December 2 – Day 51 – Wildfires usually aren’t fun, but this one is an exception

Congratulations! You made it through the work week! You know what you deserve? Hockey.

Unfortunately, there’s only two games occurring this evening, and the action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. with Minnesota visiting Calgary. An hour and a half later, the second game – Montréal at San Jose (RDS) – drops the puck. All times eastern.

Tonight is the night our Minnesota fans have been waiting for: their Wild are finally being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day!

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Making their first of two visits to the Saddledome this season are the 11-8-3 Minnesota Wild, good enough to currently occupy third place in the Central Division. They’ve gotten to that position with excellent play from their goaltending, which allows the fewest goals in the league (46).

Devan Dubnyk has been nothing short of incredible this season. He’s only earned a 9-6-2 record over his 17 starts, but his record is not indicative of how well he’s played. His .946 save percentage and 1.66 GAA both rank second-best in the league among all goaltenders with nine or more appearances.

His exemplary play has been necessary, because Minnesota‘s blueline has not done much to help him. So far this season, they’ve allowed opponents to fire an average of 31.1 shots per game, the ninth-highest in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon‘s 39 blocks leads the team, but him and Jonas Brodin are the only two skaters for the Wild that have more than 30 blocks to their credit.

Hosting the Wild this evening are the 11-13-2 Flames, who currently sit in fifth place in the Pacific Division. The main reason Calgary has not found success this season has been their poor goaltending and defense, which has allowed 76 goals already – the third-most in the NHL.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have split time between the pipes almost perfectly this year – separated by only 5:33 – at 13 starts apiece. Johnson has certainly found more success, earning a 8-4-1 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.06 GAA – the t-ninth and 10th-best effort among the 48 netminders with seven or more appearances.

Part of the reason Johnson has been able to play so well has been due to the defense playing in front of him. The Flames have allowed an average of only 29.5 shots against per game, the ninth-fewest in the league. That effort has been headlined by Mark Giordano, who has 64 blocks to his credit, the second-most in the entire league.

The defensive Achilles heel for Calgary has been on the penalty kill. Giordano’s 20 shorthanded blocks lead not only the Flames, but also the entire league, but it hasn’t done much to improve a 77.3% kill rate, tied for third-worst in the NHL.

It’s frightening, but the penalty kill has actually been the better of the two special teams. The Flames‘ power play is worst in the league, successful on only 10.1% of opportunities. Dennis Wideman has done his best to lead the man-advantage with four power play points, including two goals, but he’s one of only 11 skaters who have earned a point under those circumstances. It goes without saying that the Flames need to work on this aspect of their game if they want to return to their 2014-’15 form.

These squads have already met up once this year, with Calgary notching a 1-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. Gaudreau took credit for the lone tally.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s Johnson (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] on a 2.06 GAA and a .93 save percentage [both 10th-best in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (four shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.66 GAA and a .946 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+12 [tied for fifth-best in the league]).

It’s never a good sign for the home team when they have a line with a plus, but that’s the case this evening. I agree with Vegas’ prediction, based mostly on Calgary‘s ineptitude on special teams. Although Minnesota‘s effort on either the power play or the penalty kill does not dazzle, it should be more than enough to hold the Flames at bay.

Hockey Birthday

  • Rich Sutter (1963-) – This Sutter brother was drafted 10th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, but his longest tenure with a club was from 1986-’90 with Vancouver.
  • Ron Sutter (1963-) – The ’82 Draft treated this Sutter a little better, as he was picked fourth-overall by, go figure, the Flyers. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry, especially between twins. Unlike Rich, Ron spent much of his career with the club that drafted him.
  • Sergei Zholtok (1972-2004) – This center was the 55th-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, but he played 210 of his 588 career games (35.7%) with Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Latvian’s life was cut short by cardiac arrhythmia.

Edmonton absolutely dominated the second period to seal a 6-3 victory over the Jets in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The scoring started only shortly after the game did. Bryan Little (Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford) waited only 35 seconds before scoring his first goal of the season. 1:56 later, Mark Letestu (First Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera) pulled the Oil even at one-all with a power play goal. Winnipeg resumed the lead with 9:46 remaining in the opening frame with a power play goal of their own, courtesy of rookie Third Star Patrik Laine (Toby Enstrom and Nikolaj Ehlers). The Jets held that 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Quick scoring seemed to be the theme of the night, as Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Second Star Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrister to tie the game for Edmonton. The Oilers took their first lead of the night – a lead they would not yield – only 4:15 later when Letestu (Lucic and McDavid) buried yet another power play wrister. Patrick Maroon (Zack Kassian and Letestu) takes credit for the game-winning goal, as he buried a wrist shot with 8:17 remaining in the second period to give Edmonton a 4-2 lead going into the second intermission.

Another quick goal was struck in the final frame by Laine (Dustin Byfuglien and Wheeler) at the 1:44 mark, but it was all the Jets could muster for their comeback attempt. Draisaitl (McDavid and Adam Larsson) and Benoit Pouliot (Sekera and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) notched two insurance goals for the Oil to seal the victory.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 22-of-25 (88%)shots faced, leaving the loss for Connor Hellebuyck, who saved 23-of-29 (79.3%). He was replaced after Pouliot’s goal by Michael Hutchinson, who saved all four shots he faced for no decision.

The road teams have been staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, earning 11 points in the last seven games. That being said, the home squads still have the advantage with their 28-18-7 record, leading the visitors by four points.

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