January 2 – Day 79 – Winter Classic… hopefully

For the second day in a row, there’s only three games on the schedule. Well, maybe. The NHL will decide today at 8 a.m. if the Chicago at St. Louis (NBC/SN/TVAS) Winter Classic, currently scheduled at 1 p.m., will take place at that time, later, or even potentially postponed until tomorrow. Two games will take place for sure: Boston at New Jersey (SN) at 7 p.m. and Colorado at Vancouver three hours later. All times eastern.

If only this was the situation yesterday. All three matchups looked good on paper to open the year. Instead, the Winter Classic is by far the best game on the schedule today, so we must hope that this game happens!

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The best team in the not only the Central Division but also the Western Conference, is the same club that has already played in four outdoor games –  the most in the league. This year’s edition of the Blackhawks, at 23-11-5, have a specialty in not allowing their opposition to find the back of their net, allowing only 93 goals, tying for the seventh-fewest.

Back from injury, 13-7-3 Corey Crawford has resumed his starting role in Chicago‘s net. So far this season, he’s set a .928 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, the (t)sixth and (t)10th-best efforts, respectively, among his 46 peers that have 12 or more appearances.

Crawford is especially deserving of the praise, because the defense playing in front of him has not been that good at their primary responsibility. The Hawks have allowed 31.2 shots-per-game to reach his net, making him the eighth-most taxed netminder in the business.

That all being said, Niklas Hjalmarsson has done all he can to impact that statistic, as his 87 shot blocks are far-and-away the most on the club. He leads Brent Seabrook‘s total by 31 blocks, who firmly has second place by 14 blocks in his own right. I’d say that more defensemen need to keep pucks off Crawford’s net, but with the record they have… I guess they’re doing all right.

This defensive effort rears its ugly head on the penalty kill. Have you heard that expression, “When *censored* hits the fan?” That might be an understatement. Chicago ranks third-worst in the league when down a man, neutralizing only 75% of opposing power plays. Seabrook has been very important here, but it is probably telling that his measly six shorthanded blocks are top on the team.

Playing three blocks down Clark Avenue from Scottrade Center, the 19-13-5 Blues have taken up residence at Busch Stadium, the home field of the St. Louis Cardinals. Currently in third place in the Central Division, the Notes have found their success with the puck on their stick, scoring 103 goals, tying them for the 11th-best offense.

Easily the best forward on the team, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has a club-leading 39 points to his credit in 37 games. 16 of those have been goals which, you guessed it, is also the best mark in St. Louis.

The power play has been a point of pride for St. Louis, as their 21.6% success rate is tied for seventh-best in the NHL. Who else to lead that effort than Tarasenko, who has 15 man-advantage points already on his resume. That being said, it’s actually been Kevin Shattenkirk who’s buried more power play goals. His six extra-man goals are top on the team.

If the power play has been good, the penalty kill has been great. St. Louis rejects 86% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best effort in the NHL and tops in the Western Conference. Captain Alex Pietrangelo has been at the head of that effort, as you’d expect a leader to be. His 17 shorthanded blocks are tops on the team.

Just like yesterday’s featured game – both by DtFR and the NHL – this matchup is not by accident. Although probably more known for the baseball rivalry between the Cardinals and Cubs, these towns do not like each other. Like, at all. While the Cubbies have had more recent success on the diamond, it was these very Blue Notes that expelled the Blackhawks in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Something tells me that was only fuel on an already brightly burning fire.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Chicago‘s Crawford (.928 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (26 assists [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 37 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (38 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (39 points [fourth-most in the league], including 16 goals [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

As usual, the way to beat the Blues is by eliminating Tarasenko. Chicago has been able to do that in two of their three meetings with St. Louis, including their most recent meeting – a 6-4 victory down the road at Scottrade Center on December 17. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -124 favorite, but road teams have won four of the last six outdoor games. I’m biased, but I believe the Notes can hold off the Hawks for a victory today.

Hopefully today’s game is able to be played, because there’s a couple good games that deserve to be watched tomorrow.

Hockey Birthday

  • Glen Harmon (1921-2007) – This defenseman may have only played nine seasons in the NHL, but he was named to two more All Star teams and hoisted two more Stanley Cups than a lot of players who play double the time. He played all nine seasons in Montréal.
  • Robbie Ftorek (1952-) – Although undrafted, this forward played eight seasons in the NHL (he also spent five seasons in the WHA), most of which with the Rangers. By the time his NHL career was complete, he’d notched 227 points. He also won a silver medal with Team USA at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.
  • Mattias Norstrom (1972) – Drafted 48th-overall by the Rangers in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 14 seasons in the league, most of which in Los Angeles. He was the Kings‘ captain from 2001 until he was traded during the 2007 season.
  • Brian Boucher (1977-) – This goaltender was drafted 22nd-overall by Philadelphia in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and he played most of his 13-year career with the Flyers. Although he never hoisted a Stanley Cup or was named to an All Star game, he holds the modern NHL record for longest shutout streak at 332:01 (that’s over 5.5 hours!).

If you like offensive surges, the Centennial Classic was the game for you, as Toronto won 5-4 in overtime against the arch-rival Red Wings.

Although it ended up being high scoring, this contest stayed scoreless until the 5:33 mark of the second period. Third Star of the Game Anthony Mantha (Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar) takes credit for the lone goal of the frame, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.

Toronto returned to the ice with a bad taste in their mouth, scoring four straight goals. Leo Komarov (Jake Gardiner and William Nylander) takes credit for the first, only 1:23 after resuming play. Next up was Mitchell Marner (Morgan Rielly and James van Riemsdyk), who buried his snap shot exactly seven minutes later. Second Star Connor Brown (Zach Hyman and Connor Carrick) set the score at 3-1 with his wrister at the 9:34 mark, First Star Auston Matthews (Brown and Hyman) completed the surge only 2:31 later.

Down 4-1, the Wings needed a mighty surge, and they got one. Jonathan Ericsson (Mantha and Xavier Ouellet) got it started with 6:06 remaining in regulation with his first goal of the season. Dylan Larkin (Zetterberg and Tatar) pulled Detroit within a goal with 1:46 remaining, and Mantha (Zetterberg and Thomas Vanek) completed the comeback with only two ticks left on the clock, forcing three-on-three overtime.

A game like this doesn’t deserve to end in a shootout. Whether you believe that or not, Matthews (Gardiner and Brown) did, as he buried his winner with 80 seconds remaining in overtime to earn Toronto the bonus point.

Frederik Andersen takes earns the win after saving 33-of-37 shots faced (89.2%), leaving the overtime loss to Jared Coreau, who saved 23-of-28 (82.1%).

Although not on their usual surface, Toronto‘s home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 45-24-12, favoring the hosts by 15 points.

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