January 17 – Day 94 – Making up like a country song

Welcome to Tuesday hockey, one of the seven best days for the sport in the week. There’s nine games on the schedule this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Dallas at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Columbus) and Buffalo at Toronto half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS] and New Jersey at Minnesota), and another pair get underway an hour later (Chicago at Colorado [NBCSN] and Florida at Calgary). The final pair of games – Nashville at Vancouver and Tampa Bay at Anaheim (SN/SN1) – drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Toronto: It’s the Battle of the QEW this evening, one of the Sabres‘ fiercest rivalries.
  • Nashville at Vancouver: For the last three seasons, Yannick Weber played for the Canucks, but he returns tonight wearing a white sweater.

Since I highly underestimated Cody McLeod‘s debut for Nashville, I feel I owe the Predators a feature. Looks like Weber 2.0 is our lucky guy.

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After playing the first five seasons of his professional career with the Canadiens, Weber made like a pioneer of old and headed west for brighter futures. He landed in Vancouver before the 2013-14 season.

His first season with the Canucks was not one that turned league heads, but it was important for him personally. He had a goal of proving to Montréal that he was worthy of being kept, and he made that known by notching a then career-high of six goals.

He followed that up in 2014-15 with his most impressive campaign to date, lighting the lamp 11 times and notching a career-best 21 points.

With last season being a significant step back for the defenseman, Weber once again found himself looking for a new club. He found his way to Nashville, where he’s playing on the third blueline pairing and notching a season +8, easily the best mark of his career.

Yannick and his Predators come into tonight’s game with a 20-16-7 record, the fourth-best mark in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference thanks to winning their last three games. On the outside looking in, the main concern for the Preds has been their offense that has scored only 118 goals, the 13th-fewest in the league.

Ryan Johansen has been the biggest weapon in Nashville, as he has a team-leading 30 points. That being said, it’s been James Neal that has been the most dangerous to goaltenders with his club-leading 14 goals.

Nashville‘s offensive struggles aren’t for a lack of effort. They’ve averaged 31 shots-per-game, the seventh-most in the NHL. Unfortunately Roman Josi, the man who accounts for nearly three shots per night, has a miserable 4% shot percentage – easily the worst mark of his successful career. If and when he finds his rhythm again, the Preds will surely be able to make some noise as they try to qualify for the postseason.

Playing host this evening are the 20-19-6 Canucks, the sixth-best team in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, and it’s almost funny that the Canucks‘ last three games have ended as overtime losses.

Just like the Predators, Vancouver has struggled to score the puck this season, accounting for only 107 goals in 45 games – the sixth-worst scoring rate in the league.

Bo Horvat has tried his hardest to keep the Canucks alive in the playoff race, as both his 30 points and 13 goals lead the club. Unfortunately, that goal total only ties for 50th against the rest of the NHL, which is probably most telling of Vancouver‘s situation.

Much of the reason for the Canucks‘ struggles is due to their miserable power play. Successful on only 13.4% of attempts, they rank fourth-worst in the league. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin lead the team with a whopping nine power play points. D. Sedin has been the most dangerous with the man-advantage, as he also tops the club with five man-advantage goals.

The struggles continue on the penalty kill, where the Canucks‘ 79.8% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Even though he’s only played 31 games, Alexander Edler has been the leading shot blocker when down a man, with 18 shorthanded blocks to his credit.

For those like me who are already keeping tabs on the playoff races, this is certainly an important game – if only for a night. The biggest impact occurs if Nashville earns a victory. In that case, they for sure move into eighth place in the Western Conference and surpass Los Angeles for the second wildcard. But, if the Panthers win in regulation in Calgary, the Predators take control of seventh in the conference and the top wildcard.

Although the Canucks can’t move into playoff position tonight, they can certainly continue their climb up the standings. A regulation win moves them past Nashville into ninth place and into a tie with Los Angeles, but the Canucks lose the games played tiebreaker to remain on the outside looking in.

