We’re down to two Big 4 sports in North America now. Time to hone in even more on the NHL.
That’s easy to do tonight, as there’s only three games being played tonight. Even better, they all drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern time. Those matchups are: Buffalo at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Islanders (SN) and St. Louis at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS).
It’s not often that a inter-conference matchup can have such an effect on the standings, but there’s a lot on the line tonight on Broad Street for both teams involved.
The Blues make their lone trip of the season to the Wells Fargo Center with a 25-22-5 record, good enough only for fourth-place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. The reason they find themselves on the outside looking in is due to their horrendous goaltending, which has allowed 161 tallies so far this year, the fourth-most in the league.
More often than not, 18-14-3 Jake Allen has been charged with manning St. Louis‘ crease this season, but it hasn’t always gone the way he’s hoped. He has only a .897 save percentage and 2.82 GAA to his credit, the (t)42nd and (t)31st-best efforts, respectively, among the 46 goalies with at least 19 or more appearances.
For those wondering, 7-7-2 backup Carter Hutton has effectively been a carbon copy with his .896 save percentage and 2.81 GAA.
It takes work to be as good as the Notes are on defense to give up that many goals. Just as St. Louis has allowed the fourth-most scores, the blueline allows the (t) fourth-least shots-against per night at 27.7. That effort has been headlined by Captain Alex Pietrangelo, who’s 103 shot blocks not only leads the club, but is also the 18th-most in the NHL.
That outsanding defense stands especially tall on the penalty kill, where their 83.5% kill rate is ninth-best in the league. Once again, Pietrangelo deserves much of the credit with his 26 shorthanded blocks, which are eight more than Colton Parayko.
If the Flyers are going to pick one special team to focus on though, it’d have to be St. Louis‘ power play. The Blues convert 22.1% of opposing penalties into tallies, the sixth-best rate in the league. The man-advantage has been a two-headed attack, with both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko notching 18 extra-man points. Of the two, the defenseman’s seven goals has been slightly more impressive, leading the Russian right wing by one tally.
A win tonight can do wonders for the Notes. Two points would pull them into a tie with Calgary for the second wildcard in the Conference, and St. Louis would win the games-played tiebreaker by two contests.
Wearing the home orange sweaters this evening are the 26-20-7 Flyers, the fifth-best team in the Metropolitan Division and seventh-best in the Eastern Conference. Although they’ve had their struggles scoring of late, the offense is still the core of this team; their 139 goals ties for 19th-most in the league.
Jakub Voracek has been the man at the helm for the Flyers this year, already notching a team-leading 45 points. That being said, Wayne Simmonds has been the true threat striking fear into the hearts of goalies. He’s buried 21 pucks this season, easily the most in the clubhouse.
I would argue the reason for Philly‘s struggles has been a lack of consistency from the left wing position. As of yesterday, the best at that position is Nick Cousins (5/8/13), who is currently playing on the third line. Michael Raffl and Dale Weise, the first and second-liners, have combined for 16 points. If they were one person (Dale Raffl or Michael Weise?), he’d only have contributed the ninth-most points on the team. If Ron Hextall isn’t actively looking for a top-two left wing before the trade deadline, he’s blatantly not doing his job in my humble opinion.
Regardless of their troubles, Philadelphia is still home to one of the more feared power plays in the league. Led by Captain Claude Giroux‘ 22 man-advantage points, the Flyers have scored on 21.4% of their man-advantage opportunities, the ninth-best rate in the NHL. A lot of those points have been assists from Giroux to Brayden Schenn, who’s 12 power play goals are best in Eastern Pennsylvania.
While a loss this evening isn’t necessarily devastating for Philly, it’s definitely a scenario they’d like to avoid. A Toronto win in New York paired with a Flyers loss drops the Broad Street Bullies to eight place in the conference.
Sure, it’s still a playoff spot, but it eliminates the buffer they had between themselves and the members of the Atlantic Division hoping to make the postseason. Currently, Boston occupies eighth-place, even though they are in third in the division. It effectively blocks any other members of the Atlantic from taking over the second wildcard, as they would first take the Bruins‘ spot and not require the wildcard to qualify.
If that’s confusing, just know the Flyers want to win tonight, like most sports teams prefer to do.
Tonight’s game is the second meeting of the season between these two clubs. They last met December 28 at Scottrade Center and played to a 6-3 Blues win. Hutton was in net for the victory.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Philadelphia‘s Voracek (31 assists among 45 points [both most on the team]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (23 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] among 50 points [tied for ninth-most in the league]).
The strongest line of the night belongs to the Flyers at -120. That being said, I like the Blues to earn the road upset this evening. Even though both teams haven’t been playing as well as they’d like, St. Louis still has some very strong special teams in their back pocket that could prove to be the difference.
- Kent Douglas (1936-2009) – The 1963 Calder-winning defenseman spent all but a season of his eight-season career in the NHL, and most of that was in Toronto. In fact, the three-time All-Star’s rookie year was so good, he helped the Maple Leafs to the 1963 Stanley Cup.
- Adam Henrique (1990-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman is still lacing them up for the Devils. A phenomenal rookie campaign that featured 51 points (a career-high), 57 blocks (another career-high) and 49 takeaways only got him third-place in Calder Trophy voting, but it’s tough to beat guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Only a day after featuring a Toronto–Boston game where 11 goals were struck, we turned the tables to a surprisingly defensive matchup, as the Oilers needed a shootout to break a scoreless draw in Montréal in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
We’ll pick up the action in the shootout…
- …where Alexander Radulov was the first to take a shot. Cam Talbot made the save.
- Third Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl took his turn next, finding the back of Second Star Al Montoya’s net to give Edmonton a 1-0 shootout lead.
- Paul Byron‘s attempt to level things for the Habs was saved by Talbot.
- Mark Letestu found similar fate as Byron in his try to improve the Oil‘s lead.
- Max Pacioretty had one final opportunity to pull the Canadiens even, but Talbot was up to the task, securing the bonus point in the standings for Edmonton.
Talbot saved all 22 shots he faced for the shutout victory, leaving Montoya the shootout loss after saving all 32 shots he faced in regulation and overtime.
Thanks to Edmonton, that’s two-straight wins for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling them within nine points of the 59-36-17 hosts.