank with a 20-13-4 record and in possession of fifth place in the Metropolitan Division (seventh in the Eastern Conference), even though they’re riding a two-game losing skid. As stated before Wednesday’s game in St. Louis, the Flyers‘ success has originated with their amazing scoring ability, as they’ve buried 109 goals already this season – the fourth-most in the NHL.

Jakub Voracek has been an absolute handful this season for opposing defensemen, as his 35 points are tops on this high-powered offense. That being said, it’s been fellow right wing Wayne Simmonds that really strikes fear into goaltenders with his 17 goals.

Just like Broad Street is home to one of the best offenses in the game, the Flyers are also a dangerous club when given a man-advantage. Philadelphia has converted 22.1% of their power play opportunities to rank seventh-best in the league. Both Captain Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds have been equally active on the power play, each notching 15 extra-man points, but Simmonds’ eight power play goals are tops on the team.

Winners of their last three games – their most recent being their 3-2 overtime victory in AnaheimSan Jose owns a 22-12-1 record for the top spot in the Pacific Division. That success rests on the Sharks‘ defensive success that has yielded only 77 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

With a 19-11-1 record in 31 starts, Martin Jones has been the main man in net for San Jose this season. He’s notched a .92 save percentage and 2.08 GAA so far this year – the (t)16th and eighth-best marks among the 41 goalies with 16 or more appearances.

Truly, it’s the Sharks‘ defense that deserves the most credit. They’ve allowed only 26.5 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ net, the second-lowest average in the NHL. Marc-Edouard Vlasic currently takes most credit as his 66 shot blocks are tops on team, but he has only one more rejection than fellow defenseman Brent Burns.

Like you’d expect, The Tank is home to one of the best penalty kills in the game – ninth-best, in fact, refusing to yield a power play goal on 83.7% of opposing opportunities. When down a man, Justin Braun steps up, as his 15 shorthanded blocks are the team best.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (17 goals [sixth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (24 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league] among 35 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Jones (19 wins [tied for second-most in the league] on a 2.08 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL], as well as two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the league).

Vegas has marked San Jose a -169 favorite, almost certainly due in part to the Sharks‘ 12-4-0 record at home going against Philadelphia‘s 8-8-1 road record. Pair that with the Flyers‘ miserable defense, and the reasoning is complete. I expect a good game, but a home winner.

Hockey Birthday

  • Lester Patrick (1883-1960) – Some guys are successful, but few rival Patrick. He hoisted the Stanley Cup six times – twice as a player, and four more times as coach/manager/owner.
  • Rob Scuderi (1978-) – The Piece was a 1998 NHL Entry Draft pick by Pittsburgh, and he played 12 seasons en route to two Stanley Cup titles.

In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Edmonton bested the Kings by a score of 3-1.

The Oil waited until 22:32 had ticked off the clock before Third Star of the Game Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Matthew Benning) buried his wrap-around power play shot. The lone goal of the second period, Edmonton took their 1-0 lead into the second intermission.

Los Angeles leveled the game only 3:05 after returning to the ice when Nick Shore scored an unassisted wrister, his third tally of the season. 3:53 later, First Star Eric Gryba (Eberle and Milan Lucic) scored what proved to be the winning score. After Second Star Peter Budaj had left the ice for the extra attacker, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Leon Draisaitl) provided an insurance goal on the empty net.

Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (96.6%), leaving the loss to Budaj, who saved 32-of-34 (94.1%).

Edmonton‘s victory is the second-straight in the DtFR Game of the Day, setting the record at 43-23-12 to favor the homers by 14 points over the roadies.

December 29 – Day 75 – Gretzky game

The last Thursday of 2016 is a busy one in the NHL. A dozen games will take place this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Boston at Buffalo and New Jersey at Washington [NBCSN]) and another pair half an hour later (Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). 8 p.m. brings with it four contests (Chicago at Nashville, the New York Islanders at Minnesota, Columbus at Winnipeg and Detroit at Ottawa [RDSI]), and Colorado at Dallas gets underway 30 minutes later. Lastly, it’s a trifecta of nightcaps (Anaheim at Calgary [SN360], Los Angeles at Edmonton and the New York Rangers at Arizona) when 9 p.m. rolls around to close out the night.

Short list:

  • Boston at Buffalo: Nothing like a little rivalry to get the blood pumping.
  • Montréal at Florida: Al Montoya will get the start in net against the club he played 45 games over two seasons with.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Another rivalry, although it’s nowhere near as Great as it once was (See what I did there? Sneaky.).

Sorry Montoya, but the potential for a good game in Alberta is too great for us to pass up. Off to the brand-new Rogers Place!

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Of course, this rivalry exists/used to exist entirely because of the trade that shipped Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Kings, but it takes new life this year as both teams are currently in playoff position. Of course, that could change if things don’t go the Kings‘ way and either Dallas, Nashville or Winnipeg win this evening.

The Kings make the trip to Edmonton with a 17-14-4 record, good enough for fifth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, eighth in the Western Conference – aka the second wildcard! They’ve found that success by playing one of, if not the best defense in the league, allowing only 83 goals – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Thanks to Jonathan Quick‘s groin injury in the first game of the season, it has been 15-9-3 Peter Budaj taking most of the starts in Los Angeles. Over that time, he’s accrued a .919 save percentage and 2.04 GAA – the 19th and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 14 or more appearances.

An okay save percentage paired with an excellent GAA is always indicative of a stellar defense, and Tinseltown is no different. Led by Derek Forbort‘s 77 shot blocks and second-in-command Alec Martinez‘ 72, the Kings allow only an average of 25.8 shots to reach Budaj’s net per night, the best in the league by nearly a full shot.

As expected, they continue that effort on the penalty kill, where their 84.2% kill rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. Although the same two culprits are responsible for this charge, Martinez’ 19 shorthanded blocks are five more than Forbort’s.

Unfortunately, the power play hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain. Successful on only 15.7% of opportunities, the Kings tie for ninth-worst in the league. Jeff Carter leads the team with only eight power play points, but that overshadows an impressive six power play goals (ties for 11th-most in the NHL).

