Thursday is one of my favorite nights for hockey. Not only is there usually tons of games on, but there’s only one more day of work and, hey, Thirsty Thursday isn’t just an expression!
In all seriousness though, there’s some high-quality games being played tonight, even if there’s only six on the schedule. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with three contests (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS], the New York Rangers at Toronto [TVAS] and Calgary at Tampa Bay), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Nashville (SN360). Arizona at Chicago (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., followed two hours later by tonight’s nightcap: Boston at Los Angeles (SN).
It’s been a week since we’ve featured the Rangers, and even longer for the Maple Leafs. Let’s get both off that list by featuring the biggest city in the United States against the biggest in Canada. Off to the Air Canada Centre!
The Rangers make their trip to The Queen City with a 38-19-2 record, the fourth-best mark in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The reason for that success? An impressive offense that has managed 196 goals, the third-most in the NHL.
Even though he’s only in his third full season with the senior club, J.T. Miller has been at the head of that attack with his team-leading 46 points, already accounting for three more scores than his previous career-high. He’s certainly proven that Glen Sather was right to draft him 15th-overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Part of the reason Miller has been so deadly is due to linemate Michael Grabner, who takes credit for a team-high 26 goals. Just like Miller has already done Grabner is on pace to exceed his current 34-goal career-high by three goals.
Hosting the Blueshirts tonight are the always exciting Maple Leafs, whose 28-20-11 record has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. As you’d expect from a team that has won their past two games and drafted a center with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, offense is the name of the game in Toronto, as they’ve managed 185 goals already this season, which ties for fifth-most in the NHL.
That rookie, of course, is Arizonan Auston Matthews, and he’s already made an immeasurable impact on a franchise that hasn’t tasted the playoffs since 2013. Not only is he a shining light at the end of the tunnel for brighter futures, he’s providing an early sampler by having the Leafs competitive ahead of schedule thanks to his team-leading 52 points (the second-most among rookies).
Matthews has been especially deadly when he calls his own number. As he grows his supporting cast, the center will learn to distribute the puck just as much as he shoots, but it’s certainly been a pleasure to witness him bury a team-leading 28 goals this season, a total that ties for fourth-most in the league regardless of NHL-tenure.
You’re hard-pressed to find a better club on the power play than Toronto, because there isn’t one. Successful on 23.5% of attempts, the Maple Leafs are best in the league. Since Matthews has been busy with operating the even-strength action, fellow rookie William Nylander has taken up the role of “power play specialist,” as his 19 points with the man-advantage is tops in Toronto. Yet it’s been Nazem Kadri who has been the most dangerous with the extra man, as he has a team-leading 10 power play goals on his resume.
New York shouldn’t expect to catch the Leafs napping when they commit a penalty either, as Toronto is home to the (t)eighth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Led by Roman Polak‘s solid 28 shorthanded blocks, the Maple Leafs don’t yield a goal in 83.3% of penalty kill situations.
Tonight marks the final of three meeting between these clubs this season, and it’s a true rubber match as both sides have a 1-1-0 record against the other. In an interesting turn of events, both teams have won on their opponent’s ice. The Leafs beat New York 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on January 13, followed six days later by the Rangers besting Toronto 5-2 on tonight’s surface.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league] with 26 goals [10th-most in the NHL]) and Henrik Lundqvist (27 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (2.32 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (24 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]).
It’s not much of line, but Vegas favors Toronto to win tonight’s game with a -110 line. Although both teams have exceptional offenses, I’m leaning towards the Leafs winning tonight’s contest. Not only do they have home ice, but both of Toronto‘s special teams have been exceptional this season, and that should give them the edge.
- Jeff O’Neill (1976-) – Drafted fifth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing was selected by Hartford and spent most of his playing days with the organization – even if a majority of that time was in Carolina! He was named an All-Star one time in his 11-year career.
- Dan Snyder (1978-2003) – Due to a single car accident cutting his life short, this center played only 49 games in the NHL (all with Atlanta), but his memory lives on in various forms, including the organization (now in Winnipeg) and the Chicago Wolves naming awards in his memory and the creation of a scholarship for natives of his hometown Elmira, Ontario, among others.
If only Philadelphia hadn’t committed goaltender interference as its disallowed goal slipped by Braden Holtby 23 seconds into the game, maybe this DtFR Game of the Day would have ended differently for them. Instead, the Capitals swiped a cool 4-1 victory.
The first goal of the game that stayed on the scoreboard belonged to Nicklas Backstrom (Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin), who scored his snap shot 6:33 after the initial puck drop. First Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (John Carlson and Justin Williams) followed that up with 3:32 remaining in the frame by scoring a power play snapper to set the score at 2-0. That final goal of the period proved to be the winning tally.
6:54 into the second period, Third Star Brayden Schenn (Brandon Manning) tried to spark life into the Flyers with a deflection that found the back of the net, but Kuznetsov (Williams and Taylor Chorney) once again set the scoring advantage for Washington at two goals by burying a deflection of his own with 2:01 remaining in the frame.
Oshie (Ovechkin and Backstrom) provided a final insurance tally with 5:17 remaining in the game to ensure a Caps win.
Holtby earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (97.1%), leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 25-of-29 (86.2%).
If a team is going to be featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series, they want to be wearing white, as the 65-43-21 road teams have won their past five contests and now have a five-point lead over the hosts.