December 12 – Day 61 – Not just a rivalry these days

Bad news: You had to go back to work today.

Good news: There’s hockey on tonight!

Don’t get too excited though, there’s only two games. The action starts at 7 p.m. when Arizona visits Pittsburgh (TVAS), followed half an hour later by Boston at Montréal (NHLN/RDS/SN). Both times eastern.

As sexy as the CoyotesPenguins matchup is, I think we all know we have to turn our attention to The Metropolis.

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The 15-12-2 Bruins come to Montréal in command of third place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve been able to find that success by allowing only 69 goals so far this season, tying for the seventh-fewest in the NHL.

Every good defense starts with a good goalie, and the Bruins are no different. 14-5-2 Tuukka Rask has earned his impressive record on a .93 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, the eighth and fifth-best rates in the league, respectively, among goaltenders with 11 or more appearances.

Although his numbers have been impressive, Rask doesn’t get all the credit. He faces only 27 shots-per-game, the fourth-lowest rate in the league. Rookie Brandon Carlo and Captain Zdeno Chara have headed that charge with their 46 and 44 blocks, respectively. Last season, the Bruins allowed 30.4 shots per game to tie for 11th-most, and Rask did not play to the standard we’ve come to expect.

In other words, goalies: be thankful for your bluelines!

Not surprisingly, Boston‘s penalty kill has also been very strong, refusing 87.2% of opposing power plays. The rookie has been just as important when a man down as he is at even-strength, notching a club-high 15 shorthanded blocks.

Where the Bruins need to improve is on their own power play, where they find the back of the net only 13.9% of the time. David Krejci, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are the three man-advantage kings, each with five power play points on their season resume, but Pastrnak has been the most impressive. He has four extra man goals.

Third in the division is good, but first is better – especially when it coincides with first in the league. That’s the position the 19-6-3 Canadiens find themselves in, and you won’t find any complainers in that dressing room. Just like Boston, the Habs have found much of their success by keeping the opposition off the board.

The man between the pipes more often than not for the Canadiens has been 16-3-1 Carey Price, who’s .94 save percentage and 1.79 GAA are both the fourth-best efforts in the NHL among goalies with 10 or more appearances.

So both teams keep their opponents from scoring? What makes them different? We’ve already determined that Boston uses an excellent combination of goalie and defense. On the other hand, Montréal prefers to lean hard on Price.

The Habs defense has allowed 30.7 shots to reach Price per night, the 13th-most in the NHL. What’s alarming is to think if they’d not made the trade with Nashville for Shea Weber, who leads his new club with 60 blocked shots.

In conclusion: Price>Rask this season, but Boston‘s defense>Montréal‘s.

Fortunately for Montréal, their offense – specifically the power play – is able to cover up for the lack of defense. Even with Weber’s 10 power play points – including a club-leading seven power play goals – the Canadiens have converted 21.6% of their man-advantages, the eighth-best effort in the league.

These teams last met a little under a month ago on this surface, and the Habs won 3-2. That victory improved Montréal‘s record to 2-0 against the Bruins on the season.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Pastrnak (18 goals [second-most in the NHL] for a +15 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Rask (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 14 wins [tied for third-most in the league] on a 1.85 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] and a .93 save percentage [ninth-best in the league]) & Montréal‘s Nathan Beaulieu (+13 [10th-best in the NHL]), Price (16 wins [tied for most in the league] on a 1.79 GAA and a .94 save percentage [both fourth-best in the NHL], plus two shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Weber (+18 [second-best in the NHL]).

The consensus in Vegas is that Montréal is a -150 favorite to win tonight’s game. They’re hard to pick against, given that they’ve already won the first two meetings with their most hated rivals and they have home ice. I like the Habs to win tonight, but it should be a well-contested contest.

Hockey Birthday

  • Billy Smith (1950-) – Who knew goaltenders could be strikers? OK, maybe that’s a slight over-exaggeration, but this longtime Islander was the first netminder to bury a goal. Oh yeah, he also won four Stanley Cups.
  • Colin White (1977-) – Another multi-Cup winner, this defenseman was the 49th-overall selection in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey. He played 743 games over 11 seasons with the Devils, plus a 54-game stint in San Jose.

With two goals in the third period, Edmonton was able to defend home ice against the visiting Jets in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 3-2.

The lone tally of the first period belonged to the Jets. With 5:10 remaining in the opening frame, Third Star of the Game Mathieu Perreault (Bryan Little and Jacob Trouba) buried a wrister to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead.

Second Star Oscar Klefbom (Tyler Pitlick and Patrick Maroon) and the Oilers struck back only 1:53 after returning to the ice with a snap shot, but the tied game lasted only 10:07 before Chris Thorburn (Marko Dano) scored a snapper of his own to reclaim a 2-1 lead for Winnipeg.

Edmonton once again returned from intermission with a vengeance, as First Star Mark Letestu (Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic) buried a power play snap shot to once again tie the game at two-all. But this time, Winnipeg did not have an answer. They could not muster another tally. Instead, it was Letestu who scored the winning goal, earning Edmonton second place in the Pacific Division for the next couple days.

Cam Talbot earns the come-from-behind victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), while Connor Hellebuyck takes the loss, saving 27-of-30 (90%).

The home teams did it! They won all of this week’s DtFR Game of the Days. That streak improves their record to 36-19-8, which is 15 points better than the roadies.

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