March 8 – Day 140 – I’m spoked

If you want to watch hockey tonight (which we both know you do), it’s going to be pretty easy to find. All three contests (Ottawa at Dallas [RDS/SN360], Pittsburgh at Winnipeg [SN] and Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS]) – all of which happen to drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern – are being nationally televised in Canada, and the one that just so happens to be our DtFR Game of the Day can be seen throughout the USA.

 

Who would’ve guessed I would’ve fallen for an Original Six matchup? In my defense, tonight’s offerings are… lacking… At least this rivalry got a boost last season, no matter how slight.

That boost wasn’t necessarily seen on the ice per se, but more so on the league table. For those that don’t remember, the Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 25th-straight season – certainly an impressive feat.

Yet that success always has to detract from that of another. Last year, that was the Bruins who suffered an earlier-than-desired offseason. That fact was made more excruciating by the fact that Detroit qualified on a tiebreaker with the Bruins, besting them by a lone regulation+overtime victory.

To say the 34-26-6 Bruins aren’t proud of their nine victories more than Detroit‘s this season might be a bit of an understatement. That improvement has led them to third place in the Atlantic Division, the exact spot the Wings occupied a year ago.

They’ve gotten to that position on the back of their defense and goaltending. Boston is 11th-best in the league on that end of the ice, allowing only 172 tallies against.

30-16-4 Tuukka Rask has benefited greatly from his improved defense, as his season .913 save percentage and 2.28 GAA are (t)23rd and (t)eighth-best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

A season ago, Rask faced 30.4 shots-per-night, which tied for the 11th-worst rate in the NHL. This season, that rate is down to an impressive 26.4-per-game, the second-lowest in the league. He may be turning 40-years-old in 10 days, but Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that improvement. He’s blocked 110 shots so far this season, the most on the squad. If he maintains his production, Chara is in line for 140 blocks on the season – far-and-away the largest total of his 19-year career.

Because of those combined efforts, the Bruins also have one of the best penalty kills in the game. Refusing to yield a goal on 85.7% of opposing power plays, Boston is second-best in the NHL. Joining Chara at the top of the chart in shorthanded blocks is Adam McQuaid, as they both have 29 to their credit.

My, what can change from one year to the next. It is all but certain that the 25-28-11 Red Wings will not be among the 16 teams fighting for the Stanley Cup following the 2016-’17 regular season, as the losers of their past two games currently occupy dead last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

The main reason for their predicament is a lackluster offense. Lackluster may be a compliment, as Detroit has managed only 153 goals this season – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

He’s tried as hard as he can, but Captain Henrik Zetterberg can only do so much. His team-leading 53 points is a respectable total – the average player claims 17.2 this season – but the rest of the roster is mostly barren of scoring threats, especially following the trade of Thomas Vanek to Florida. Probably the other main threat is Tomas Tatar, who’s 15 tallies is the active clubhouse-leader.

Usually, the power play is supposed to be a positive opportunity for an offense. Instead, it’s almost dreaded in Detroit, as the Wings have found success only 12.8% of the time – easily the worst mark in the game. Just like with the basic offense, weapons are hard to come by in Motor City. With the departure of Vanek, Frans Nielsen leads the squad with only 11 power play points and three skaters have buried an active team-high of three extra-man goals.

Tonight’s contest marks the culmination of this season’s series between these two clubs. Since Boston already has a 2-0-1 record against the Wings, all Detroit can hope for is a regulation victory to tie the series a five points apiece for both sides.

They last time they played was January 24 at the TD Garden. Although they needed an overtime winner from David Pastrnak, the Bruins were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (68 points [fourth-most in the league] on 30 goals [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 30 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL] on a 2.28 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (135 blocks [leads the team]), Luke Glendening (135 hits [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+14 [best on the team]).

In what is probably the biggest spread of the night, the Bruins are a -250 favorite to prove victorious this evening. Everything Detroit struggles at, Boston excels. That’s typically a recipe for disaster for the road team, and I expect this one to go no different. The Bruins should win easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Larry Murphy (1961-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was the fourth-overall selection in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Although the three-time All-Star spent most of his 21-year career with the Capitals and was drafted by Los Angeles, he hoisted the Stanley Cup four times – twice each with Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Mike Yeo’s return to Minnesota was a successful one for his new club, as the Blues beat the Wild 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for Mikko Koivu‘s (Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund) wrist shot from the neutral zone with the extra skater and 11 seconds remaining in the game, Second Star of the Game Jake Allen would have earned the shutout and First Star David Perron (Colton Parayko and Alexander Steen) would have taken credit for the game-winning goal on his first period tip-in tally.

Instead, that honor belongs to none other than Third Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo). He buried a wrister with 8:57 remaining in regulation to then set the score at 2-0.

Allen saved 32-of-33 shots faced (97%) in the victory, leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 18-of-20 (90%).

If my numbers are correct from when I missed time, St. Louis‘ victory should propel the 72-48-22 road teams to a six-point lead over the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

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