Playing host this evening are the 18-12-6 Oilers, the second-best team in the Pacific. Offense is the name of the game in The Big E, as the Oil‘s 103 tallies ties for seventh-most in the NHL.

You get two guesses as to who has the most points in Edmonton. Something tells me you only needed one of those guesses. Captain Connor McDavid‘s 42 points are not only tops in Edmonton, but also the tie with Sidney Crosby for most in the entire league. That being said, it has been Leon Draisaitl who has buries the most pucks for the Oil, with 14 to his credit. He narrowly beats out McDavid’s 13.

Just like Los Angeles, what goes well during even-strength action shines especially bright during special teams. Edmonton‘s 21.2% conversion rate on the power play is eighth-best in the NHL. Draisaitl truly shines here, partially because he and McDavid are both on the first power play unit. The elder center has 14 man-advantage points on his resume already this year (two more than McDavid and Milan Lucic), and also has an impressive eight power play goals (tied for second-most in the league).

These clubs have already met once this season, and the Kings came out on top. They squared off in the Staples Center on November 17 to a 4-2 LA victory. Budaj took credit for the win, and Carter’s shorthanded second period wrister was the deciding score.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s McDavid (29 assists [most in the league] among 42 points [tied for the NHL lead]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] among 17 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.04 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (19 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas likes Edmonton to win tonight at -130, and I do too. Not only are the Oil playing at home sweet home, their penalty kill is more than up to the task of squelching the Kings‘ poor power play. I’d even go so far to say that Mark Letestu, who opened the season with two shorthanded goals, could notch his fourth penalty kill point tonight. Who knows?

Hockey Birthday

  • Nels Stewart (1902-1957) – When the Montreal Maroons won the 1926 Stanley Cup, it was this Hall of Fame center who was in the middle of most of the scoring. A two-time Hart Trophy winner, he scored a team-high 34 goals in 36 games played that season.
  • Filip Kuba (1975-) – A Florida-pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played most of his 14 seasons in Minnesota. In 2004, his fourth season with the Wild, he earned a roster spot at the All-Star game.
  • Pierre Dagenais (1978-) – You know you’re wanted when the same team drafts you twice. That’s what happened to this left wing, as New Jersey selected him in both the 1996 and 1998 NHL Entry Drafts. He only played 25 games for the Devils; most of his short NHL career was spent in Montréal.

Notching the first hat trick of his NHL career, First Star of the Game Robby Fabbri led St. Louis past the Flyers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series, winning 6-3.

It was actually Wayne Simmonds (Travis Konecny and Brayden Schenn) and Philadelphia getting on the board first, as the right wing tipped-in the puck only 3:25 into the contest. The Notes leveled with 4:59 remaining in the first with a Kevin Shattenkirk (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) power play slap shot. With a dozen seconds remaining before the first intermission, Fabbri (Second Star Colton Parayko) notched his first goal of the night with a power play wrister, giving the Notes a 2-1 lead.

Only 4:32 after returning to the ice, Nick Cousins (Ivan Provorov and Konecny) leveled the game for Philly with the lone goal of the second period.

It was an evening of quick starts for the Flyers, as they took a 3-2 lead only 4:13 into the third period with a Schenn (Shayne Gostisbehere and Simmonds) power play slap shot. That lead lasted only 100 seconds before David Perron (Parayko) pulled St. Louis even. 1:20 after that, Third Star Scottie Upshall (Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo) provided the tally that proved to be the game-winning shot. Those that are good at math know that set the score at 4-3, leaving the final two goals to Fabbri to complete his hatty. He scored at even-strength with 4:59 remaining (Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin), and on an empty net (Jaskin and Paul Stastny) with 2:56 remaining to earn the accolade.

Carter Hutton earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (85%), leaving the loss to Steve Mason, saving 19-of-24 (79.2%).

The Notes‘ victory means the home sides in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned at least a point in the last six matchups, setting the series record at 42-23-12 and improving their lead over the roadies to a dozen points.

December 28 – Day 74 – Get ready for goals

Wednesday night hockey. What more could you ask for? The action you’ve been waiting all day for starts at 7 p.m. with two contests (Toronto at Florida [SN] and Carolina at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by Montréal at Tampa Bay (RDS/SN360). Philadelphia at St. Louis drops the puck at 8 p.m. (NBCSN), preceding tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN) – by two hours. All times eastern.

Although Florida and Toronto are separated by only a point in the standings, the game that attracts the most attention this evening is happening in the Gateway to the West.

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Philadelphia comes to Mound City with a 20-12-4 record, good enough for fifth-place in the Metropolitan Division, and it has been their offense that has led the way.

The Flyers have buried the puck an impressive 106 times, the fourth-highest goal title in the league. Jakub Voracek can take credit for a lot of that success, as his 35 points are tops on the team. That being said, it’s been fellow right wing Wayne Simmonds who has personally lit the lamp the most times, with 16 goals.

As might be expected with such a potent offense, the Flyers‘ power play has been mighty impressive. They score on 22% of their man-advantage opportunities, the sixth-best mark in the NHL. That effort has been headed by Captain Claude Giroux and his 15 power play points, but Simmonds has once again been the final goalscorer, with eight extra-man goals to his credit.

Playing host this evening are the 18-12-5 Blues, the third-best club in the Central Division. Just like the Flyers, offense has been the name of the game in St. Louis, as the Notes have notched 97 goals so far this season – tying for 11th-most in the NHL.

Pull your favorite video game off the shelf. That guy on the front? Yeah, he’s pretty good for the Blues. Vladimir Tarasenko‘s 38 points is easily the best effort on the club. 16 of those have been goals, which is also the highest total in St. Louis by four tallies.

Just like Philly, the Blue Notes are also pretty good on the man-advantage. They’ve scored 21.3% of their power play opportunities, the seventh-best mark in the league. Who else to lead that charge than Tarasenko? He has 14 power play points on his resume this season, but it’s actually been Kevin Shattenkirk scoring most of the power play goals, with five to his credit.

