February 15 – Day 119 – The rivalry lives on

Wednesday schedules are always light, but that doesn’t mean the NHL doesn’t organize some decent matchups. The action starts, as it usually does, at 7 p.m. with Toronto at Columbus (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by St. Louis at Detroit (NBCSN). Philadelphia at Calgary (SN360) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., followed 60 minutes later by this evening’s nightcap: Florida at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.

Break out your favorite throwback sweater for tonight’s old-school rivalry!

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Winners of their past four contests, the Blues make their final trip to Joe Louis Arena (barring an improbable meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals) with a 29-22-5 record, which is good enough for third in the Central Division. When St. Louis has found success this season, it’s done it with the puck on it’s stick, as the Notes have struck 160 tallies in 56 games, which ties for the ninth-best scoring rate in the NHL.

You get two guesses as who the superstar forward is for the Notes, and you probably don’t need the second one. Vladimir Tarasenko has been nigh unstoppable with 53 points to his credit, including 26 tallies. Both numbers are the best in Mound City by a decent margin.

If the Blues are dangerous at even-strength, their power play is nearly lethal. St. Louis converts 21.8% of opponent’s penalties into goals, the sixth-best rate in the NHL. The Notes employ a two-headed attack when presented with the man-advantage, as both Kevin Shattenkirk and Tarasenko have 18 power play points apiece, but it’s been the blueliner that’s been most impressive – his seven extra-man goals top the squad.

The penalty kill is no slouch either. When the Blues commit a penalty, they don’t allow a goal 84.2% of the time, which ties for the fifth-best effort in the league. Captain Alex Pietrangelo is deserving of most of the credit, as his 26 shorthanded shot blocks are most on the team.

Blues fans thought they had it bad this season when their club wasn’t performing up to expectations. There’s probably still Red Wings ultras planning on buying playoff tickets for the 26th-straight year.

Unfortunately for them, 22-24-10 Detroit‘s chances aren’t looking bright as they currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference. Of course, things can change in a hurry in that conference, as they trail second wildcard Toronto by only nine points. The reasons for the Wings‘ struggles are many (injuries being one of the more glaring issues), but the offense has certainly been the weaker facet of their game. Losers of their past three games, Detroit has managed only 135 goals in 56 games – the fifth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

If Jeff Blashill and Red Wings management have learned nothing this season, it’s that Henrik Zetterberg is definitely the right man to wear the “C” for Detroit. He’s shown his leadership in countless ways since taking the job at the start of the delayed 2013 season, and this campaign is no different as his 41 points are tops on the team. Goal scoring responsibilities have been well distributed throughout the club, but Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, who says he’s going to play tonight, have led the team with 14 tallies apiece.

Where the Wings have been especially horrendous is on the power play, as their 12% success rate is easily the worst in hockey. It’s not a good sign Vanek’s 10 points on the man-advantage are the most impressive on the team, although he has been solid at scoring the puck with five power play goals to his credit.

It’s not exactly saying much, but Detroit is definitely better on the penalty kill… but their 79.8% success rate is still 10th-worst in the league. That is no fault of Danny DeKeyser‘s though, as his 26 shorthanded shot blocks are not only the best on the team, but also tie for 16th-most in the NHL.

The Red Wings have already made their yearly trip to St. Louis, and it was certainly a pleasant visit for them. Although it required a shootout, they were able to beat the Blues 2-1 on October 27.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Detroit‘s Zetterberg (28 assists among 41 points [both most on the team]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (26 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

It’s never a good sign for the home team when Vegas has a positive number next to your team, but that’s where Detroit finds itself. A +100 in’t a huge line, but it’s enough to make me feel even more certain that the Blues will earn two points tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Tony McKegney (1958-) – Drafted 32nd-overall by Buffalo in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this left wing played 13 seasons in the league – most of which with the Sabres. His 639 points were split as evenly as they could be between goals and assists, and he lit the lamp 320 times.
  • Brian Propp (1959-) – Another left wing, this five-time All Star was selected 14th-overall by Philadelphia in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played 15 seasons – most of which with the Flyers – and is one of the 85 men to register 1000 points in his career.
  • Craig Simpson (1967-) – Although Pittsburgh drafted this left wing second-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, he spent most of his 10-year career in Edmonton – and how fortunate he was to do so. In the span of his first three seasons with the Oilers, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Jaromir Jagr (1972-) – The man, the myth and the legend turns 45 today, and gets to celebrate in style in The Tank. The nine-time All Star was drafted fifth-overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, where he hoisted two Stanley Cups and won the Hart Trophy, but he’s in his third season in Florida.
  • Serge Aubin (1975-) – Pittsburgh selected this left wing in the seventh-round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never suited up for the Penguins. Instead, he’s best remembered for his time in Columbus.

All those that had Justin Bailey being the Sabres‘ savior in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, please raise your hand. I now consider everyone who raised their hands liars, as that was only the rookie’s second goal of the season.

The game started with a bang for Buffalo, as First Star of the Game Ryan O’Reilly (Kyle Okposo and Justin Falk) buried a snap shot only 24 seconds into the game to give the Sabres an early lead, but Second Star Bobby Ryan (Erik Karlsson and Fredrik Claesson) tied the game with 5:15 remaining in the first period.

Only one goal was struck in the second period, and it belonged to the Senators. Dion Phaneuf (Ryan) takes credit on a wrist shot with 5:27 remaining in the second period to set the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Just like in the first frame, the Sabres attacked quickly in the third. Only 51 seconds after resuming play, Matt Moulson (Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel) lit the lamp with a wrister to tie the game at two-all. 6:47 later, that’s when Bailey (Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen) struck with his game-winning deflection.

Third Star Robin Lehner earns the victory after saving an impressive 39-of-41 shots faced (95.1%), leaving the loss to Craig Anderson, who saved 22-of-25 (88%).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and specifically the Sabres, are on quite a tear. Buffalo takes credit for two of the visitors’ four victories in the past five days, pulling the roadies within four points of the 62-41-18 hosts.

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