As usual, Saturday hosts a busy NHL schedule, and with college football getting out of the way, you can pay even more attention to the multiple day games! Three of those matinees start at 1 p.m (Boston at Buffalo [SN], Carolina at the New York Rangers and Chicago at Philadelphia [NHLN]), followed an hour later by New Jersey at Nashville. Five contests begin at the usual 7 p.m. starting time (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC], Winnipeg at St. Louis [SN], Florida at Ottawa [CITY/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NHLN]), trailed an hour later by Columbus at Arizona. Dallas at Colorado finds its start at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap, Anaheim at Edmonton (CBC/SN) dropping the puck 60 minutes later. All times eastern.
- Boston at Buffalo: This rivalry has existed almost as long as the Sabres. Tonight’s edition will look far different than November’s meeting, as Jack Eichel is back on the ice.
- Detroit at Pittsburgh: Back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals bouts in 2008 and 2009 between these clubs sparked this rivalry, but it’s died down in recent years.
Clubs joined simply by conference are no match for a rivalry shared within a division. To KeyBank Arena we go!
In the white corner are the visiting Bruins. At 13-10-1, they’re the fourth-best team in the Atlantic Division. They’ve gotten to that position with some excellent defense and goaltending, which has allowed only 53 goals – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.
Although four netminders have taken to the crease for the Bruins, 12-4-1 Tuukka Rask has always been the man in charge. His 17 starts leads the club, as do his .938 save percentage and 1.64 GAA that rank fourth and best, respectively, among his peers with nine or more appearances.
Part of the reason he’s been able to find such success is because of the team playing in front of him and their improvement from a year ago. Last season, the Bruins blueline allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach Rask, tying for the 11th-highest rate in the league. Nowadays, Boston is home to the fourth-best defense, allowing only 27.3 shots-against-per-game.
Rookie Brandon Carlo has headlined that turnaround, already notching 42 blocks in his debut season. Zdeno Chara also deserves credit, as his 41 deflections were accumulated in only 19 games, but the Bruins‘ captain will not be available today with a lower body injury suffered a week and a half ago. Boston is 2-4 since he sustained the injury.
The defensive success has carried into the penalty kill, where the Bruins‘ 85.4% kill rate is second-best in the Eastern Conference, fifth-best overall. Carlo continues his good work on the special teams, leading the club with 14 shorthanded shot blocks.
Where Boston hasn’t been impressive is the power play. Successful on only 14.7% of attempts, the Bruins are eighth-worst in the NHL. That effort is headlined by by David Krejci and David Pastrnak, who both have five extra-man points. Pastrnak’s effort has been more impressive, as his four power play goals lead the squad.
Hosting them this evening are the 9-9-5 Sabres, who are winners of their last two contests. Buffalo has been held back by their offense so far with the fewest goals in the league (47), but help comes in the form of a sophomore center.
So far this season, Kyle Okposo has led the team with 16 points, and has paired with Matt Moulson for the Sabres‘ scoring title with seven goals. But things changed Tuesday when Eichel exchanged his boot for skates and a stick. In only two games, he’s notched four goals – yes, four – to average the best points-per-game average in the league. I don’t know if he’ll be able to maintain that blistering pace of two points per game, but averaging even half that effort would currently tie him for seventh-best average in the league.
Eichel has rejoined an impressive power play. Ranking fourth-best in the NHL, Buffalo has converted 23.4% of their man-advantages. It’s been in this situation where Okposo has earned his paycheck, as he’s notched 11 power play points to lead the team. Moulson has also been very impressive by leading the team with six extra-man tallies.
While Eichel will help the Sabres‘ offense, he isn’t going to do much for a penalty kill that ranks worst in the conference and second-worst in the league. Even with Josh Gorges‘ 14 shorthanded blocks, Buffalo has neutralized only 76.6% of their penalties. They don’t commit many infractions, so the play on the ice in those two minutes will need to improve for the Sabres to be considered a real threat to qualify for the playoffs.
These two have already once this season, a little under a month ago. Boston easily handled the Sabres at the TD Garden, winning 4-0.
Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Boston‘s Pastrnak (13 goals [tied for third-most in the league] for a +13 [fourth-best in the NHL]) and Rask (1.64 GAA [best in the league] for three shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] in 12 wins [tied for third-most in the league] on a .938 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL]) & Buffalo‘s Anders Nilsson (.934 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league]).
Vegas has marked Buffalo as a +126 underdog in today’s game, but I don’t know if it’s even that extreme. While each club has a good and bad special team, they line up against each other well in this matchup such that a poor power play is going against a poor penalty kill, and vice versa.
I actually like Buffalo to pull off the home upset, but one thing I do know is this game will not be a four-goal shutout like their last meeting.
- Igor Larionov (1960-) – This center might have been drafted by Vancouver in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent far more of his 14 seasons in Detroit, where he won the Stanley Cup three times.
- Mike Ramsey (1960-) – The 11th-overall pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft belonged to Buffalo, and they drafted this defenseman. He played 911 games over 14 seasons with the Sabres.
- Jiri Bicek (1978-) – Selected by New Jersey in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing. Although he played in only four seasons with the Devils‘ senior squad, he did appear in five Stanley Cup playoff games to help Jersey to the 2003 title.
Although the Wild was able to score a game-tying goal in the third period, they weren’t able to win the shootout as Calgary won 3-2.
Minnesota actually took credit for the first goal of the game. Only 3:50 after starting play, Chris Stewart (Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter) deflected a shot to put the Wild on the board first. The Flames leveled the score with 7:34 remaining in the frame when Kris Versteeg (Jyrki Jokipakka and Sean Monahan) buried a backhanded shot. Only 1:07 later, First Star of the Game Mikael Backlund (Third Star Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giordano) scored on a power play backhander to give Calgary the lead going into the first intermission.
The Wild took the first shootout attempt…
- Nino Niederreiter went first for Minnesota, but all he found was Chad Johnson‘s pads.
- Versteeg scored a game in regulation, and the success continued in the shootout, putting the Flames up 1-0.
- Jason Pominville held serve for the Wild, but Calgary still had a shot in hand…
- …that Monahan buried to return the lead to the Flames.
- Charlie Coyle ended up being the last shootout participant, as his attempt was stopped by Johnson to secure the victory.
Johnson saved 23-of-25 (92%) shots faced to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 29-of-31 (93.5%).
Calgary‘s victory continues the winning way of the home squads, improving the hosts’ record to 29-18-7 in the DtFR Game of the Day series, leading the roadies by five points.