December 16 – Day 65 – Gargantuan goalies

Happy Friday. Kick back with some hockey tonight, starting with two games at 7 p.m. (the New York Islanders at Buffalo and Los Angeles at Pittsburgh [NBCSN/SN/TVAS]) and another pair half an hour (San Jose at Montréal [RDS] and Washington at Carolina). 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of two more contests (Florida at Colorado and Columbus at Calgary), with tonight’s nightcap – Tampa Bay at Vancouver – waiting an hour before starting. All times eastern.

Two division leaders meet up in the Bell Centre this evening, so even though both clubs have already been featured once this week, we have to make the trip to The City of a Hundred Steeples.

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The Sharks make their yearly visit to the Bell Centre with an 18-11-1 record, and winners of their last three contests. They’ve been able to attain that Pacific Division lead with an impressive defense and goaltending, which has only allowed 66 goals so far this season – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Martin Jones has made 26 starts for the Sharks this year, and has made good use of his time. To earn his 15-10-1 record, he’s earned a .92 save percentage and 2.1 GAA, the 14th and ninth-best effort in comparison to his 40 peers with 13 or more appearances.

A lower save percentage in comparison to a good GAA is always indicative of a solid defense, and the Sharks are no different. Led by Brent Burns‘ 56 blocks, San Jose has allowed only 26.6 shots per night to reach Jones’ crease, the second-best rate in the league.

Hosting that impressive defense are the 19-6-4 Canadiens, the leaders of the Atlantic Division. Although the have an impressive offense, they have also been led by a dominant netminder this season, who has led his team to allowing only 63 goals – the fourth-best total in the league.

16-3-2 Carey Price has been having a career season , as his .94 save percentage and 1.8 GAA are both third-best in the NHL among goalies with 11 or more appearances.

Price’s play has been necessary, as his defense has allowed 30.7 shots per game to reach his crease, the 13th-highest average in the NHL. Shea Weber has done all he can, as his 61 blocks lead the team, but him, Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry are the only three skaters with more than 40 shot blocks to their credit. If others do not improve their effort, Canadiens fans could have concern Price is overworked as the playoffs roll around.

Montréal has already played made their dive into The Tank for the season, but like most teams that visit Northern California, they could not escape with even a point two weeks ago. The Sharks won 2-1, with Joe Pavelski taking credit for the winning goal in the first period.

Some players to keep an eye on include Montréal‘s Price (16 wins [second-most in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league], on a .94 save percentage and a 1.8 GAA [both third-best in the NHL]) and Weber (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Jones (15 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league], on a 2.1 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]).

Just like their first meeting, this game will most certainly star Jones and Price. Since Montréal has the more explosive offense to go with their home-ice advantage, I like the Habs to take tonight’s victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Eric Belanger (1977-) – Drafted by Los Angeles in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this center played exactly 820 games over his 12 seasons in the greatest hockey league in the world. By the time he played his final contest in the NHL, he’d notched 358 points, including 220 assists.

A second goal in the second period was the deciding factor in the Ducks‘ victory over Boston in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Continuing the theme of the number two, Zdeno Chara (Second Star of the Game David Backes and Brad Marchand) scored his second goal of the season with 7:53 remaining in the first period to give the Bruins the lead, followed only 13 seconds later by an Austin Czarnik (Ryan Spooner and Riley Nash) snapper to double it to 2-0. Only 24 seconds after Czarnik’s tally, Andrew Cogliano buried an unassisted wrister to pull Anaheim back within one. Scoring subsided until 2:10 remained in the period, when Kevin Bieksa (Ryan Getzlaf) leveled the game at two-all with a wrister. That score lasted into the first intermission.

Anaheim took their first lead of the game 55 seconds after returning to the ice when Josh Manson (Jakob Silfverberg and First Star Rickard Rakell) buried his first goal of the season. That lead lasted only 71 seconds though, as David Krejci (Backes and Torey Krug) scored a power play wrister to level the game at three-all. The Ducks earned the game-winning score at the 5:02 mark when Rakell (Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler) potted a wrister that proved to be the final tally of the night.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (91.2%), leaving the loss to Anton Khudobin, saving 23-of-27 (85.2%).

The fourth-straight win by the teams in white sets the DtFR Game of the Day record at 36-21-10, but the series still favors the hosts by nine points.