January 10 – Day 87 – Backe in white

Time for some Tuesday hockey! There’s lots of good matchups this evening, giving us hockey fans no shortage of games to watch. The action starts at 7 p.m. with two contests (Philadelphia at Buffalo and Columbus at Carolina), followed an hour later by another pair (Boston at St. Louis [NBCSN/SN/TVAS] and Vancouver at Nashville). Detroit at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by San Jose at Edmonton. Finally, at 10 p.m., Dallas at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – gets green-lit. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at St. Louis: David Backes never knew a rink other than Scottrade Center. Now he makes his home in Beantown.
  • Detroit at Chicago: It’s an Original Six matchup in the Windy City!

Barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup finals, this is the only trip Backes will make to St. Louis this season, and he’s sure to receive a warm welcome.

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Backes’ relationship with the Notes began in 2003 when he was drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t join the club for another three years, electing instead to play three seasons for Minnesota State.

Although he started his first professional season in Peoria (the Blues‘ former AHL affiliate), he eventually made the trip down I-55 to play a majority of his games in St. Louis, notching 23 points.

He’s come a long way since that rookie season. Over his entire Blues career, he scored 206 goals among his 460 points, averaging .633 points per game. No season has been better than his 2010-’11 campaign, when he an evenly-split a 62-point season. It was good enough for a +32 ranking, the second-best in the NHL. Ironically, he trailed now-current teammate Zdeno Chara.

He was also a special leader in St. Louis. Following that magical season, he assumed captaincy of the Blues, a role he retained until his departure this offseason.

On the tail end of the peak of his career, Backes and the Blues were unable to agree on a contract this offseason, leaving the center to join Boston on a five-year, $30 million contract. He’s maintained his productive efforts in New England, taking credit for 11 tallies – the third-most on the squad.

Backes and the Bruins come to St. Louis with a 21-17-5 record, the second-best record in the Atlantic Division. They’ve found that success on the back of their defense and goaltending, which has allowed only 104 goals – tied for the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

Although four netminders have spent time between the Bruins‘ pipes, it’s never been in question whose crease it is. 20-9-3 Tuukka Rask has been having a fantastic season, notching a .928 save percentage and 1.93 GAA, the (t)fifth and third-best effort in the league among the 45 goalies with 16 or more appearances.

Much of the reason he’s having arguably the best season of his career is because of the defense playing in front of him. Led by Chara’s 76 shot blocks, Rask has faced an average of only 27.1 shots-per-game, the third-lowest rate in the league.

That success has carried into the penalty kill in a dramatic way, as the Bruins‘ 88% kill rate ties for the best rate in the NHL. Chara continues to lead the charge when shorthanded with 22 blocks, but he’s closely followed by rookie Brandon Carlo, who has 21 shorthanded blocks.

Where the Bruins still need to improve is on the power play. They’re sixth-worst in the league, successful on only 14.5% of man-advantage opportunities. Even though he only ties for 67th against the rest of the league, Brad Marchand leads his club with nine power play points. That being said, it’s David Krejci and David Pastrnak that opposing goaltenders keep their eyes on, as both have four power play goals.

Hosting them this evening are the 21-14-5 Blues, the third-best team in the Central Division. They’ll put that Boston defense to the test, as they’re an offensively-minded club, scoring 113 goals – the 13th-most in the league.

Vladimir Tarasenko is a bad, bad man. He might as well take credit for the Notes‘ entire offense, notching 43 points in 40 games to lead the club. Nearly half of those points have been tallies, as his 20 goals are also the best in St. Louis.

As you’d expect from a team like the Blues, the power play is far from a liability. St. Louis is tied for the sixth best man-advantage in the league, successful on 21.9% of opportunities. As you’d expect, Tarasenko leads this charge too with 17 power play points, but he has company for the extra-man goal scoring lead. He and Kevin Shattenkirk both have six power play goals to lead the team.

The Blues have also been very excellent when down a man, stopping 85.8% of opposing power plays – tied for the fourth-best mark in hockey. Alex Pietrangelo deserves much credit for that success, as his 19 shorthanded blocks are best on the club.

These teams have already met up in Boston on November 22. Led by Jori Lehtera‘s two-goal effort, the Blues were able to upset the Bruins 4-2. Jake Allen took credit for the victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Pastrnak (19 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for most in the NHL] among 20 wins [tied for third-most in the league] on a 1.93 GAA [third-best in the NHL] and .928 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (17 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) and Tarasenko (43 points [tied for fourth-most in the league], including 20 goals [fifth-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked St. Louis a -115 favorite, and I believe it would be unwise to bet against that. Not only do the Blues have home ice, but they’re simply playing solid hockey on both sides of the rink. Boston‘s inability to convert their power play opportunities could be the death of them tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Metz (1916-2007) – You wish you had five Stanley Cup titles like this right wing. What makes his effort even more impressive is the fact he only played with the Leafs for seven seasons.
  • Frank Mahovlich (1938-) – You thought Metz was good? This left wing has one more title then him, not to mention 15 All Star selections and the 1958 Calder Trophy. The longtime Maple Leaf was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

An overpowering, three-goal third period was more than enough to earn the Capitals a 4-1 road victory in Montréal in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the club wearing white. Nicklas Backstrom (First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and Karl Alzner) takes credit with his backhander with 8:57 remaining in the frame.

The Canadiens waited until the 7:18 mark of the third period to pull even, courtesy of a Tomas Plekanec (Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen) power play wrsiter.  Washington didn’t seem to take very kindly to that, so Second Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and Justin Williams) scored a wrister only 54 seconds later that proved to be the winning tally. Brett Connolly (Kuznetsov) and Ovechkin (Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) provided the two insurance tallies to ensure victory.

Third Star Braden Holtby earns the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (95.7%), while Carey Price saved 35-of-39 (89.7%) in the loss.

The third straight victory by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has pulled the visitors within nine points of the hosts, who have a 47-28-14 record.

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