January 16 – Day 93 – Defense vs. Offense

Happy Martin Luther King Day! What better way to celebrate than with hockey?

In all seriousness, he did a lot of powerful things for not only the United States, but the world as a whole. All people, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, religion or any other variable have a lot to thank King’s effort for.

Putting our attention back on hockey, seven games will be waged today, starting with two at 1 p.m. (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN] and Dallas at Buffalo). The matinees continue at 3 p.m. with Montréal at Detroit [RDS], followed an hour later by another pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Los Angeles [SN] and Winnipeg at San Jose). Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – waiting until 9 p.m. before getting underway.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: For those who love their Original Six hockey, here’s your game of the day.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Eastern Semifinals rematch? Check. Rivals? Check. Just met last Wednesday? Check.

I would apologize for featuring yet another CapsPens matchup, but the reason we watch these is because they’re always exciting. To PPG Paints Arena we go.

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Thanks to beating the Flyers 5-0 yesterday for their ninth-straight victory, the 29-9-5 Capitals are not only the hottest team in hockey, but also the best in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and league.

Though it’s taken a little longer than many expected for them to reach that position in the table, they’ve done it on the back of their incredible goaltending that has allowed only 82 goals, the fewest in the NHL.

That goaltender is 21-8-4 Braden Holtby, winner of last season’s Vezina Trophy. He’s found his success on a .933 save percentage and 1.85 GAA – the third and second-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL with at least 17 appearances.

He’s certainly been good, but with blueliners like Washington‘s, all he has to do is act as a last-line-of-defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s team-high 81 blocks, only 27.8 shots-per-game reach Holtby’s crease, sixth-fewest in the league.

That success has carried into the penalty kill, where the Caps are second-best in the league. Much of the reason they don’t yield a power play goal on 86.5% of opposing opportunities is due to Alzner’s 21 shorthanded blocks, the most on the club.

Playing host this evening are the 26-11-5 Penguins, the third-best team in the Metropolitan. Losers of their past three games, when the Pens find success they play some phenomenal offense. They’ve scored 143 goals already this season, the second-most in the league.

As we’ve come to expect since they started playing together in the 2006-07 season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been the two-headed monster known as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though they don’t share a line in even-strength play, both skaters have notched a team-high 46 points. Of course, Crosby has been the more dangerous of the two with a team-leading 26 goals to his credit.

As for the power play, Pittsburgh is also a very formidable foe. They’re successful on 22.8% of attempts, the fourth-highest conversion rate in the NHL. This is where Phil Kessel and his team-leading 18 power play points shine, but Crosby is once again the main goalscorer, with nine extra-man goals in his pocket.

The main spot the Penguins still need to improve on is their unattractive penalty kill. Even with Ian Cole‘s team-leading 19 shorthanded blocks, Pittsburgh prevents only 78.2% of opposing power plays, the sixth-worst rate in the league.

These clubs have already met three times this season, and Washington has a 2-0-1 lead in the series. Although the Capitals have beaten Pittsburgh by at least three goals the last two times they’ve met, both of those games were at the Verizon Center. Pittsburgh won on Opening Night on their home ice, albeit in a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (26 goals [most in the league] among 46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]), Kessel (28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Malkin (46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL], including 28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the NHL] for a 2.28 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+20 [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (30 assists [fourth-most in the league] among 42 points [10th-most in the NHL]), Holtby (six shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.85 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .933 save percentage [third-best in the league] for 21 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), T.J. Oshie (+21 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Thanks in part to having a home ice advantage this evening, Vegas favors the Penguins at -120. That being said, the Capitals are playing out of their minds right now and I expect them to complete the upset this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brenden Morrow (1979-) – The 25th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Dallas, this left wing played most of his 15-season career with the club that drafted him. By the time he hung up his skates, he’d notched an impressive 575 points.
  • Jason Ward (1979-) – Although drafted higher than Morrow at 11th-overall by Montréal in the same draft, this right wing did not find as much success. He only played eight seasons in the NHL to accumulate 81 points.
  • Jamie Lundmark (1981-) – This center was the ninth-overall pick by the Rangers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and although he played most of his games in New York, he actually spent one more season in Calgary. He finished his six-year NHL career a point shy of 100.
  • Matt Duchene (1991-) – Colorado selected this center third-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and with the Avalanche he’s played all his 532 games. Although he has 402 points over his career, this has not been a great season for assists. His .32 assists-per-game this campaign is the second-worst of his career.

Thanks to three-straight unanswered goals, the Wild can truly claim to be the best in the west, beating Chicago 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It was the home Blackhawks who got on the board first, thanks to a wrister from First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin) at the 4:33 mark. It was the lone goal of the first frame.

4:16 after returning to the ice, Chicago doubled their lead when Kane (Anisimov) buried another wrister, but it wasn’t long (2:07, to be exact) before Third Star Nino Niederreiter (Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin) scored a power play wrister to pull Minnesota back within a goal. With exactly nine minutes remaining in the second period, Chris Stewart (Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Suter) pulled the Wild even with a wrist shot. The two-all score held into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, belonging to Jason Pominville (Marco Scandella) 5:08 after play resumed for the winning goal.

Second Star Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%), leaving the loss to Corey Crawford, who saved 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Minnesota‘s victory is the the third-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day, setting the series record at 49-32-14 in favor of the hosts by four points.

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