March 2 – Day 134 – Subban’s back

Now that the trade deadline is behind us, it’s time to clamp down and see how the 39 remaining days of the regular season are going to play out.

That watch starts with a bang tonight, as there’s 10 games on tonight’s schedule. The action gets underway at 7 p.m. with five games (New Jersey at Washington, the New York Rangers at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Philadelphia, Minnesota at Columbus and Arizona at Buffalo), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Colorado at Ottawa [RDS2]). The New York Islanders at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed two hours later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Toronto at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose.

Short list:

  • New York at Boston: You know, it’s just an Original Six rivalry between two playoff contenders.
  • Nashville at Montréal: The game many in Quebec have been waiting for: the return of  P.K. Subban.
  • Colorado at Ottawa: Patrick Wiercioch also returns to his former home arena of five seasons tonight.

No discussion. There’s no way we’re not watching Subban’s return to the Bell Centre.

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It was one of the biggest probably most unexpected trades of the 2016 offseason. Marc Bergevin decided to swap defensemen with the Predators, shipping Subban to the Music City in exchange for Shea Weber. Nothing else was involved in the trade – no money or salary retention, no picks or prospects. Just man for man.

Subban was drafted 43rd-overall by the Habs in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and he has playing regularly in the league since the 2010-’11 season. Known for his offensive abilities just as much as his defensive play, he scored 278 points over his seven seasons in Montréal, and helped them to five playoff appearances, including two Eastern Conference Finals appearances.

One of those Conference Finals appearances was in 2010. Subban’s first taste of the playoffs was only his third NHL game played, but that didn’t seem to phase him. In the 14 games he appeared for the Habs before they were eliminated by Philadelphia, he notched eight points – the second-most on the team by a blueliner, and with five fewer games than Roman Hamrlik.

But unlike other blueliners who are often caught sacrificing their defensive responsibilities to get their names on the scoreboard, Subban rarely makes his goaltender a victim of his play. He’s blocked a total of 685 shots in his career and has a +29 rating since ’10-’11, the 21st-best mark among defensemen with at least 154 points to their name in that time. That came to a point in his 2012-’13 campaign, when he won the Norris Trophy with 38 points and 49 shot blocks.

Given the fact that both clubs seem to be headed to the playoffs this season, neither team has lost the trade in the short-term. But it is surprising that the Canadiens would give up Subban, who is going to turn 28-years-old in May, for Weber, who turned 31 in August. Four years isn’t much in the “real world,” but in sports that’s a huge number. It could be argued that Weber has more experience, but what more does Subban really have to learn? Plus, Subban has so much more hockey to provide his club. Thanks to this trade, the Predators should be a threat in the Central Division for years to come.

Speaking of the Preds, they enter tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak with a 32-22-9 record, the third-best mark in the Central Division. Offense has been the name of the game this season in Nashville, as the Predators have managed 186 goals in 63 games – the eighth-best scoring rate in the league.

Smashville‘s first line truly lives up to it’s club’s nickname, as they are the true backbone on this team. Both Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have notched 49 points so far this season to co-head the squad in the statistic, but it’s been Forsberg who has been the most dominant player in a gold sweater. He’s buried 26 goals to lead the side, and is on pace for eight more. If he can reach that total (which he’s trying hard to do, scoring 10 goals in his last five games), it would set a new career-high by beating last year’s 33-goal mark.

Themselves riding a three-game winning streak, the Canadiens boast a 35-21-8 record for their season’s mark, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division. Nashville‘s vaunted offense will face a stiff test this evening, as the Habs like to play defense – and they do a pretty good job of it. They’ve allowed only 161 tallies against in 64 contests, which ties for the sixth-best rate in the NHL.

Of course, that effort starts in net, where the Canadiens are pleased to employ 27-16-5 Carey Price. A team knows they’ve found a good goaltender when he’s having an average year by his standards, but is still one of the best in the league. He has a season .92 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, the (t)ninth and 11th-best effort among the 43 netminders with at least 24 appearances.