The penalty kill has also been very impressive for the Notes. Rejecting opposing power plays 87.4% of the time, St. Louis is second-best in those regards. Captain Alex Pietrangelo is the headliner here, notching 14 shorthanded blocks so far this year.

Some players to keep an eye on include Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (16 goals [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (24 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league] among 35 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) & St. LouisJake Allen (16 wins [seventh-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (38 points [fourth-most in the NHL], including 16 goals [tied for fifth-most in the league]).

Vegas has already marked this game in the Blues‘ favor, placing a -140 next to their name, and I have to side with the wise folks in the desert this time. St. Louis provides an interesting challenge with their strong penalty kill, and are more than capable of keeping up with any other club offensively. Home ice should seal the deal for a Blues victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Terry Sawchuk (1929-1970) – This Hall of Fame goaltender played almost all of his 21 seasons in Detroit, where he won the 1951 Calder and three of his four Stanley Cups. He was an 11-time All Star and four-time Vezina winner.
  • Harry Howell (1932-) – A longtime Ranger, this defenseman played 21 total seasons in the NHL en route to a Hall of Fame career. The seven-time All Star and 1967 Norris winner’s number three was retired in 2009.
  • Ray Bourque (1960-) – The eighth-overall pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, this defenseman is the model for all defensemen who like to get involved on the offensive end. He owns the NHL record for goals, assists and points by blueliners, most of which with the Bruins. That being said, he won his only Stanley Cup title with Colorado in 2001.
  • Rob Niedermayer (1974-) – A right wing drafted fifth-overall by Florida in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Niedermayer played NHL 17 seasons, scoring 469 points in the process. He hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2007 with Anaheim.
  • Curtis Glencross (1982-) – Although undrafted, this left wing has enjoyed nine seasons in the NHL, most of which in Calgary. He notched 242 points over his career, but also made sure to make a positive impact on his community off the ice.

Brent Burns takes credit for the Sharks stealing the bonus point on The Pond in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series. San Jose beat Anaheim 3-2 in overtime.

The first goal of the game, and the only tally of the opening period, was struck at the 6:30 mark off Paul Martin‘s (Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker) stick with a strong slap shot.

The Ducks leveled 8:22 into the second period when Ondrej Kase (Nick Ritchie and Antoine Vermette) buried a backhanded shot, but San Jose once again took the lead with a Melker Karlsson (Joel Ward and Burns) tally.

With 6:25 remaining in regulation, the orange-clad Ducks scored the overtime-forcing score, courtesy of First Star of the Game Jakob Silfverberg (Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano).

Burns (Joe Pavelski and Second Star Joe Thornton) waited until 2:46 had ticked off the clock before burying his game-winning backhander to end the game in the Sharks‘ favor.

Third Star Martin Jones earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots against (94.4%), with John Gibson taking the loss, saving 22-of-25 (88%).

San Jose‘s road victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day Series at 41-23-12 in favor of the home squads, who lead the roadies by exactly 10 points.

Working On A Dream

By: Nick Lanciani

Dear Reader,

I can finally say I’ve made it. Sort of.

I’ve landed a new position in my emerging career that will likely take up a lot of my new found free time in life after college (again, sort of– I only have one more class and it’s online). So what this means is that Down the Frozen River will go on just as usual, but I may or may not always have time to get to do what I intended to do all along in my spare time after school (write endlessly until someone noticed me and hired me).

Connor will still write his Game of the Day matchups, Colby will still write “Colby’s Corner”, Frank will keep writing his column and everything else will continue to operate as normal. Don’t worry. Your favorite content won’t stop and whatever I wrote that you previously ignored/glanced over might be less frequent.

I will, however, continue to produce episodes of the Down the Frozen River Podcast and update my projected stats as best as I can, but if you don’t see me interacting with content as much as I have in the past, it’s nothing personal.

I want to thank everyone once again and give another special shout out to the Carolina Panthers Radio Network (shouts to y’all).

In the meantime, if you like watching the Bruins, hopefully I don’t ruin that for you, because I’ll be taking some of the controls, tracking stats and researching stuff for on-air in the background. I’m looking forward to getting started at NESN and would like to thank you all for reading, listening and interacting on Twitter. Keep being awesome, [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE].

Respectfully Yours,

 

Nick Lanciani

December 27 – Day 73 – Pacific Powerhouses

The worst thing about Christmas is that there was no hockey for three days. The world can be so cruel.

Fortunately, the NHL makes it all better by scheduling 10 games this evening, starting with four contests (Pittsburgh at New Jersey [TVAS], Washington at the New York Islanders, Ottawa at the New York Rangers [RDS2] and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at 7 p.m. and Buffalo at Detroit half an hour later. Minnesota at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., with Winnipeg at Chicago waiting 30 minutes. Another wave of games gets underway at 9 p.m. (Calgary at Colorado and Dallas at Arizona), followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Anaheim (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: It’s rivalry night in the Barclays Center!
  • San Jose at Anaheim: Same goes for the Honda Center!

Sorry Isles fans, but the biggest game of the night is happening on The Pond, and we’d be remiss to not give it our attention!

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The Sharks return from Christmas break riding a two-game winning streak with a 21-12-1 record, the best mark in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success on an impressive defense and great goaltending that have combined to allow only 75 goals, tying for the fourth-fewest in the league.

Only two goalies have taken a turn between the pipes for San Jose this season, and most of the time it is 18-11-1 Martin Jones. He’s earned that record on a .919 save percentage and 2.08 GAA – the (t)17th and eighth-best marks, respectively, among netminders with 15 or more appearances this season.

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but most of Jones’ success this season has been a direct result of the impressive play of the blueline in front of him. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s impressive 63 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only an average of 26.2 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the second-lowest average in the NHL. Justin Braun, Brent Burns and Paul Martin have also been very important in this effort as well.

This success has carried into the penalty kill, where San Jose ties for ninth-best with a 83.5% kill rate. Braun has truly been on his game when down a man, as his 15 shorthanded blocks are the best on the team.

