February 18 – Day 122 – No, he’s your friend now!

The best day of the week – at least for hockey – is finally upon us! 11 games are taking place today, starting with St. Louis at Buffalo at 1 p.m. The final matinees of the day drop the puck an hour later (Washington at Detroit [NHLN] and Winnipeg at Montréal [CBC/SN/TVAS]), followed by three (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey and Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/TVAS]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a trio of contests (San Jose at Arizona, Tampa Bay at Dallas and Nashville at Minnesota), with the co-nightcaps – Florida at Los Angeles and Calgary at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – dropping the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at Montréal: Wait, wasn’t Claude Julien just coaching against the Canadiens on Sunday? Yes, yes he was.
  • New York at New Jersey: If he’s active tonight, this will be Stephen Gionta‘s first game in the Prudential Center wearing white after six seasons with the Devils.
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Have you checked the standings recently? This isn’t just a rivalry game, it’s a scrap for Atlantic Division positioning!
  • Calgary at Vancouver: Matt Bartkowski was a member of the rival-Canucks last season, but he could make his Flames debut tonight against them.

I’m very disappointed today is Julien’s first game back as the Habs‘ coach, as the Battle for Ontario should be spectacular. Nonetheless, we always feature a coach’s first game with his new squad after a mid-season change, so we’re off to the Bell Centre.

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Ah, the twists and turns of Julien’s career. 11 years removed from an uninspiring playing career from an NHL standpoint, Julien began his NHL coaching career with none other than the Montréal Canadiens. Hired midway through the 2002-’03 season to replace Michel Therrien (yes, seriously. Therrien) in the midst of a campaign that ended with a 30-35-8-9 record, he managed to qualify the Habs to the Eastern Conference Semifinals only a year later.

That apparently wasn’t enough to keep him his job, as he was released at the halfway point of the 2005-’06 season even though he laid the groundwork of a team that qualified for the playoffs in its second-straight campaign.

His next stop was with the Devils the following season, but it was a short one. Even though he led New Jersey to a 47-24-8 record, he was cut three games before the playoffs.

That was just fine for the Bruins, who signed Julien almost three months later. Of course,  that’s both his most noteworthy and longest-tenured assignment. He was Boston’s bench boss for over nine-and-a-half seasons, leading them to four division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances and, of course, the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.

It seems to be in Julien’s best interest to not have a winning record, because after leading the Bruins to a 26-23-6 record, the league’s then-longest-tenured coach was released on February 7.

The irony of the whole situation is that not only was Julien hired once again by the Canadiens mid-season, but that he once again replaced Therrien. Even more bizarre, Therrien had the Habs rolling this season, notching a 31-19-8 record before being released this Valentine’s Day.

Of course, part of the reason for this change must be that Therrien was also in charge of last year’s Canadiens team that started their campaign 9-0-0 yet failed to end the season within 10 points of playoff position. That, and the Habs are currently riding a two-game losing skid and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 contests.

Regardless of the reason he’s back in The City of Saints, Julien takes over a club that plays sound defense with good great goaltending to boot, as the Habs have allowed only 148 goals against in 58 games, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Of course, the man that deserves the most credit is goaltender Carey Price, who has earned every bit of his 24-14-5 record. With a .917 season save percentage and 2.46 GAA, he is not only the best netminder in Montréal, but also the 14th and 13th-best in the NHL in those regards, respectively.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an above-average defense playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his 120 shot blocks, the Habs allow only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Price’s crease, the 12th-best effort in the league.

Surprisingly, that overall effort does not carry over to the penalty kill, as the Canadiens are eighth-worst in the NHL at only a 79.4% success rate. With his 33 shorthanded shot blocks (tied for second-most in the league), Weber has kept up his spectacular play when a man down, but the rest of the squad needs to help limit the opposition’s scoring chances for Price, who has faced the fourth-most power play shots in the league.

Fortunately for the Canadiens, they’re able to earn back those goals allowed on the penalty kill with a powerful power play of their own. Successful on 21.4% of attempts, Montréal is eighth-best in the league with a man-advantage. The leader of that effort is special teams ace Weber, who has 18 power play points to his credit, including a team-high 10 extra-man tallies.

26-29-5 Winnipeg just seems to have the worst luck of late. Thursday night they were in victim and fell prey to Sidney Crosby, a man intent on earning his 1000th point in front of his home crowd. Two days later, they have to go up against a coach making his debut with his new club – a circumstance in which four other men have found victory. If the Jets want to win this game, they’ll have to shore up their defense, which has allowed 190 goals this season – the most on the league.

As far as goaltending is concerned, 18-15-2 Connor Hellebuyck takes most of the fall for the Jets. Although he has a winning record and is the best Winnipeg netminder, he has a .91 season save percentage and 2.8 GAA to his credit – only the (t)29th and (t)34th-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 goalies with at least 19 appearances.

Unfortunately for the Jets, it gets worse before it gets better. Even with Dustin Byfuglien‘s team-leading 99 shot blocks, Winnipeg still allows 31 shots-per-game to reach Hellebuyck’s crease, which ties for the 10th-highest rate in the league.

Pair two deficiencies on the same end of the ice together, and you yield a poor special teams unit. That’s the situation the Jets face, as they’re third-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, successful on only 76.7% of attempts. Even though he’s injured, Toby Enstrom still tops the team with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks. Instead, Jacob Trouba will be called upon to rally the troops to keep as many pucks as possible out of Hellebuyck’s crease, as his 18 shorthanded blocks are second-most on the team.

The Canadiens have already made their yearly trip to Winnipeg, and it was a successful one for them. Led by Artturi Lehkonen‘s two-goal, three-point performance, the Habs claimed a 7-4 victory on January 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Patrik Laine (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Mark Scheifele (58 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with Vegas on this one: Montréal is favored to beat the Jets at -165. Although both teams struggle on the penalty kill, only the Habs can be counted on to take advantage. Pair that with their overall solid defense, and it should be a Julien winner. Hopefully Montrealers have a short memory are forgiving of him coaching their rivals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Moog (1960-) – Just because you’re a seventh-rounder doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. Selected by Edmonton in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender proved just that, as he earned the 1990 Jennings Trophy to go with his four All-Star selections and three Stanley Cups.
  • Alexander Mogilny (1969-) – Buffalo selected this right wing 89th-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, so that’s the number he wore throughout his career. The Russian was named to four All-Star teams, and also won the 2003 Byng Trophy to go with his Stanley Cup in 2000.
  • Nik Antropov (1980-) – Another Russian, this center was the 10th-overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto. He spent most of his 13 seasons with the Leafs and notched 465 points before hanging up his skates for good in 2013.
  • Cody Hodgson (1990-) – Another center selected 10th-overall pick, this Canadian was drafted by Vancouver in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he’s spent a majority of his career in the Sabres‘ system.

With Second Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky‘s overtime winner, Columbus retained it’s undefeated record when hosting the Penguins this season, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Both regulation goals were struck within five minutes of each other. Ryan Murray (William Karlsson and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the Jackets‘ tally, burying his backhand only 1:33 after resuming play after the first intermission. Ian Cole tied the contest 4:40 later, set up by Evgeni Malkin‘s face-off win.

Dubinsky (Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones) needed only 64 seconds of three-on-three overtime before registering the Jackets‘ only shot, a pure snap shot that found the back of Third Star Matthew Murray‘s net.

First Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 37-of-39 (94.9%).

Columbus‘ victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves the hosts’ record to 64-42-18, five points better than the visitors.

One thought on “February 18 – Day 122 – No, he’s your friend now!”

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