February 14 – Day 118 – Valentine’s Day rivalry

Tuesdays are usually some of the busiest days in the NHL, and today features seven games for us to take in. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. when two games drop the puck (Colorado at New Jersey and Vancouver at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]), followed half an hour later by another pair (the New York Islanders at Toronto and Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS]). A couple more games get underway at 8 p.m. (Anaheim at Minnesota and Dallas at Winnipeg), with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – dropping the puck an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at New Jersey: Not only is it the original Coloradan franchise against the current, but Eric Gelinas also makes his first return to the Prudential Center.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres‘ second rivalry game in four days.

That’s right, we know that Gelinas is making the first return to his original home arena. We try to keep track of everything around here at Down the Frozen River.

That being said, it’s been a long time since we’ve watched the Senators. Let’s take in their game against rival Buffalo.

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Sabres fans need not watch the film above. They know what it is.

If there was ever any question of this matchup being a rivalry in the Northeast Division, this game ended that discussion. Only 15 days after Paul Gaustad had a leg tendon sliced in a game against the Senators, Ottawa‘s Chris Neil threw a shoulder at Sabres‘ co-captain Chris Drury‘s head early in the second period of their February 22, 2007 contest, drawing blood. What ensued was a melee complete with scrapping goaltenders Martin Biron and Ray Emery.

Oh yeah, and coaches Bryan Murray and Lindy Ruff were, let’s just say, not happy with each other.

One-hundred total penalty minutes were distributed, and five players – including Emery – were ejected from the game.

To complete the rivalry, the Sens are adamant they didn’t do anything wrong that night. Of course, Buffalo disagrees.

No love lost here. How fitting for a Valentine’s Day matchup.

The 23-23-10 Sabres make their trip to southeastern Ontario in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. Like I explained Saturday, Jack Eichel‘s high ankle sprain at the beginning of the season threw this team’s offense off its rhythm in a terrible way, as they’ve managed only 137 goals in 56 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the league.

If anything can be said for Buffalo‘s situation, it’s impressive how newcomer Kyle Okposo acclimated to his new surroundings. After signing with the Sabres on the first day of free agency this past offseason, he’s done his best to lead the offense with 37 points. The easiest way to do that is by scoring, and that’s exactly what he’s done as his 18 goals are tied with Evander Kane for most in The Nickel City.

Don’t believe for a minute, though, that the Sabres are incompetent, because that’s so far from the truth. That point is made no more apparent than when Buffalo has the man-advantage. Led by Okposo’s 19 power play points, the Sabres convert a league-leading 23.4% of opponent’s penalties into goals. Matt Moulson is responsible for most of those tallies, scoring a team-leading nine times with the extra man.

Of course, a lot of those are given back when Buffalo goes on the penalty kill themselves, as they stop only 74% of opposing power plays – the second-worst rate in the NHL. With his 25 shorthanded blocks, Josh Gorges has tried his hardest to help the Sabres, but him and Rasmus Ristolainen are the only two skaters with more 20 blocks on the kill. Perchance the Sabres trade for a long-term blueliner before the deadline? We’ll see…

Playing host this evening are the 29-18-6 Senators, winners of their past two games to go with the second-best record in the Atlantic. The key to success in the Canadian Capital is no-doubt goaltending, as the Sens have allowed only 142 goals, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

It looks like Craig Anderson will be the man in net this evening for Ottawa. When he’s been available this season, he’s been the obvious start: his .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA are not only the best marks on the team, but also (t)seventh and 14th-best in the league, respectively, among the 57 netminders with at least 10 starts.

Anderson is a welcome sight in Ottawa, as his superior play certainly bolsters an average defense. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading (and third-most in the league) 142 shot blocks, the Sens still allow 30.2 shots to reach Anderson’s crease per game, which is only 15th-best. Just like Buffalo before, I’ll be interested to see if Pierre Dorion makes a move for a blueliner before the trade deadline.

That defense hasn’t stopped the Sens from being one of the superior teams on the penalty kill though. Led by Dion Phaneuf‘s 26 shorthanded blocks, Ottawa properly defends 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the league.

That defensive effort is necessary to make up for Ottawa‘s shortcomings on the power play. Even with Mike Hoffman‘s team-leading 17 power play points, the Senators only convert 16.6% of their extra-man opportunities into goals – the eighth-worst rate in the league. Regardless of how the rest of the team has performed, Hoffman has certainly been impressive: 11 of his points with the extra man have been goals, a total that not only leads the team, but ties for second-most in the NHL.

You wouldn’t know it going off each team’s respective spot in the standings, but the Sabres have already clinched their season series against Ottawa with a 3-0-1 record. Buffalo proved that dominance over the Senators only 10 days ago when the Sabres won a four-goal shutout at the KeyBank Center.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Robin Lehner (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]) or Anders Nilsson (.922 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.927 save percentage [tied for second-best in the league], including four shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Karlsson (37 assists [fourth-most in the NHL]).

To my surprise, Ottawa is a relatively heavy favorite to win tonight’s game with a -135 line. It’s hard to pick against the Senators give how well Anderson has played since returning to the ice, but the Sabres are a confident bunch when playing against them. This could be a nail-biter to the end.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bernie Geoffrion (1931-2006) – There are good hockey players, and then there are great ones. This Hall of Fame right wing is one of the greats. Playing almost his entire 16-year career in Montréal, he won six Stanley Cups to go with his 11 All-Star nominations.
  • Petr Svoboda (1966-) – This defenseman is another player that spent most of his career with the Canadiens. In his second season after being drafted fifth-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • Sean Hill (1970-) – Habs alumni just keep rolling in. This blueliner was drafted by Montréal in the eighth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Carolina. He was a member of the Habs‘ 1993 Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Marian Gaborik (1982-) – This right wing was selected third-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Minnesota, and that’s still his longest-tenured club. That being said, he’s in his fourth season with the Kings after joining them for their 2014 Cup run.
  • Tom Pyatt (1987-) – The Rangers selected this center in the fourth-round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest-tenured club is Tampa Bay. That being said, he currently plays for Ottawa, so let’s see if he can notch his first birthday point in his third try tonight.
  • Brandon Sutter (1989-) – Although he’s playing his second season in Vancouver, this forward was selected by Carolina 11th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He’s scored 220 points over his nine-year career.

A two-goal third period is just what the doctor ordered for the Rangers, as they were able to beat Columbus 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the opening frame, and it belonged to the home Jackets. Third Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky (Brandon Saad and Seth Jones) is the guilty party, burying his wrister 8:12 after the initial puck drop.

Only 12 seconds into the second period, the score read 1-1 thanks to a shorthanded wrister from Dan Girardi (Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller), and that’s the mark that stayed on the scoreboard the remaining 19:48 of the frame to set up an exciting third period.

Only 4:49 into the third, Hayes broke the tie with an unassisted wrister, but the contest was once again knotted 7:04 later when Nick Foligno (David Savard) potted a wrister of his own. First Star Jimmy Vesey (Derek Stepan and Nick Holden) provided the game-winner, scoring his wrister with 6:32 remaining in regulation.

Second Star Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Sergei Bobrovsky, who saved 20-of-23 (87%).

Thanks to New York‘s victory, only six points separate the roadies from the 62-40-18 homers in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

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