Playing host this evening are the 17-12-6 Ducks, the third-best team in the Pacific Division. The offense has led the Ducks‘ charge so far this season, scoring 95 goals – the 12th-most in the NHL.

Hockey’s version of the Ryan brothers has found far more success than their football counterparts. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have 28 points to their credit to co-lead the team. Tag on Rickard Rakell‘s team-high 14 goals, and you have a potent Anaheim offense.

The Ducks‘ success has been almost entirely due to their power play. Successful on 24.3% attempts, Anaheim is tops in the Western Conference, and second-best in the league as a whole. Who to lead that charge than Kesler? He has 14 power play points, not to mention his seven man-advantage goals, for tops in the Ducks‘ clubhouse.

This is the second time we’ve featured this matchup this season, and this series is already three games deep going into this evening. The last time this matchup was featured was also the last time these teams saw each other, a 3-2 Ducks victory on the Pond 18 days ago. Anaheim leads the season series 2-0-1.

Some players to keep an eye on include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (24 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and San Jose‘s Jones (18 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.08 GAA [eighth-best in the league], as well as two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

Even though it’s the Sharks with the winning streak, it’s hard to pick against the Ducks given their recent success against their rivals. I expect another good game on The Pond between these clubs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mickey Redmond (1947-) – This right wing only played nine seasons, but he won two Stanley Cups during his time in Montréal. That being said, he spent more of his career in Detroit.
  • Bryan Smolinski (1971-) – The 21st-overall selection in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, this center played 1056 games over his career. He spent most of his career in Los Angeles, where he notched 191 of his 651 career points.
  • Jay Pandolfo (1974-) – This left wing was the 32nd-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, he won two Stanley Cup titles – both with the Devils.
  • Fernando Pisani (1976-) – A right wing drafted by Edmonton in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, he would have been a lifetime Oiler if not for a season spent in Chicago.
  • Patrick Sharp (1981-) – Although drafted in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this left wing is playing his second season in Dallas. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, all with Chicago.
  • Paul Stastny (1985-) – The 44th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was this center to Colorado. He played eight seasons in Denver before moving to St. Louis in 2014.

December 23 – Day 72 – Kyle Okposo-ing the Isles

It’s here you guys. The last day of hockey until Tuesday. Get your tears out now.

I know, the world couldn’t get any worse. We just need to enjoy tonight while it lasts.

Fortunately, there’s a dozen games for us to choose from for our last night of hockey for the next 6810 minutes. The action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Minnesota at the New York Rangers, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Washington [SN1] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS]), followed half an hour later by another pair of games (Detroit at Florida and Boston at Carolina). 8:30 p.m. brings with it the puck drop of two more games (Colorado at Chicago and Los Angeles at Dallas), with another duo of matches waiting until the top of the hour (Vancouver at Calgary and Toronto at Arizona). Finally, Edmonton at San Jose, acting as this evening’s nightcap, gets green lit at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at New York: Kyle Okposo played nine seasons wearing blue and orange, but he traded the orange for gold this offseason.
  • Boston at Carolina: Both John-Michael Liles and Riley Nash used to call PNC Arena home, combining for almost 400 games for the Hurricanes.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: No notable returns here. Just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

Since Okposo has had such an impact on both his clubs, we’ll take in his warm reception this evening at the Barclays Center.

Unknown-2New York Islanders Logo

 

Okposo’s time with New York began in as the seventh-overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and by 2008 he was consistently earning regular playing time.

Although he notched 52 points in his 2009-’10 campaign, Okposo’s career really took off in 2013-’14. He buried 27 goals that year en route to a 69 point season – both career-highs (the 42 assists he notched that season, also a career high, was tied last season) – for the best point-mark on the club.

His next season was derailed by a detached retina (yes, like the retina in your eyeball) and its associated surgery. In 2015-’16, he got right back on track, equaling that 42 assist-mark from 2013-14 and scoring the puck on his own 22 times, the third-most on the squad.

This offseason, Okposo took advantage of his recent success to test the free agency market, and ended up in Buffalo on a seven-year, $42 million contract. He’s had an immediate impact, as his nine tallies are tops on the team.

Although he was one of many to leave the Islanders in a tough spot, New Yorkers should provide a warm welcome to their old friend.

Okposo’s new club enters tonight’s game with a 12-12-8 record, good enough for only seventh-place in the Atlantic Division. Although the defense and goaltending has been phenomenal, the offense has not done enough to earn the Sabres more victories.

That offense has managed only 69 goals so far this season, the second-fewest in the NHL. Although defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leading the team with 23 points is not entirely a bad thing, it must be alarming for general manager Tim Murray given that 60.16% of his salary cap is being spent on forwards. As stated before, Okposo has lit the lamp the most on the team, scoring nine times.

Although the offense as a whole has struggled, the power play has certainly not. Scoring 22.8% of the time, the Sabres are the fourth-best team in the league with the man-advantage. Ristolainen has taken the lead in this department as well with 13 power play points to his credit, but it has been Matt Moulson who has finished many of those plays, scoring seven times.

Just as good as Buffalo is at scoring with the extra man, they are equally as unimpressive when defending against it. The Sabres have stopped only 74.7% of opposing power plays, the second-worst rate in the league. Although Josh Gorges (16) and Ristolainen (14) both have decent amounts of shorthanded blocks to their credit, they are the only two skaters with more than eight. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but the penalty kill needs to be more of a priority for the Sabres if they want to take the next step towards returning to the playoffs.

Playing host this evening are the 12-14-6 Islanders, the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It is my opinion that the reason they haven’t found success yet is due to their struggles on the defensive end, as their 99 goals allowed ends up being the third-highest scoring-against average (3.09) in the NHL.

Three goalies have taken their try at New York‘s crease this season, but most of the time it is 5-8-5 Jaroslav Halak. Through 19 appearances, he’s earned a .907 save percentage and 3.13 GAA, the (t)31st and 43rd-best effort among the 49 goalies with nine or more appearances this season.

