December 17 – Day 66 – Vesey vs. Nashville

A total of 10 games are on tap today, more than enough for us hockey addicts. The action starts at 2 p.m. with two matinees (Philadelphia at Dallas and Arizona at Minnesota), but the excitement really starts at 7 p.m. when five contests drop the puck (Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC], New Jersey at Ottawa [SN360], Anaheim at Detroit, Montréal at Washington [CITY/NHLN/TVAS] and Buffalo at Carolina). Another pair get underway at 8 p.m. (Chicago at St. Louis and the New York Rangers at Nashville), with tonight’s nightcap – Tampa Bay at Edmonton (CBC/SN360) – getting green lit two hours later.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Detroit: These days, Detroit fans probably need the reminder of the glory days, and this old rivalry might do the trick.
  • Chicago at St. Louis: In case it was ever in question, these towns don’t like each other.
  • New York at Nashville: Ah, the drama.

I know there’s some good rivalries on , but since this is the only trip the Blueshirts will take to the Music City, we’ll follow the Jimmy Vesey saga to its conclusion.

New York Rangers LogoUnknown

 

Vesey is just like you and me. He graduated from college (Harvard, so I guess he’s not exactly like you and me…) and was eager to look for a job. But, he had already been drafted by the Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Sounds like a great situation, right? Immediate employment out of school! It’s everyone’s dream!

It was actually better than that. David Poile, the Predators‘ general manager, did not want to send Vesey to Milwaukee to play in the AHL. His plan was to have Vesey participating with the Predators as soon as possible for their playoff run.

Turns out, Vesey wasn’t too interested in being told where to go. The Crimson graduate showed his smarts – like you do with an Ivy League education – and played the NHL’s CBA like a fiddle. Drafted in 2012 and not singing a contract by 2016, Vesey had the right to decline the contract and become a free agent.

As you might expect, that rubbed the Predators organization the wrong way, but they realized they had to get something out of the situation. Poile shipped Vesey off to Buffalo, where he again declined the Sabres‘ offers. As made evident by his eighth-most points by a forward in Madison Square Garden, the rookie has laid down roots with the Rangers.

Those Blueshirts have an impressive 21-10-1 record that is good enough for second in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Besides signing Vesey, New York added tons of offensive talent this offseason, and that has yielded 108 goals, the second-highest scoring average in the NHL.

It seems the points leader in Manhattan changes game by game. Going into tonight’s contest in Nashville, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller co-lead the offense, each with 22 points to their credit. Of course, the most dangerous Ranger as far as a netminder is concerned is Michael Grabner, who has lit the lamp a team-leading 13 times.

As one might expect, that success has carried into the power play, where the Rangers‘ 21.9% success rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. An incredible six players top the Blueshirts with six power play points apiece, but once again a goalies’ biggest concern is the final goalscorer. Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Vesey all have four man-advantage goals to their credit to account for 57% of New York‘s extra-man tallies.

If the Predators were planning on taking advantage of New York‘s penalty kill they have another think coming. The Blueshirts refuse to yield a goal on 86.9% of opposing power plays, the third-best rate in the NHL. Kevin Klein gets this accolade, as his 13 shorthanded blocks are tops in Manhattan.

The Vesey-less Predators have had more bad than good happen to them this season (Vesey no doubt being one of the first line items), as their 13-12-4 record is good enough for only fifth place in the Central Division. On the ice, their biggest issue has been their goaltending that has allowed 84 goals already this year – at only 29 games played, that’s the 10th-highest rate in the league.

12-8-4 Pekka Rinne has started between the pipes for Nashville in all but five games, and has notched a .916 save percentage and 2.5 GAA in that time – the (t)18th and (t)20th best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among the 42 goaltenders with a dozen or more appearances.

The Preds are a defensive-minded team, made apparent by their 29.9 shots-against average that ranks 13th-lowest in the team. Mattias Ekholm takes most of the credit for that, as his 54 shot blocks are the most on the squad. That being said, a total of four skaters (Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban) have 40 or more blocks, so it has certainly been a team effort.

That defensive presence breaks down on the penalty kill though. Nashville ranks 10th-worst in the league at nullifying their penalties, successful only 80% of the time. This has been where Josi has shined, with a team-leading 13 shorthanded blocks to his name.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+9 [leads the team]), Ryan Johansen (21 points [leads the team]) and James Neal (12 goals [leads the team]) & New York‘s Hayes (+15 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]) and, should he play, Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the league]).

Since Nashville‘s defense and goaltending will not be good enough to handle the Rangers‘ offense, this boils down to the Predators‘ breaking though New York‘s tough defense and keeping up on the scoreboard. I don’t think it will happen, and Vesey will be able to laugh himself to back to Manhattan with another two points for his club.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Hitchcock (1951-) – Hitch got his first head coaching job in the NHL in 1996, and he’s been involved in almost every season since. This season marks his sixth and final with the St. Louis Blues, who he got to the Western Finals a season ago. The highlight of his career came in 1999, when his Dallas Stars hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Frantisek Musil (1964-) – More commonly known by Frank, this defenseman was the 38th-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars. That being said, he played 335 of his 797 games in Calgary and notched a +93 over his 14-season career.
  • Craig Berube (1965-) – After going undrafted, this left wing had a physical 17-season career, spending most of his days in Washington. By the time he hung up his skates, he notched 159 points to go with his 3149 penalty minutes. Currently, he spends his days in Chicago as the head coach of the AHL’s Wolves.
  • Vincent Damphousse (1967-) – Although drafted sixth-overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played most of his 18-season careeer with the rival Canadiens. He hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1993, his first campaign playing in hometown Montréal.
  • Samuel Pahlsson (1977-) – Drafted by Colorado in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this center played eight of his 11 seasons in Anaheim, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2007.  He finished his career with 199 points.
  • Matt Murley (1979-) – Some draft picks don’t pan out. Murley is one of those. Although a second-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he only played 62 total games in the league.
  • Erik Christensen (1983-) – Another center, Christensen played seven NHL seasons after being drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2002 Entry Draft. By the time his NHL career was through, he’d notched 163 points after playing with five different clubs.

The 4-2 score is misleading, as the Sharks had control of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day from the get-go, scoring three goals in the first period in Montréal.

Aided by a Paul Byron hooking penalty, the Sharks got on the board only 6:50 into the contest when Second Star of the Game David Schlemko (Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Sharks an early lead with his first goal of the season. That lead doubled 3:10 later when Patrick Marleau (First Star Joe Thornton and Third Star Brent Burns) score another power play wrister. Finally San Jose scored in a five-on-five situation, as Timo Meier (Schlemko and Donskoi) scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game with 6:42 remaining in the first period, made only better by the fact that it was the eventual game-winner. The Sharks‘ 3-0 lead lasted them into intermission.

The only tally of the second period was the fourth-straight by San Jose. Melker Karlsson (Micheal Haley) takes credit with a backhanded shot at the 6:44 mark.

Montréal tried their hardest in the third period to stage a comeback. In the span of 3:20, Brian Flynn (Tomas Plekanec and Zach Redmond) and Jeff Petry (Michael McCarron and Daniel Carr) both lit the lamp once each to pull the Habs within two scores, but they were unable to do anymore damage.

Martin Jones earns another victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (92.9%), while Carey Price takes the loss, saving 14-of-18 (77.8%). He was replaced following Karlsson’s goal by Al Montoya, who saved all five shots he faced.

Just like the home sides did last week, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite a little streak. They’ve won their last five contests to pull themselves within seven points of the hosts, who still have a 36-22-10 record.

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