January 26 – Day 103 – Governor’s Cup

This is it, guys. The last day of hockey until next Tuesday. Cherish it. Don’t take it for granted.

That shouldn’t be too hard as every club, with few exception, is in action this evening. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. when five games get underway (Pittsburgh at Boston [TVAS], Washington at New Jersey, Montréal at the New York Islanders [RDS], Toronto at Philadelphia and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by a pair of contests (Calgary at Ottawa [RDS2] and Tampa Bay at Florida). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of two more matchups (Columbus at Nashville and St. Louis at Minnesota [NBCSN]), and two more games (Winnipeg at Chicago and Buffalo at Dallas) follow suit 30 minutes later. Vancouver at Arizona gets underway all by themselves at 9 p.m., as tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at San Jose – starts 90 minutes later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Calgary at Ottawa: Alex Chiasson spent the last two seasons in the Canadian capital before making his way to southern Alberta.
  • Tampa Bay at Florida: The Governor’s Cup rages on in the Sunshine State.

It doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but the game in Sunrise this evening could be just the ticket for either – or both – of these teams to turn their season around following the break.

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Both of these clubs had so much optimism coming into this season, yet here we are, the last day before the All-Star break, and neither of these teams are currently qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

We turn our attention first to the 22-22-5 Lightning, current occupants of 14th place in the Eastern Conference. Their plight is an issue they haven’t faced in a long time: poor goaltending, which has allowed 142 goals this season in eight games: the eighth-worst rate in the league.

Although it’s been an almost even split of time, 11-11-3 Ben Bishop remains the netminder of choice for Jon Cooper. This season has easily been his worst since moving to Tampa, as he’s managed only a .905 save percentage and 2.78 GAA – the 36th and 34th-best efforts in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 13 appearances.

While the defense playing in front of him is far from the best in the league, they are not below average. Led by Victor Hedman‘s 78 shot blocks, the Bolts‘ defense has allowed only 30 shots against-per-game, which ties for 13th-best in the league.

One thing that is certainly going right for the Lightning is the power play. Tampa has found success on 22.7% of opportunities, the fifth-best rate in the league. Hedman has sparked that attack with his 18 power play points, but it’s been Jonathan Drouin completing most of those plays with his team-leading seven man-advantage goals.

Playing host this evening are the 20-19-10 Panthers, the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division and 10th-best in the East. Florida‘s main struggle this year has been their offense, which has managed only 111 tallies – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

With his team-leading 33 points, Vincent Trocheck has tried his hardest to pull his club towards its goal, but he’s struggling to find a dance partner as his 18 goals are also the clubhouse lead. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for him and Jon Marchessault, no skater on the club would have more than nine goals. These two skaters take credit for nearly 28% of the Panthers‘ goals.

The lack of weapons catches up with Florida on the power play, where their 15.2% success rate is seventh-worst in the league. Marchessault and Keith Yandle share the team-lead with 10 power play points, and Reilly Smith has the most power play goals with six. It would seem like there are more weapons, but Trocheck has actually struggled on the power play, scoring only two goals with the man-advantage. The Panthers have become very predictable offensively, regardless of circumstance.

Similar to their northern counterparts, all hope is not lost due to the opposite special team. Florida‘s penalty kill, led by Mark Pysyk‘s team-leading 10 shorthanded blocks, is fifth-best in the league by refusing to yield a power play goal on 84.3% of opposing opportunities.

The Panthers are not only the current owners of the Governor’s Cup, but they are also well on their way to retaining it a second-straight time. They already have a 1-0-1 record against Tampa Bay, including winning their most recent meeting on November 7 by a score of 3-1 on this surface.

While neither team is in the position the would like, the beauty of the Eastern Conference is that no one – no, not even last place Detroit – is anywhere near out of contention. Philadelphia, the current owner of the second wildcard, has 54 points to their credit, only four more than Florida and five more than Tampa.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Trocheck (33 points, including 18 goals [both lead the team]) and Tampa Bay‘s Hedman (31 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

Florida is a -108 favorite according to Vegas, due almost entirely to having home ice. Each team’s strength aligns with the opposition’s strength, as do their respective weaknesses. Especially since I’m a defensive-minded fan, I like the Panthers‘ odds of earning two points this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Wayne Gretzky (1961-) – For those who aren’t interested in a long-winded detail, there’s a reason this center is called The Great One. For everybody else, this two-time Hall of Famer played in 18 All Star games and won a total of 35 trophies: four Stanley Cups, five Byngs, nine Harts, five Pearsons, 10 Ross and two Smythes.

For those hoping the rivalry would help the Red Wings play up to Toronto‘s level, that is no where near what happened. Instead, the Leafs shut Detroit out on their own ice, winning 4-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With an unassisted tally only 5:30 into the contest, First Star of the Game Auston Matthews takes credit for the game-winning tally on a solid backhand. It was the lone goal of the first period.

Toronto started laying on the insurance goals with 4:25 remaining in the second period, courtesy of a Roman Polak (Matt Hunwick and Nazem Kadri) slap shot.

James van Riemsdyk (Nikita Zaitsev and Martin Marincin) and Nikita Soshnikov (Second Star Frederik Andersen) provided the last two goals in the third period.

Andersen saved all 22 shots he faced to earn the shutout victory, leaving the loss to Petr Mrazek, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

Toronto‘s road victory is the first in three days in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and it pulls visitors within four points of the 54-35-16 hosts.