February 9 – Day 113 – Back in the saddle again

The NHL is trying to make up for scheduling only one game yesterday with 11 today.

I think I accept it’s apology.

Like it usually does, the action starts tonight at 7 p.m. with six games (San Jose at Boston [SN360/TVAS], Anaheim at Buffalo, Nashville at the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [NBCSN], Detroit at Washington and Vancouver at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (St. Louis at Toronto, Dallas at Ottawa [RDS2] and Los Angeles at Florida). Only one more time-slot exists this evening, and it holds two games (Pittsburgh at Colorado and Montréal at Arizona [RDS]) as co-nightcaps at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Whether he deserved it or not, Claude Julien was handed a pink slip Tuesday after 10 years of service to the Bruins organization. Tonight, it will be Bruce Cassidy making his first appearance as head man behind Boston‘s bench, although it’s not his first head coaching job in the NHL.

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419 victories. Four division titles. A Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup.

The club may get to keep the hardware and banners, but Julien was the one to lead them there.

That being said, he’s been under fire for almost this entire season, and part of last year as well. Even though he’s the winningest coach in Bruins history and got the team into the playoffs in all but two seasons (hint: the last two) under his command, it’s that very fact that became his downfall. Even with some great players on his roster, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins haven’t tasted the postseason since 2014 and are in danger of making it three years in a row should the standings remain as they currently are.

That’s what prompted Don Sweeney to make the change to Cassidy. The interim head coach is remembered most from his days behind the Capitals‘ bench, a job he held from 2002-’03. He was in command for the entire 2002-’03 campaign and led Washington to second place in the Southeastern Division. That success didn’t continue in the playoffs, as the Caps were eliminated in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

That elimination marked the beginning of the end of Cassidy’s tenure in the capital. Washington started the 2003-’04 season with an 8-16-1 record, which was not good enough for George McPhee and resulted in Cassidy being relieved of his duties.

He began his time with the Bruins‘ organization in 2008 as an assistant coach in Providence, but he was the man in charge by the 2011-’12 season. During his tenure as skipper, the Bruins went a combined 207-128-45, include a Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy-winning (effectively the Presidents’ Trophy, but in the AHL) 50-21-5 record in 2012-’13.

He was rewarded for that success this season with a promotion to assistant coach in Boston (Come to think of it, it seems Sweeney had this whole thing planned out, didn’t he?). A former defenseman, his addition has certainly been noticed on the ice. Last season, Boston allowed 30.4 shots to reach Rask’s crease per game. This season? That number is down to 26.4, an impressive improvement.

Cassidy takes command of a 26-23-6 Bruins team that is riding a two-game losing skid and currently occupies fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, missing out on a playoff position by one point technically two points to avoid losing a games-played tiebreaker to Philadelphia.

As stated before, the Bruins have certainly improved on the defensive end. Unfortunately, they didn’t plan for the offensive regression they’re experiencing this year. A season ago, Boston scored 236 goals – the fifth-most in the NHL. Nowadays, they’ve only managed 141 tallies in 55 games, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

That regression can’t be pinned on Marchand, though, as his 55 points are tops on the team. Making that number even more impressive is the fact that he personally takes credit for 23 goals, which is also the best in Beantown.

Fortunately for the Bruins, the penalty kill has been topnotch this year, stopping 86% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league. The sick Zdeno Chara has been a major part of that success with his 27 shorthanded blocks, but is still unknown if he’ll play this evening. If he doesn’t, Adam McQuaid and his 24 penalty kill blocks will be called upon to fill the captain’s role when down a skater.

The Sharks make their annual visit to the TD Garden with a 33-17-4 record, more than good enough for the lead in the Pacific Division even if they have lost their last two games in overtime. The defense leads the way in San Jose, as the Sharks have allowed only 125 goals in 54 games this season, the second-best effort in the NHL.

Have you ever met someone who is really good at their job? Martin Jones is one of those people. His .917 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA are (t)12th and fifth-best in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it’s easy to be good when you have a defense like Jones does. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 100 shot blocks, San Jose allows only 27.3 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the third-best rate in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (55 points [fourth-most in the league], including 23 goals [10-most in the NHL]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 25 wins [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on a 2.31 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (57 points [third-most in the NHL], including 35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (27 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [sixth-best in the league]).

Boston has been marked with a -123 favorite by Vegas, and if I were a gambling man I’d bet lots of money on the Sharks spoiling that this evening. Not only are the Sharks exceptional at preventing something the Bruins have had little success doing (scoring), Boston is also not kind to the home team. The Bruins are only 12-13-0 on their home surface. San Jose should exploit that and take this contest easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Nilan (1958-) – He may have only been a 19th-rounder in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft by Montréal, but this right wing enjoyed a 13-year career. The highlight of his career came in 1986 when he was a member of the Canadiens team that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Andre Burakovsky (1995-) – Selected by Washington with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is certainly making a name for himself. His 11 tallies tie for seventh-most on the team.

It took overtime, but the Blackhawks don’t mind as they earned their first victory over Minnesota in the last nine tries in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago came to play, and they proved it with a tally with 9:06 remaining in the first period, compliments of Ryan Hartman (Vinnie Hinostroza and Duncan Keith). It was the lone tally of the frame, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

If you like scoring, the second period was easily the most exciting – at least in regulation. Four goals were scored, starting with Nick Schmaltz‘ (First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews and Third Star Richard Panik) only 1:09 after returning to the ice, but Second Star Jared Spurgeon (Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter) apparently took exception to that and pulled the Wild back within a tally only 37 seconds later. With a wrister, Zach Parise (Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville) leveled the game at two-all at the 7:15 mark, but a Panik (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Toews) wrister with 2:36 remaining in the frame returned a one-goal lead to the Blackhawks going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was scored in the third period, but it was one that blew the roof off the Xcel Energy Center. With 3:03 remaining in regulation, Erik Haula (Marco Scandella and Niederreiter) buried his wrister to level the game for Minnesota at three-all. Neither club could break the knot in the remaining time, forcing five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death overtime.

There is nothing more damning than committing an overtime penalty. Just ask Ryan Suter, who was caught holding Marian Hossa at the midway point of the frame. Only 39 seconds later, Toews (Patrick Kane and Keith) was able to capitalize on the man-advantage to seal the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (92.1%), forcing Darcy Kuemper to take the overtime loss, saving 28-of-32 (87.5%).

Chicago‘s victory is the fourth in the last five games by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within eight points of the 60-37-18 hosts.

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