It doesn’t hurt that he has a defense in front of him that ties for 12th-best in the league at limiting shots on his net. Led by Weber’s 130 shot blocks, the Predators allow only 30 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net.

Although the offense as a whole hasn’t been anything to write home about, the Habs‘ power play is still one of the best in the league. Led by Weber’s 21 points with the man-advantage, Montréal ties for 10th-best on the power play with a 21.5% success rate. 11 of Weber’s points have been goals, which leads not only the team, but is also tied for fourth-most in the entire NHL (most among blueliners).

The Candiens have already made their yearly visit to Bridgestone Arena, but it wasn’t an easy trip. They needed an overtime winner from Captain Max Pacioretty to claim a 2-1 victory over Nashville on January 3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Pacioretty (31 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Price (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL] for 27 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league) & Nashville‘s Johansen (39 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Pekka Rinne (25 wins [10th-most in the league]).

Vegas is siding with home ice and defense tonight, as they’ve marked Montréal a -130 favorite. That’s a line I have to agree with. Both teams seem to be on the upswing at the right time, but an always strong Bell Centre crowd will propel Le Grand Club to victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Quackenbush (1922-1999) – This Hall of Fame defenseman played 14 seasons in the NHL, almost evenly splitting time between Detroit and Boston (he played more games for the Bruins). An eight-time All-Star, he won the 1949 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
  • Claude Larose (1942-) – A long-time Canadien, this right wing was a member of five Stanley Cup-winning clubs. He played in four All-Star games in his 16-year career and registered 483 points.
  • Eddie Johnstone (1954-) – Selected by the Rangers in the sixth-round of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, this right wing played 10 seasons in the NHL. His best campaign was in the 1980-’81 season when he scored a career-best 68 points, and he was rewarded with his lone All-Star appearance.
  • Raimo Summanen (1962-) – Another sixth-rounder, this left wing was selected by Edmonton in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He may have only played in five NHL seasons, but he was a member of the Oilers‘ 1984 Stanley Cup-winning squad.
  • Tomas Kaberle (1978-) – Players drafted in the eighth-round are not expected to be this good, but Toronto found a stud in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. This defenseman, who spent most of his career with the Maple Leafs, was named to four All-Star Games, and also hoisted the 2011 Stanley Cup.
  • Henrik Lundqvist (1982-) – Speaking of late picks, this goaltender turned out to be okay. King Henrik was selected by the Rangers in the seventh-round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, and the rest is history. A three-time All Star and the winner of the 2012 Vezina Trophy, the only accolade missing from his resume is a title.
  • Jay McClement (1983-) – St. Louis picked this center 57th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s currently playing his third season in Carolina. He’s registered 243 points in his 12-year career.
  • Ryan Shannon (1983-) – This center played only six seasons in the NHL, but he managed to hoist the Stanley Cup in his rookie season with Anaheim‘s 2006-’07 club.

If you didn’t heed our advice and watch yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, you missed an absolutely phenomenal contest. The most surprising part of Chicago‘s 4-1 victory over the Penguins? It was Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling that was the First Star of the Game, not hat trick-scoring Patrick Kane, who was left with Second Star honors.

Kane’s (Third Star Nick Schmaltz) first of three tallies were struck 28:49 into the game, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead. Pittsburgh fought back with three minutes remaining in the second period when Scott Wilson (Ron Hainsey) buried a slap shot so fast that the referee didn’t see the puck enter the net (Toronto had to stop the game for an official review), but Richard Panik (Duncan Keith) reclaimed the lead for Chicago with one of the best goals of the year. That 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.

Kane took credit for both the insurance goals in the final frame. The first (Schmaltz and Artemi Panarin) was a snap shot, and the second was an unassisted backhander on an empty net.

Darling earned the victory after saving 36-of-37 shots faced (97.3%). Marc-Andre Fleury also had a better game than the numbers indicate in the loss, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%).

With Chicago‘s home victory, DtFR Game of the Day hosts have pulled within 10 points of the 70-44-22 roadies.

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