These clubs have only met once so far this season, and it was only a week ago in Nashville. Although the Predators did pull away with a 2-1 victory, they needed to overtime to do it.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+15 and 83 hits [both lead the team]) and Johansen (23 assists among 30 points [both lead the team]) & Vancouver‘s Horvat (13 goals among 30 points [both lead the team]) and Nikita Tryamkin (84 hits [leads the team]).

Home ice does not always result in favoritism by Vegas, as Vancouver is the projected underdog a +110. Given the nice run the Predators are on right now, I have to side with the oddsmakers.

Hockey Birthday

  • Busher Jackson (1911-1966) – Although he may not have been a role model off the ice, he was certainly one of the better players of his day. The Hall of Famer played 15 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto where he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1932. By the time his career was through, he had scored 241 goals.
  • Jacques Plante (1929-1986) – The man of hockey legend, this goaltender had difficulty keeping control of all the hardware he earned over his career. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, he was an eight-time All Star, seven-time Vezina winner (record for the trophy), six-time Stanley Cup winner (all with Montréal) and the 1962 Hart Trophy winner.
  • Sylvain Turgeon (1965-) – Hartford selected this left wing second-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he quickly produced. He scored 72 points his rookie season, the second-best campaign of his career. He played most of his dozen seasons with the Whalers and played in one All Star game.
  • Jeremy Roenick (1970-) – Everyone’s favorite center-turned-analyst was drafted eighth-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, where he played most of his career. By the time his 20-season career was through, the nine-time All Star had scored 1216 points.
  • Aaron Ward (1973-) – Although drafted fifth-overall by Winnipeg in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, he never suited up for the Jets. Instead, this defenseman played most of his 15 seasons in Detroit where he won one of his two Stanley Cups.

If offense is your thing, you missed the game of the season in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. A combined 15 goals were scored in 60:34 of play, with Conor Sheary earning Pittsburgh an 8-7 victory over the Capitals.

With so many goals, it’s going to be much easier just giving the game summary in list form.

*Warning: Be prepared for an obnoxious second period.*

First Period:

  1. 7:06 – Andre Burakovsky (Daniel Winnik) – Caps lead 1-0
  2. 17:09 – Nicklas Backstrom (T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin) – Caps lead 2-0

Second Period:

  1. 1:17 – Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson) – Caps lead 3-0
  2. 6:28 – First Star of the Game Evgeni Malkin (Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) – Caps lead 3-1
  3. 7:12 – Sheary (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Daley) – Caps lead 3-2
  4. 8:55 – Nick Bonino (Schultz and Phil Kessel) – Tied 3-3
  5. 13:47 – Bryan Rust (Daley and Olli Maatta) – Pens lead 4-3
  6. 14:37 – Malkin (Jake Guentzel and Schultz) – Pens lead 5-3
  7. 15:07 – Brett Connolly (Taylor Chorney and Andre Burakovsky) – Pens lead 5-4
  8. 16:54 – SH – Third Star Lars Eller (Nate Schmidt and Oshie) – Tied 5-5
  9. 17:19 – PP – Malkin (Patric Hornqvist and Crosby) – Pens lead 6-5

Third Period:

  1. 5:55 – Crosby (Sheary and Rust) – Pens lead 7-5
  2. 9:29 – PP – Oshie (Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen) – Pens lead 7-6
  3. 14:38 – Eller (Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen) – Tied 7-7

Overtime

  1. :34 – Sheary (Crosby and Schultz) – Pens win 8-7

Matthew Murray holds on for the victory after saving 21-of-28 shots faced (75%), leaving the overtime loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved eight-of-11 (72.7%). He came into the game in relief of starter Braden Holtby, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%) before being pulled following Malkin’s second goal. Holtby obviously earned no-decision.

In addition to ending their own losing skid and Washington‘s winning streak, Pittsburgh also broke the three-game trend of road victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The series record now favors the home squads by five points with their 50-32-14 record.

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