January 3 – Day 80 – Remember Weber

It’s back to normal in the NHL with seven contests going down this evening. The action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (New Jersey at Carolina, Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], Toronto at Washington [TVAS] and Edmonton at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Winnipeg at Tampa Bay. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Nashville (RDS), with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at San Jose (NBCSN) – waiting until 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Nashville: Shea Weber played 11 seasons in the Music City, but he was traded this offseason to the Canadiens.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: Another edition of the Battle for California.

It seems like every time the Kings and Sharks meet up, another big matchup takes place the same night. Tonight is no different.

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Do you remember when you moved for the first time? You’d lived your entire life in the same town around a lot of the same people. Everything was familiar. You could walk to your friend’s house blindfolded.

Welcome to the life of Weber. He was drafted 49th overall by the Predators in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and by the 2006-’07 he had a full-time locker in Nashville‘s dressing room.

Since then, he was named captain before the 2010-’11 season and made four trips to the All-Star game (well, three trips and one in Bridgestone Arena, the Predators‘ home surface). He earned those accolades by twice leading the Preds in assists, points and blocks (2012-’13 and ’13-’14).

While he only minutely regressed following those impressive seasons, he was traded to Montréal this summer in exchange for P.K. Subban. Assuming an alternate captain role with his new club, he’s continued to be one of the best offensive blueliners in the NHL. His nine goals are most on the team and tied for second-most in the league, and his blocks are tops in the Habs‘ dressing room.

One part of his game he’s vastly improved since joining the Habs has been his +/- effort. Regardless of how much stock you put in the statistic, it’s easy to say a positive number is certainly more desired. During Weber’s most successful scoring seasons, he was sacrificing his play on the defensive end to the point he gave up more goals than he created. Nowadays in Montréal, he’s maintaining his offensive production while still keeping a +16 rating, the second-best mark of his career.

Weber and the Habs come to Athens of the South with a 22-9-6 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. They’ve found that success by playing some impressive defense, allowing only 85 goals so far this season – the fifth-best mark in the league.

Manning the crease for most of the season has been 18-5-4 Carey Price, the netminder whose .93 save percentage and 2.07 GAA ranks fourth and seventh-best in the NHL.

It’s a scary combination for opposing offenses when you pair a solid defense with an exemplary goaltender, and that’s the situation the Preds are in this evening. The Habs allow an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net, the 12th-lowest average in the league. Weber’s 78 blocks leads the club, but a total of three defensemen have 64 or more shot blocks to their credit.

Playing host this evening are the 16-14-6 Predators, the fifth-best team in the Central Division. Nashville‘s offense has plagued them this season, managing only 101 goals, tying them for 15th-fewest in the NHL.

Ryan Johansen has been involved in 27 of those scores for the clubhouse scoring lead, but James Neal has buried the most goals at 14. Neal’s effort ties him for 20th in the league, but the Predators have struggled to find scoring beyond him, Viktor Arvidsson and Mike Fisher. Those three skaters combine for 34 tallies, over a third of the Preds‘ goals.

If only the Predators had more power play opportunities, as that is when they are most effective. Successful on 20.3% of their man-advantages, Nashville is 10th-best in the league in that situation. Who else to lead that effort than the great facilitator Johansen? His 13 power play points are tops on the club. One of his line-mates with the extra man is Fisher, whose five man-advantage goals leads the Preds.

Some players to keep an eye on include Montréal‘s Price (18 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league] on a .93 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA [seventh-best in the league], including two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Nashville‘s Johansen (27 points, including 20 assists [both lead the team]).

Vegas gives a slight edge – -115, to be exact – to the home team, but I’m not very comfortable with that prediction. The Predators are going to be unable to break through Price, and the Habs are no joke offensively. I expect Montréal to get out of Nashville with two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Hull (1939-) – The Golden Jet’s career spanned 23 seasons (most with Chicago), and all he did was win trophies. The Hall of Famer was a 12-time All Star, winning the Ross Trophy thrice, the Hart twice, the 1965 Byng and the 1961 Stanley Cup. His number nine has been retired by both Arizona (the new home of the original Jets) and Chicago.
  • Cory Cross (1971-) – Most players selected in the now-extinct Supplemental Draft never saw an NHL arena. This defenseman wasn’t most players, playing half his dozen seasons in Tampa Bay.
  • Reto Berra (1987-) – Drafted by St. Louis in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender has made 64 appearances over his three-season career, most of which in Colorado.
  • Matt Frattin (1988-) – Another fourth round selection, Toronto selected this right wing from North Dakota in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Although he’s played most his games with the Leafs, he’s currently under contract with Stockton.

A dominant third period performance by First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarsenko gave St. Louis a 4-1 victory in the 2017 Winter Classic, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was scored in the first period, and it was the Blackhawks‘ lone tally. Michal Kempny (Artemi Panarin and Third Star Duncan Keith) takes credit with his slap shot only 62 seconds into the game.

The same goes for the second period, but it was the Blues that earned the goal. Patrik Berglund‘s (Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen) wrister at the 7:45 mark leveled the score at one-all.

St. Louis broke the draw with 7:55 remaining in regulation, courtesy of Tarasenko’s (Robby Fabbri) tip-in goal. Only 1:53 later, Tarasenko (Jori Lehtera and Fabbri) struck again for the Notes‘ first insurance tally. Steen sealed the game with 74 seconds remaining by burying a wrister into Chicago‘s empty net.

Second Star Jake Allen earns the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (95.7%), while Corey Crawford takes the loss, saving 31-of-34 (91.2%).

St. Louis‘ victory at Busch Stadium is the second straight for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the season record at 46-24-12, 17 points better than the visitors.

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