While this is no doubt one of Halak’s worst performances of his career, he can’t shoulder all the blame. His defense is not doing him any favors by allowing 33.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease per night, the second-highest average in the NHL. While Calvin de Haan has certainly been impressive with his team-leading 95 shot blocks, he is the only skater with more than 70 to his credit.  Just like I said for Buffalo, this is an aspect of New York‘s game that needs to change immediately if they want any hope of saving their quickly disappearing season.

As would be expected, those struggles have sneaked into the penalty kill, where the Islanders rank sixth-worst after neutralizing only 78.7% of opposing power plays. Once again, de Haan has been very productive with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but the rest of the club needs to step up to take pressure off Halak.

Unfortunately, the bad news continues on the power play, where New York‘s 13.5% success rate is the third-worst mark in the league. Both Nick Leddy and John Tavares have six man-advantage points to their credit, and the power play goal scoring title is currently shared between Anders Lee and Tavares, both with three tallies on their resume.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Buffalo‘s Anders Nilsson (.933 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league]), should he play, and New York‘s Dennis Seidenberg (+11 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Islanders a -133 favorite to win tonight’s game, but I’m not so certain the spread should be even that large. I’ll side with the Isles simply because they’re playing at home and the Sabres played last night in Buffalo while tonight’s hosts were resting.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vadim Sharifijanov (1975-) – Last Saturday, we talked about draft picks that don’t pan out. Let’s revisit that real quick. This right wing was the 25th-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he ended up playing only 92 games in the league.
  • Scott Gomez (1979) – Another Devils draft pick, this center was selected 27th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Although he spent most of his 16 seasons in Jersey, Gomez played with seven different clubs en route to two All Star selections, two Stanley Cups and the 2000 Calder Trophy.
  • T.J. Oshie (1986-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis, he played seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to Washington before last season. Of course, he’s most known for his six shootout attempts at the 2014 Winter Olympics to give Team USA a 3-2 victory over Russia.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a blowout like yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Columbus whipped the Penguins 7-1 at Nationwide Arena.

It looked like Pittsburgh was off to a good start, as Sidney Crosby (Ian Cole and Conor Sheary) buried a snap shot only 2:39 into the contest, but that lead lasted only 10:22 before Cam Atkinson (Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg) scored a power play snap shot. That one-all tie held into the second period.

William Karlsson (Sam Gagner and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the winning tally with 9:45 remaining in the second frame, and 2:05 seconds later First Star of the Game Scott Hartnell buried the first of six insurance goals. The Jackets took their 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

It was the third period where things really went awry for Pittsbrugh. Starting only 2:44 after returning to the ice, Hartnell (Gagner and Jack Johnson), Second Star Brandon Saad (Wennberg), Boone Jenner (Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones) and Hartnell again (Dubinsky and Saad) combined for the Columbus onslaught to ensure their 11th-straight victory.

Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%), while Matthew Murray managed to save only 17-of-23 (73.9%) in the loss. He was replaced following Jenner’s goal by Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved four-of-five (80%) for no decision.

Columbus‘ victory is the third straight by a home team, setting the DtFR Game of the Day series at 40-23-11 in favor of the hosts, who lead the visitors by nine points.

December 22 – Day 71 – Ohio vs. Pittsburgh

The first of two waves of send-off games into the Christmas break go down tonight, with 10 contests in all. As usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Carolina at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New Jersey and Pittsburgh at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Minnesota at Montréal [RDS/SN360], Anaheim at Ottawa [RDS2], St. Louis at Tampa Bay and Boston at Florida). Los Angeles at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., with Toronto at Colorado waiting an hour before getting underway. Finally at 10 p.m., Winnipeg at Vancouver – tonight’s nightcap – gets green-lit.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike tonight!
  • Pittsburgh at Columbus: This regional rivalry between Ohio and Western Pennsylvania will probably reach new heights this year.

While I always love a good, established rivalry like the one that will occur tonight at the Prudential Center, there’s a very important game happening at Nationwide Arena that we must attend to!

pittsburgh_penguins_logoColumbus Blue Jackets Logo

 

Baseball has PiratesReds, and of course football features the BrownsSteelers. The rivalry between these two cities in the Rust Belt has existed longer than either of these teams have existed.

That being said, the iteration of this rivalry on ice has only taken form recently. It was most prominent in 2014, when these clubs matched up in the Eastern Quarterfinals. Although the Jackets notched their first two postseason victories in franchise history, they fell in six games. If they keep playing like they have to start this season, they might get past counting playoff wins and start counting franchise series victories.

The Penguins make the trip down I-70 with an impressive 21-7-5 record, the best mark in the Eastern Conference. That success has been almost entirely due to the most potent offense in the league, scoring an average of 3.45 goals per game.

With 37 points to his credit, Evgeni Malkin currently has the clubhouse lead in points, but it’s Captain Sidney Crosby who has been most impressive. He’s already buried 22 goals this season, even though he’s played only 27 games.

Part of Pittsburgh‘s offensive success has been their quality power play, scoring on 22.3% of opportunities for the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Phil Kessel and Malkin share scoring responsibilities with the extra-man, both with 13 power play points to their credit, but once again it is Crosby scoring the puck, as his eight man-advantage goals are tops on the team.

What should alarm Yinzers about their club is a penalty kill that ties for seventh-worst in the league, as they stop only 79.1% of opposing power plays. While Ian Cole‘s 14 shorthanded blocks tie him for 25th-most in the league, he is one of only two skaters with more than a dozen penalty kill blocks to his credit.

Playing host this evening are winners of their last 10 games, the 21-5-4 Blue Jackets – the third-best team in both the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division. Although their offense has been impressive on it’s own, Columbus‘ success has been sparked by their defense and goaltender, which have allowed only 62 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

19-5-2 Sergei Bobrovsky has been in net for all but four of the Jackets‘ games, and has earned a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA – the fifth-best effort in the NHL among the 44 netminders with 13 or more appearances to their credit.

Part of the reason his play has been so consistent has been due to the defense playing in front of him. Thanks to his blueliners, he’s faced only an average of 29.5 shots-per-night, tying for 10th-fewest. David Savard has headed that charge, as his 52 blocks are most on the team. However, he is one of four skaters with more than 40 shot blocks to his credit, so it has been a full team affair for the Jackets.

