January 25 – Day 102 – Red and blue aren’t just election rivals

Tuesday’s gone, but Wednesday is here – and brings with it some more hockey games. Toronto at Detroit (SN) gets things started at 7 p.m., followed an hour later by Philadelphia at the New York Rangers (NBCSN/TVAS). We move west of the Mississippi River at 9:30 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (SN360), with tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Anaheim – starting half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Simply calling this an Original Six game is an insult to years of deep rivalry.
  • Philadelphia at New York: Just like other teams in their respective towns, the Flyers and Rangers have a history of not getting along.

As much as I dislike featuring the same team two days in a row, Detroit has another big game tonight against the Maple Leafs. Time to break out the red sweaters, boys! You’ve got some rivals coming to town!

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To put things simply, if the Bruins and Canadiens didn’t have their deep playoff history, this would be the rivalry everyone in hockey would look forward to.

Ever since the Red Wings were formed, these clubs have clashed both on the ice as well as in the stands, as Detroit and Toronto are separated by only 210 miles. They’ve faced one another 23 times in the playoffs – including seven meetings in the Stanley Cup finals – with the Wings owning a one-playoff game advantage with a 59-58 record.

Toronto enters tonight with a 22-14-9 record and in possession of the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference, their best positioning in the standings in a long time. They’ve found that success by playing well on the offensive end to score 139 goals in 45 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.

When half of your team’s top-six scorers are rookies, the rebuild looks like it is in good shape. That’s the case in Toronto, as youngster Mitch Marner leads his club with 39 points. The same goes for goalscoring, as first-overall pick Auston Matthews owns that title for the Leafs with his 22 tallies.

Just as Detroit struggles without a reliable power play, Toronto excels with their impressive man-advantage. Led by William Nylander, yet another rookie, and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs score on 24.1% of their extra-man opportunities – the second-best rate in the NHL. Nazem Kadri takes credit for the most man-advantage goals on the club with 10 to his credit.

Toronto has also found great success with their other special team, refusing to yield a goal on 85.2% of opposing power plays – the fourth-best rate in the league. Roman Polak gets to take a lot of the credit with his club-topping 24 shorthanded blocks.

Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto have been alternating between playoff qualification and ninth in the Eastern Conference for the last couple of weeks, and that trend could continue tonight. A loss by Toronto opens them up to falling out of the playoff bracket, while earning only a point would improve them into third place in the Atlantic Division, replacing the Bruins.

Things haven’t quite been going 20-19-9 Detroit‘s way – especially lately, as they’ve fallen in overtime in their last three games. For the first time in ages, the Wings find themselves in second-to-last in the Atlantic Division and third-to-last in the Eastern Conference, yet they enter play tonight trailing the second wildcard by only four points.

The main reason for their struggles has been their uninspiring offense, which has managed only 117 goals – the seventh-fewest in the league. That being said, Captain Henrik Zetterberg has done all he can to fight that trend with his team-leading 33 points, as have Dylan Larkin and the injured Thomas Vanek, who co-lead the team with a dozen tallies.

One of the biggest reasons for the Wings‘ lack of offensive success ranks 30th in the league. Detroit is home to the worst power play in the league, converting only 11.3% of their opportunities. Frans Nielsen has tried his hardest to resolve that issue, but his club-leading eight power play points simply aren’t cutting it. Neither are Larkin and Vanek’s three man-advantage goals.

A win tonight would not pull the Wings into playoff position, but it can propel them all the way from 14th to 10th. Even if they continue their recent trend of forcing overtime before losing, they make a significant climb up the table, advancing into 11th.

These clubs have only met once this season, and it was not under usual circumstances. On New Year’s Day, Detroit and Toronto celebrated the 100th anniversary of the NHL by playing the Centennial Classic at BMO Field (home pitch of Toronto FC). The Leafs won that game 5-4 in overtime.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Detroit‘s Luke Glendening (108 hits [leads the team]) and Zetterberg (33 points, including 24 assists for a +9 [all lead the team]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (20 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Wings a +116 underdog in tonight’s game, and that might be giving Joe Louis Arena a little too much credit. Toronto has proven they have the ability to compete with some of the best teams in the league, and they’ll want to ensure they maintain their position in the standings with a victory tonight. I don’t see the Leafs falling this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Chelios (1962-) – Drafted 40th-overall by Montréal in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman pulled managed simply a Hall of Fame career over 26 seasons. He played most of his games with Chicago, but spent more seasons in Detroit. Regardless of if he’s remembered more as a Hawk or Wing, he played in 11 All Star games and hoisted just as many Stanley Cups as Norris Trophies: three.
  • Esa Tikkanen (1965-) – Edmonton picked this left wing in the fourth-round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he returned them with four Stanley Cups. He won his fifth and final in 1994 with the Rangers.
  • Randy McKay (1967-) – A sixth-round selection by Detroit in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing spent most of his career in New Jersey. He won two Stanley Cups over his 15-season career, both with the Devils.
  • Jared Cowen (1991-) – Although drafted by Ottawa ninth-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner currently finds himself out of a job after losing his grievance hearing with Toronto and subsequently being cut. He has 249 games played over six seasons of experience.

For the third time in four days, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. That winner last night proved to be the Boston, who beat the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime.

Of the three regulation periods, the first was the busiest. It got off to a quick start when Kevan Miller (Tim Schaller and Dominic Moore) scored his first goal of the season only 3:39 after the initial puck drop. The Bruins‘ lead lasted only 7:20 until Andreas Athanasiou (Third Star of the Game Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall) leveled with a snap shot. First Star Brad Marchand (Ryan Spooner and Second Star David Pastrnak) reclaimed the lead for Boston with 2:26 remaining in the period with his power play wrister, setting the score at 2-1 going into the first intermission.

The second period absolutely belonged to the Red Wings, beginning with Green’s (Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist) tip-in at the 6:25 mark to level the match. With 9:09 remaining in the period, Tomas Tatar (Zetterberg) provided Detroit its first lead with a strong wrister.

The game was tied again at the 8:20 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Marchand (Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug). As neither team was able to break the draw, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

That extra time nearly resulted in a shootout if not for Pastrnak’s (David Krejci and Brandon Carlo) slap shot with 47 seconds remaining. That tally earned the Bruins the extra point in the standings.

Tuukka Rask earned the victory by saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), leaving the overtime loss to Jared Coreau, who saved 45-of-49 (91.8%).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now on a two-game winning streak thanks to Boston‘s victory. Hosts now own a six-point advantage over the visitors with their 54-34-16 record in the series.

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