December 13 – Day 62 – Darling division leaders

Welcome to Tuesday night hockey. As usual, it’s a busy night, and the action gets started at 7 p.m. with four contests (Los Angeles at Buffalo, Washington at the New York Islanders, Chicago at the New York Rangers [NBCSN/SN/TVAS] and Vancouver at Carolina). Two more games drop the puck half an hour later (San Jose at Toronto and Arizona at Detroit), while another pair waits until the top of the hour (St. Louis at Nashville and Florida at Minnesota). Anaheim at Dallas finds its start at 8:30 p.m., and this evening’s nightcap – Columbus at Edmonton – gets green-lit at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: A Metropolitan Division rivalry that began in the 1980s.
  • Chicago at New York: An “Original Six” matchup, and the only time this regular season that the Hawks visit Manhattan.

Chicago at New York would be a phenomenal game even if it weren’t an old-school rivalry. The history between both franchises only adds to this contest.

Unknown-2New York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how they keep slipping through the cracks, but the Blackhawks haven’t been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since their 2-1 shootout victory over Florida on November 29.

Their play has been far from the reason for their absence, as their 18-8-4 record is best in the Western Conference. Although Chicago is home to a long list of excellent goalscorers, they’ve found much of their success by keeping opponents off the scoreboard. The Hawks have yielded only 69 goals this season, tying for seventh-fewest in the league.

While Corey Crawford is still the lead netminder in the Windy City, an emergency appendectomy on December 3 has forced him to the Blackhawks‘ injured reserve list. Enter 6-2-2 backup Scott Darling, whose .929 save percentage and 2.12 GAA is 11th and 12th-best effort, respectively, among the 58 goalies with five or more appearances.

For those wondering, I wouldn’t bet on Lars Johansson making his first-ever NHL start, even though Darling has played every second of Chicago‘s last five games (Darling is 2-2-1 in those games). We’ll break down New York‘s offense in a minute, but a quick summary: they’re one of the best in the league. Not the best way to introduce him to the NHL family.

Crawford, and now Darling, deserve much of the success for Chicago‘s defensive prowess, as the blueline playing in front of them has been nothing to write home about. The Hawks‘ goalies face an average of 30.8 shots-per-game, tying for the 11th-most in the NHL. That being said, that critique does not apply to Niklas Hjalmarsson, whose 64 blocks not only lead the squad, but ties for sixth-most in the entire league.

Due in large part to the overall effort of the defense, Chicago‘s penalty kill has struggled mightily this year. The Hawks allow opposing power plays to score 27.3% of the time, the absolute worst in the NHL. Other than Hjalmarsson’s 16 shorthanded blocks, no other defenseman has more than 10 to his name.

Hosting the Hawks this evening are the 20-9-1 Rangers, who currently occupy second place in the Metropolitan Division, arguably the toughest division in hockey. As mentioned before, they’ve played the best offense in hockey, scoring 105 goals in 30 games.

That 3.5 goals-per-game average is led by J.T. Miller and his 22 points. Although that effort is only good enough to tie him for 33rd-best in the league, it’s the fact that four skaters for the Rangers have 20 or more points to their credit. Adding to that depth has been Michael Grabner, who – although he only has 17 points – has buried 13 goals already this season, the most on the team.

Like I said, Johansson wants no part of this game, and Darling probably doesn’t either!

As would be expected, New York‘s power play has been very successful as well. Converting 22.6% of their opportunities, the Blueshirts rank fifth-best in the league. Again, what makes this man-advantage so frightening is that goaltenders have no idea where the pressure is coming from. A whopping six skaters have six power play points to their credit, including Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, each of whom have four extra-man tallies.

The winning ways don’t stop when down a man. Madison Square Garden also houses the fourth-best penalty kill, as the Rangers refuse to allow the opposition to score on 85.9% of power play opportunities. Kevin Klein takes much of the credit in that department, as his 13 shorthanded blocks are most on the club.

The Rangers have already made their yearly trip to the United Center, where they won 1-0 game last Friday thanks to a Nick Holden overtime winner. Darling was in net for Chicago in that game, so perhaps he knows the secret that has eluded so many other teams to slowing down an offense that has so far been better than last year’s Stars and Capitals.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Darling (.929 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL]), Marian Hossa (15 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Patrick Kane (20 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & New York‘s Kevin Hayes (+16 [tied for third-best in the league]), Grabner (+19 [best in the NHL]) and, should he play, Antti Raanta (1.65 GAA [second-best in the league] on a .943 save percentage [third-best in the NHL]).

The Rangers are marked -145 favorites to win tonight’s game, and I think you’d be crazy to bet against them. In addition to simply being  an incredible team overall (potentially the best team in hockey), they have an impressive 11-4-1 record at home and are riding a three-game winning streak. Although it won’t be an easy win, I am confident in a Blueshirt victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Mohns (1933-2014) – This seven-time All-Star played an impressive 22 seasons, most of which with the Boston Bruins. By the time his career was over, he’d notched 710 points, including 462 assists.
  • Bob Gainey (1953-) – The eighth-overall pick in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft, he played his entire NHL career with the club that drafted him: the Habs. By the time his playing days were through, he was a five-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time Selke winner, and the recipient of the 1979 Smythe Trophy. As you might expect with a resume like that, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 and his number 23 was retired in 2008.
  • Sergei Fedorov (1969-) – Another Hall-of-Famer (Class of 2015), this center was drafted 74th-overall by Detroit in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. After 18 seasons, he’d won three Stanley Cups, two Selke Trophies, and the 1994 Hart and Pearson Trophies.
  • Bates Battaglia (1975-) – This left wing may have been drafted by Anaheim in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played for the Mighty Ducks. Instead, he spent most of his days in Carolina, where he notched 150 of his career 198 points.
  • Dan Hamhuis (1982-) – The 12th-overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft is currently in his first season with Dallas. Most of his playing days have been spent with the Central Division rival Predators, where he played 483 games.

They may have needed overtime, but Boston finally earned their first win of the season against the bitter rival Canadiens, winning 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Sixty-five seconds remained in the second period before the first goal was struck. Austin Czarnik (Adam McQuaid and Third Star of the Game Ryan Spooner) takes credit with only the third goal of his career. His wrister gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.

Desperation time was on the horizon in Montréal, but the Habs avoided making the decision to pull their netminder when Paul Byron (Torrey Mitchell and Andrei Markov) netted a backhander with 3:12 remaining on the clock. As neither team could break the knotted game, they settled to play three-on-three overtime.

Spooner (Torey Krug and Czarnik) apparently had enough of overtime, or he simply doesn’t like shootouts. Either way, he scored a wrister with 100 seconds remaining in overtime to earn the Bruins the extra point.

First Star Tuukka Rask earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (96.8%), leaving the overtime loss to Second Star Carey Price, saving 27-of-29 (93.1%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series still favors the hosts, as their 36-19-9 record is 14 points better than the roadies’ efforts.

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