Offensively, Columbus has truly shined on the power play, as their 27.1% success rate is far and away the best conversion rate in the NHL. Cam Atkinson is responsible for 15 of those points, including six man-advantage goals, and both those totals are tops on the squad.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (33 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]), Bobrovsky (19 wins [most in the league], including three shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL], on a 1.94 GAA [fifth-best in the league] and a .932 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL]), Jack Johnson (+16 [ninth-best in the league]) and Savard (+18 [tied for third-best in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Cole (+18 [tied for third-best in the league]), Crosby (22 goals [most in the NHL] among 36 points [fourth-most in the league]), Kessel (22 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] among 33 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Malkin (37 points [third-most in the NHL], including 23 assists [sixth-most in the league] and 14 goals [10th-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.938 save percentage for a 1.85 GAA [ both second-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+21 [second-best in the NHL]).

Believe it or not, but Columbus is favored to win tonight’s matchup with a -110 line, and although sided, I have to agree with Vegas. The Jackets‘ incredible power play matches up extremely well against Pittsburgh‘s lackluster penalty kill.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ian Turnbull (1953-) – The 15th-overall selection in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this defenseman played 628 games over 10 seasons. Most of his days were spent with the club that drafted him, and he notched 414 points with the Leafs.
  • Kirk Maltby (1972-) – An Oilers selection in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 1072 games with Detroit. While playing with the Wings, he hoisted the Stanley Cup four times.
  • Stan Neckar (1975-) – Ottawa selected this defenseman 29th-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Although he wore a red Senators sweater for most of his playing days, he won his lone Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

Hopefully you took my recommendation yesterday and watched Philadelphia‘s 3-2 shootout victory over Washington in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. It was an absolute pleasure to watch.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the visiting Capitals. Andre Burakovsky (Dmitry Orlov and Lars Eller) takes credit, as his snap shot with 1:36 remaining in the frame was his third tally of the season.

4:25 after Philadelphia returned to the ice, they leveled the game with a Michael Raffl (Radko Gudas and Jakub Voracek) wrap-around shot. Washington once again took a one-goal lead 5:28 later when Eller (John Carlson and Burakovsky) buried a snapper. The final goal of regulation was buried with 21 seconds remaining in the second frame with an unassisted tally from Claude Giroux.

The shootout is certainly a poor way of declaring a victor in a hockey game, but in today’s NHL, this game deserved nothing less. As the home team (even though they were wearing their white alternates), the Flyers elected to go first.

  1. Shayne Gostisbehere earned the honor of first shot, but he missed the net.
  2. T.J. Oshie took advantage of the miss by burying his attempt, giving Washington a 1-0 lead.
  3. Giroux did a little bit better than Gostisbehere as his shot was on frame, but Third Star of the Game Braden Holtby was there for the save.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to end the shootout with another Capitals goal, but Second Star Steve Mason made the save to give Philly a breath of life.
  5. Voracek took that breath and ran with it. His shot found the back of the net to level the shootout, but the Caps still had another opportunity to end the game.
  6. Unfortunately for them, Nicklas Backstrom was unable to seal the deal, as Mason denied his shot.
  7. First Star Wayne Simmonds scored the Flyers‘ second-straight goal, putting the pressure on Washington in a miss-and-lose situation.
  8. Mason stood tall again. Justin Williams‘ shot failed to escape the goaltender’s right pad, sealing the bonus point for the home team.

Mason earns the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the shootout loss to Holtby, also saving 36-of-38.

Philadelphia‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 39-23-11 in favor of the home teams, leading the roadies by seven points.

December 21 – Day 70 – No love for Washington

If you’re looking for a busy hockey schedule, you’ve picked the wrong night. Only four teams will drop the puck this evening, starting at 8 p.m. eastern time with Washington visiting Philadelphia (NBCSN/SN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Edmonton at Arizona.

The reasons for visiting Philadelphia are endless. It’s a rematch of one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals from a year ago, but it also features two very good teams that are only qualifying for wild card spots.

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

Sometimes the standings are misleading. This is one of those times. Sure, Philadelphia might be only the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division, and Washington an even worse fifth. That is certainly true when compared to the Penguins, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Those teams have been the standard of the league this season, especially with the puck on their stick.

But try this one on for size. If our featured clubs joined the Atlantic Division, they’d claim second and third place, with the Capitals barely beating out now “fourth” place Ottawa on the three-fewer games played tiebreaker.

It gets even more ridiculous when compared to the struggling Western Conference. The Central Division is similar to the Atlantic in that these clubs would also be second and third-best, again with Washington beating out St. Louis on four-fewer games played.

The Pacific? Philly and the Caps both drop division-leading San Jose to third, with Washington once again leading on three-fewer games played.

I think I’ve made my points. The Metropolitan Division, and more specifically for our Game of the Day, Philadelphia and Washington are very good.

Let’s play another fun game and look ahead to the playoffs. Regardless of who claims the top-three spots in the Metropolitan, it looks to be almost certain that the two Eastern wild cards will be from that division. For the sake of our situation, let’s assume the order of the Metropolitan standings remain the same. Currently the second wild card, Washington holds an six-point lead over Tampa Bay and Florida.

For earning that spot, they earn the distinct privilege of playing the best team in the East (and, in my opinion, all of hockey – whether it is the Penguins or Rangers). Philadelphia gets to face the top-seeded Atlantic seed – again, let’s assume it will be Montréal like it is right now.

If I’m Philly, I’m loving this. After a difficult series against the Habs, the Flyers‘ road to the Eastern Finals appears easy, as they get to play the weaker Atlantic teams. That sounds awesome! So awesome, in fact, that Columbus, the current three seed facing the Rangers, could even grow jealous. I’ll be very intrigued to see how the chips fall between the three and five seeds in the Metropolitan Division this March and April.

