March 15 – Day 147 – The Flames are red hot

Only four games are on the schedule tonight, so let’s dive right in. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Boston at Calgary (SN). Detroit visits Colorado at 9:30 p.m. and St. Louis at Anaheim (NBCSN), tonight’s nightcap, drops the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

If it was certain Mark Streit would be available for tonight’s game, I’d be much more inclined to feature the Battle for the Keystone State. But with the injury he sustained Monday night, I’m much more interested in the Bruins‘ visit to the Saddledome.

 

Winners of its past three contests, Boston enters tonight’s game with a 37-26-6 record good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins may not be dominant on either end of the ice, but they play a solid overall game. Specifically, I’m most impressed with a defensive effort that has yielded only 177 goals against, which ties for the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and Boston has a good one in 33-16-4 Tuukka Rask. Yet even the best goaltenders need a night off every once in a while, and that’s where 4-5-1 Anton Khudobin comes into play. He’s registered a .895 season save percentage and 2.76 GAA, the 56th and 42nd-best marks, respectively, among the 68 goalies with at least five appearances this year.

While neither stats are worth writing home to Russia about (I mean, we need to factor in the price of postage), he’ll be receiving considerable help from his blueline tonight. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 116 short blocks (narrowly beating out Adam McQuaid‘s contributions), the Bruins have allowed only 26.5 shots to reach their goalies’ crease, the second-best rate in the NHL.

That play is especially impressive in light of last season’s performance, which forced Bruins goaltenders to shrug off more than 30 shots-per-game. As rookie Brandon Carlo continues to grow, Boston‘s defense could become one of the stingiest in the league.

Speaking of stingy, that’s exactly what the Bruins‘ top-rated penalty kill is. Thanks in large part to McQuaid’s 32 shorthanded shot blocks, the Bruins escape opponents’ power plays unscathed 86.2% of the time.

Boston is also the proud home of a solid power play. While not as successful as their penalty kill, the Bruins do tie for 10th-best in the league with a power play that finds the back of the net 20.5% of the time. That attack is twin-led by first-unit members Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, both of whom have 20 power play points. Pastrnak also shares the extra-man goal-scoring lead, but this time with Brad Marchand. Both of them have buried the puck eight times on the power play.

In a surprising turn of events since December and January, defense has become the name of the game for the 39-26-4 Flames, who currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division and are easily the hottest team in the league (pun intended). Winners of their past 10 games, they’ve allowed only 183 goals against so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

For the second season in a row, 21-13-3 Brian Elliott has righted the ship for another playoff-hopeful club. Although his .91 season save percentage isn’t the best on the team (that belongs to Chad Johnson and his .913), his 2.51 GAA is, and those rank (t)33rd and (t)17th-best in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but they don’t have to be when Elliott plays behind one of the better defensed in the league. Allowing only 28.7 shots to reach his crease per game, Calgary ranks eighth-best in the NHL. That success is due in large part to Mark Giordano, whose 154 shot blocks not only pace the Flames, but are sixth-most in the NHL.

Thanks to Johnson’s incredible night in net (he saved 35-of-36 – 97.2%!), the Flames were able to stave off the Bruins‘ offense for a 2-1 victory when they made their annual visit to Boston on November 25.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (35 goals [tied for most in the NHL] for 74 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Giordano (+17 on 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

Calgary is narrowly favored to win tonight’s game by Vegas with a -105 line. I can certainly see why the oddsmakers are concerned, but I also know the Flames have beaten some solid teams over this winning streak. I like the Bruins to win tonight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary can keep the magic going again this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Punch Imlach (1918-1987) – It goes without saying, but a coaching career that features four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962-’64, is probably a good one. Imlach did just that with the Maple Leafs, the team he coached for 12 of his 14 seasons. He completed his career in the 1979-’80 season with a 402-337-150 record.
  • Craig Ludwig (1961-) – Montréal selected this defenseman 61st-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played the first eight years of his career and won his first Stanley Cup. Following a year with the Islanders, he joined the (North) Stars organization in 1991-’92, with whom he played the last eight years of his career  – and won his second Stanley Cup.
  • Darcy Tucker (1975-) – Another Montréal pick, this right wing was selected in the sixth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Although drafted by the Canadiens, he actually spent most of his 14-year career with Toronto, where he scored 148 of his 215 career goals.
  • James Reimer (1988-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this goaltender 99th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He spent six seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Sharks at the deadline last year. He now plays in Florida, where he’s earned a 12-12-5 record.

Although the Wild scored two goals in the third period, it wasn’t enough to get past the Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. Washington defended the Verizon Center to a 4-2 victory.

Although both clubs combined for 29 shots in the first period, this game almost reached the first intermission scoreless. The operative word there is almost, as Nate Schmidt (Second Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and First Star Nicklas Backstrom) scored only his second goal of the season with a dozen seconds remaining on the clock to give Washington a one-goal lead.

February 19. 11 games ago. That was the last time Ovechkin scored before tonight’s tally. Assisted by John Carlson and Backstrom, he buried a wrist shot with 5:08 remaining in the second period to double the Caps‘ lead and end his scoreless skid. The game-winner belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Backstrom and Carlson) on a power play wrister 2:16 later that set the score at 3-0.

Whatever Bruce Boudreau said in the dressing room during intermission, it seems Matt Dumba (Mikael Granlund) took it to heart, as he buried a backhanded shot 37 seconds after play resumed to get the Wild on the board. Eric Staal (Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) followed that four minutes later with a power play wrister to pull Minnesota within a goal, but they couldn’t find another tally. Jay Beagle (Dmitry Orlov) made the Wild‘s comeback even more difficult by burying a wrister with 5:41 remaining in the game, setting the 4-2 final score.

Third Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 36-of-40 (90%).

While losing first place in the division and conference is obviously the bigger issue for the Wild, they are also responsible for allowing the 75-53-21 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series to have a one-point lead over the visitors.

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