January 1 – Day 78 – Centennial Classic

Wake up, sleepyheads! I don’t care how late you stayed up! We’ve got to get this year started off right and the only way to do that is with hockey!

The action starts at 3 p.m. with Detroit at Toronto (NBC/SN/TVAS) at Exhibition Stadium – you know, where the Argonauts and Toronto FC play. Ottawa at Washington (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Philadelphia at Anaheim (NHLN). All times eastern.

All three games are going to be very exciting, but only one is a rivalry. Oh, and it’s also being played outside, which seems to get everybody excited. We’ll head up to Toronto just in case something cool happens.

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BMO Field  – that’s the usual name of this facility – has certainly seen some special events this season. It was the site of TFC‘s MLS Eastern Conference-clinching effort, making them the first-ever Canadian participant in the MLS Cup. Unfortunately, they lost the scoreless title game to the Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks, earning the Sounders their first Cup.

Also, the Argonauts… played football… sometimes.

The same could also be played for today’s visitors. For 25-straight seasons, Detroit has played at least four games beyond their regular season schedule, but at 16-16-4, it looks like more than Joe Louis Arena will be coming to an end. The main culprit? A lackadaisical offense that has managed only 84 goals – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

The ‘C’ on Henrik Zetterberg‘s chest is important to him, and it shows in his play. He leads his club with 25 points, acting most of the time as a facilitator. The Wings‘ sniper is the same kid it was last year. Dylan Larkin has 10 tallies to his credit, most on the team.

Yesterday we featured the best power play in the game. Today, Detroit represents the worst, successful on only 12% of opportunities. It’s with the man-advantage that Frans Nielsen truly shines, as his seven power play points are tops on the club. Larkin once again tops the Wings‘ goal chart with the extra man, but he shares the title with Thomas Vanek as both have lit the lamp three times.

Although they’re nearly five kilometers (that’s three miles, Americans) from their usual surface, the 16-12-7 Maple Leafs play host this evening. Winners of their last four, they’re the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division even though they’re tied for the 12th-most goals scored.

Unfortunately in the Eastern Conference this year, 12th-most is not good enough to break into a playoff position, even when Toronto‘s defense/goaltending is even better than their offense. Star rookie Auston Matthews has been at the head of the Leafs‘ attack, notching 30 points in 35 games. 18 of those points have been goals, which is also the best mark on the squad.

Defensively, the Leafs are at their best when down a man. They’ve properly defended 84.9% of opposing power plays, the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Zach Hyman and Roman Polak have both been at the head of that effort, with 14 shorthanded blocks apiece.

Let us not forget that it was not randomly the Red Wings to visit Toronto this fine first day of 2017. This rivalry is as old as the league itself and has been played out in the Stanley Cup playoffs more than every other rivalry other than Boston-Montréal. Even though they haven’t faced since 1993 in that capacity, don’t think the animosity between these fan-bases has dwindled any since then.

Some players to keep an eye on include Detroit‘s Jimmy Howard (.934 save percentage [tied for second-best in the league] for a 1.96 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (.925 save percentage [ninth-best in the league] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (18 goals [fifth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs a -150 favorite, and I’d be shocked if the Wings pull even a point out of Hogtown. Although Howard is going to give his best shot, Toronto‘s offense is far superior to the Wings‘ and will be able to power the Leafs to victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Calum MacKay (1927-2001) – A Red Wing for six games, this left wing played most of his seven seasons in Montréal. He was an All Star selection and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1953.
  • Dave Silk (1958-) – This right wing was the 59th-overall pick in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and he played most of his seven-season career with the club. Just like MacKay, Silk had a brief tenure in Detroit, but he’s most known for his gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games.
  • Bobby Holik (1971-) – The 10th-overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, this center played most of his 18-season career in New Jersey. While there, he was twice named to the All Star team and also hoisted two Stanley Cups.
  • Jeff Carter (1985-) – This two-time Cup winning center was the 11th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, the club he’s technically played most his games with. Of course, it looks like his tenure in Los Angeles will continue well beyond this season and we’ll forever remember him a King.
  • Gilbert Brule (1987-) – Columbus picked this center sixth-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s who he spent most of his eight NHL seasons with. Nowadays, this Canadian is playing in Croatia with the Medveščak Zagreb in KHL.
  • Devin Setoguchi (1987-) – The eighth-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing is in his ninth NHL season, playing this year for Los Angeles.

Columbus‘ winning streak extends to 15-straight, thereby ending Minnesota‘s at 12, after a 4-2 Blue Jackets victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of the day was struck with 9:55 remaining in the first period, belonging to First Star of the Game Cam Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) and the Jackets. It was the lone tally of the first frame.

3:29 after returning to the ice, Jack Johnson (Brandon Saad and Alexander Wennberg) doubled Columbus‘ lead to 2-0, and Atkinson (Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) buried the eventual game-winning goal only 15 seconds later. The Wild finally got on the board with a power play wrister from Mikael Granlund (Third Star Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu) at the 5:58 mark to set the score at 3-1, but Columbus had one more trick up their sleeve: a Seth Jones (Saad and Nick Foligno) snap shot with 2:25 remaining in the period to resume their three-goal lead.

Only 24 seconds after resuming play in the third period, Jason Zucker (Granlund and Spurgeon) buried a backhand shot to set the score at 4-2, but the Wild were unable to pose anymore of a threat to lose their first contest since December 2.

Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

The Jackets‘ road victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 44-24-12, favoring the home squads by 14 points over the roadies.

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