Keeping all that in mind, this is even more fun given the bad blood between these teams. Washington‘s six game Quarterfinals victory is only fuel on a fire that has been burning since the ’80s, when the Caps swept the Flyers in three games in the first round of the 1984 playoffs. Since then, Washington has amassed a 3-2 playoff series record against the Flyers, but it’s been Philadelphia who has won the regular season series, going 123-94-19.

Tonight is the first time these clubs have met since April, and the Flyers will be looking to defend home ice after losing the deciding Game 6 on the surface.

The 19-8-3 Capitals come to town sporting an impressive defense. They’ve allowed only 64 goals this season, the third-fewest in the entire league.

Of course, most of that credit usually belongs to the goaltender, and 14-7-2 Braden Holtby is no different. He has a .925 save percentage and 2.08 GAA to his credit, the 11th and seventh-best effort among the 14 goaltenders with a dozen or more appearances on their resumes.

While he’s good on his own, part of the reason he’s found such success is because of the defense playing in front of him. Allowing only 28.1 shots against per night, Holtby faces the sixth-fewest pucks per night. That effort has been headlined by Karl Alzner, who has 52 shot blocks to his credit.

That success has continued even when the Caps are short a man. Led by Alzner’s 15 shorthanded blocks, Washington prevents opposing power plays from lighting the lamp 84% of the time, the seventh-best rate in the NHL.

The 19-11-4 Flyers play host this evening at the Wells Fargo Center, the home of the league’s third-most potent offense, having scored 104 goals already this season. They’ve been especially good of late, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 contests.

Jakub Voracek can take credit for many of those scores, as his 34 points the most on the team. For those not quick with math, he has the same number of points as the Flyers have games played. He’s one of 10 skaters who can truly claim an average of that caliber or better. Unfortunately for Voracek, he can’t claim the goal-scoring lead. That belongs to Wayne Simmonds, whose 16 tallies are five more than his.

As might be expected with such an explosive offense, the power play has truly been ticking. The Flyers are fifth-best in the league with the man-advantage, scoring 22.8% of the time. This has been Captain Claude Giroux‘ forte, as he leads the team with 15 power play points. That being said, the final scorer of those goals remains the same: Simmonds has eight extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been a point of pride for Philadelphia this year. They’ve refused to allow a goal on 82.8% of opposing opportunities, the 10th-best effort in the league. Ivan Provorov has been incredible under these circumstances, as his 19 shorthanded blocks not only lead the team, but are tied for fourth-most in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (16 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (34 points, including 23 assists [both tied for sixth-most in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (2.08 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] for two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league] among 14 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

Although they have home ice to their advantage, Philadelphia is not the favorite to win tonight’s game. Don’t be alarmed though, Flyers fans: the line is only a +105. That being said, I’m sticking with Vegas tonight, because I trust the Capitals‘ offense to take advantage of Philly‘s defense with ease.

Hockey Birthday

  • Frank Patrick (1885-1960) – Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950, this defenseman played most of his career in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association with the Vancouver Millionaires, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1915.
  • Joe Kocur (1964-) – A Red Wings pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played 15 seasons in the league, 10 of which in Detroit. He won three Stanley Cups in his career, including two straight with the Wings in 1997 and ’98.
  • Steve Montador (1979-2015) – 10 seasons this defenseman played in the NHL, playing most of his 571 games for Florida even though he spent more seasons in Calgary. His life met an early end due to CTE caused by cumulative concussions.

Our third shootout in four games gave Florida a 4-3 victory over Buffalo in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Second Star of the Game Aleksander Barkov (First Star Jaromir Jagr and Jason Demers) waited to get the Panthers on the board until 3:51 remained on the clock in the first period. His backhander was the lone tally of the opening frame.

The second goal wasn’t until 12:14 had ticked off the clock in the second, and it also belonged to the home side. Keith Yandle (Barkov and Jagr) takes credit for the twine-tickling power play slap shot. Buffalo didn’t take too kindly to that, so Sam Reinhart (Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly) scored a power play goal of his own to pull the Sabres back within a score. The game was tied with 3:05 remaining in the period when Evander Kane (Brian Gionta and Cody Franson) tipped-in the third and final goal of the second period.

Ristolainen (Reinhart) broke the knot with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a tip-in, but Nick Bjugstad (Barkov and Jagr [That was the 1887th point of his career tonight, tying Mark Messier for second all-time in 94 fewer games played.]) buried his first goal of the season with 3:51 remaining on the clock to force a scoreless three-on-three overtime period.

As the home team, Florida elected to go second in the shootout…

  1. …forcing O’Reilly to take the first shot. Unfortunately for him, Third Star Roberto Luongo was not willing to yield a goal.
  2. Vincent Trocheck took Florida‘s first shot, and it was pure. 1-0 Panthers.
  3. Kyle Okposo tried to pull even with the Panthers, but to no avail. Luongo was once again there for the save.
  4. He scored the first goal of the game, and the last (shh, don’t tell him it doesn’t technically count as a game-winner, or even a goal!). Barkov buries his shot to earn the bonus point for the Panthers.

Luongo earns the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (91.7%), forcing Robin Lehner to take the shootout loss, saving 36-of-39 (92.3%).

That win gives the home teams a 38-23-11 record in the DtFR Game of the Day series to expand their lead to six points over the roadies.

December 20 – Day 69 – Getting Kul in Florida

As usual, you’d better have your remote ready for tonight’s onslaught of games, because there’s a bunch of good ones. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN], Nashville at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at Pittsburgh and Los Angeles at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio of contests (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS], Detroit at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Buffalo at Florida). Colorado at Minnesota drops the puck at the top of the hour, and a pair of games (Ottawa at Chicago [RDS2] and St. Louis at Dallas) wait until 8:30 p.m. Winnipeg at Vancouver gets the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., with our nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – waiting 30 minutes before getting underway.

Short list:

  • New York at Boston: Dennis Seidenberg called the TD Garden home for seven seasons, but he’s gotten a new start in Brooklyn.
  • New York at Pittsburgh: An important duel in the Metropolitan Division is also a rematch of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: Another Eastern Quarterfinals rematch, but last season’s success is still eluding both these clubs.
  • Buffalo at Florida: Dmitry Kulikov is in the same homecoming boat as Seidenberg. He returns to his old stomping grounds of seven years with his new club.
  • St. Louis at Dallas: Yet another rematch, but this matchup occurred in the Western Semifinals.

