January 6 – Day 83 – Surging Canucks

You did it. You made through your first week back to work after the long holiday. You deserve some hockey.

Fortunately, the NHL has you covered with six contests this evening, starting with two at 7:30 p.m. (Toronto at New Jersey and Nashville at Florida [TVAS]) and Carolina at Chicago (NHLN) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of the New York Islanders at Colorado, followed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Calgary at Vancouver and Arizona at Anaheim.

Short list:

  • Carolina at Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen played 115 games over three seasons in the United Center. Tonight, he wears white facing off against his old club.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: It’s rivalry night in British Columbia!

As badly as I want to feature the Hurricanes for the first time this season, Teravainen is not enough to pull me away from the rivalry taking place this evening in the ever-tightening Pacific Division.

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The Flames relocating from Atlanta to Cowtown in 1980 fulfilled a rivalry that needed only Canada’s best arena to be made complete: a hockey rink. The Rocky Mountains used to be the only thing separating these differing  cultural and political hubs of Western Canada, but the NHL has joined Calgary and Vancouver with the opportunity to claim superiority in the most definitive way possible.

Both all-time and as of late, Calgary has had the upper-hand in this matchup. In all regular and postseason meetings, the Flames have a 132-93-26-13 record against the rival Canucks, including a 111-76-26-13 record during the regular season.

Seven times these clubs have met up in the playoffs, and almost every time it has gone the Flames‘ way. Most recently, Calgary won their 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals series in six games to improve their postseason-series record against the Canucks to 5-2.

Calgary enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak and with a 21-17-2 record, good enough for fourth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, seventh in the Western Conference. They’ve found that by playing a steady offense, scoring 107 goals – tied for 15th-most in the league.

Fourth-year player Johnny Gaudreau has been at the head of that effort, notching 26 points for the highest mark on the club. He beats Mikael Backlund by a lone point, but the center has something the left wing hasn’t: a dozen goals, the most on the squad by two tallies.

Part of that offensive success is due to a solid power play. The Flames are 10th-best with the man-advantage, burying 20.7% of their attempts. Gaudreau continues his excellent season in this department, with 10 power play points. Similarly, Backlund’s five extra-man goals is also still tops on the team.

Don’t overlook the Canucks this season. Blessed (#blessed?) with a weak Western Conference, 19-18-3 Vancouver sits only a point out of playoff position, thanks in part to their current five-game winning streak. What’s held them back so far this season has been some slightly leaky defense and goaltending that has allowed 115 goals, tying them for sixth-most tallies given up.

Although he’s seen only six more starts than Jacob Markstrom, 11-10-1 Ryan Miller has been the netminder of choice in Vancouver. In 23 starts, he’s notched a .912 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, the 29th-best effort in the league compared to the 47 other goalies with a dozen or more appearances.

While those numbers are far from exemplary, Miller can’t take full responsibility for the Canucks‘ struggles. The defense playing in front of him hasn’t given him much help, allowing 30.5 shots-per-game to reach his crease – tied for the 11th-highest average. It’s not that Vancouver doesn’t have good defensemen. In fact, Alexander Edler, Ben Hutton and Luca Sbisa all tie for the team lead in shot blocks, with 61 to their credit (Edler has been especially impressive, playing only 26 games compared to Hutton and Sbisa’s 40 appearances), tying them for 58th in the league.

Instead, it’s been the other three skaters that haven’t contributed. Combined, Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin have blocked only 64 shots. Chris Tanev gets a pass, as tonight’s game will be only his 18th of the season. When he’s on the ice, Vancouver has an 11-4-2 record.

Now that Edler and Tanev are back on the ice, Vancouver hopes to improve their lackluster penalty kill that ranks 10th-worst after neutralizing only 80.3% of opposing power plays. Even after missing so many games, Edler’s 16 shorthanded blocks are still best on the team by a wide margin.

If I’m Vancouver, I’m more concerned about my power play, or lack thereof. The Canucks are fourth-worst in the NHL with the man-advantage, potting only 13.9% of their opportunities. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have eight power play points to the their names, which is just fine. It’s the fact that who’s scoring the goals – Loui Eriksson, D. Sedin and Brandon Sutter – are predictable. Combined, their 11 power play goals account for 65% of the man-advantage tallies. More skaters need to take responsibility for lighting the lamp, and in doing so, they’ll help increase the numbers of their established scoring stars.

These clubs have already met twice this season, and Calgary already has a slight 1-0-1 advantage. They most recently met two days before Christmas at the Saddledome, where the Flames 4-1. Tonight’s game is the first-half of a home-and-home series that completes tomorrow night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Chad Johnson (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) should he play and Vancouver‘s Bo Horvat (12 goals among 27 points [both lead the team]).

Vegas has given a slight edge to the Flames, putting a +102 next to Vancouver‘s name. I’m going to side with Vegas on this one. Even if the Canucks‘ defense starts to buckle down and prevent Calgary from finding any rhythm, the Flames‘ defense should still be able to prevent their rivals from scoring.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Dickie Moore (1931-2015) – You know you’re good when you have won the Stanley Cup six times. That’s the case with this Hall-of-Fame left wing, who also has just as many All Star selections. A 12 season-alumnus of Montréal, the Art Ross Trophy collected dust on his mantle, as he won it two-straight seasons with a combined 180 points.
  • Scott Ferguson (1973-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played in seven NHL seasons before calling it quits. Most of that time was with Edmonton, the team that gave him a chance out of juniors. He ended up playing in 201 games for the Oilers, earning 288 penalty minutes.
  • Richard Zednik (1976-) – A 10th-round pick by Washington in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing proved to have a very good career given his draft position. Although he played seven seasons with the Capitals, he played most his 745 games with Montréal. He notched 379 points before he took his sweater off the last time.
  • Adam Burish (1983-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this right wing played a nine-year career. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he was finally rewarded in 2010 with a Stanley Cup.

With two goals in the third period, the Oilers were able to escape Boston with a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

They got off to a hot start, capped by First Star of the Game Patrick Maroon‘s (Third Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) wrister that lit the lamp only 1:08 into the game. That lead lasted only 6:08 before Colin Miller (Austin Czarnik and Torey Krug) leveled the score with a slap shot.

They remained tied until 9:17 remained in the second period. Second Star Patrice Bergeron (David Pastrnak and Kevan Miller) is charged with breaking the draw with a solid snap shot. Just like earlier, that lead did not last long. Maroon (Eric Gryba and McDavid) waited only 3:26 before burying another wrister, once again knotting the game at two-all.

That was the first of three-straight goals by the Oilers. 14 seconds into the final period, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Matthew Benning) gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead, followed 8:48 later by Maroon’s hat-trick and eventual game-clinching shot. Edmonton tried their hardest to let the Bruins back into the game, sending both Gryba and Benoit Pouliot to the penalty box to give Boston a five-on-three power play, but David Krejci (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) could only manage one goal on the opportunity.

Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (91.7%), leaving the loss to Tuukka Rask, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Edmonton‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 46-26-13 in favor of the home sides, who have a 12 point lead over the road sides.

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