December 27 – Day 73 – Pacific Powerhouses

The worst thing about Christmas is that there was no hockey for three days. The world can be so cruel.

Fortunately, the NHL makes it all better by scheduling 10 games this evening, starting with four contests (Pittsburgh at New Jersey [TVAS], Washington at the New York Islanders, Ottawa at the New York Rangers [RDS2] and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at 7 p.m. and Buffalo at Detroit half an hour later. Minnesota at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., with Winnipeg at Chicago waiting 30 minutes. Another wave of games gets underway at 9 p.m. (Calgary at Colorado and Dallas at Arizona), followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Anaheim (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: It’s rivalry night in the Barclays Center!
  • San Jose at Anaheim: Same goes for the Honda Center!

Sorry Isles fans, but the biggest game of the night is happening on The Pond, and we’d be remiss to not give it our attention!

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The Sharks return from Christmas break riding a two-game winning streak with a 21-12-1 record, the best mark in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success on an impressive defense and great goaltending that have combined to allow only 75 goals, tying for the fourth-fewest in the league.

Only two goalies have taken a turn between the pipes for San Jose this season, and most of the time it is 18-11-1 Martin Jones. He’s earned that record on a .919 save percentage and 2.08 GAA – the (t)17th and eighth-best marks, respectively, among netminders with 15 or more appearances this season.

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but most of Jones’ success this season has been a direct result of the impressive play of the blueline in front of him. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s impressive 63 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only an average of 26.2 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the second-lowest average in the NHL. Justin Braun, Brent Burns and Paul Martin have also been very important in this effort as well.

This success has carried into the penalty kill, where San Jose ties for ninth-best with a 83.5% kill rate. Braun has truly been on his game when down a man, as his 15 shorthanded blocks are the best on the team.

Playing host this evening are the 17-12-6 Ducks, the third-best team in the Pacific Division. The offense has led the Ducks‘ charge so far this season, scoring 95 goals – the 12th-most in the NHL.

Hockey’s version of the Ryan brothers has found far more success than their football counterparts. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have 28 points to their credit to co-lead the team. Tag on Rickard Rakell‘s team-high 14 goals, and you have a potent Anaheim offense.

The Ducks‘ success has been almost entirely due to their power play. Successful on 24.3% attempts, Anaheim is tops in the Western Conference, and second-best in the league as a whole. Who to lead that charge than Kesler? He has 14 power play points, not to mention his seven man-advantage goals, for tops in the Ducks‘ clubhouse.

This is the second time we’ve featured this matchup this season, and this series is already three games deep going into this evening. The last time this matchup was featured was also the last time these teams saw each other, a 3-2 Ducks victory on the Pond 18 days ago. Anaheim leads the season series 2-0-1.

Some players to keep an eye on include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (24 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and San Jose‘s Jones (18 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.08 GAA [eighth-best in the league], as well as two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

Even though it’s the Sharks with the winning streak, it’s hard to pick against the Ducks given their recent success against their rivals. I expect another good game on The Pond between these clubs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mickey Redmond (1947-) – This right wing only played nine seasons, but he won two Stanley Cups during his time in Montréal. That being said, he spent more of his career in Detroit.
  • Bryan Smolinski (1971-) – The 21st-overall selection in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, this center played 1056 games over his career. He spent most of his career in Los Angeles, where he notched 191 of his 651 career points.
  • Jay Pandolfo (1974-) – This left wing was the 32nd-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, he won two Stanley Cup titles – both with the Devils.
  • Fernando Pisani (1976-) – A right wing drafted by Edmonton in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, he would have been a lifetime Oiler if not for a season spent in Chicago.
  • Patrick Sharp (1981-) – Although drafted in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this left wing is playing his second season in Dallas. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, all with Chicago.
  • Paul Stastny (1985-) – The 44th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was this center to Colorado. He played eight seasons in Denver before moving to St. Louis in 2014.

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