February 12 – Day 116 – Atlantic animosity

It’s Sunday Funday! Six fixtures are on tap today, starting with San Jose at New Jersey (SN1/SN360) at 12:30 p.m. Detroit at Minnesota (NBC) drops the puck at 3 p.m., followed three hours later by the final two matinees of the day (Dallas at Nashville [TVAS] and Colorado at the New York Islanders). Finally, this evening’s co-nightcaps (Montréal at Boston [NBCSN/RDS/SN] and Vancouver at Buffalo) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. to finish up the day. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • San Jose at New Jersey: Last season, David Schlemko played for the Devils, but now he visits the Prudential Center wearing white.
  • Detroit at Minnesota: Thomas Vanek is also making his first return to a former home arena today, but he spent two seasons with the Wild.
  • Montréal at Boston: Oh yeah, there’s also arguably the most important rivalry in hockey being played tonight.

Take a guess which game we’re focusing on.

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The rivalry between these two doesn’t need to be set up; each game simply adds to the history.

The Canadiens come into tonight’s game with a 31-18-8 record, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division (shh, we’re not talking about how Ottawa only trails them by six points with four games in hand). Although they’ve been exemplary on both ends of the ice, it’s been their offense that has truly been impressive. The Habs have registered 164 tallies this season, which ties for sixth-most in the league.

The man leading that charge is none other than Captain Max Pacioretty, as his 50 points are eight more than second-place Alexander Radulov. Pacioretty also claims the scoring title, and by an even wider margin: his 28 tallies are double those of Paul Byron and Radulov.

Much of that success stems from a dominant power play. Scoring on 22.1% of attempts, the Canadiens tie for the fifth-best effort in the NHL. While Pacioretty commands the even-strength play, Shea Weber has taken the man-advantage to heart with his team-leading 18 power play points. 10 of those have been goals, which is also the team-high with the extra-man.

If there’s one place the Habs should try to improve before the trade deadline, it should be their penalty kill. Even with Weber’s team-leading 32 shorthanded shot blocks, Montréal stops only 79.2% of opposing power plays – the ninth-worst rate in the league.

Every time I think about writing off the 28-23-6 Bruins, they go and do something like the two-game winning streak they’re riding right now. When Boston has found success this season, it’s been on the offensive end where they’ve notched 151 tallies, which ties for 14th-most in the league.

Brad Marchand has been at the middle of it all this season, as his 57 points are tops in New England. For those that are good at math, they’ll note that’s a point-per-game; he’s one of seven players with at least 47 games played that can stake that claim. That being said, it’s been youngster David Pastrnak that has turned the most heads this year with his team-leading 25 goals.

Even more impressive than the Bruins‘ offense has been their penalty kill. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 27 shorthanded shot blocks, Boston stops 85.9% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league.

It’s hard to argue that Montréal doesn’t have the Bruins‘ number this season. In their last three meetings, the Habs have accumulated a 2-0-1 record, including a 4-2 victory the last time they met in the TD Garden. Boston‘s best effort against the Canadiens was the last time they played, when they forced overtime before falling 2-1 at the Bell Center.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (57 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Pastrnak (25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Tuukka Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 26 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league] on a 2.32 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Montréal‘s Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Carey Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]).

Vegas trusts Boston to earn a home victory this evening, marking them with a -135 line. The Bruins certainly have new life under Bruce Cassidy and are riding their winning streak, but I’ve grown leery when they’re playing at home given they’re only 14-13-0 at the TD Garden. I suppose I’ll take the Bruins to win, but the Habs will probably still force overtime.

Hockey Birthday

  • Owen Nolan (1972-) – Even though he hasn’t played since 2010, this right wing is still the third-most recent United Kingdom-native to play in the NHL. He was the first overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, but the five-time All Star played most of his career in San Jose.
  • Jonas Hiller (1982-) – Although this goaltender’s most recent NHL club was the Flames, he’s spent most of his career in Anaheim. He has a career 197-140-37 record in 374 starts.

Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day featured one of the four upsets of the day when the Sabres bested Toronto 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre.

Buffalo employed an impressive blitz technique, scoring three goals in the first period before the Maple Leafs had a chance to think. First Star of the Game Evander Kane (Sam Reinhart and Third Star Jack Eichel) takes credit for the first tally with a snap shot only 4:13 after the initial puck drop, followed 55 seconds later by Reinhart’s (Kyle Okposo and Eichel) game-winning power play snap shot. Kane (Eichel and Justin Falk) also took credit for Buffalo‘s final tally of the game, a snap shot with 1:58 remaining in the frame.

Mitch Marner (Tyler Bozak and Nikita Zaitsev) was the lone Leaf to get on the scoreboard, scoring a power play wrap-around shot with 4:03 remaining in the second period, but Toronto could not find another tally before the final horn.

Second Star Robin Lehner earns the victory after saving an incredible 43-of-44 shots faced (97.7%), leaving the loss to Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-23 (87%).

The Sabres‘ win is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which pulls the visitors within six points of the 61-39-18 season mark by home teams.

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