December 22 – Day 71 – Ohio vs. Pittsburgh

The first of two waves of send-off games into the Christmas break go down tonight, with 10 contests in all. As usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Carolina at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New Jersey and Pittsburgh at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Minnesota at Montréal [RDS/SN360], Anaheim at Ottawa [RDS2], St. Louis at Tampa Bay and Boston at Florida). Los Angeles at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., with Toronto at Colorado waiting an hour before getting underway. Finally at 10 p.m., Winnipeg at Vancouver – tonight’s nightcap – gets green-lit.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike tonight!
  • Pittsburgh at Columbus: This regional rivalry between Ohio and Western Pennsylvania will probably reach new heights this year.

While I always love a good, established rivalry like the one that will occur tonight at the Prudential Center, there’s a very important game happening at Nationwide Arena that we must attend to!

pittsburgh_penguins_logoColumbus Blue Jackets Logo

 

Baseball has PiratesReds, and of course football features the BrownsSteelers. The rivalry between these two cities in the Rust Belt has existed longer than either of these teams have existed.

That being said, the iteration of this rivalry on ice has only taken form recently. It was most prominent in 2014, when these clubs matched up in the Eastern Quarterfinals. Although the Jackets notched their first two postseason victories in franchise history, they fell in six games. If they keep playing like they have to start this season, they might get past counting playoff wins and start counting franchise series victories.

The Penguins make the trip down I-70 with an impressive 21-7-5 record, the best mark in the Eastern Conference. That success has been almost entirely due to the most potent offense in the league, scoring an average of 3.45 goals per game.

With 37 points to his credit, Evgeni Malkin currently has the clubhouse lead in points, but it’s Captain Sidney Crosby who has been most impressive. He’s already buried 22 goals this season, even though he’s played only 27 games.

Part of Pittsburgh‘s offensive success has been their quality power play, scoring on 22.3% of opportunities for the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Phil Kessel and Malkin share scoring responsibilities with the extra-man, both with 13 power play points to their credit, but once again it is Crosby scoring the puck, as his eight man-advantage goals are tops on the team.

What should alarm Yinzers about their club is a penalty kill that ties for seventh-worst in the league, as they stop only 79.1% of opposing power plays. While Ian Cole‘s 14 shorthanded blocks tie him for 25th-most in the league, he is one of only two skaters with more than a dozen penalty kill blocks to his credit.

Playing host this evening are winners of their last 10 games, the 21-5-4 Blue Jackets – the third-best team in both the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division. Although their offense has been impressive on it’s own, Columbus‘ success has been sparked by their defense and goaltender, which have allowed only 62 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

19-5-2 Sergei Bobrovsky has been in net for all but four of the Jackets‘ games, and has earned a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA – the fifth-best effort in the NHL among the 44 netminders with 13 or more appearances to their credit.

Part of the reason his play has been so consistent has been due to the defense playing in front of him. Thanks to his blueliners, he’s faced only an average of 29.5 shots-per-night, tying for 10th-fewest. David Savard has headed that charge, as his 52 blocks are most on the team. However, he is one of four skaters with more than 40 shot blocks to his credit, so it has been a full team affair for the Jackets.

Offensively, Columbus has truly shined on the power play, as their 27.1% success rate is far and away the best conversion rate in the NHL. Cam Atkinson is responsible for 15 of those points, including six man-advantage goals, and both those totals are tops on the squad.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (33 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]), Bobrovsky (19 wins [most in the league], including three shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL], on a 1.94 GAA [fifth-best in the league] and a .932 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL]), Jack Johnson (+16 [ninth-best in the league]) and Savard (+18 [tied for third-best in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Cole (+18 [tied for third-best in the league]), Crosby (22 goals [most in the NHL] among 36 points [fourth-most in the league]), Kessel (22 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] among 33 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Malkin (37 points [third-most in the NHL], including 23 assists [sixth-most in the league] and 14 goals [10th-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.938 save percentage for a 1.85 GAA [ both second-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+21 [second-best in the NHL]).

Believe it or not, but Columbus is favored to win tonight’s matchup with a -110 line, and although sided, I have to agree with Vegas. The Jackets‘ incredible power play matches up extremely well against Pittsburgh‘s lackluster penalty kill.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ian Turnbull (1953-) – The 15th-overall selection in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this defenseman played 628 games over 10 seasons. Most of his days were spent with the club that drafted him, and he notched 414 points with the Leafs.
  • Kirk Maltby (1972-) – An Oilers selection in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 1072 games with Detroit. While playing with the Wings, he hoisted the Stanley Cup four times.
  • Stan Neckar (1975-) – Ottawa selected this defenseman 29th-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Although he wore a red Senators sweater for most of his playing days, he won his lone Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

Hopefully you took my recommendation yesterday and watched Philadelphia‘s 3-2 shootout victory over Washington in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. It was an absolute pleasure to watch.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the visiting Capitals. Andre Burakovsky (Dmitry Orlov and Lars Eller) takes credit, as his snap shot with 1:36 remaining in the frame was his third tally of the season.

4:25 after Philadelphia returned to the ice, they leveled the game with a Michael Raffl (Radko Gudas and Jakub Voracek) wrap-around shot. Washington once again took a one-goal lead 5:28 later when Eller (John Carlson and Burakovsky) buried a snapper. The final goal of regulation was buried with 21 seconds remaining in the second frame with an unassisted tally from Claude Giroux.

The shootout is certainly a poor way of declaring a victor in a hockey game, but in today’s NHL, this game deserved nothing less. As the home team (even though they were wearing their white alternates), the Flyers elected to go first.

  1. Shayne Gostisbehere earned the honor of first shot, but he missed the net.
  2. T.J. Oshie took advantage of the miss by burying his attempt, giving Washington a 1-0 lead.
  3. Giroux did a little bit better than Gostisbehere as his shot was on frame, but Third Star of the Game Braden Holtby was there for the save.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to end the shootout with another Capitals goal, but Second Star Steve Mason made the save to give Philly a breath of life.
  5. Voracek took that breath and ran with it. His shot found the back of the net to level the shootout, but the Caps still had another opportunity to end the game.
  6. Unfortunately for them, Nicklas Backstrom was unable to seal the deal, as Mason denied his shot.
  7. First Star Wayne Simmonds scored the Flyers‘ second-straight goal, putting the pressure on Washington in a miss-and-lose situation.
  8. Mason stood tall again. Justin Williams‘ shot failed to escape the goaltender’s right pad, sealing the bonus point for the home team.

Mason earns the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the shootout loss to Holtby, also saving 36-of-38.

Philadelphia‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 39-23-11 in favor of the home teams, leading the roadies by seven points.

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