I’m torn between featuring Kulikov or Seidenberg, as both spent considerable portions of their careers in the building they’ll be playing in this evening. Since the game in the Sunshine State will probably be much more competitive, we’ll focus on Kulikov.

Unknown-2Florida_Panthers_logo_2016

 

With the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

That was the last the Voltigeurs saw of the defenseman, as he signed a contract with the Panthers the following September to begin play in the NHL only a month later.

Barring the 2012-13 lockout season, Kulikov has played at least 58 games in each of the remaining six seasons of his career. While he’s been unable to fully maintain his scoring reputation from his junior days (his 138 points are 75th-most among the 603 defensemen to appear in a game since he’s joined the league), he’s still been very effective for his club as the second-highest points earner among Panthers blueliners.

Leading that group of defensemen from 2009-’16 was Brian Campbell, whose 175 points were 37 more than the Russian’s in 84 fewer games (he joined Florida before the 2011-’12 season). Both skaters notched 28 goals during their tenure with the Panthers.

Kulikov began making his way to the KeyBank Center during this season’s draft. He and Vancouver‘s second round pick that was in the Panthers‘ possession was exchanged with Buffalo for Mark Pysyk, Buffalo‘s second round pick and St. Louis‘ third round pick then in possession of the Sabres.

It’s proven to be a tough transition for Kulikov. He has yet to even notch an assist this season, much less a goal, due in part to injuring his back during the preseason. He played 12 games before taking a leave of absence that left him out of the lineup for a month. Tonight’s game is only his fifth contest back in the lineup, and he’ll certainly want to score on the team that didn’t value him enough to keep him off the trading block.

The Sabres enter tonight’s game with a 12-11-7 record to sit in last place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve gotten in that position by playing some very poor offense that has scored only 65 goals – tying with Colorado for fewest in the NHL.

Hurling insults at the Sabres offense is a difficult thing to do given Jack Eichel was injured for nearly two months. That being said, the offense did not gel without him and has put the Sabres in a tough spot to start the season. Kyle Okposo, with his 22 points to lead the team, and Rasmus Ristolainen effectively carried the team on their backs, as they are the only two skaters with more than 18 points to their credit. Okposo especially deserves credit, as his nine tallies are the most on the team.

One part of Buffalo‘s game where they did not suffer during Eichel’s absence was their man-advantage. Led by Okposo and Ristolainen’s dozen power play points, the Sabres have converted 22.9% of their advantageous opportunities, the third-best rate in the league.

As good as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been the reverse. Even with Josh Gorges‘ 14 shorthanded shot blocks (which ties him for 22nd-most in the league), the Sabres have prevented their opposition from scoring only 73.6% of the time, the worst effort in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 14-13-5 Panthers, the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division. Just like Buffalo, their struggles are found on the offensive end of the ice, where their 75 total goals are sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The similarities between tonight’s clubs continue. Just like the Sabres, Florida has two players who have stood out among a mediocre offense. Aleksander Barkov (22) and Jon Marchessault (20) are the only two players with more than 17 points to their credit so far this season. Marchessault has been especially impressive, as his 10 goals are also the best on the squad.

The power play has really suffered during this season’s scoring slump. Florida has only potted 14.8% of their man-advantage opportunities, the seventh-worst rate in the NHL. Marchessault has been active in this situation too. His seven power play points are most on the team.

Before we go any further, there’s one more matter we need to address: Marchessault, as great has he’s been, is currently listed on the Panthers’ injury report. He’s missed the last two games with a lower body injury, and hasn’t played since last Tuesday in Minnesota.

If anything has gone right for Florida, it’s been their defense – specifically their penalty kill. Successful on 86% of attempts, the Panthers are the fifth-best team when down a man, led by Michael Matheson‘s seven shorthanded blocks.

These squads have already met up once this season at the KeyBank Center. It was a very successful night for the Sabres, as they kept the Panthers off the board, compliments of Anders Nilsson, en route to a 3-0 victory. Johan Larsson‘s first goal of the season was the winner.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Nilsson (.933 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Florida‘s Barkov (15 assists among 22 points [both lead the team]).

Florida has a -150 next to their name, which is bad news for the Sabres. It’s tough not to side with the Panthers given the fact that they’re at home. Regardless of who wins, you can certainly assume it will be a low-scoring affair.

Hockey Birthday

  • Cory Stillman (1973-) – The sixth-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this left wing played 1025 games over 16 seasons. He spent most of his days with the club that drafted him but won a Stanley Cup with both Tampa Bay (2004) and Carolina (2006).
  • Andrei Markov (1978-) – This defenseman was selected by Montréal in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s played with the Canadiens ever since. Tonight could mark his 960th career game, provided his lower body injury sustained Sunday in Washington isn’t too severe.

It took a two-goal third period for the Ducks to knock-off the Maple Leafs, winning 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took 27:27 before Third Star of the Game Auston Matthews (Nikita Zaitsev and Zach Hyman) scored a tip-in goal to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage, but Anaheim was able to level with 1:59 remaining in the frame. Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Sami Vatanen and First Star Cam Fowler) snapper was aided by the fact that Zaitsev was serving two minutes in the penalty box for roughing.

The Ducks when right back to work upon returning from the second intermission. 1:21 after taking the ice for the third period, Nick Ritchie (Ondrej Kase) fired a wrister to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead. It lasted 10:21 before Nazem Kadri (Matt Hunwick) scored a wrister of his own to once again level the contest. With 6:52 remaining in regulation, Fowler (Ryan Kesler) buried a power play snapper to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead they would not yield.

Second Star John Gibson saved 33-of-35 (94.3%) shots faced for the victory, leaving the loss to Frederik Andersen, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%) in the loss.

Anaheim’s victory pulls the road teams within five points of the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series, who have a 37-23-11 record.