Finally, after 122 days of hockey, it’s Hockey Day in America. Because, you know, there definitely hasn’t been a game in the States almost every day since October 12.
Hey, we can’t complain though. It just means there’s more hockey to watch! The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Washington at the New York Rangers (NBC), followed by Detroit at Pittsburgh (NBC) at 3 p.m. Winnipeg at Ottawa (TVAS) drops the puck at 5 p.m., with three contests (New Jersey at the New York Islanders, Chicago at Buffalo [NBCSN] and Nashville at Columbus) getting underway an hour later. The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the beginning of Toronto at Carolina (SN1/SN360), with Tampa Bay at Colorado dropping the puck 60 minutes later and Boston at San Jose (NBCSN) at 8:30 p.m. Los Angeles visits Anaheim at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Philadelphia at Vancouver (SN360) – completes Sunday’s play at 10 p.m. All times eastern.
- Washington at New York: This rivalry is only made better by featuring two of the top-five teams in the NHL.
- Detroit at Pittsburgh: Two-straight meetings in the Stanley Cup built a little rivalry between these clubs, but it’s died down in recent years.
- Nashville at Columbus: In addition to being former division rivals, Ryan Johansen, who spent five seasons with the Jackets, is playing his first game in Nationwide Arena wearing white.
- Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round three of the Freeway Face-Off goes down tonight!
I know we still haven’t featured the Freeway Face-Off yet this season and it should be a good game, but tonight is the only game Johansen will play in his former town. To Arch City we go!
Johansen wasn’t just any center for the Blue Jackets, he was an investment. Scott Howson and Columbus selected the Vancouverite center fourth-overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he made his Jackets debut only a season later.
He’s only played 40 games in the AHL, and that’s simply due to the 2012-’13 lockout. Since playing his first game with the Jackets, he’s remained in the NHL effectively ever since.
Up until January 6 of last season, that sentence could have simply said “he’s remained in Columbus ever since,” but he was traded to the Predators in the midst of an abysmal Jackets campaign.
That’s done nothing to slow him down. The 24-year-old only continues to grow as an NHL center, as every passing season he marks a career-high in assists (barring the lockout year). He was recognized for his growth in his fourth season in the league by being named to the 2015 All-Star Game, his lone appearance in that exhibition to date.
So far, he has 31 helpers to his credit this season, and he’s on pace for at least 14 more before the season ends for a total of 45 – one short of last season’s combined mark in Columbus and Nashville. But Nashvillans shouldn’t be concerned – something tells me Johansen will succeed his career-best 46 apples as the Predators make their playoff push.
Pair those team-leading assists with his nine goals and Johansen also leads his team in points. He and his fellow forwards will have their work cut out for this evening, as the Jackets are very good on their defensive end.
Although they’re not performing as well as many had expected this season, the 27-22-8 Predators seem to be on the right track as they currently qualify for the playoffs as the seventh-best team in the Western Conference. They’ve gotten to that position by playing some solid goaltending, as Nashville has allowed only 153 goals this season, tying for 12th-fewest in the NHL.
22-15-6 Pekka Rinne has been charged with manning the Predators‘ crease more often than not this campaign, and he’s the only Nashville goaltender with a winning record. He’s marked a .918 season save percentage and 2.43 GAA, the (t)10th and 12th-best efforts, respectively, in the league against the 40 other goalies with at least 22 appearances.
It remains to be seen if he’ll be in net this evening, as he manned the crease in the Predators‘ 5-2 loss in Minnesota last night. If Rinne is given the night off, it will be 5-5-2 Juuse Saros between the pipes.
Led by Ryan Ellis‘ 89 shot blocks, Nashville allows only 30.3 shots to reach net per game, an average effort that officially ranks 15th-worst. It may not be glamorous or spectacular, but it has gotten the job done for the Preds so far this season.
Playing host this evening is Johansen’s former club, the 37-15-5 Blue Jackets. Winners of their past two games, Columbus has forced its way into third place in the Metropolitan Division by playing the fifth-best offense in the NHL, having notched 182 goals already this season.
With his 50 points, Cam Atkinson is the leader of this motley crew, a total that rivals some of the best forwards in the game. Part of the reason he’s been so successful is his ability to bury the puck on his own, as he also has the squad-lead in goals with 27.
Columbus is home to one of the superior power plays in the game, as the Jackets are successful on 22.4% of attempts – the third-best rate in the league. While Atkinson has been solid at even-strength, the man-advantage is Alexander Wennberg‘s area of expertise, as he leads the squad with 21 power play goals. Most of those have been assists however, setting up power play linemate Nick Foligno for a team-leading 10 man-advantage goals.
The Blue Jackets made their annual trip to Bridgestone Arena on January 26, the last day of play before the All-Star Break. Led by Craig Smith‘s two-goal third period, the Preds were able to hold off Columbus with a 4-3 victory.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]), Sergei Bobrovsky (31 wins [second-most in the league] on a 2.17 GAA [tied for third-best in the NHL] and a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league], including three shutouts [10th-most in the NHL) and Wennberg (36 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Viktor Arvidsson (18 goals [leads the team]), Matt Irwin (+15 [best on the team]) and Johansen (40 points on 31 assists [both lead the team]).
Columbus has a hefty line associated with their name in Vegas: -165, to be exact. It’s a hard line to argue with, as the Jackets are among the league’s best on either end of the ice. I like to Columbus to win by at least two goals.
- Ryan Whitney (1983-) – Selected fifth-overall by Pittsburgh in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played nine seasons in the league. Playing most of his days with the Penguins, he scored 259 points, including his career-best 59 in 2006-’07.
- Kyle Chipchura (1986-) – Another first-rounder, this center was selected 18th-overall by Montréal in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Although he’s currently playing in the KHL, he’s spent most of his playing days with the Coyotes.
- Shawn Matthias (1988-) – Selected by Detroit, this center was the 47th-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, yet he never dressed for the Wings. Instead, he’s spent most of his playing days with Florida, and is in his first season with Winnipeg.
Due to the Jets‘ 3-1 victory over Montréal in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, mid-season new coaches in the 2016-17 NHL season have a 4-1-0 record in their debuts.
Everything looked like it was going the Canadiens‘ way to start, as they notched the only goal of the first period. Andrei Markov (Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk) takes credit on a wrist shot with 8:56 remaining in the frame.
Then things started breaking down. How bad did it get? Joel Armia scored an unassisted shorthanded wrister 4:52 after the first intermission to tie the game at a goal apiece.
Winnipeg took that momentum into the dressing room during the second intermission and ran with it, as First Star of the Game Mathieu Perreault (Second Star Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine) scored the game-winning goal only 1:16 after beginning the third period. The Habs tried to level with the extra-attacker late in regulation, but Laine (Ben Chiarot and Perreault) ended any chance of a comeback with a goal on the empty net.
The Jets‘ road victory snapped the two-game winning streak by the 64-43-18 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors in the series have now pulled within three points of the hosts.