December 14 – Day 63 – Keeping up with the Jones

There’s only four games on the schedule today, but most of them are very good. Like it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. when San Jose visits Ottawa (SN/TVAS), trailed half an hour later by Boston at Pittsburgh (NBCSN). Tampa Bay at Calgary (SN/SN360) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., leading tonight’s nightcap – Philadelphia at Colorado (NBCSN) – by 30 minutes. All times eastern.

The most competitive contest of the evening is where we try to turn our attention to, and I think that will occur tonight in the Canadian Tire Centre.

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The most recent winners of the Campbell Bowl are currently the proud owners of a 17-11-1, the best mark in the Pacific Division and winners of their past two games. They’ve reached that distinction riding an impressive defense and goaltending that has allowed only 63 scores this season, a total that is second-fewest in the Western Conference.

As has been the case since last season, Martin Jones mans the Sharks’ crease, and does a pretty good job of it. Although he only has a 14-10-1 record, his .921 save percentage and 2.07 GAA are 13th and ninth-best, respectively, among the 38 goalies in the league with 13 or more appearances. With numbers like that, his record is more representative of an offense that has managed only the ninth-fewest goals.

Part of the reason Jones has been so good has been due to the blueline in front of him. Led by Brent Burns‘ 55 blocks, Jones faces an average of only 26.4 shots per night, the second-fewest in the entire NHL.

Hosting that impressive Sharks defense are the 16-11-2 Senators, losers of their last two games. Although I’m not really impressed by either aspect of Ottawa‘s game, their defense and goaltending has certainly overshadowed their offensive efforts. They’ve allowed 78 goals so far this season, the 11th-fewest in the NHL.

Even though 12-6-1 Craig Anderson has been the main man in net for the Senators, Dean Brown says it will by 4-3-1 Mike Condon in net this evening.

Condon is the proud owner of a .923 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, the 19th and 17th-best effort, respectively, among all 60 goaltenders with four or more appearances.

Regardless of who is in net for Ottawa on a given night, they certainly earn their paycheck. The Senators‘ defense allows 31.2 shots-per-game to reach the crease, the eighth-most in the league. What’s disheartening is Erik Karlsson (79 blocks), Cody Ceci (64) and Dion Phaneuf (63) have been putting their bodies on the line for their goaltenders, but they are the only ones with more than 40 blocks to their names. If the Sens want to hold onto their current playoff spot, more blueliners need to get involved in performing their primary job description.

A good spot to start would be on the penalty kill, where Ottawa ranks eighth-worst in the league on a 80.2% kill rate. Phaneuf has been especially active when down a man, as he leads his club with 21 shorthanded blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 13.

These squads just met up last Wednesday in The Tank, where Condon and the Senators were able to pull off the 4-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Ottawa‘s Karlsson (20 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and San Jose‘s Jones (14 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league], on a 2.07 GAA [10th-best in the NHL]).

All bets are off in Vegas in this game, but I feel pretty confident in picking the Sharks to come away with the victory for no other reason than the Senators are struggling right now. Ottawa‘s penalty kill is not very good, and their defense has not been gelling of late. Add that to San Jose wanting revenge for losing on home ice, and you have a Sharks winner.

Hockey Birthday

  • Patrik Sundstrom (1961-) – A 10-year NHL veteran, this Swedish center was selected by Vancouver in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Sundstrom played 679 games over his career, and very near evenly split them between the Canucks and New Jersey.
  • Bill Ranford (1966-) – Boston selected this Canadian goaltender in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 15-year career in Edmonton, where he won his only Stanley Cup in 1990. He also won the Smythe Trophy that season.

Only three goals were struck in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series – and all in the same period – but it was Chicago who avenged their home loss to the Rangers to steal the 2-1 victory in Madison Square Garden.

Trevor van Riemsdyk (Artemi Panarin and Second Star of the Game Artem Anisimov) took credit for the Blackhawks‘ first goal of the night, only 25:18 after the initial puck drop. That lead lasted only 2:57 before Jesper Fast (Oscar Lindberg) tipped-in his third goal of the season to level the game for the Blueshirts. Anisimov (Brian Campbell and Panarin) takes credit for the Hawks‘ game-winner on a snap shot with 69 seconds remaining in the second period, and that 2-1 score held until the final horn.

First Star Scott Darling earns the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (97.1%), while Third Star Antti Raanta takes the loss, saving 24-of-26 (92.3%).

The road teams’ second-straight victory pulls them back within a dozen points of the home sides, but the hosts still host a 36-20-9 record in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

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