For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.
Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.
Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.
An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.
Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.
- Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
- Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
- San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
- St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.
Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.
However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.
Stay with me here.
The Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.
Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.
Though quietly might not be the right term.
Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).
Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.
Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).
Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.
Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.
The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.
Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.
The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.
Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.
Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).
I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?
Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday
Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.
Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.
He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.
Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)
Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).
Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.
Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.
Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.
Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.
The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).
The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.
New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.
For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).