January 18 – Day 95 – Battle of California

It’s time for some Wednesday hockey! The action begins at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at Montréal [RDS/SN1]), with Boston at Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS) waiting until 8 p.m. 9:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Florida at Edmonton (SN1) and precedes this evening’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) – by an hour.

Short list:

  • Boston at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry, but the Bruins were held out of last season’s playoffs due to losing a tiebreaker to the Wings.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: This rivalry was made only more intense by the Sharks eliminating the Kings in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

We’ve only made one trip to the Staples Center this season, and that’s just inexcusable. Let’s fix that by featuring the Battle of California tonight.

UnknownUnknown-3

 

 

 

 

 

We all know the Sharks‘ story last season. They won their first Western Conference title. They were within two games of hoisting one of, if not the most coveted piece of hardware in sports.

But fans – okay, most fans (sorry Angelenos!) – need to remember that according to seeding, San Jose had no business finding that success. The Sharks were the three seed in the Pacific Division, arguably the weakest division in the NHL. But they didn’t care. They blew up the Kings‘ trend of winning even-yeared Cups and cruised to a five-game Western Quarterfinals victory.

Tonight, the Sharks return to the very surface they clinched that series victory on for the third time this season. They’re 1-1-0 in Los Angeles this season, and lead the overall season series against the Kings 2-1-1.

San Jose makes the trip to the City of Angels with a 26-16-2 record, good enough for third-place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success by playing a phenomenal combination of defense and goaltending to allow only 102 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Every defensive feature has to start with the goaltender, and 22-14-2 Martin Jones is no slouch. He’s notched a .916 save percentage for a 2.25 GAA, the (t)20th and (t)sixth-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 41 goalies with 19 or more appearances.

A good GAA paired with a less-than-impressive save percentage is almost always due to a fantastic defense, and San Jose is not exception. Thanks to Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s team-leading 81 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only 27 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ crease, the third-best average in the league.

If the Sharks could improve on one aspect of their game, it would have to be the power play where they rank ninth-worst after converting only 16.5% of their opportunities. Joe Pavelski has been most-responsible for the little success his squad has found with a team-leading 14 power play points, yet it’s been Logan Couture who’s stricken the most fear into opposing goaltenders with his seven man-advantage goals. Unfortunately, he injured his upper body on Monday against the Jets and could miss tonight’s contest. If he does, the “power play striker” role shifts to Brent Burns, who has five extra-man goals to his credit.

Hosting this evening are the 22-18-4 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division. Just like their rivals, Los Angeles plays a some phenomenal defense and goaltending to allow only 107 goals, the fifth-fewest in the league.

20-12-3 Peter Budaj continues to do a good job standing in for the injured Jonathan Quick this season, notching a .917 save percentage and 2.09 GAA – the 19th and fifth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 18 or more appearances.

Although Budaj has been good, his bluelines have been better. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 93 shot blocks, the Kings have allowed only 25.8 shots-per-game to reach Budaj’s net, easily the best rate in the NHL.

Unlike San Jose, the Kings‘ defensive success has carried into the penalty kill. Los Angeles refuses to yield a tally after 83.2% of their penalties, the ninth-best effort in the league. Once again, Martinez has been at the core of the blueline’s play with a team-leading 24 shorthanded shot blocks.

Unfortunately, the Kings‘ power play has not been able to maintain the special teams reputation of success. They’ve converted only 16.9% of their opportunities for goals, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Jeff Carter has tried as hard as he can with his team-leading 11 power play points, but only Drew Doughty has joined him in his push. Carter also leads the club in power play goals with seven.

Some players to watch this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [fourth-most in the league] and a 2.09 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 20 wins [eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (23 goals [second-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (45 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

I like San Jose to come to Hollywood to earn the victory. It will certainly be a tight, defensive matchup that will only be solved by the superior offense. Compared to the Kings‘ 2.5 goals-scored average, the Sharks average 2.61 goals per game should be enough to earn them the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Syl Apps (1915-1998) – This Hall of Fame center played all of his 10 seasons in Toronto. He had a habit of collecting hardware, including three Stanley Cups, the 1937 Calder Trophy and the 1942 Byng Trophy.
  • Mark Messier (1961-) – Drafted 48th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, this Hall of Fame forward played in 15 All Star games over his 25 NHL seasons. The longtime Oiler hoisted the Stanley Cup six times, as well as two Hart Trophies, two Pearsons and the 1984 Smythe.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko (1979-) – Even though he went undrafted, this left wing played 863 games over his dozen seasons, most of which in Tampa Bay. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored 366 points before hanging up his skates the last time.
  • Brian Gionta (1979-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing is in his third season in Buffalo. He was on the 2003 Devils squad that won the Stanley Cup.
  • Alex Pietrangelo (1990-) – The lone non-champion on today’s list, this defenseman was drafted fourth-overall by St. Louis in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s never played a game without the Blue Note on his chest, and was awarded the Blues‘ captaincy in August.

I sure do love a one-goal game, and that’s what we got in Vancouver yesterday for the DtFR Game of the Day as the Canucks beat the visiting Predators 1-0.

That winning tally wasn’t struck until only 7:32 remained in regulation. Second Star of the Game Henrik Sedin (Luca Sbisa and Loui Eriksson) takes credit with a solid wrister to beat Third Star Pekka Rinne.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the shutout victory after turning away all 30 shots he faced, leaving the disappointing loss to Rinne after saving 25-of-26 (96.2%).

The Canucks‘ shutout victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the Philadelphia-San Jose game on December 30. Just like in that game, the home team won, improving the hosts’ record to 51-32-14, seven points better than the visitors.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s