January 24 – Day 101 – Motown vs. Beantown

It’s time for some Tuesday hockey. We’ve got a nice schedule, starting with four games at 7 p.m. (Detroit at Boston [SN], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Columbus at the New York Islanders and St. Louis at Pittsburgh [NBCSN]), followed half an hour later by another pair (Calgary at Montréal [RDS] and Washington at Ottawa [RDS2]). Two more games drop the puck at the top of the hour (Buffalo at Nashville [TVAS] and San Jose at Winnipeg), with tonight’s co-nightcaps (Tampa Bay at Chicago and Minnesota at Dallas) waiting until 8:30 p.m. to get underway. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Detroit at Boston: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Wings edged the Bruins for a playoff spot by a tiebreaker last season.
  • Minnesota at Dallas: Speaking of the playoffs, the Stars bested the Wild in six games last season.

Based on their position in the standings, the contest occurring at the TD Garden this evening could be one of the best of the night. To New England we go!

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Detroit‘s impressive 25-season streak of qualifying to for the playoffs is not only well known in hockey circles, but across most sports fans.

Outside of Motown, that fact is not more known than in Boston. You see, both the Bruins and the Red Wings finished last season with 93 points, tied for third place in the Atlantic Division. In fact, 42-31-9 Boston actually won one more game than the 41-30-11 Wings.

Even though the Bruins won the season series 3-1-0, the first tiebreaker in the NHL pertains to the total regulation and overtime victories by a club, and it was there that the Wings found their playoff qualification. They won one more game before going to the shootout than Boston to earn their playoff bid.

If Detroit had not won that tiebreaker, only then would the series record between the two clubs have come into play and the Bruins would have faced Tampa Bay.

Nowadays, Detroit is currently riding a two-game streak of overtime losses and has a 20-19-8 record, good enough for sixth place in the Atlantic Division. Part of the reason they find themselves at that spot in the standings is due to their lackluster offense, which has managed only 114 goals, the seventh-fewest in the NHL.

Although Thomas Vanek is tied for the team lead in points, he’s questionable to play tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. That leaves Henrik Zetterberg, who also has 31 points in his pocket, to lead the Red Wings into battle. It’s a similar situation in the goal scoring department, where Vanek’s effort is tied with Dylan Larkin at a dozen tallies apiece.

The number one reason for Detroit‘s offensive struggles is their anemic power play. Even though they’ve earned the seventh-most man-advantages, they’ve converted only 11.3% into goals – the worst in the league. Frans Nielsen has tried all he can to help the cause with his eight power play points, but the Wings haven’t been able to find a consistent scoring threat as Larkin and the injured Vanek lead the club with a measly three power play goals apiece.

Another overtime loss won’t do Detroit any good. If they want any chance of continuing their impressive playoff streak, they’re going to need wins. A victory tonight is certainly a step in the right direction, as they would improve from 13th to 10th, trailing second wild card Philadelphia by two points.

In their way stands their hosts, the 23-21-6 Bruins. Boston currently finds themselves in fourth place in the Atlantic and on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned, due in part to losing their last two games. Similar to Detroit, their issue has been offense.

Last season, the Bruins managed to score 236 goals, lightning the lamp nearly three times per game. Things haven’t gone so smoothly this year, as Boston only has 121 tallies to their credit in 50 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the NHL. A struggling offense hasn’t held Brad Marchand back, though, as his 45 points are tops on the team by a long shot. When he’s not burying the puck, he’s busy setting up youngster David Pastrnak, whose 19 tallies are the best in Beantown.

The similarities between these two offenses continue with in the special teams. Successful on only 16.9% of attempts, Boston ranks 10th-worst in the league on the power play. Torey Krug has tried his hardest with his 13 power play points, as have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who both have five power play goals.

Where the Bruins separate themselves is with their powerful penalty kill, where they rank second-best in the league. Led by Zdeno Chara‘s 25 shorthanded blocks, Boston refuses to yield a power play goal 86.6% of the time.

The Bruins don’t need much to get back into playoff position, but nobody plays for simply an overtime loss. One point would propel Boston into eighth place for the second wildcard, but a victory would qualify them for third-place in the division.

Boston won their series against Detroit last season, and they’re already on their way to repeating that this year. They’ve met twice this season, and the Bruins have a 1-0-1. They last met Wednesday in Detroit, where the Wings won 6-5 on a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (45 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Tuukka Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 22 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (94 blocks [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+8 [leads the team]).

It’s tough to pick against a goaltender like Rask, especially since the penalty kill in front of him will face no pressure from Detroit‘s power play. The Bruins should earn a victory this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Gus Mortson (1925-2015) – This defenseman was so physical, he started a fight in one of his eight All Star appearances. Although he spent most his time in Chicago, he won all four of his Stanley Cups in Toronto, where he started his career.
  • Mark Reeds (1960-2015) – St. Louis drafted this right wing in the fifth round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his eight-season career. By the time he retired, he’d notched 159 points.
  • Tom Kostopoulos (1979-) – A seventh-rounder picked by Pittsburgh in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he played 630 games (most of which in Los Angeles) over 11 seasons (most with the Penguins). He made good friends with penalty box attendants, serving 723 penalty minutes – 1.15 minutes per game.

First Star of the Game Frederik Andersen didn’t have to empty his net a single time in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading his Maple Leafs to a 4-0 shutout victory over the visiting Flames.

Third Star Mitch Marner (Nikita Zaitsev) was the first to tickle the twine, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead with his tip-in only 61 seconds before going to the dressing room for the first intermission.

If the first period allowed only one goal, it seems only natural that the second would yield two. Unfortunately for Calgary, neither would be in their favor. Second Star Nazem Kadri (William Nylander) takes credit for the first tally seven minutes after returning to the ice with his wrister, and the Leafs improved their lead to 3-0 with 3:05 remaining in the frame on a Zach Hyman (Martin Marincin) shorthanded backhander.

The theme of matching goals to the period did not continue, but Toronto didn’t mind. Kadri (Marner and Zaitsev) buried his second tally of the game at the 2:21 mark on the power play to set the 4-0 final score.

Andersen earned the shutout victory after saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

In addition to breaking the two-game streak of games requiring extra time, Toronto‘s victory also snapped a three-game winning streak for visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With a 53-34-16 record, featured home teams now have a five-point lead over the visitors.

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