December 29 – Day 75 – Gretzky game

The last Thursday of 2016 is a busy one in the NHL. A dozen games will take place this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Boston at Buffalo and New Jersey at Washington [NBCSN]) and another pair half an hour later (Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). 8 p.m. brings with it four contests (Chicago at Nashville, the New York Islanders at Minnesota, Columbus at Winnipeg and Detroit at Ottawa [RDSI]), and Colorado at Dallas gets underway 30 minutes later. Lastly, it’s a trifecta of nightcaps (Anaheim at Calgary [SN360], Los Angeles at Edmonton and the New York Rangers at Arizona) when 9 p.m. rolls around to close out the night.

Short list:

  • Boston at Buffalo: Nothing like a little rivalry to get the blood pumping.
  • Montréal at Florida: Al Montoya will get the start in net against the club he played 45 games over two seasons with.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Another rivalry, although it’s nowhere near as Great as it once was (See what I did there? Sneaky.).

Sorry Montoya, but the potential for a good game in Alberta is too great for us to pass up. Off to the brand-new Rogers Place!

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Of course, this rivalry exists/used to exist entirely because of the trade that shipped Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Kings, but it takes new life this year as both teams are currently in playoff position. Of course, that could change if things don’t go the Kings‘ way and either Dallas, Nashville or Winnipeg win this evening.

The Kings make the trip to Edmonton with a 17-14-4 record, good enough for fifth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, eighth in the Western Conference – aka the second wildcard! They’ve found that success by playing one of, if not the best defense in the league, allowing only 83 goals – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Thanks to Jonathan Quick‘s groin injury in the first game of the season, it has been 15-9-3 Peter Budaj taking most of the starts in Los Angeles. Over that time, he’s accrued a .919 save percentage and 2.04 GAA – the 19th and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 14 or more appearances.

An okay save percentage paired with an excellent GAA is always indicative of a stellar defense, and Tinseltown is no different. Led by Derek Forbort‘s 77 shot blocks and second-in-command Alec Martinez‘ 72, the Kings allow only an average of 25.8 shots to reach Budaj’s net per night, the best in the league by nearly a full shot.

As expected, they continue that effort on the penalty kill, where their 84.2% kill rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. Although the same two culprits are responsible for this charge, Martinez’ 19 shorthanded blocks are five more than Forbort’s.

Unfortunately, the power play hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain. Successful on only 15.7% of opportunities, the Kings tie for ninth-worst in the league. Jeff Carter leads the team with only eight power play points, but that overshadows an impressive six power play goals (ties for 11th-most in the NHL).

Playing host this evening are the 18-12-6 Oilers, the second-best team in the Pacific. Offense is the name of the game in The Big E, as the Oil‘s 103 tallies ties for seventh-most in the NHL.

You get two guesses as to who has the most points in Edmonton. Something tells me you only needed one of those guesses. Captain Connor McDavid‘s 42 points are not only tops in Edmonton, but also the tie with Sidney Crosby for most in the entire league. That being said, it has been Leon Draisaitl who has buries the most pucks for the Oil, with 14 to his credit. He narrowly beats out McDavid’s 13.

Just like Los Angeles, what goes well during even-strength action shines especially bright during special teams. Edmonton‘s 21.2% conversion rate on the power play is eighth-best in the NHL. Draisaitl truly shines here, partially because he and McDavid are both on the first power play unit. The elder center has 14 man-advantage points on his resume already this year (two more than McDavid and Milan Lucic), and also has an impressive eight power play goals (tied for second-most in the league).

These clubs have already met once this season, and the Kings came out on top. They squared off in the Staples Center on November 17 to a 4-2 LA victory. Budaj took credit for the win, and Carter’s shorthanded second period wrister was the deciding score.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s McDavid (29 assists [most in the league] among 42 points [tied for the NHL lead]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] among 17 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.04 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (19 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas likes Edmonton to win tonight at -130, and I do too. Not only are the Oil playing at home sweet home, their penalty kill is more than up to the task of squelching the Kings‘ poor power play. I’d even go so far to say that Mark Letestu, who opened the season with two shorthanded goals, could notch his fourth penalty kill point tonight. Who knows?

Hockey Birthday

  • Nels Stewart (1902-1957) – When the Montreal Maroons won the 1926 Stanley Cup, it was this Hall of Fame center who was in the middle of most of the scoring. A two-time Hart Trophy winner, he scored a team-high 34 goals in 36 games played that season.
  • Filip Kuba (1975-) – A Florida-pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played most of his 14 seasons in Minnesota. In 2004, his fourth season with the Wild, he earned a roster spot at the All-Star game.
  • Pierre Dagenais (1978-) – You know you’re wanted when the same team drafts you twice. That’s what happened to this left wing, as New Jersey selected him in both the 1996 and 1998 NHL Entry Drafts. He only played 25 games for the Devils; most of his short NHL career was spent in Montréal.

Notching the first hat trick of his NHL career, First Star of the Game Robby Fabbri led St. Louis past the Flyers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series, winning 6-3.

It was actually Wayne Simmonds (Travis Konecny and Brayden Schenn) and Philadelphia getting on the board first, as the right wing tipped-in the puck only 3:25 into the contest. The Notes leveled with 4:59 remaining in the first with a Kevin Shattenkirk (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) power play slap shot. With a dozen seconds remaining before the first intermission, Fabbri (Second Star Colton Parayko) notched his first goal of the night with a power play wrister, giving the Notes a 2-1 lead.

Only 4:32 after returning to the ice, Nick Cousins (Ivan Provorov and Konecny) leveled the game for Philly with the lone goal of the second period.

It was an evening of quick starts for the Flyers, as they took a 3-2 lead only 4:13 into the third period with a Schenn (Shayne Gostisbehere and Simmonds) power play slap shot. That lead lasted only 100 seconds before David Perron (Parayko) pulled St. Louis even. 1:20 after that, Third Star Scottie Upshall (Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo) provided the tally that proved to be the game-winning shot. Those that are good at math know that set the score at 4-3, leaving the final two goals to Fabbri to complete his hatty. He scored at even-strength with 4:59 remaining (Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin), and on an empty net (Jaskin and Paul Stastny) with 2:56 remaining to earn the accolade.

Carter Hutton earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (85%), leaving the loss to Steve Mason, saving 19-of-24 (79.2%).

The Notes‘ victory means the home sides in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned at least a point in the last six matchups, setting the series record at 42-23-12 and improving their lead over the roadies to a dozen points.

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